Being lonely is hard at the best of times, but when you’re 90, living on oxygen, have debilitating ailments and your family is far away, this loneliness can be excruciating. Yet this was exactly the case for nonagenarian Wanda, from California, until recently. The elderly mom of three who lost one son to cancer last year, and whose two other sons live far away, bravely put pen to paper and sent a heart-wrenching letter to her unknown neighbor, Marleen Brooks:
“Mrs ?, Would you consider to become my friend. I’m 90 years old, live alone. All my friends have passed away. I’m so lonesome and scared. Please I pray for someone.”
Thankfully her prayers were answered when Brooks read the letter. Deeply moved by Wanda’s hand-written note, she wanted to spread the message by sharing its contents with TV news anchor Frank Somerville
, saying it “Makes my heart sad, but on the bright side it looks like I will be getting a new friend.”
Brooks then went straight over to see Wanda after work that evening, accompanied by a friend and some cupcakes. She updated Somerville on the fledgling friendship, saying the 90-year-old was “overwhelmed with happiness” by their visit and that she was “such a sweet lady.” When they met, Wanda explained to her new friend that she was a little reticent in sending the letter saying, “I hope you didn’t think I was stupid for writing you, but I had to do something. Thank you so much for coming over. I’ve lived here for 50 years and don’t know any of my neighbors.”
Somerville shared the tale of the two ladies on his Facebook account and will also share details of the new P.O. box account Brooks is setting up for members of the public to send cards to the elderly lady. As Somerville wrote to his followers, “Change happens one person at a time!”
While Wanda’s courage is impressive and Brooks’ response to this cry for help is laudable, it is a testament to how we need to look after each other better. It is incredible to think that Wanda didn’t even know her neighbors after 50 years! Imagine our own mothers or grandmothers sitting by themselves praying for some company — it is truly heartbeaking. As Pope Francis explained in a general audience in March 2015
, “It is a mortal sin to discard our elderly … The elderly are not aliens. We are them — in a short or in a long while we are inevitably them, even though we choose not to think about it.”
With the older generations in particular becoming more and more lonely and socially isolated, we need to find ways to reach out to them. This doesn’t just apply to family members; it can be fellow parishioners, neighbors, or those in hospital. Sister Constance from The Little Sisters of the Poor in Washington, D.C suggests: “Reach out to them and relate to them and create bonds with them intentionally, whether it’s visiting them or offering them a ride to church or shopping, or include them in various things.” She also suggests helping them get up-to-date with social media or Skype so they can “chat” with family and stay connected.
It seems that Wanda’s cry for help has not only been answered, it has reminded us all to take care of each other, as isn’t that one of the core principles of humanity: “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” (Matthew 22: 39).