Fear of dying alone

To follow on from yesterday's post, Solitude and Loneliness, Anti-Social and Introverted, I'd like to write about the fear dying alone.

Solitude: the state of being alone.
Loneliness: a depressing feeling of being alone.

Many people, including myself, sometimes do certain things because of the fear of loneliness and being alone. E.g. working too much, exercising too much, drinking too much, eating too much, holding on to a relationship that is obviously not working out while waiting for someone better to come along, giving sex in the hope of getting love [Sexual Bribery], buying companionship with money, etc.

I've been pondering over the idea of death and thinking about people whom I've lost. Many people are afraid to die alone. I think I am too. The thought of dying alone all alone in a house and someone discovering my death from the foul stench of my decaying body seems really sad. I recall hearing people at funerals commenting that the deceased is lived a good life if he/she lived a long life and had many children. Even my parents make such comments. Comments like these perpetuate the fear of dying unmarried and without children.

I wonder whether people get married partly because they don't want to be alone and don't want to die alone. They may think that being married gives them a 50-50 chance of not dying alone (50-50 because someone has to die first. Having children increases their chances of one not dying alone. Sadly, marriage is not a passport to a less miserable death. Couples can get divorced or estranged or perhaps they won't even love each other anymore and the face of their spouse isn't a face they want to see on their deathbed! Furthermore, it is possible for people to die with a sense of loneliness even if they were surrounded by family and friends.

I used to wonder: what would people think of me when I'm dead? I'd better not get silicon breast implants otherwise the table might be really gooey after my cremation! Sometimes I imagine what the scene would be like at my funeral. Would anyone collect my body or remains? Would anyone come to my funeral? Would I die unloved? I suppose not having a funeral at all would solve part of the problem. After all, funerals and memorials are for the living and not for the dead. Funerals and memorials are for the living to mourn and remember the deceased. But the deceased are just dead and gone. They can't hear us talking to what's left of them in the coffin, in the grave or in the urn. So I mentioned to my family that I would like my ashes scattered in the forest when I'm gone. I don't want anybody spending money buying me a small piece of land for my grave or a condominium in a columbarium for my urn or spending time talking to my remains.

My secondary school teacher passed away several years ago from cancer. She had never been married and had no children. She was very nice to me and I'm saddened by her untimely death. A thought crossed my mind that it's sad to die unmarried and without children. But on second thought, perhaps she led a more fulfilling life than most married people, being a teacher and having the freedom of a single lady to pursue whatever passion she had.

My choir-mate from church passed away in New Zealand where she migrated to for work. She, too, was single. I suppose if she was married, it wouldn't have been that easy to pack up and leave Singapore.

I also lost my aunt to cancer. My aunt was single too. Initially we thought she was going to recover. Her hair had already grown back after chemotherapy and she looked normal. But her condition worsened and she passed away on New Year's Eve. I have such fond memories of her. I always looked forward to the gifts she bought me for Christmas and her generous ang pows during Chinese/Lunar New Year. I still keep her gifts of clothes and stationary even though some of the clothes don't fit or aren't in style anymoreand the pens have run out of ink. I know that it doesn't matter to her now whether I keep those gifts but I can't bear to discard them. I guess I'm rather sentimental after all.

One of my gaming friends died in a traffic accident last year. Every time I play the game I can't help but feel sad that he is no longer going to be there. He was only a teenager. You must be feeling sad for him that he never got to experience many wonderful things in life? I do feel that way too.

They may not have been alone in their last moments but I wonder whether they felt a sense of loneliness. What runs through the mind of a person who is just about to die? What we see in the movies and read in books are only what we living people imagine it to be. What would be the things that matter most? Or perhaps death is the great equalizer and nothing really matters at all in the end.

[How would you spend the last 24 hours of your life?]
[Things To Do Before You Die]


simperblog said...

alamak so young talk about mati, adoi eh.
eat right, live right, junk all the pills you'll be alright lah...

Yu-Kym said...

Hi simperblog,
so the formula is:
eat right + live right + junk all the pills = won't die young?

simperblog said...

hi too. what do you think you will die from?
Cancer ? Accident ? Or like quite a few healthy fit young soldiers dropping dead from jogging?
No one can control death. There is thing call fate. The rest is eat rite, live rite, you'll be alright prevention.

Yu-Kym said...

There are 2 parts to life/death: (a) the part which we can control, e.g. like u mentioned eating right, exercising, and (b) the part which we can't control that you refer to as fate, e.g. accident, some illnesses.

No idea how I would die but I would have to die eventually for sure! So what's the harm in thinking about it now? It's better than being in denial and thinking that an early death is something that happens to "someone else" and not doing anything about (a).

I have also written my will and bought insurance. Got to think of my family who will be left behind.

Mike Phua said...

Thinking about death is not necessary about feeling pessimistic, but rather it makes you think what is really important. People are always chasing after something, better work, more money, better future and so on. Life is always about running after something, when i can have this or that, then and only then i can relax..just like a child keep changing or buying toys, that pattern still exist in us. Ultimately, nothing out there can fufill us. If you fear loneliness, give yourself companionship, give it to yourself energetically and it is true one can feel lonely even among friends. All feelings exist inside us, people and places only act as triggers, thus providing the illusion that something out there can fufill us. The approach shld be inside out, not the other way around. Give youself what you need energetically and your outer reality will reflect that and baby, thats the secret!

Yu-Kym said...

Mike, your statement "nothing out there can fufill us" made. I agree that many things are just illusions. But I think even the inside out approach may not be foolproof cos we might not really understand ourselves, what we want to be or what we want.

joseph said...

When you know for sure where you are heading after death, there is no fear of dying.

Yu-Kym said...

Where do you think you are heading?

Anonymous said...

The talk of death is a taboo in most Asian societies. To me, since death is as certain as change, I do think that the idea of at least planning my funeral (not how I die) is great.

Anyway, I read one simple book many years ago and I think that it is a great book entitled "Tuesdays with Morrie"


Yu-Kym said...

TSO, I've read that book but I found it boring. There's no climax :P Why does everybody read that?

Anonymous said...

Well, in my opinion it is more about the way chosen to face the inevitable.


Junjie said...

I don't mind dying alone. :) To me, if I am dying, what difference does that make? I'd mind dying needlessly, like dying from a heart attack in the middle of a crowd of cardiologists, just because they couldn't figure out what was happening to me!

Maybe my attitude towards this is because of how comfortable I am with being alone. I am actually quite a loner, so I am fine with dying alone. Of course, with the way my life is, the only way I'd get to die alone is if I really mess things up with my kids! :D

Yu-Kym said...

Junjie, any of us can die any time, any day. It can happen to be a day when everyone's not at home. Or it can be from an accident. Actually, I don't know whether it would be better or worse for my loved ones to see me die.

Junjie said...

I know that. :)

My expanded definition of dying alone: nobody caring if I died. If lets say I have no kids who care for me (just for whatever estate they might get) and I die in some hospice some place in the midst of strangers who are too busy dying themselves to mind me, that would be dying alone, in my opinion.

Hopefully I've lived my life such that this won't happen! :)

As for the question of the loved ones watching me die, well, I'd be torn. I don't want my kids to watch me die, but if they don't they might not be able to come to some sense of closure about me. I've been giving this question a lot of thought ever since I became a father.

Anyway, my current plans are to stay alive, stay sane, stay healthy and stay happy. Some people would say it's not entirely up to me, but if things don't work out I'd rather it be because of overwhelming odds rather than a lack of resolve on my part! :D

Anonymous said...

Very deep article that makes me ponder about life so much more! I'm truly sorry about the demise of your friends, it must have been very hard for you, I have not had such experiences but I guess it can happen to anyone anytime !

Paul said...

This is always an uncomfortable topic yet one we all have to face.

When my dad passed on 10 years back, I too was confronted with all the issues you raised in your blog.

I guess while we are alive, we're given the chance to work though our fear of death and at the same time to live life fully with no regrets. That's something I've always kept in my mind ever since then.