When we think of the culture of death, we picture evils like abortion, contraception, and euthanasia. Rarely do we consider the consequences of the culture of death—the epidemic of loneliness. A recent study reported that just over 40 percent of Americans feel left out, isolated, or alone. With the declining birth rate and the increasing rate of divorce, more and more people are left without family members to comfort them when they need it. In 2015, over 13 percent of Americans lived alone and 6.6 percent of Americans had no living family members. By 2060, the number of people without family members is expected to double.
Loneliness strikes at the core of what it means to be part of the human family. We were created to be part of a community—the family—but the reality is that more and more Americans must cope with less-than-ideal situations like broken homes and smaller families. In past centuries, the elderly were cared for at home by their relatives. Today, many senior citizens live in nursing homes or on their own with no nearby family. For example, an estimated 30,000 people die alone in Japan every year, spawning an entire industry centered around cleaning up the apartments of the deceased.
The loneliness epidemic extends beyond senior citizens or the dying. Sadly, in Japan, lonely people can hire actors to fill the void left by deceased or alienated family members. This growing rent-a-family industry is the tragic result of the departure from traditional families and the brokeness caused by the culture of death.
Loneliness and isolation have become the new norm for so many people in our society. As a culture of life, what can we do?
In Evangelium Vitae, Saint John Paul II recognizes loneliness as the result of a distorted view of freedom, which prizes the individual rights above the needs of society. Once man has lost the sense of God through the effects of sin, he then loses the understanding of kinship of the human family and the virtue of solidarity that we share with each other (paragraph 19).
The virtue of solidarity is integral to the culture of life. We have a responsibility to the people around us—our family, our friends, and our neighbors. People everywhere, including within our own communities, hurt from the wounds of the culture of death. Our response to the epidemic of loneliness should be love. The more that people feel loved and needed, the less they will embrace evils like euthanasia.
If we made a more conscious effort to reach out to people in our own communities, maybe the demand for the rent-a-family industry wouldn’t exist. Every day, we encounter situations that we can use to show the love of Jesus to others. We just need to be vigilant to see where God is calling us to serve.
Start with your own family. Think about how you treat the people in your immediate family and resolve to always treat them with compassion, kindness, and love. Do you have grandparents or great aunts and uncles who live alone? How often do you reach out to them? It doesn’t have to be complicated. Start with a phone call, a short visit, or mail a card. Do something to let them know that they are not alone and that you care about them.
Outside our family we meet people in the store, at church, or in school. As Christians and pro-lifers, we are called to make the choice to be present to other people instead of gravitating to our electronic devices or getting caught up in our busy schedules. Our time on earth is so limited, which is why it can be one of the best gifts to give to others. When you visit with friends, family, or even strangers you have the opportunity to share the love of Jesus. There are many unique ways to connect with others. Visit a nursing home as a family or with a group of families. Begin conversations with your neighbors. Assist your elderly neighbors with yardwork or other household tasks. Strike up a conversation with the young person who attends church alone. Pray for those who are lonely and especially for people who have no one to pray for them. When you are annoyed with your own family, offer up your suffering for someone who has no family. These are simple tasks that anyone can do. Don’t let apprehension or fear of awkwardness stop you from reaching out to others.
Loneliness can exist at any stage of life. With the advent of social media, the Internet, and technology that forces us to interact with robots instead of humans, people have drifted farther apart. If we want to build a culture of life, we need to reach out to the human beings around us and remind them that they are part of our human family.
What can you do this week to combat the epidemic of loneliness?
Laura Kizior is the Digital Media and Communciations Manager for the Culture of Life Studies Program. Her work has appeared on Verily.com, CatholicMom.com, LifeSiteNews.com, Celebrate Life Magazine, TeachersSavingChildren.org, and in the Pro-Life Healthcare Alliance newsletter.