I Feel Guilty My Mother Died while Living alone

The Yomiuri Shimbun

Dear Troubleshooter:

I’m a man in my 40s who is a public servant. My mother died while living alone, and I feel nothing but regret.

My father died 25 years ago, and I moved away from home due to work. My little sister left home, too, and my mother lived alone for the past 15 years. Even when her back started to bend, she said: “Don’t worry about me. I’ll just do what I can.”

She seemed to have trouble walking, so for the past three years I’d been helping her out with shopping once a month.

I thought that we both would feel relieved if she lived with us and proposed doing that, but she wanted to live alone. My mother had a willful personality and I worry that I might have driven her to choose to live alone because I’d told her living with us would mean a few sacrifices on her part.

When I helped her with shopping a few months ago, I sensed her health was deteriorating, but she said nothing was different about her. A few days later, my mother died in her home.

I can’t help but wonder if my mother would have lived a bit longer if she’d lived with us. It pains me.

— B, Chiba Prefecture

Dear Mr. B:

I think your mother lived a full life as a senior citizen. Above all, living alone was your mother’s firm desire, and it was her own decision.

You are a son who took care of his mother in her old age. You saw your mother struggling with shopping, and so helped her once a month. As an aging person myself, I find that even with the use of a walker, there are always certain things that must be considered when shopping, such as the weight of the items. Having said that, I think shopping is a blissful time that leads to a sense of purpose in life, even if you wander around the store to choose things for yourself. I believe that your mother’s life span was extended a little bit thanks to your support for her shopping.

On top of this, you asked her to move in with you as she grew older. She chose to spend the rest of her days living alone. I think she must have been filled with contentment in her final days when you offered to have her live with you. However, she continued to refuse your offer so she could be independent. I think you are a very thoughtful son.

A message to readers who are going to have aging parents: I highly recommend that you contact them at least once a day using a smartphone or other devices to ensure they’re doing all right if they live alone in their late 70s or older.

—Keiko Higuchi, critic