Not Dead Yet

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

Spurred by the story of a sweet old lady in Chinatown, we have heard from solo seniors who are sad and a grandmother who happily chose to live alone. Many more readers have written in. This one is brimming with optimism:

I also have grown children and grandchildren, living in other parts of the country. I recently moved to a new state, downsized in a BIG way, and settled myself in a one-bedroom apartment. I love it! I’ve made many new friends, am very active in my Unitarian church, in addition to being the Office Administrator there on a part-time basis. My children are supportive and we stay in touch by email and phone. When I do have a quiet moment at home I relish the time—reading or cooking or watching Netflix.  

My advise to seniors: Make the most out of each day. Get involved. Find friends of your age. It's a wonderful life.  

This gal would agree:

I’m 79 pushing 80. I have lived alone for over 30 years, but I have never been lonely, bored or depressed about it.

I have some health problems, BUT I’m very active. I’ve been a Master Gardener for 15 years, helping people to save money, eat better, and learn to grow and save their food by canning, freezing, dehydrating. I also oversee 300 volunteers in three counties to be Citizen Scientists, monitoring rain gauges for CoCoRaHS.org. I’m in my eleventh year doing this.

I also am computer literate. Anyone can become literate on computers at most libraries, college classes—many are free for people over 65 years of age. Other people are active in their church activities, listening to children read at your local schools, help out at animal shelters. Volunteer at art galleries, museums, etc.  

I had three children; they are all old now. Only one son is in my life. That is alright, as we do NOT OWN our children just because we happened to bear them. Mine are all good citizens and not a drain on anyone, so I feel I must have done something right. I do not owe them and they do not owe me.

This woman is frustrated by older people who wait for their children to cheer them up:

I’m 68, a widow (for 18 years), childless, and an only child. Lonely? Yeah. I don’t even have any family to complain about. Why don’t people with non-communicative children call THEM, write to THEM, reach out to THEM. Good grief, people! I don’t have that option. Wish I did.

Here’s a reader who’s not old yet:

Thank you for addressing the topic of aging and living alone. My partner and I, now in our 40s, are child-free by choice. I have always known I didn’t want children, and we have both been asked many times who will take care of us when we’re old. The answer is that it requires a lot of planning and saving—something that it seems as if some of your letter-writers have not done because they were relying on their children.

I think it would behoove everyone to plan for old age as we do, by making sure there are caretakers, decision-makers, and others in place when the time comes, and building a network of peers with common interests to keep us company. Relying on your children for both support and companionship is often a losing strategy, and it damages relationships with them by breeding resentment.