Published: February 18, 2021
Think of all the ways you and your friends have connected in the past week.
Emails, texts and photos, maybe Zoom visits and, oh yes, phone calls.
Better yet, in person gatherings - a socially distant walk in the park or sitting around the outdoor fire pit - and coming soon, gatherings around the kitchen table as vaccine distribution increases.
Then afterwards, did you feel happier, lighter, less lonely or stressed out? Maybe it’s hard to find the right word, because as Brazilian writer Paulo Coelho says “Friendship isn’t a big thing, it’s a million little things.”
Pandemic or not, regardless of your age, we all benefit from having people in our lives that we call friends.
“There are these transition points in life when it’s easier or harder to spend time with friends, but what is important for people to know is that friendship is a lifelong endeavor and that it is something that people should be paying attention to at all points in life,” says Lydia Denworth, author of Friendship: The Evolution, Biology, and Extraordinary Power of Life’s Fundamental Bond.
“If you get to be 65 and then now you’re ready to start paying attention to friends, well, it’s a little bit like stopping smoking when you’re 65. If you go from 15 to 65 and you smoke the whole time, it’s still better to stop than not, but some damage will have been done. And if you don’t pay attention to friends all the way along, the same thing is true.”
Friends Do More than Make Us Feel Good
Healthy friendships – ones that include mutual respect, trust, support and acceptance – are good for our health. (And yes, unhealthy or toxic friendships based on manipulation, unkindness, gossip and the like are bad for our health.)
Healthline lists 6 ways healthy friendship enhance our physical and emotional health. Here are 3 of them:
- Personal Development. Let’s say you want to make a positive change in your life – start running, quit smoking - a friend’s support and encouragement can make all the difference. This encouragement can boost your self-confidence and increase your chances of success with your goals.
- A sense of belonging. Knowing that others care for you – and that you care for others – increases feelings of compassion, self-worth and security.
- Support during life’s challenges. Whether it’s unemployment, death of a loved one or another difficult life event, research has found that having friends by your side increases your ability to manage, preserve and recover.
That positive influence might even be greater as we age, according to a 2017 Michigan State University study that found friends begin to have a bigger impact on our well-being than family members as we grow old.
Explains lead researcher William Chopik in an AARP article: “Family members typically become caregivers for the elderly, and that role can create a sense of obligation. While the relationships are still vital, they may not provide as much joy in an elderly person's life as long-term friends.”
Kendal Residents Share their Friendship Stories
“Under the best of circumstances, moving to a new place is challenging, but the pandemic added another layer of difficulty,” says Lillie Long, who moved to Kendal with her husband (and best friend) Nick last spring.
Despite the restrictions on group activities and other pandemic challenges, the Longs have been able to make new friends.
“As we have learned over the past year, the kindness of staff and residents here at Kendal make it easy to develop friendships. Both of us have developed friendships with other volunteers at the Kendal Resale Shop, at the community garden and in the Art Studio.
“Before winter arrived, we had several offers for outside visits with other residents. These small gatherings allowed us the opportunity to get to know our neighbors next door and across campus. We enjoyed playing bocce ball on the lawn in the back yard as well as doing small gardening projects with some of our new friends. The friendships we are developing give us much needed social interaction as well as a sense of accomplishment when a project is completed."
“Though our life is very different now, the developing friendships through our volunteer work have helped us to stay grounded during this difficult time. We believe the key to getting through this is maintaining friendships, which help us to stay active and keep the mind and body working.”
Robert Taylor and his husband Ted Nowick moved to Kendal 18 years ago and became quick friends with neighbors Katie and Jack Brown.
“Very soon, we started having Sunday suppers with them, followed by a movie of some kind on TV. This tradition has continued without interruption through all the years since,” Robert says.
Jack became ill with dementia and during a conversation, Katie told the couple she was disappointed she couldn’t travel to Puerto Rico anymore to see her son, daughter-in-law, and granddaughter because of Jack’s wandering.
Ted said, “Well, if Robert and I go to Puerto Rico with you, we could help you keep an eye on him, couldn’t we?” and Katie enthusiastically agreed.
The four of them had a memorable 10-day vacation – Katie and Jack staying with their family and Ted and Robert not far away, in a beautiful little hotel overlooking the ocean.
After Jack died, their friendship continued to grow with Katie. They shared meals, walks, a love of art and reading and took many day and overnight trips. When Kendal’s New Normal Planning Committee recommended the formation of “bubbles,” the three of them were among the first to do so.
“We have become even closer during this long and bizarre year and are all extraordinarily grateful that we have had this opportunity to learn just how deep – and how fulfilling – friendships can be,” Robert says. “We often tell each other that these frequent boosts to our immune systems have helped keep us healthy and vibrant – at 80 for me, 90 for Ted, and 97 for Katie.”
Priscilla Steinberg is a member of Kendal’s Newcomers/Friendship Committee, which welcomes new residents with a reception and coordinates the mentoring program. Since the pandemic the receptions have turned into Zoom interviews, with Priscilla leading the conversation.
I do what I do best, I talk,” Priscilla says.
Priscilla’s husband Ira died in 2019 so when the pandemic hit she looked for ways to stay connected to her Kendal friends. She and two other residents, also single, formed a bubble, and Priscilla and about 20 of her neighbors began Saturday afternoon outdoor gatherings, now on Zoom until warm weather returns.
Priscilla also volunteered to call residents to remind them about their upcoming grocery orders – in all about 180 calls every two weeks.
The pandemic has put many intergenerational friendships on hold, such as “grandfriend” outings with children in the Early Learning Center and mentoring friendships with Oberlin College students. It’s also shut down communal dining, a big void for many Kendal residents, though plans are underway to resume some limited dining room opportunities later this spring.
“I’m an only child, I’m used to being alone. Being alone is not what bothers me, I miss having dinner with residents,” Priscilla says. “Sometimes my dinner is planned, I call someone and say ‘let’s make a date,’ other times I just sit at a new table with so and so. Sometimes I’d be with people and laugh the whole time. Community, that’s a word I use a lot when talking about Kendal.”
Tell us your favorite friendship story or share a quote that captures what friends mean to you.
Together, Staying Safe and Well
A community like Kendal at Oberlin can be a safe harbor in challenging times. Learn how residents and staff have worked together to make our community a safe place to be.
In the past, Molly Kavanaugh frequently wrote about Kendal at Oberlin for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, where she was a reporter for 16 years. Now we are happy to have her writing for the Kendal at Oberlin Community.
About Kendal at Oberlin: Kendal is a nonprofit life plan community serving older adults in northeast Ohio. Located about one mile from Oberlin College and Conservatory, and about a 40 minute drive from downtown Cleveland, Kendal offers a vibrant resident-led lifestyle with access to music, art and lifelong learning.