It was May 2006, two days before Mother’s Day, when a sad epiphany struck Jane Miller. The Howell resident was working at a Monmouth County retirement community when she noticed one of the residents had spent the entire day in the lobby.
“The woman was sitting there watching bouquets being brought in for anybody but her,” Miller said. “It bothered me to no end.”
Finally, in the late afternoon, Miller asked the resident if she was OK.
“She said, ‘I don’t have any family,’” Miller recalled. “I’m just enjoying watching all these flowers come in.”
The woman was an “elder orphan” — someone who is aging alone, with no family available. AARP estimates more than one in five Americans older than 65 are elder orphans or at risk of becoming one. Given the unprecedented size of the baby boomer generation and ever-increasing longevity rates, that means there could be 10 million elder orphans in the U.S. right now.
“It broke my heart.” Miller said, recalling that encounter in the lobby. “It just nagged at me.”
So she decided to do something about it. The next Mother’s Day Miller visited a friend in a nursing home and brought an additional bouquet for another woman there who had no family.
A movement was born.
A ‘healing quality’
On Thursday, a little bit of magic happened at Brandywine Senior Living in Howell. Activity director Amy Schneider gathered nine female residents for a special presentation in the sitting room next to the lobby. These women, Schneider explained later, were unlikely to receive visitors on Mother’s Day. But they had visitors on this day — four strangers who handed each of them a bouquet of flowers and a wrapped gift.