Dating, Relationships, & Sex, Theory & Essay

On Fear, Love, and Loneliness

(The Champ’s latest at EBONY touches on why dying alone is a fear many of us share)

At a friend’s request, I attended a birthday party at a Veteran’s hospital a few weekends ago. The party was for her great uncle—a resident there—and we celebrated his 85th birthday with some cake, dancing, and pictures in one of the hospital’s common areas. After a couple hours or so, we walked him back to his room, said our goodbyes, and left.

After leaving, my friend noticed that I seemed a bit down—odd, considering that we just left a birthday party. She asked me what was wrong, and after stonewalling her for a couple minutes, I finally let it out.

That was my first time in a veteran’s hospital. And, I was not prepared for what I was going to see.

I knew veteran’s hospitals existed. My late grandfather actually worked in one for over 30 years. I also knew that many of these hospitals are populated with mentally and physically disabled men who either have families and loved ones who don’t have the financial means to take care of them or just don’t have anybody at all. But, knowing they exist and actually visiting the hospital and seeing these men in the final stages of their lives are two separate things.

That it’s located in a secluded part of the city, hidden by trees, engulfed by hills, and adjacent to a youth detention center doesn’t seem accidental. It is, by every definition of the term, “out of the way,” and while it is presumptuous to say this, I couldn’t help but think that the majority of men (and women) there were placed there to be out of our collective way.

Seeing and thinking about this upset me. And, this is when I thought about my parents.


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Damon Young

Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VSB. He is also a columnist for and EBONY Magazine. And a founding editor for 1839. And he's working on a book of essays to be published by Ecco (HarperCollins). Damon is busy. He lives in Pittsburgh, and he really likes pancakes. Reach him at Or don't. Whatever.

  • A Woman’s Eyes

    This is beautiful and this is so true. This is why I believe in love in all its manifestations. Your mother has you, and your father and what a blessing!

    And as much braggadocio we engage in about how relationships and love is not for us, some of us know we are lying to ourselves. People need people. People need love. I don’t care if your love comes from a friendship, a boo-thang, your child, a cousin etc. People need love.

  • Yoles

    i loved this article Champ… beautifully written and so true… no man is an island… you and your family are in my prayers…

  • wow, Champ, this was touching and sobering.

    i often think of these very things – but on a daily basis. i work at a hospital that is connected to the VA. i pass by the VA every day on my bus commute into work. i see many older men and women get on and off the bus at this stop. and the sight of many of them (who seem to be in quite terrible shape) is sad. some are traveling by themselves and i think, “damn i hope youre not going through your life alone too”. i dont think about myself dying alone and/or unloved nearly as much as i think about others doing so.

    on the flip side, i sometimes wonder if i’ll die of a broken heart brought on by loneliness (i.e. my husband passing before me, and not because i never had a husband to begin with). my grandmother died almost exactly a year after my grandfather passed. she didnt die of any illness, to speak of. ive heard of similar instances with older couples dying shortly after their spouse passed – as if their mind/body just decides theres no sense in living without that other half.

    *shrugs* its all very sad to think about. thanks for the downer Champ.

  • Danes

    That was beautiful and so true. I feel the exact same way whenever I see the homeless and especially older homeless men. I keep thinking, “Surely, these men have kids somewhere. Nieces, nephews, cousins, somethin…”
    We are not meant to go through this life alone whether you have a spouse, friend, or whatever. “Monogamy, ain’t for me” be damned! The kinda bond your parents have and the family unit they built because of their commitment and love together takes years.
    The sad thing is in 30 to 40 years that same scenario and will be commen place because there will be no partner or strong family units present to spend with folks in their final days b/c too many families/ marriages today don’t last.

  • Geneva Girl

    This was really nice. I often feel guilty because I live so far away from my parents. If one of them dies first, the likely scenario, where would the other go?

    I need to stop now because thinking about this because it’s getting my day off to a bad start. Still, this was a provocative piece. Thanks.

  • Tiff

    Beautiful and so true, Champ. My grandmother is in a nursing home with Alzheimer’s, and she gets a visit from either my mom or I almost every single day, and other family members a little less frequently. It always breaks my heart when I see how the other residents whose families I have never seen will stare at us longingly. Here we are visiting a woman who can’t really recognize or speak to us every day and who half the time is asleep, when they are awake, alert, and able to hold conversations but only get visitors on birthdays, and maybe a few holidays. We try to engage them as much as possible, but we can’t take on everyone. Do they not have family, or are they just not close with them? I don’t know, but it does raise fears in me as I am currently single with no children and only one sibling. I sincerely hope I don’t become one of those people staring longingly at someone else’s family.

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