The fear of dying alone is not uncommon. The urban dictionary recently included “monatophobia,” meaning “fear of dying alone.” This new word combines thanatophobia (fear of death) and monophobia (fear of being alone). For many of us, the idea of no one being there for us as we die is indeed terrifying. However, the reality of dying alone may look much different. Let’s look at the fear of dying alone and some ways to feel less afraid as you live in the here and now.
Why Do We Fear Dying?
Fear of death is bad enough without thinking about being alone. Death is an unknown quantity with which many have no experience. Maybe you’ve never seen someone near the end of life or seen a dead body. Lack of understanding about death does not help us feel better about the process of dying.
Death is not something we like to consider for ourselves. We understand it happens to everyone, but our own body seems immune. We tell death, “not today,” and wonder how we can avoid the topic in conversation. We may hope we die in our sleep or that there is no pain involved in our death.
Fear of Dying Alone
But dying alone can seem worse than dying with loved ones around. As people worldwide struggled with covid and passed away in hospitals alone in 2020, many of us grieved for the people dying in rooms without family or friends to hold their hands. It seemed wrong to let people die alone.
“Patients who died from COVID-19 in 2020 were 12 times more likely to die in a hospital than patients who died from any cause in 2018.” A CDC study of deaths related to COVID-19 from February to May 2020 found that:
- 68.7% of COVID-19 patients died in medical facilities,
- 22.7% in nursing homes,
- 5.2% at home and
- 1.9% in hospice facilities.
In 2018 only 35.7% of deaths took place in medical facilities, 19.1% in nursing homes, 31.1% at home, and 7.9% in hospice facilities. (1)
If you had a loved one pass away in a hospital or nursing home that did not allow visitors during covid, you might feel some guilt for not “being there.” Guilt about being unavailable when your loved one needs you can tear you up inside.
However, facing the guilt of “not being there” involves understanding more about the last moments before death. Looking at the reality of dying alone may help to allay your fears for yourself and your loved ones.
Palliative & Hospice Care Help Terminal Individuals
Using medications, hospitals and nursing homes help patients cope with painful and life-threatening conditions. Many terminal patients take medications that help with anxiety, depression, and pain. These medications help patients feel less worried or concerned about who is there with them as they lie on their death bed.
Being in pain and dying with no help in sight is one thing. However, dying while under hospice or palliative care is another. With careful attention by nurses and palliative care providers who help terminal patients cope, the anxiety level patients face is often low. Medications help patients rest comfortably, dream deeply, and pass into death without apparent pain.
Reality Changes as Death Nears
Often, patients near end-of-life are not lucid or even aware of visitors. Many may even converse with long-dead family members as if they are standing right by their bed. While none of us completely understand what happens at death, we see that those who are dying often seem to live in another reality. Their past reality is no longer essential to them.
Some may say that a dying individual is halfway between heaven and earth. Others may describe the experience as being in a “thin place” where the spiritual elements of life outweigh the physical. Whatever the reason, individuals lying on their death bed are often unconcerned with who is visiting them in the physical realm.
What If Someone I Love Died Alone?
One woman describes missing her mother’s passing as traumatic.
“When my mom was on hospice, and they said her death was close, I sat vigil… throughout the night, sleeping in an uncomfortable recliner. I finally went home to take a shower. My mom died when I was 10 minutes away from returning to the facility. I was racked with guilt.” (2)
However, she also relates that years later, as a hospice worker, her Mom’s death made sense. As a hospice worker, she observed many deaths where the patient died after their family stepped out for a bit. Or she would see a patient who passed away right before their out-of-town loved ones arrived.
Sometimes individuals need a bit of space to make the transition through death. It is hard for a mother to let go of her tenuous hold on this world when her daughter sits holding her hand and crying. It’s not uncommon for dying individuals to pass away when a visiting family member gets up to walk to the bathroom. Even though they may be unconscious, their mind still understands that you are there.
A dying person may have a more challenging time letting go of their body and moving into the unknown when their loved ones are pulling on their hands and trying to keep them earthbound.
We Can Help
At Renaissance Funeral Home and Crematory, we help individuals and families prepare, plan for, and understand death and dying. We offer podcasts, grief counseling services through GriefShare, and Death Cafe gatherings as a safe space to talk about and normalize death as a part of life. Our services include cremation, green burial, and religious and non-religious services of all kinds.
We also understand the need to come together and grieve a loss while remembering the good times. Letting us help you create beautiful and memorable events to celebrate a life makes the grieving process easier for family and friends. Get in touch with us today and find out how we can help you make plans.
- More lonely deaths in hospitals and nursing homes from COVID – Northwestern Now
- Time of Death: Some Patients Prefer to Die Alone ~ Pallimed