If You Want to Get Old Gracefully, Make Young Friends

Tea Chest

Tea Chest

My mother has moved remarkably smoothly from Independent to Assisted Living in her community in Seattle. A lot can be said for the community itself that has both types of living in the same building, one on the 12th floor, another on the 3rd. They had maintenance people who moved the furniture that she decided to keep in place of the more institutional furniture originally in the room — 2 book cases,
Bear Chair

Bear Chair

her Bear chair, the tea chest she uses as a jewelry box, her dresser, her little marble-top table where she has worked crossword puzzles for years. The maintenance people also hung up her pictures, so she had lots of reminders of her children, grandchildren, and trips all around her. She was a world traveler in her time — visited all continents except for Antarctica, and came very close to it.


But now that I’m back in North Carolina, 3000 miles away, I have many opportunities to observe the truth of a saying I heard recently, “If you want to get old gracefully, make young friends.”

My mother has several friends who are my age plus or minus a few years. They have banded together with my siblings and me to create a caring web around her. I can’t list all the things they’ve done for her. One spent a morning cleaning out her kitchen so she could turn over the keys to the apartment. When she has a doctor’s appointment, there’s likely to be a friend or even two available to take her. People come by to visit, to go out for walks with her, and to take her to dinner. One couple remembered how much she likes mussles and found a restaurant with mussles on the menu. They all send emails when they’ve seen her, letting us know how she seems — are her spirits drooping, or is she her usual feisty and entertaining self?

Schipperke courtesy dbzoomer

Schipperke courtesy dbzoomer

My godmother recently hurt her back tipping water out of one of those enormous plastic garbage cans that people roll out to the street. It was too heavy to roll back, and, as she put it, she could have done it easily 5 years ago (when she was just 80). With her back hurt, she couldn’t drive and she couldn’t take her young dog, a 2-year-old Schipperke, for walks. So how did she manage to get by without calling on me or her children? Her neighbors. Every day neighbors dropped by to see what she needed. Groceries? They brought her more food than she could eat. Walking the dog? Various neighbors came by in the morning and the late afternoon to give him energetic runs. My godmother thinks everyone should have a little dog, which my mother thinks is crazy. But the little dog has not only given her something to care for, it has also made her meet all her neighbors, so they had a chance to experience her warm, witty, graceful self before she had the accident. It has certainly paid dividends in the last week or so.

This is a thanks to the young friends of my mother and grandmother — and all the other young friends out there.



Filed under Extraordinary people, Friendship, Independence

3 responses to “If You Want to Get Old Gracefully, Make Young Friends

  1. Hi Kathryn,

    I think this is true. Growing old vitally is something which is not only a matter of ‘objective’ causes. In addition to the things you mention there is the work by Ellen Langer who has just written a book called Counterclockwise.

    Maybe you have heard of it. If not, here is the book: http://bit.ly/RUryj. In it she describes some counterintuitive and inspiring research (like this one: http://bit.ly/HAOcI)

    On a sidenote: the book also contains a fascinating idea of what Langer calls ‘The psychology of possibility’ ( http://bit.ly/17MOcg)

    best wishes,
    Coert Visser

  2. Kathryn

    Thanks for the pointers, Coert. I see this period of time helping my mother and godmother as a chance to rehearse for how I’ll get old myself some day. I’ll look for your suggestions.


  3. Kathryn

    A friend just pointed out that the quotation making young friends comes from George Vaillant’s book, Aging Well.


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