fear of dying alone

13 Apr 2020

The coronavirus brings the fear of dying alone

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As the coronavirus stalks victims around the world, one of its scariest aspects is how it seems to feed on our deepest fears and prey on our primal instincts. Habits as simple as the impulse to be close to people we love are dangerous when they are suffering and near death. The fear of dying alone seems to haunt us.

To some of us, it may suggest the deceased’s life lacked love and worth. Thus, at the end of their lives, they were forgotten.  The Japanese even have a word for this: “kodokushi”. It means “lonely death.” In recent days, as funerals are not happening or are postponed because of the virus, it may seem that victims simply vanished.

fear of dying alone
Understand why people with COVID-19 have the fear of dying alone. (Source: O Globo)

The fear of dying alone in times of COVID-19

In a painful irony, the very thing we need in moments of fear and anxiety could also kill us. Many hospitals and nursing homes have closed their doors. They also placed COVID-19 patients in isolation wards to prevent the disease from spreading. Priests are administering last rites over the telephone while the families sit helplessly at home.

Some medical experts challenge the idea that scores of people are dying unaccompanied in hospitals right now. In many instances, they said, hospital staff are standing vigil by patients’ bedsides during their last moments. Many coronavirus victims in Italy and elsewhere are forced to spend their last days alone in hospital isolation. 

Because of the high risk of contamination, family members and close friends cannot approach their dear ones. -If they did, they could be infected and end up infecting more healthy individuals. Besides, with these news measures, families no longer have the option to make their loved ones look peaceful by brushing their hair, applying makeup or dressing them in their favorite outfit before burial. Such circumstances also increase the fear of dying alone.

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The situation is evolving rapidly as the virus spreads. In some cases, the hospital may connect families and COVID-19 victims electronically instead of in person. Other times, nurses and other hospital staff will step in to stand vigil. Thus, it is not 100% true that people in hospitals are dying alone.

It is true that the disease is taking away our end-of-life rituals. When we think about dying alone, we’re really talking about two separate things, psychologists say: The fear that people we love will die alone, and the fear that we ourselves will stare down death solo. The fear of dying alone creates in almost everyone a sense of terror. Dying alone is not necessarily dying without love. It doesn’t mean they were forsaken.

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