Article first published online: 28 JUN 2008
Sociology of Health & Illness
Volume 17, Issue 3, pages 376–392, June 1995
How to Cite
Seale, C. (1995), Dying alone. Sociology of Health & Illness, 17: 376–392. doi: 10.1111/1467-9566.ep10933327
- Issue published online: 28 JUN 2008
- Article first published online: 28 JUN 2008
This paper draws on the accounts given by 149 relatives, friends and others who knew people who died alone. These are a subset of data from a larger national survey of a random sample of adult deaths. A critical assessment is made of the argument that in late modem society death is denied, ‘sequestrated’ or hidden away in hospitals and that community practices for containing the threat of death have atrophied. The accounts analysed here suggest that, in contrast, speakers are actively concerned to sustain an ideal of a caring community, seeking to locate people who die within its embrace. Speakers sought to preserve their moral reputations and ontological security by claiming membership of a community of care and concern. The accounts were also used to resurrect the hopes of speakers for the orderly continuation of social life in the face of the threat of death. Parallels to this are identified in the death rites of traditional societies. Professional (and governmental) interest in sustaining ‘community care’ is also analysed in relation to the treatment of death. Professional discourse commonly emphasises the benefits of a ‘natural’ death at home, away from what is depicted as the alienating environment of the hospital. However, both home and hospital contain possibilities of deaths alone, threatening the ideal of emotional accompaniment necessary to sustain the image of a caring community. While entry to hospital is often understood to be a placement beyond accompaniment it is by no means as great a threat as a death alone at home, which confronts speakers with a fantasy of abandonment that is difficult to repair.