The Fear Of Dying Alone

by: Jeff Thompson | April 29, 2018

I suspect much like several people reading this, my Facebook participation has waned some over the last year. I do still find myself doing the cursory review of my news feed about once a day though. This last weekend, I spotted a post by a friend from our church who had asked the following: “One of my greatest fears is unfulfilled potential. What is one of yours?”

I was immediately sucked in and began to read through what other people had been posting in the way of a response. I was somewhat surprised to see that a significant number of the responses expressed the same fear and it was “dying alone.” I will be real transparent with you here that even this pastor has expressed that same fear at times.

No, I don’t have a fear of where I’m headed upon death! But yes, I must admit, the whole idea of dying, and the process involved, and all those pesky little logistical questions is a little unsettling for me.

I am an only child, and my parents are both deceased. Therefore, my family is now our children, grandchildren, and my wife’s family. The chances are there will be some family still around when I die eventually. This leads me to my first thought:

JUST BECAUSE YOU HAVE FAMILY DOES NOT MEAN YOU CAN’T DIE PHYSICALLY ALONE

My mother was on life support leading up to the day she died. The doctors had told me there wasn’t anything else that could be done, so I made the decision to remove her from life support at that point. She slept peacefully throughout the evening while I sat on the couch next to her in the hospital room.

Somewhere in the middle of the night, I had curled up on the couch, with a pillow and a blanket, and drifted off to sleep with the sounds of mom breathing next to me.

When light peeked through the window at 6:00 am, I rolled over and stepped to the side of the bed and my mom had died. I had just heard her breathing at 4:30; and now by 6:00, she was gone. I felt horrible. I slept through my mom’s death. Because I know how my mom lived her life, and nothing was left unsaid between us, I am sure her last words would have been, “just rest, Jeff. You need your rest.”

Yet to me, it appears I had let my mom down-she died alone without someone holding her hand or head. There was no family singing songs around her or praying over her.

So, that’s one side of the coin, but there is another side to that coin:

JUST BECAUSE YOU LIVE LIFE PHYSICALLY SINGLE DOES NOT MEAN YOU CAN’T DIE SURROUNDED BY FRIENDS

Marital status may not be as powerful a predictor of whether you will die alone as whether you have maintained a circle of friends. Joyce Carol Vincent’s body wasn’t discovered in her north London flat until more than two years after her death in 2003.

In 2011, a film telling her story, Dreams of a Life, came out. It begs the question as to how a vibrant 38-year-old was not missed by anyone? How could someone be dead for two years, lying amongst Christmas presents she had been wrapping, with a television still turned on.

If you live as a single, the things you may think of as options become a necessity. Even when you don’t feel like it sometimes, you must make the effort to get out, to mingle, to go to church, to pick up the phone to call a friend, and to meet someone for a cup of coffee. Build a base of friends and connection points around you.

There is a difference between “alone” and “lonely.” There are times we need to be alone, but that shouldn’t be all the time. Bernard O’Donoghue wrote in a poem, The Faultline, “we’re designed to live neither together nor alone.” The tension point for singles becomes developing a healthy balance between the alone moments and the lonely moments.

Through the years, I’ve come to know a number of singles within the ministries of various churches that have a strong nucleus of friends and colleagues around them and they will never die alone because of the relationship collateral that has been developed around them.

That brings me to my final thought:

IS THE FEAR OF DYING ALONE MORE ABOUT HOPE THAN ABOUT PHYSICAL CONDITIONS?

This is where I’ve come to peace with the process. I’ve grown through the years with this question. I said earlier I’ve wrestled with these thoughts as well because I don’t have a large family left. John 16:33 assures me,

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

Sometimes I forget that-I need reminded of that promise constantly. 2 Corinthians 5:8 also reassures me that

“We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.”

I really believe that when those thoughts creep into my mind about being afraid of being alone when I die, or whenever someone else expresses that sentiment, perhaps it’s just because we need that reminder of God’s Word. You know, whether I die in a car crash all by myself, or whether I battle an extended illness and my family is gathered around me as I breathe my last breath,

I’ll NEVER BE ALONE.

God is with me and won’t forsake me. The moment I do breathe that last breath, I will be in the presence of the ONE where there is no more loneliness, no more tears, no more isolation forever.

Remind yourself of the hope you have in Jesus Christ and move to the back-burner those other thoughts of whether you will be physically by yourself when you die, and I believe that he who has been faithful to you in life will see that through to completion.

Photo by Simon Basler on Unsplash

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