“Kodokushi” (Japanese for Lonely Death)  Are You Afraid of Dying Alone? 


I consider myself a well rounded, engaged person of intelligence, possessing maturity, ethics, good moral character, “helping to a fault” and mostly positive in outlook, despite all that life has dished out to me personally.

This blog seeks to examine this fear on a personal level and give other examples,to provoke thought and maybe a resolution, if there is one.

I know I am not invincible. I have limits. While I have “been through the mill” in comparison to others, I have a couple of fears, whether they be rational or not is for the reader to decide.  Occasionally, I have wondered about my ultimate fate before the end of life as a single, unattached person.  Would others care? Would others help?   I will put my situation “out there” for the sole purpose of illuminating this fear and hopefully helping others.

My Situation:

  • An “always single person” with no one to assist on a daily basis. Self-sufficiency in all things is my world.
  • A person with a “severe medical disability” on paper, but in reality, usually not a problem due to my ability to compensate.  However, I have made the decision that I can no longer tolerate the very harsh northeast winters as I age. Life in my home state has become progressively more difficult. I MUST pass go and go directly to a sustainable warm climate as soon as life allows.
  • My elderly widowed mother will pass on someday in the future and the rest of the clan will not follow me to my alternate home.
  • I have put forth much effort over several years to build my personal network elsewhere.
  • I have lived minimally and invested in a future home in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
  • I am continuing to seek short term renters to help my plan become a closer in time reality.
  • I have invested in long term care insurance just in case of an eventuality I did not plan on.
  • I know I cannot count on friends /surrogate family for the long term as they have their own lives/families. Since communes of the 1960’s are long gone (but should be revived) what’s a girl to do?  I suppose continue building my network and hope that I have a few good compassionate friends to sustain me even though I go out alone.
  • This fear may be part of the aftermath of homicide or the “inner child” of a disabled person peeking out. I do not know for sure.  I have always just wanted someone to make me a priority. That’s it in one sentence!   It can be a heavy burden.

Death in Japan

My research revealed a couple of New York Times articles that report on this fear of dying alone.  They are like me in some ways and dissimilar in others. Being overlooked and not discovered for weeks is a phenomenon that happens more often then you would think!

In April 2012, Japanese writer/translator Kumiko Makihara discussed her fears against the backdrop of her culture and others who have “passed to the great beyond, “alone.

  • She included a 45 year old mother with a developmentally disabled four year old son.  The mother was discovered about two months later after a cerebral vascular accident/CVA, or stroke, while her son died of starvation.
  • Mie Yamaguchi was a bilingual TV news person and appeared in commercials in Japanese TV commercial. She died a tragic death at 51 of heart failure alone in her apartment.
  • Many elderly people have passed alone, undiscovered until much later.

Kumiko attributes these instances in her culture to “….a breakdown of once strong family and neighborhood ties.” (This is also often true of our American culture). In addition, Japanese society chooses to keep personal difficulties private when social services are available.   A popular futuristic novel called “Death at Seventy Law Passed” tells the story of an exhausted housewife caring for an ungrateful bedridden mother in law. Of course, the husband and son could care less. In this book, the government is ready to pass a law forcing those 70 to be euthanized! Kumiko ends her article by lamenting about her son pestering her one morning and then taking pause when the 13 year old said, “I didn’t want you to be dead or anything.

A Homeless Man Changes His Ways So he Didn’t Have to Die Alone

December 2013 – Can you imagine seeking refuge in a spot behind two dumpsters and then discover the corpse of another homeless man?  This scared the life out of Rickey Hanagen and scared him into action for he saw the handwriting on the wall. He would also die alone if he kept on the same path.

Ricky experienced the downward spiral of his life after his mother died of cancer in 2007, one day before his birthday. Next, he was laid off from his job a year later and turned to drugs for comfort.  He later realized that he depended on his mother as a safety net.  Rickey had asthma, so he decided to try smokeless, and ultimately more addictive drugs transforming him into a heroin addict. He lived on the streets of Manhattan. His situation was desperate. His fear of dying alone had engulfed him. He sought help in February 2012 from an inpatient Residential Treatment Center. He achieved sobriety, but had no marketable job skills.

With the help of a Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor, he got a job as a maintenance technician and blossomed into mentoring others who were homeless or mentally ill.  Due to a special community service grant, Rickey was able to get a security guard license and fireguard and safety certificate as well.   At the end of the article, he shares that he now has a fiancé.

Is that unspeakable fear still there for Rickey? No doubt, but at least he has someone to care and a stable job while assisting others.


Kumiko, Rickey and I may have the same fear for vastly different reasons.

I will not be influenced by Japanese culture nor take up dumpster living. (Please God!)  However, I still have my situation and have no one to care for me in the traditional sense.  There is that nagging fear in the back of my head. I don’t see a Princess on a white horse, for in part, I am not open to it. And so, it is what it is. One day at a time, everybody!  I do not want sympathy, not at all!  Just someone(s) to make me a priority in the future (should God be listening!)





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