The Dying Alone Dilemma: Is It Such a Bad Ride?

Posted on April 11, 2012 by


In this NYT Op-Ed piece Kumiko Makihara reveals her fears of dying alone in a high-rise in Japan where she doesn’t know her neighbors. The close-knit communities of post-Katrina New Orleans, like those of post-earthquake Japan, were forever changed in the wake of natural catastrophe. Friends and neighbors who regularly checked on my 81-year-old uncle never returned. He lamented his new-found isolation in numerous phone conversations up until his death, alone, in his mid-century Garden District home.

My father was devastated by the news of my uncle’s “kodokushi,” or “lonely death,” his body undiscovered for days.

“No one should have to die alone,” he said.

But I didn’t see it that away. After witnessing countless patients languishing at the end of life in a snarl of IV tubing, ventilator hoses and monitors, I had come to appreciate an undisturbed, undefiled death in one’s sleep at home. “Kodokushi” may be hard on families as we play the “what if” game, second guessing missed opportunities for intervention, but for the individual patient, it is, perhaps, a gift.