Living Alone, Dying Alone

“More people live alone than at any other time in history,” said Eric Klinenberg in his New York Times article “One’s a Crowd.” In major U.S. cities, such as Atlanta, Denver, and Minneapolis, 40 percent of households contain a single occupant. In Manhattan and Washington, D.C., nearly 50 percent of households consist of one person. Throughout the country, 32 million people live alone—15 million of them between the ages of 34 and 65. Once, most people thought about living alone with a sense of “anxiety, dread, and feelings of loneliness.” But today, many appreciate the freedom and independence from intrusive family members, annoying roommates, or spouses that turn out to be “the wrong person.” And the advent of online social networking makes the solitary existence less isolated still, allowing us to “engage with others when and how we want to, and on our own terms.” Klinenberg concludes by suggesting that “All signs suggest that living alone will become even more common in the future, at every stage of adulthood and in every place where people can afford a place of their own.”

Before disengaging from one’s family and friends, it is worth listening to the insight of Kerry Egan from CNN.com.

“I am a hospice chaplain. I visit people who are dying—in their homes, in hospitals, and in nursing homes. What do people who are sick and dying talk about? Mostly, about their families, their mothers and fathers, their sons and daughters. They talk about how they learned what love is, and what it is not. That is how we talk about the meaning of our lives. That is how we talk about the big spiritual questions of human existence. We don’t live our lives in theology and theories. We live our lives in our families: This is where we find meaning, this is where our purpose becomes clear.”

As a pastor, having sat beside many a hospital bed containing men and women on the threshold of eternity, I find Kerry Egan’s testimony to be entirely convincing. This is not to suggest that solo living is therefore wrong or inadvisable. The truth is that we can live in a full house with a spouse and children and be aloof. Kerry’s insight speaks to all of us. When we look back upon life from the vantage point of our final breaths, it will be relationships with family and friends, especially those in Christ, that are the greatest gifts under heaven. 

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