This month on Craigslist, tucked among ads for worn couches and dusty pianos, was an odd and poignant offer from a woman in Tulsa.
“Anybody need a grandma for Christmas?” she wrote. “I’ll even bring food and gifts for the kids! I have nobody and it really hurts.”
The response to the Oklahoma woman was swift, and in some cases cruel, with cynical comments that accused her of carrying out a hoax or called her a parasite hoping to prey on a generous family. One person told her to go kill herself.
The woman quickly took down the post, but not before 21-year-old Carson Carlock took a screenshot of it after finding the ad while scouring Craigslist for free items. He posted the screenshot on Facebook on Dec. 11 with the hashtag “FINDGRANDMA.”
Naturally, thousands of people around the country shared it and offered to have her over for the holidays.
“I simply just want help you find a family,” Mr. Carlock wrote to her in a Craigslist message on Dec. 12, telling of the overwhelming response in the hope she would write back or call. “You won’t be alone this Christmas.”
The post became a painful reminder of the loneliness and social isolation acutely felt during the holidays, particularly among aging Americans who have no family or have become isolated from relatives.
As baby boomers age, the public is more likely to find posts on social media like the one written by the Tulsa woman, said Blair Schoeb, the chief executive of Areawide Aging Agency in Oklahoma City, which serves about 7,000 residents over 60 years old in four counties.
This month, volunteers for the organization delivered 600 stockings to nursing homes around the region for residents who typically do not get visitors around the holidays. The stockings were filled with socks, tubes of hand lotion, crossword puzzles, and containers of soup and pudding.
“It seems like the number of people who come to visit their families is decreasing, and the number of people who never had kids is increasing,” Mr. Schoeb said. “At some point, the loneliness is coming at you like a train coming down the tracks.”
For those with families, there can be other dangers. Older adults are more likely to experience abuse around the holidays from someone they trust, according to the New York City Department for the Aging.
The department, which explored the issue in a 2011 study, did not indicate why elder abuse is more prevalent this time of year, but it said that reports of financial exploitation and physical, verbal and sexual assaults had remained high over the years. Nearly a third of elder abuse cases reported around the city in the 2018 and 2019 fiscal years occurred from November to January, when families were more likely to be together, according to department officials, who on Wednesday announced a public campaign warning people about the trend.
“So far this year, there have been 1,623 cases reported to our elder abuse programs, displaying a pattern that must be changed,” said Lorraine Cortés-Vázquez, the department’s commissioner in an email. “If you are not reporting elder abuse because you are scared, you have another option and we are here to help.”
The woman in Tulsa, who identified herself only as Carrie, said she had been fighting cancer and was estranged from her daughter, who has refused to let her see her granddaughter even though both live close by.
“I really thought the feeling would go away, but my heart is so broken,” she said in an email. She posted the ad on Dec. 11, then went to her granddaughter’s dance studio and sat outside, hoping to catch a peek of her through the window.
When she checked Craigslist later that night, she was horrified by the responses to her ad.
“I couldn’t understand why people I don’t know were being so rude and hateful to me,” she said. “I was crushed.”
She reached out to Mr. Carlock over the weekend, after local television stations learned of his Facebook post and interviewed him.
Mr. Carlock, who also lives in Tulsa, said he could relate to Carrie, who told him she was in her 50s.
“I know how it feels to feel alone and have no one,” said Mr. Carlock, whose mother died last year of colon cancer.
Loneliness is actually more common among adolescents than among older people, said Katherine Fiori, a psychology professor at Adelphi University in New York.
But unlike younger people, older adults tend to shrink their social circle as they age, and the consequences can be the loss of everyday, ordinary interactions that leave a person feeling even more isolated, Dr. Fiori said.
“This woman may have been reaching out in desperation,” she said. “Reaching out to strangers to connect is actually a pretty adaptive strategy.”
One of the people who responded was Amanda Gayle Vukobrat, a 29-year-old photographer who posted an invitation to the woman to spend the holidays with her family in Oklahoma City.
Source: New York Times