When 37-year-old Marleen Brooks from Missouri in the US came home from work and sorted through her mail earlier this year, she had no idea she was about to find a letter that would change her life.
It was short, written in a shaky scrawl, and it broke Marleen’s heart.
“Would you consider to become my friend,” the note read. “I’m 90 years old – live alone and all my friends have passed away. I am so lonesome and scared. Please – I pray for some one.”
Marleen, whose own grandmother had passed away alone in hospice care, burst into tears. She noticed that the woman’s address was just two doors down from her house, but in her year and a half of living in the street, had no idea anyone even lived there.
The next day, Marleen and a friend brought cupcakes to the woman. Her name was Wanda Mills, she was 90 years old and had lived in the house for over 50 years. Her husband and sister had died, as had one of her sons. Another lived far away and a third son actually lived next door, but didn’t visit often.
Wanda confessed she hadn’t left the house in seven years, relying instead on caregivers who visited daily. But they weren’t the same as friends.
“I hope you didn’t think I was stupid for writing you, but I had to do something,” Wanda told Marleen. “Thank you so much for coming over. I’ve lived here for 50 years and don’t know any of my neighbours.”
The pair quickly hit it off, and it gave Marleen a brilliant idea – why not take this opportunity to help other lonely seniors find companionship?
She wasted no time, setting up a Facebook group called Pen Pals for Seniors in the hope of connecting lonely older people and encouraging them to keep up regular correspondence with others. The group was an instant hit, with 6,000 people joining in just over a month.
Months on from their first meeting, Wanda has moved into an aged care facility – but her friendship with Marleen, who visits regularly along with her husband and son, is stronger than ever.
Tell us in the comments below, are you friends with your neighbours? Do you think more needs to be done to prevent people becoming isolated in old age?
Image credit: Marleen Brooks/Facebook.