The Worst Part Before You Die Alone

“You know what the worst part is?”

“No, what?”

“There’s no one around at night to talk to.   About….stuff.   People are coming around and saying hi but there’s no one here just sitting and listening.”

Said the dying man to me today.

I have never met him.   I had three phone calls with him today.   And I suspect I know more about his emotions and fears than anyone else.    He’s lived his life and made decisions that have gotten him to a very lonely setting with a very sad prognosis.  In less than 6 hours I felt like I was the best friend he had.   I don’t mean that to reflect anything about me.  I mean that as a reflection of him,  his life.   The end of his life.

I have some history of his life.   And it seems he made some pretty poor choices along the way.   Choices that have paved a way to where he is now.

Alone.  In a house.   No family close,  by proximity,  or affection.  There are some family who are distant and trying to help.   It seems like they are doing what they can.   But when you are dying, and alone, a little help seems so…..little.  There are those friends, he said,  who stop in to say hi.   But he made it a very painful point that no one is just there.

What must we do in life to get to this point?

Or what must we neglect to do to get to this point?

I have come across some very lonely people during my career.   And it is a huge blow to my sense of humanness when I come face to face with someone who truly knows lonely and sadness.   I recognize in talking with him, and others who know him, that it was his own path that got him there.  Even now he made choices that got him from being surrounded by “help” to sitting alone in a house with no one to assist him.

And he told me that the change is  hard.  To go from a “tough guy” to someone who can’t do a “damn thing” for himself.   He isn’t adjusting to one thing.   Like facing death square on isn’t enough, before he gets there, he has to deal with losing all that he has been.   There’s no way to predict how this will turn out.

Tonight, while I sit in my house writing this, I can’t help but picture a few things.  Husband sits next to me.  I don’t even have to turn my head, I can just speak and he will respond.   I can pick up the phone and call any number of people who would take time to talk to me.  More than a few who if I called and said come, here, now, they would.   I can get on my computer and communicate with friends via numerous technological methods of staying in touch.   It wouldn’t even have to be someone I’ve seen in recent years.  I could get on Facebook and if I posted that I was sad and needed comfort I feel safe in assuming that I would get one, if not fifteen, responses of comfort and words of cheer and support.   I can do this.  Without thought.   Without any contemplation at all.

But I picture him.

A man.   Dying.   Literally dying.   Alone.  He won’t die tonight.   He won’t die tomorrow.   He has time.   But it is measurable.

What would be going through my head if I was measuring my time and noting the failings of my body.  With each change knowing I’m that one step closer to death.   What if I sat in this chair and knew that because this happened, it would lead to this,  which would lead to this.   And all of this is leading to my death.   And I looked to my right and no one sat in the chair to listen to my fear.   My anger.  My frustration.  No one to listen to the review of my life.

My regrets.

My apologies.

My blessings and joys.

Someone sits like that tonight.

What if I had no one to call.   No one to email.   No one to write a letter to explain all of the things I wish I had done differently.   Or all of the things I did because of my own pain.  Or just say like it or not I did do things the way I did them and I’d probably redo them the same way.

The phone conversation it’s self seemed to be part of the transition.  Sometimes he was very much the man painted to me by others.   Aggressive.   Opinionated.  Rough around the edges.   But that part of him seemed to be overwhelmed with a need.  To talk.  He made it a point to tell me numerous times that he knows he’s “on my last leg”, that death is here.   He told me he wished he had just “gone” when he had been passed out and didn’t know anything.   Now, he knows.   He knows what is coming.   Now he has to deal with thoughts.  About the life he lived and the death that is fast approaching.    He has things to say.

And he wants someone to listen.

But he has lived his life to now pushing away a world full of people.   Or running from a world full of people.

He is alone.   And dying.

And no one is just there.

To listen.

That is the worst part.

He’s been gone for years now.  I can’t help but be curious.  Is there anyone here, now, who wishes they had a chance to hear his story.  Hear his regrets.  Hear his fears.  Or wonders if he was ever happy.   What happened to him.  What would he say today, if there was someone to listen.

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49 thoughts on “The Worst Part Before You Die Alone

  1. Very sad. Weirdly I often hit it off with the aggressive “hard to handle” people that I cared for as a care aid. I could see through it to their pain and fears

  2. This one is tough for me, Colleen, I’ve been there so many times. Lots of thoughts race through my mind right now… Did you know the word listen has the same letters in it as silent? So often, all we need to do is be there, even in silence for people. Did you know that one of the biggest fears of the elderly (and it’s not loneliness) is the fear of not being touched? Simply being touched — a physical human interaction. Just earlier this week I interviewed an author who recently wrote about The Courage to Be in Community… how we are in community. We discussed the value and critical importance of conversation and connection to sustain community. And yet this man you speak of had little (if any) of either. Until we, personally, have been where you describe, with the dying who are alone, few will understand the depth of this darkness.

    • I did not know that about “listen” and “silent” Eric. I find that intriguing.

      I do know about the fear of the elderly. I’ve actually had some tell me how long it has been since they’ve been touched (I work in protective services for the elderly). You are so right about the depth of this man’s darkness. I happened in to this man’s life because of work. I can’t help but wonder how many exist, like him, who no one ever happens in to their final days.

  3. duncanr says:

    beautifully written and perceptive post

    one of the greatest gifts we can give to someone leaving this world is our time – just being there with them, listening to their voice, and holding them as they slip away

    • Thank you Duncan.

      Yours is a beautiful comment and sentiment. My father passed alone. He lived alone and it was an unexpected death. Though there was no way to have known….it bothers me still.

  4. bikebrown says:

    That’s a fate to terrible to imagine.

  5. markbialczak says:

    Great post, Colleen.

    This man realized, so sadly, that sometimes the chess pieces you move quickly and without much though every day in life end up costing you your king at the end.

    Maybe somebody he knew does wish it had turned out differently for them both.

  6. April says:

    Wow. Thank you for “listening” to my fears. Your post brought more than feeling sorry for myself, but I think of my dad dying alone. I missed it by 8 hours. I couldn’t get from Atlanta to Seattle any faster. The last time I saw him, my sister and I just sat with him. His mind was gone, and his body was failing him. I’ll never know what he knew as we sat with him. I have some anger that my mom didn’t stay with him when she knew his time was very near. She couldn’t face the reality, and for some reason, I have yet to forgive her. I would have held my dad’s hand, because he would have held mine. Yes, I would listen, even if nothing would be said.

    • “Yes, I would listen, even if nothing would be said.” What a beautiful statement April.

      My father passed, completely alone. It was unexpected but it still bothers me today. I hope you can forgive your mom. And I’m glad you got to have time with him before he did pass. But I do understand the pain of not being with him.

  7. Loneliness is heartbreaking but knowing you are lonely through your own doing must be brutal.

  8. What a powerful post! It’s making me think… It sure is a blessing to have family and friends who care for us. I do believe this guy is lucky to have you. He also has something of us never will, he has an idea when he’s going. He can set things right, reflect and he has a new friend in you. 🙂 thanks for sharing

  9. reocochran says:

    Wow! Too bad about his life, how he led it and he was alone in his ‘darkest hour,’ too. I feel for his memory, Colleen. Wished he had left someone out there with kind thoughts. I am proud of your warmth and consideration, taking the time to listen to him. Many times. We have so many things to be thankful for, including people who surround us with love. We made this happen, we have to be a little bit proud, that we made an impact on our families, where they will be with us, even in the end. When it is so hard… Hugs, Robin

  10. 1jaded1 says:

    Crying. So sad. Thank you for being there for him.

    • Very sad 1jaded1. I was there, but I should not get any thanks for it. I happened to be the one who got the call at work. I’m just glad he had a chance to say a few of the things he said. I wonder if there were other things he would have said…..

  11. NotAPunkRocker says:

    This is tough, because I have thought more than once that would end up being me. Thank you for being there for him and telling us about him.

    • You’re welcome Not A P. Rocker. I feel bad, in a way, the folks are thanking me for talking to him. I did listen to and talk with him. I happened to learn his story, what of it he shared with me. I think most people would have listened to him at this point. In his condition. But he had not been willing to talk with anyone until the very end. So very sad.

      • NotAPunkRocker says:

        But when he did decide, you were there, and you listened. I think the people thanking you here would have too, but sadly not everyone would.

        Agree, it’s just a sad situation all around.

        • Thank you NAPR. Like you, I think the people here would have responded to him by listening as well. And he was in a world of his own, where there were no people like this. 😦

  12. This post lingers, Colleen. It prompted me to revisit an August 2013 post which I opened with this quote… a powerful truth:

    “The most basic and powerful way to connect with another person is to listen. Just listen. Perhaps the most important thing we ever give each other is our attention…A loving silence often has far more power to heal and to connect than the most well-intentioned words.” ~ Rachel Naomi Remen

    • This quote is wonderful Eric, thank you for sharing it. It has proven it’s self true in my life on a few occasions. Attention to one another, truly does make a difference.

  13. FlaHam says:

    Colleen, My dear you know I cherish you, I had to stop and restart reading this 3 times, I couldn’t see thru my tears. I do thank God I haven’t pushed a soul away that has come to me, As I edge closer, it is apparent to me that I have touched some folks, and that some folks will miss me greatly. I don’t need to be missed, but it nice to know that I have touched folks in such a way that some will. Everytime I think you can’t share something nicer or sweeter or more touching you find a way. Thank you so much for becoming a part of my life. Take care, Bill

    • Bill. I’m sorry I made you cry! You have definitely touched many people. There’s no question about that. And I cherish you as well.

      • FlaHam says:

        Colleen, crying isn’t always a bad thing. I cry for the man in the story, for the pain, for his suffering, and for the lack of love he must have felt. In those tears was a realization that it could have been me, if I were different. That is why I cried. Take care, Bill

        • Bill, you need to start giving yourself more credit for your writing. Read what you wrote me. Full of compassion, empathy and introspection. You are beautiful.

          • FlaHam says:

            Colleen, I am getting better, but it is still difficult to accept praise, when all I am doing is just having a conversation. Because I could sit in a room and just talk with you and the words would be the same. Smiling the difference would be you would see my hands moving, and my smile. Take care, Bill

  14. reocochran says:

    I loved all of these messages and learned so much from those who shared here. I am amazed that April and you had similar experiences. I am so glad that you listened multiple times to the man who was alone. Take care, Robin

  15. Patty B says:

    How sad not only for him but for those who knew him but never gave him the time to listen to him.

  16. Mustang.Koji says:

    You spread so much wisdom with your stories… as well as with your soul searching questions, Chatter Master.

    • You are as kind as ever Koji. Sometimes these stories are brought to me and I reflect on them later to get a lesson. This one was wide open, right there, bare and painful from the get go.

  17. niaaeryn says:

    Very sad…but at least, for a little while he did have you to talk to. Still, a sad story, and a deep one. Has me thinking, as I am won’t to do. How do we get there or why? Good questions.

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