Overcoming the Fear of Dying Alone


American Hospice Pioneer Barbara Karnes, R.N. says she sees families devastated by not being able to be with their loved on as they are dying. In her article, Taking the Fear Out of Dying Alone, Barbara shares information and insight from her years of hospice experience, with hopes that readers will find comfort in her words. Her insight is particularly timely now, as COVID-19 continues to cause separation among families.

Barbara is confident:

  1. The person dying is so removed from their body that they do not perceive it the way we, the watchers, perceive ours.
  2. The person is non-responsive to the world around them. They do not respond to sound or touch.
  3. Their world is like a dream. Everything is out of focus, disconnected, from afar.

Because of this confidence, Barbara encourages people who are not able to be present during a loved one’s passing to connect with them in other ways:

  1. Sit quietly and comfortably, close your eyes and visualize your loved one in bed, peacefully sleeping.
  2. Picture yourself next to the bed, hold their hand or lay down with them if that seems more desirable.
  3. Begin talking to them. Talk from your heart. Say everything you need to say, the positive and the challenging nature of your relationship. Remember there is no perfect relationship. Every relationship has its rough hurdles; talk about those areas as well as the positive.
  4. When all words from your heart have been said, sit quietly in your mind, and just be with your loved one. Know unfinished business has been addressed and the two of you have said goodbye.
  5. Stay as long as you need. There will come a point where you will know you can get up. Say one more time “I love you”, if it is true. Just a goodbye is okay too.

Barbara Karnes has come to believe thatwe do not die alone. In our final days, hours, and moments, we talk to people who have died before us, and our fear of dying is replaced with the body’s effort to detach from living.

Over almost 80 years of providing end of life care, Our Lady of Peace staff members and volunteers have seen patients be fearful of dying without someone by their side. We’ve also witnessed families struggling with not being present when their loved one passed. We find comfort in the words of Barbara Karnes, and we hope you do to.

To read more, follow this link to more information on Barbara Karnes’ blog, Taking Some of the Fear Out of Dying Alone.