In the article How to Avoid Dying Alone With No One To Claim Your Body, Jezebel's Tracy Moore describes the increasing problem of dead bodies with no one to claim them and people whose death goes unnoticed for days, weeks or months (in some instances years). This is a true concern for those of us who live alone, without family nearby, and especially those who don't have a job to go to each day. Apparently, we're a growing population.
Having lived alone without family nearby for many years, I've considered how long it might take my dead body to be discovered. While it's disturbing to imagine my corpse just lying there for any length of time, I also know that since I'll be dead, it won't matter to me. The fear of one's death going unnoticed is really a fear of not being important to anyone. The discovery of a body that no one missed causes us to reflect on how long it would take someone to notice our death. We think: would it matter if I just dropped out of existence? If not, was my life worth living?
This is the horror of someone's death going unnoticed: it suggests that some of us don't matter. And mattering is a fundamental human need. Everyone wants to matter.
Fortunately we all get to choose our own criteria for mattering. Some people feel satisfied to have reproduced and perpetuated their values and behaviors. Others feel like they've made a difference if their actions or money have affected many others. For some it takes artistic achievement or improving the lives of others one at a time or fighting the good fight, etc. etc. Fortunately there are many, many ways to believe that one has lived a life that matters. And yet the question of how long it would take your death to be noticed haunts.
Moore's Jezebel article comes up with one way to make sure your body doesn't rot in obscurity: keep in touch with others. That's certainly a good idea. If you establish the habit of regularly making contact with others, chances are they'll notice a gap in activity. Have a conversation with someone every day, keep a standing phone call on a weekly basis or just text/email/post people frequently. Make your presence felt and someone will notice if you drop out. Someone will come and investigate if you stop answering their messages.
But to the bigger concern of living a life that matters: only you can decide that for yourself. When you hear a story about someone whose corpse went undiscovered for days or weeks, don't let it shake you (and I write this as someone without spouse, offspring or even a cat). Think about the ways you know you're important to others, and if you have doubts about that, then you have your work cut out for you. Make connections, figure out what you believe is important and do it. Live your life fully, by your own standards, and it won't matter what happens after you're gone. That's really the best we can do.