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Your biggest fear – dying alone

alone at last
Well, that cheered you up, didn’t it!

“Dying alone” seem to be the two words best able to bring a chill to the heart of every childless women.

And it would appear that it’s quite close to the surface in other people’s minds too, as it so often gets thrown at childfree-by-choice women as what they’ll live to regret (nice! and how are you today?) The childlfree call these comments bingos as they form a predictable pattern of ‘comments’ that they regularly encounter.

And yet…  if we break the taboo (hell yeah, I like to break two or three before breakfast most days) and take a good look at this particular bogeyman, what we’ll find is a mixture of genuine human fear mixed with cultural hysteria.

We’re all born alone and we all die alone. That’s how it works.

But it’s not death we fear, it’s old age. It’s infirmity. It’s not being able to go to the bathroom or feed ourselves and not having someone kind to help us. It’s not death we fear, but loneliness, invisibility and insignificance. We fear our vulnerability, our loss of independence.

One of the many unknowables of old age is that we can’t predict if we’ll be a sprightly, twinkly, independent old-lady (Miss Marple is my role model) or a pain-bound, addled and confused one. The chances are that, like all things, it’ll probably be a bit of both.

Having children is no guarantee of care in old age

One of the bonuses of motherhood (another thing denied to those of us who are childless by circumstance) is that it creates an illusion that we don’t have to worry about our old age; that our children will take care of us. However, if mothers were to allow themselves to really think about it (which, frankly, nobody wants to do), they’d realise that having children is no guarantee of care in old age.

How many people do you know who no longer have any contact with some of their children? Or whose children have died or require life-long care themselves? How many people do you know who have an old age to look forward to with a child you wouldn’t trust to park your car, let alone choose your nursing home?

Old age can be cruel. Or kind. It’s life, and not immune to slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.

Fear of old age is just that. Fear.

If you were to die in a month’s time, would you die alone or would you die surrounded by friends wishing you well on your journey?  So what makes you think that you’re going to be such a different person in twenty, thirty or even forty years time that the same might not be true then? Are you planning to fall out with absolutely everyone! Do you think you’re incapable of making new friends to replace those you have ‘lost’ to motherhood? And don’t you think just a few of those might come out to play again once their kids have left home?

Fear of old age is fear of a loss of control. That we can’t make life turn out the way we want. Ha!

You’re already an expert in dealing with shitty outcomes

Coming to terms with not having a family when that’s what you expected, hoped for and dreamed of, has changed you. You’ve come face to face with the fact that no matter how ‘good’ or ‘deserving’ you are, shit happens.  That despite a culture that tells us that everything can be fixed if you throw enough money at it, it’s not true. And once you’ve grieved the loss of that future, that identity, you are psychologically mature in a way very few ‘grown ups’ are these days. You’ve looked your own genetic death in the face, and survived.

Childless women don’t turn into wise old witches for nothing. Old age. The next taboo frontier that us 1 in 5 accidental pioneers will revolutionise!

Bring it on. Sort of.


To apply for Membership of the Private Gateway Women Online Community, click here

Photo of Jody Day, Founder of Gateway Women (UK)

Jody Day set up Gateway Women in 2011 to support, inspire and empower childless by circumstance women (like herself) as they develop meaningful and fulfilling lives without children. Jody runs groups, workshops and retreats for women reluctantly coming to terms with the fact that motherhood didn’t happen for them. Jody also consults with individuals and organisations and she regularly speaks out in public, in the media and online about issues and prejudices facing childless women in our society today. Neither a bitter spinster nor a dried up old hag, Jody puts her heart, mind, and soul into lovingly and mischievously subverting the stereotype of the ‘childless woman’. She is living proof that your Plan B can rock too! Watch her talk at the Women of the World Festival in March 2013 on “Creating a Meaningful & Fulfilling Life Without Children” in under 10-mins, with jokes!

Click here for the latest schedule of Gateway Women events including talks & drinks, workshops & groups.

25 Comments on Your biggest fear – dying alone

  1. Hi so nice to find a website that seems to answer my fears and issues right now, in particular the 50 ways to not be a Mother. I ticked off many on the 50 ways not to be a Mother including, healing from childhood trauma, caring for a vulnerable relative during my most fertile years, not repeating the past with children, financially not being able too, socially (the way things are for women and work right now) not being able to, caring for younger siblings, fertility issues and also ambivalence…I can add one that is not on the list, both my parents are dead and my partners parents are in their 70s and 80s so a lack of support makes me consider being childfree too. I might also add fear of pregnancy, fear of birth and own birth trauma to the list of reasons not to be a Mother.

  2. I’m sorry to be the negative Nancy and disagree with the rest but I think this article is off point yes I fear loneliness and I don’t want to be alone when I die but it’s not just about me but the feeling that I didn’t fulfill my full potential and you may die with friends but friends are not the same as a lifelong partner and having had children. Although without friends, without a partner without kids life seems incomplete. I think all components are needed for me and that’s what’s missing, not the fear of dying alone but of having lived a life just for me and not seeing or knowing that my family line will continue that someone will remember me, that I mattered, even in a small way.

  3. Brilliant!! I needed to read this. It’s so true. Especially about how you gain the emotional maturity through these tough experiences. More people should be confronted with the idea of dying alone and being okay with it — not because they need to toughen up, but because there is liberation in it. You can’t control it. It just will be. Thanks for writing this.

    • How true! I have thought of dying alone only a million times already. As a church minister I visit childless women in the nursing homes and wonder if they feared the same thing. This Christmas was a difficult one as I felt lonely without children which deepened the dying alone fear. Thank goodness I found this website.

  4. Hi Jody: I had to read this blog again to remind myself that just because I don’t have children doesn’t mean I’m destined to spend my old age years being lonely and miserable. Still waiting patiently for the paper version of your new book.. Can’t wait!

  5. I have just been listening to you on Women’s Hour and was inspired to look at your wonderful blogsite. I am an acupuncturist and work a lot with women who are trying to conceive. Sometimes it never happens for them and I will point people, when appropriate, to your wonderful debunking of all the myths around not having a child. I also think it is a great site for people who have children to understand the issues facing couples that don’t. Thank you.

  6. Glad to have found your Site. I thought I was alone. I feel society judges childless women.
    Even mature women who heard of my hysterectomy said to me “I am disappointed”, and “what a shame”. My response was “I would have died without the surgery”, their eyes remained glazed over. One older woman told me I will die alone. Even my mother feels sorry for me. I feel happy I don’t have to have children, and am quite glad to be free of societies pressure to have children. I do feel alone at times because I am the minority. So happy to know there is a community of women like me.

  7. I feel myself going into a deep depression and hope to God I can come out of it. I have one son who doesn’t talk to me, and I am 60, my husband is 71 and has had a few heart surgeries. I am scared I’ll be left alone and the thought terrifies me. Every day is a struggle. I have 2 dogs and one horse. They help the void I feel and I love them very much. Somehow I thought I’d have 3 children and be so happy and it hasn’t turned out that way. Your website and all the comments do help me to know that I am not alone. that is the biggest struggle, so thank you all of you women!

  8. So many valid and wonderful points. What I have seen in my older (65+) women friends are the childless ones, whether married or single, have an active plan in place for their old age. My close friend-age 64, one son but never married- is basically relying on her son to provide care and financial support for her old age. The same son who moved across the country once married and rarely calls her!! (I am in the US).

    • Also would like to mention a childless couple I know (and just because you are single now does not mean you will be in 20 years) sold their condo in Los Angeles to move to city that is easier for seniors to live in. They bought their new condo in a building filled with retirees, make sure there was an extra bedroom in case they needed to hire an aide to help them and have living wills in place. And the women, although childless, has tons of friends from childhood to new ones.

  9. Hello Jodykat! So happy to have discovered your blog as I`m one of those who really need it – down and blue and “childfree” in the mid-40es (and with no childfree- friends.. help!)
    Reading your blog makes me feel more normal and hopeful for my own possibility to be happy again. Thanx!
    (Unfortunately I`m neigther british (pardon me my english!), nor do I live in UK, so no workshops for me, although I would have loved it.)
    Take care – and keep up your healing work blogging wisdom and rolemodels for us “childfree” women! 😀

    • Hi Newcat 🙂
      Welcome to your Tribe!
      Just so you know, I’m running a free webinar on 5th December called “Coping with Christmas” and next year I’m going to be starting an online group. I want to make it possible for all of you who aren’t in the UK to join in too!
      Make sure that you’re signed up to my mailing list & you’ll be the first to hear about things as they are announced!
      With a big hug from London
      Jodykat xx

  10. Thank you for this fantastic website. I will pour over it this evening. I stumbled upon it via an Aussie journalist who tweeted your Pininterest link!

    I’m 33, happily married and we’re currently saving for our *third* gap year, volunteering overseas – this time on a one way ticket. I just temp in-between & hubby is a carpenter. Financially, there is no way we could do this with children. We live a life that’s outside the usual ‘square’ and we love it.

    I do however question whether or not a child will become part of our adventures in the future but the negatives do seem to outweigh the positives when I list them out in my head.

    As I’m an only-child with a very small family and few true friends, I do wonder what things will be like for me in years to come. I have thought about this dying alone business a bit too. You are right though, it’s more the thought of utter loneliness that scares me. I have even volunteered within my community by visiting an old lady who lives on her own. I dont think anyone should be lonely in this over-populated world.

    What I always conclude when I have these thoughts is that if i ever did end up ‘lonely’ I believe I have the experience, the courage and the inclination to live and volunteer overseas with truly needy children. By then, I’d have the money to live more flash-packer rather than back-packer too!

    There are so many ways to contribute in the world, if you have the strength to get off your backside, there are no reasons to be lonely. Even the old lady I visited each week ended up swallowing her fears and lack of confidence and started attending a community group. She’s always out and about now…she just had to kick herself up her own backside and make the move. Like you say, there is no guarantee your children will be around to do your backside kicking for you.

    Sorry for blabbing… I’m just kinda chuffed to have found your site!

    Wishing you all the best from Down Under

    Many thanks
    Yvette x

    • Hi Yvette

      Welcome! So lovely to hear your positive outlook on things, and great to hear that instead of just fearing your own old-age, you empathetically translated that into making another old lady’s old-age less lonely. Such a rewarding and whole-hearted response. Once my book is completed (by the NY) I want to visit childless old women and find out from them what life has been like. No doubt faced with the reality of lived-lives as opposed to the taboo ‘bogey men’ of fantasy old-age, things will turn out to be quite different than many of us expect or fear!

      Hope you enjoyed feasting on the website and look forward to hearing more from you soon.

      Hugs, Jody x

  11. Thanks so much Jody. This post is spot on & indeed it is optimistic & comforting. Your blog really helps me find perspective & to feel ‘seen’ & ‘heard’. Big cheers. xx

  12. Claire is right, you’ve voiced what many of us were thinking and addressed our fears. Is there any chance of a Scottish workshop next year?

    • Hi Lynn
      So far, it’s proved hard to get enough numbers outside London to make the workshops feasible (for me) and affordable (for you).
      But if anyone in Scotland is willing to help find a venue (can be a private home) and rustle up a minimum of 10 women, I’m on for it.
      My aim is to get the good news out to as many women as possible and so far, out-of-London workshops don’t seem to be the best way to do it.
      No doubt as the work of Gateway Women becomes more well known, that will change.
      With love, and thanks
      Jody x

  13. …just to clarify – my comment wasn’t sarcastic in any way. I find it truly optimistic to say why should things be different in 20/30 etc year’s time and treat this fear as just what it is- human fear … it’s always so uplifting to read your blogs and to have somebody put things into perspective in such a wise and upbeat way !

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