Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Sometimes Even Santa Gets Lonely…

Arlen-Baby HeadshotsAfter 26 years sharing the wonder of the holidays and listening to thousands of children’s special wishes for Christmas, December 2012 was the first time Arlen could not get into the spirit to be Santa Claus. Arlen needed help to end the deep sadness that comes from feeling isolated, ignored and invisible.

Now 75, Arlen has had a full life. As a veteran, he served in the Air Force designing spy satellites during the Cold War, he enjoyed a long career as an engineer, he has been a husband and father, and a loving caregiver to his wife, Marie.

Arlen knew when he met Marie that he had found his soul mate. They shared a long and loving 37 year marriage until Marie passed away after her three year struggle with Alzheimer’s. Singlehandedly, Arlen took care of Marie for those three years until he could no longer care for her. Sadly, he had to move her into a memory care facility. She lived there just one week before she died. Arlen says “I was relieved that she was no longer suffering, but I was so sad that I was now alone.”

After Marie died, Arlen was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and began sinking into a deep depression. He no longer had Marie sitting across from him at each meal and his support system was limited. He rarely left home and slept throughout the day. Fortunately, Kaiser Permanente’s Special Needs Program understood his situation and referred Arlen to the Council on Aging’s Socialization Program.

Arlen is just one of our community’s many seniors who have done everything right throughout their lives and now experience the pain of feeling alone.

Please support the Council on Aging. A steady commitment from a caring person like you can transform the life of an isolated senior like Arlen. I hope that after hearing more about Arlen’s journey, you will consider making a contribution this year.

“It is easy to get depressed,” Arlen says “and it is difficult to overcome depression unless you have someone special–a companion who listens, who you can count on, who understands your feelings, and who knows how to draw you out of yourself.”

As an intern in the Council’s Socialization program, Jessica, 26, came into Arlen’s life when he needed someone the most. Jessica became Arlen’s Partner for Active Living (P.A.L.) companion. Jessica’s regular visit became the highlight of his week. Instead of sitting alone and waiting for something to happen, Arlen was now planning for their weekly activities. Arlen and Jessica enjoyed a variety of adventuresome activities; sometimes they simply had a meal together while Jessica listened to stories about his life.

“Sharing a meal with a good friend like Jessica is a major step,” says Arlen. “You don’t know how lonely it is to go to a restaurant by yourself and sit alone, day in and day out, with no one to talk to. It’s no wonder older people get depressed.”


Jessica built a trusting relationship with Arlen. When her internship ended, she continued to volunteer as his P.A.L. Arlen wishes that Jessica had the time to visit more than once a week. “Once a week is like wetting the tip of your tongue with one drop of water after three days in the desert; you want a full glass, not just a drop on the tip of your tongue.” Arlen is grateful that the Council on Aging provided him the care and support he received from the Socialization program. “Thank goodness the Council on Aging can step up and play a major part in the aging problem we now have in this country.”


Just as Arlen had listened to the special wishes of young children as Santa Claus, he now had someone special who listened to him.

Because Arlen benefited from his Council on Aging P.A.L., he no longer experiences deep, dark bouts of loneliness. He has progressed from being isolated to wanting to help others in similar situations. Now he participates in art classes and the lunch program at the Fullerton Senior Center, he plays golf at Coyote Hills, and sings in a senior choir. More importantly, he is now a mentor in a grief support group where he shares how his volunteer P.A.L., Jessica, and the Council on Aging changed his life.

Arlen is enjoying his life again. Best of all, this year he will return to his role as Santa at churches, in his neighborhood and wherever Santa might be needed.

Every time I meet a senior like Arlen, who has felt isolated, ignored and invisible, I’m reminded of the importance of your support. And I’m inspired by the compassion and commitment of special friends like you.

Please join us once again with a generous gift and help us transform the lives of older adults. Your help is so important. Thank you and Happy Holidays!


Lisa Wright Jenkins
President and CEO

P.S. Arlen says, “Jessica has been a bright light in my life.” With your gift, the Council on Aging will ensure that more isolated seniors have a bright light like Jessica in their lives.