A recent article on CNN Health begins with a rather melancholy statement.
A Victim of Her Own Decisions
“Edith Heyck didn’t expect she’d be 72 years old and living alone.”
The article then recounts her expectations as a member of the Boomer generation.
“‘ I always thought I’d be married,’ she says. ‘I was definitely raised to be a wife, and I never imagined I’d be on my own.’”
Later, the article points out that she divorced her husband when her son was eighteen. Nothing further is said about the effects of divorce on the young man. The false assumption is that he had reached adulthood; therefore, his parents’ marriage was unimportant to him.
CNN also makes vague references to the economic insecurity that followed the divorce. Such hardship is also a common issue, as the breakup of the marriage necessarily leads to the division of marital assets.
Liberation or Degradation?
Unfortunately, civil divorce after decades of marriage is increasingly common among baby boomers (those born between 1946 and 1964). It is so common that a new term is used to describe it—“Gray Divorce.”
I have never met Edith Heyck, and certainly am not competent to evaluate her life. I do not know the reason for the separation. However, being only a few years younger than she, I can tie her experience to the generational influences through which we both lived.
Baby boomers, of course, did not invent immorality, fornication or adultery that often lead to divorce. These all existed millennia before our births. However, until the sexual revolution of the late sixties, they were rare exceptions to the general rule.
An Appealing Picture of Sin
The key difference lay in the fact that our generation approached these aberrations with a flippancy that would have shocked our parents, grandparents or more distant ancestors. Unlike previous generations, many baby boomers had dismissed traditional ideas of marriage by the end of their high school years. As they approached adulthood, there was little sense that committed marriages were normal or even desirable.
In its stead, the culture presents cohabitation before marriage as typical. No one needs to be ashamed of such a relationship. Many at the time referred to such couplings as “trial marriages,” rational steps before making a permanent commitment.
This message was echoed in popular music, movies, television shows, magazine articles, books and other media disseminated it as well. Occasionally, congregations heard it from the pulpits of “progressive” priests.
Marriage as a Harbinger of Grace
Thus, our generation rejected the Christian ideal of marriage as a union of one man and one woman for life and open to children. Such decisions often exclude them from God’s redeeming grace because their pride makes them less likely to respond to the spiritual lifelines that Our Lord and Our Lady send to us.
This ideal is the basis of all society. God devised it to provide security to the human species. It provides for children’s material, emotional and physical care, as well as their sacred and secular education. It provides companionship and stability for the marriage partners. As we age, our children’s marriages help to maintain homes for us as our physical and mental abilities decline. The relationship between grandparents and grandchildren helps to lighten the load that generally falls on parents.
The rejection of that ideal breaks all of those ties. No matter their intentions, single parents cannot meet their children’s various needs. Even children whose parents divorce after they reach adulthood experience irreplaceable losses.
A Growing Condition
The baby boomers’ attitudes toward marriage were unsurprisingly reflected in their “Gen X” children. Lacking examples of committed marriages, many younger people treat that one-time commonplace ideal as an impossible, unrealistic and even faintly ridiculous relic from a “repressive” past.
The end result is all too predictable, which the CNN article confirms. Roughly fifteen million Americans between the ages of thirty-five and sixty-four live alone. That figure, of course, would include those whose marriages ended because of widowhood; however, these are vastly outnumbered by the divorced.
Many of those who live alone express pleasure in being autonomous. There is, nonetheless, a significant downside. CNN quotes Markus Schafer, a Baylor University professor of sociology.
“[C]onsistently research finds that even though a lot of people fare well living alone, people who live alone report higher levels of loneliness across the board, and it’s definitely more pronounced later in life.”
God’s Plans Are Superior to Our Own
That loneliness acquires a greater significance as people age and inevitably become increasingly infirm. More likely to be distant from their children and lacking the commitment of a spouse, they become isolated from society as a whole. Later, their only choice is often costly in-home assistance or life in an even more expensive facility for older adults.
As death approaches, such people are often surrounded by those whose only interest is professional. The “gray divorces,” which looked so appealing in their fifties and sixties, trap them in a web of loneliness and despair. Having relied on their illusions of self-sufficiency, they die without the sacraments in the presence of strangers.
God never intended this end for any of us. Committed marriages open to the procreation of children safeguard us from such a fate. Indeed, in such extremities, we can best see God’s plan for the family as kind rather than being a burden.