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The Daily Write

I’m Terrified of Feeling Lonely at the End of Life

What are you most afraid of, and why?

Author and her father (2019)

The thought of coming to the end of my life feeling as lonely as my father did terrifies me.

A year or two before my father passed away, he said to me, “I live a lonely life.” It was heartbreaking, and it scared me because of how much I crave solitude and often push people away in my need of it.

In my father’s case, it was understandable. He served in WW2 on the front lines in France, the Netherlands, and Germany. Probably for the first time in his young life, he experienced a bonding with his army buddies he would never experience again in life. A time of camaraderie, of horsing around, of watching each other’s backs. Though he talked little about it, I will always remember his words,

“We were in a river of blood.”

I imagine that returning to civilian life after the war must have been disorienting and lonely with the intensity of those relationships suddenly gone, and perhaps guilt for surviving when others didn’t.

I think Dad always felt like an odd duck, pardon the cliché, as have I. I wonder if I would be any different if it weren’t for being affected by his memories and traumas in my childhood.

Author’s father circa 1960s

Both intrusion and unavailability were a cause of constant concern for me. The intrusion of his coping mechanisms, i.e., psychosis, alcohol and gambling addictions, tensions, and arguments. And parental unavailability to my emotional needs. All these things made it hard for me to know how to relate well to others.

Eventually, I gave up trying to find my place and disconnected more and more from others and from my own feelings. I found calm and comfort when I spent time alone, immersed in novels, drawing, writing poetry, and writing in my journal. Of course, watching T.V. was a good way to disconnect and I must admit I rely on it too much to this day.

I found pleasure in learning. It helped me to feel more adequate, and it was something I could do on my own. I’ve been happy with my self-sufficient and self-contained identity who learned a lot about different things.

However, Dad’s words about being lonely haunted me after he died. Truthfully, it did more than haunt me, it terrifies me.

In his dying months, something extraordinary happened that turned my whole life and entire knowingness of him upside down and right side up.

I went daily to be with him and all the while I was there he would grab my hand, almost crushingly desperate, and repeatedly told me he loved me. I had experienced nothing like this before.

Here was father, who I had yearned for his love and attention, telling me over and over he loved me and that my birth was an “enjoyable surprise.” Here was my father, teaching me all about love and aliveness — on his deathbed.

I wish I could tell you that something has magically transformed my excessive need for solitude since then. Or that I’ve learned not to push people away and alienate myself. But, after a wildly unpredictable full-on attack of anxiety and grief vs love and joy trying to live all in one moment threw me into a bit of panic last Christmas, I have found a psychotherapist to help me get in touch with the feelings I’ve buried deep inside.

It is transformative and I am working to spend more time out of the comfort of aloneness by spending more quality time with family and friends, by writing here on Medium, by baking my love for others, and by writing a novel for and inspired by my father.

It’s a work in progress, but growing a life of beauty and wonder is now my mission and the legacy I want to leave behind.

KEY MESSAGE: Love (deeply), express love (urgently), and show love (always and daily).



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