Are you interested in learning more about topics related to sociology, old age and death? Check out “The Loneliness of the Dying” written by acclaimed sociologist, Norbert Elias.

In this book, the sociologist Norbert Elias highlights one of the greatest problems facing people of all ages in our western and contemporary society. According to him, although people are dying more hygienically than ever before, they are also dying in almost complete emotional isolation. In this theoretical essay, Elias describes special features of our contemporary society that may contribute to the phenomenon of loneliness among the dying.

The sight of the dying is no longer common. With the modernisation of our contemporary society, we have lost touch with the process of dying and the involvement of others in an individual’s death is becoming less common. Elias suggests that as we distance ourselves from the phenomenon of death, people who are dying are increasingly pushed away from social life and are at greater risk of isolation. Confronted with the discomfort of the living in the presence of the dying, the latter are already abandoned.

Science and medicine have changed our view of death and dying. The medicalisation of the dying process has put more emphasis on the medical routine, technical practices and the dying body. Less emphasis has been placed on the emotional and social aspects of dying. Elias leads us to recognise that people’s relationship with death is not simply the biological process of dying, but the evolving idea of death through their end-of-life trajectory and the attitudes associated with it.

There is also a tendency towards individualisation in our contemporary society. It is rare for older people to live with their extended families or in close proximity to each other. As people become physically weaker and unable to live autonomously, they may have to move into an institution, which removes them from their social environment and can contribute to further isolation.

Elias encourages us to think more openly and clearly about death and dying and highlights the value of social and emotional connections with the dying in giving meaning to our lives.