Parents can still end up lonely, Pope Francis

“Being lonely has little to do with having children,” said Dr. Bill Doherty, professor and director of the Marriage and Family Therapy Program in the University of Minnesota’s Department of Family Social Science. “Single parents in particular can feel quite lonely for adult companionship and love, and parents with adult children who emotionally abandon them can feel acutely lonely.”

Although abandonment by adult children is likely the fear of every parent, and therefore rarely discussed in polite company, it happens plenty. The problem became so pervasive in New York that in 1981 The New York Times ran an article on the increasingly common practice of family members abandoning senior citizens in city hospitals. “In some instances, family members will give a false name and address,” the paper reported. “In others, they may call an ambulance to take the patient to the hospital alone and then, when there is no medical reason to admit them, refuse to take them back home.”

Today abandonment of the elderly can take different forms. After learning how many senior citizens in nursing homes never have any visitors, former nurse Susan Zador founded the California-based volunteer organization Visiting the Lonely Ones. “One of the directors of a local nursing home said 85 percent of his residents had no visitors,” Zador told The Daily Beast. Now program volunteers visit nursing home residents who otherwise wouldn’t have visitors. Zador is hoping to raise the funds necessary to expand the program nationally.