I begin with gratitude to Andrea Davies, a new and younger friend, for her Facebook post of Robert Waldinger’s Ted talk on “Lessons from the Longest Study on Happiness.” The study of octogenarian men over their lifetime concludes that relationships— those we can rely upon for support and connection over time—can help buffer life’s inevitable personal and physical challenges.
As a female octogenarian, I can attest to the wisdom of friendship and its effects on well-being. When I turned fifty, after twenty-five years of maintaining a psychotherapy practice and my children near grown, I asked myself, “What can I do now that I’ve done it all?” The question was both naïve and sincere and pointed to my state of mind. I felt lost, that something was missing. In truth, I had dedicated time to my husband, my children, my parents and clients but took little time to develop intimate relationships with friends.
Six years later, a neighbor and walking friend, Bev Bader, invited me to join a women’s group. Nine of us spanning thirteen years in age, all married with children and careers, convened. I was the oldest by six years. The commonality of approaching middle age with present or impending transitions bonded us.
Over the course of twenty-seven years, eight of us have continued to meet monthly with two months off during summer. We meet for two and a half hours, in a circle, and divide the time equally for each attendee to tell her story. I recall my nervousness those start-up years when my turn came to state aloud what I wanted and needed in my personal life. As a therapist, I was a listener with responsibility to guide, to help. As a group member, I was vulnerable, sharing aspirations and struggles for which I often had no answers and needed feedback.
I learned, over time, that others could help with perspective and offer support. Bev, Rosemary, Janet, Claudine, Carol, Joan and Eva have walked beside me through the launch of my adolescent children, their choice of spouses, the birth of five grandchildren, my husband’s heart episode, the decision to retire and close my therapy practice, my longing and quest to become a writer, my return to school for an MFA in creative writing.
At age seventy-five, I graduated from Pine Manor’s Solstice MFA program in creative writing. As I looked out at the familiar faces of family and friends, I was aware that the fulfillment of my long journey to become a writer was, in great part, due to the unswerving support and encouragement of my husband and friends.
I am grateful for the nurturance and sustaining friendship of my woman’s group. What we give and what we take are found in the telling of our stories, the trust that comes from the circle. We are, in truth, lifelong sisters.