Nice topic, hey?
I caught myself thinking last night “I don’t want to die alone”. But then immediately I said to myself, hang on, you can’t just think something like that. My friend X will demand an explanation!
So couple of arguments suggested themselves in my defense.
One is that when people say that, they don’t really mean “die alone” per se. Not necessarily anyway. Some people really do place a lot of importance on exactly what kind of death they have. Personally, I think that’s the least important thing, because it affects absolutely nothing else. When exactly are they going to feel the satisfaction in having done it well? In terms of impact on my life, getting a stale croissant is a much bigger deal than how I die.
So leaving aside the “dying well” crowd, I think the main thing people mean when they say they don’t want to die alone is that they don’t want to live a life of loneliness, and then die. Loneliness is something that we want to be over, not continue until we die.
That was the first thing.
The second thing was this word “alone”. Some people really are alone, and that must be horrible. But I’m not alone. I have annoying numbers of people in my life, sometimes. I don’t even have a shortage of people who like me. So why do I think of the word “alone”?
I think it comes down to two things. I want to be understood, and I want to be touched. When I don’t have either of those things, I feel lonely.
Maybe “understood” isn’t even the right word. How can we know? What I mean is heard, and accepted. I want someone to listen for as long as I want to talk, say some things that show that they heard, look into my eyes.
Not very complicated, is it?
Touch is trickier. There’s social touch, formal and informal. There’s not even enough of that in my life, as in many men’s. It’s like the subsistence diet of touch. Then there’s sex, which is a whole area of need of its own, and (I’m told) doesn’t by itself necessarily satisfy the need for touch. Then there’s another sort of touch, which is very often associated with sex, but is really quite independent of it. Parents and children do it. Sometimes very close siblings or twins do it. And lovers do it, which is how most of us get it, if we do. Some of us take a lover for the touching more than for the sexual thrill.
That sort of touch is unhurried, unselfconscious, and can be whole-body. When you see a small child press whole length of their body against a parent’s leg, it’s that kind of touch. Social touch has allowable zones and always a time limit, usually a very short time limit. Real touch has no time limit, and we can even forget that we’re doing it.
So when the thought “I don’t want to die alone” popped into my head, what I meant was:
“I don’t want the time between now and when I die to be filled with days without being heard and accepted, and without real touch.”
So, dear X, have I explained myself? Am I off the hook? I have no idea if that’s what anybody else means. For all I know, they really do like the idea of a roomful of sobbing relatives as they breathe their last.