The Loneliness of Dying Alone

One of our greatest fears: dying alone.

There is a lot heartbreak coming out our global pandemic.  This excerpt is from an interview with Greta Privitera, a journalist who lives in Milan reporting on the devastating deaths in Italy:

You die very alone. That’s another thing: This virus creates a block of solitude. It creates solitude in our families and the patients. And in the doctors, too, because they’re so busy. They say, we don’t even talk to each other. We are in our masks, gloves, gowns, and we are just working. Most of them, they don’t even go back home. They’re scared to be infected and pass the infection to the family.

When bodies are taken, they cannot have funerals because you cannot have more than two people together. So there are lots of bodies in the churches and the cemetery waiting for their funerals.

I heard a horrible story in Naples— [where]—there was a guy who did a video on Facebook because his sister died from the coronavirus, he suspected. The funeral home didn’t want to pick her up because they were unprepared—they did not even have the right instruments to treat the body. So the man stayed with the body of the sister for hours, maybe more than a day at home.

Death has never been so discreet

Recently the celebrated and controversial French writer Michel Houellebecq wrote a short essay about living through the pandemic and lockdown in France. Reporters “relished the gloomy artistry of his opening, in which he dismisses the virus as ‘banal’ and ‘not even sexually transmitted,’ and they appreciated his closing, in which he testified to his conviction that ‘We will not re-emerge from confinement into a new world: it will be the same, only a little worse’.” (Colby Cosh)

Here is a portion of his essay:

It would be … wrong to suggest that we have rediscovered tragedy, death, finitude and all that. The tendency of the last half-century, well described by Philippe Ariès, has been to dissimulate death as far as possible; and, well, death has never been so discreet as in these last few weeks.

People die alone in their hospital rooms or their nursing home units, and are buried forthwith (or cremated, in keeping with the spirit of the age), in secret, with no one present. Having died without witnesses, the victims merge in the daily statistics, and the dread that propagates through the population as the totals increase has something curiously abstract about it.

What would you do if a loved one died of this virus in the conditions that Ms. Privitera noted?

While you live, what are the connections you are making so that you would neither live alone nor die alone?

Take a moment (again) to grieve and to pray. What is it that you most need from the One who made you for Himself?

There is a solidity to death; it is the substance of what is left behind after losing the breath of life. While it is possible, a Houellebecq puts it, for victims to merge into the daily statistics, how do you resist the tendency to allow dread to make this curiously abstract?

A friend of mine suggested this question:

What am I doing to die accompanied – but also be able to die with gratitude rather than regret.

About R.H. (Rusty) Foerger

As I enter the third third of life, I am becoming aware of the role of elders today “to enlarge spiritual vision, being devoted to prayer, living in the face of death, as a living curriculum of the Christian life” (Dr. James M. Houston). I am a life long and life wide learner who seeks to: *decipher the enigma of our worth *rescue from the agony of prayerlessness *integrate spiritual friendship.
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