By far the most powerful message imparted in our 70Candles conversation groups has been the importance of other women in the lives of our participants. Women emphasized over and over again the strength they receive through their ties to other women. They value and trust their women friends, often -- in the case, for example, of widowhood, or a spouse's disability -- considering them a lifeline.
We are social beings. In our blog at 70Candles.com, women in their 70s continue to tell us how much they do not want to be isolated and alone. As they leave the work world, where they have usually been surrounded by others, they seek social connections to sustain them in the next chapter of their lives. They take courses with friends, volunteer their time with them, participate in local activities with them, and travel together. Oft-heard comments include:
"Maintaining relationships with women has been really important for me. They have been the core of my life."
"Women need women. Communicating with women is healthy."
Many come to our gatherings with a friend or bring a group of friends with them. Their advice about the importance of friendships in their lives is heartfelt.
"Men don't have friends the way that women do. The strength of womanhood -- reaching out to, getting advice from, each other -- makes us as vital as we are."
"Sustaining emotional connections -- these are crucial...."
Many single, divorced, or widowed women depend on women friends for companionship. Others know that odds are that they will outlive their spouse or partner and, ultimately, it will be their friends who will become their "family." Women who have never had children seem, in our experience, to be especially aware at this time in their lives, of the "urgency" of friendships. Some who move to new locations struggle to make new, "good friends."
Ideas have been shared in our groups and blog about ways to seek and find people with similar interests and needs. Living arrangements matter, and choices are abundant. Shared housing, natural communities where neighbors informally help each other, organizations that promote involvement and connections among seniors like Philadelphia's FitC, and The Transitions Network's Caring Collaborative (www.thetransitionnetwork.org), now in several cities, are some helpful examples. There are Senior Centers with a wide range of activities, recreation centers, book groups galore, as well as interest groups for artists, hikers, bird watchers, and budding genealogists, among others. Chances are good for enjoying the company of those who share your hobbies and passions, but it does take some effort to identify and access these options.
Projects like Philadelphia's Friends in the City (www.friendscentercity.org), have a full calendar generated by the urban group members, with an ever growing array of events and projects from dining, play reading, dancing, and travel to volunteering at local schools and soup kitchens -- all in the company of like-minded peers. Women in 70Candles groups expressed how important activities like these are to them.
"I just have to step outside, and there is always something to do."
The Transition Network's Caring Collaborative (www.thetransitionnetwork.org) specifically for women over 50, is an "intentional community," as they take advantage of existing facilities and partnerships. Women help each other, gather socially, and are at the other end of a phone in time of need.
Then there are established communities throughout the country like Ashby Village, in the Berkeley, California area (www.av.clubexpress.com) and a variety of neighborhood associations organized to provide supportive resources that allow older adults to remain in their homes as they age. They can remain in their familiar neighborhoods near old friends and acquaintances, because with collaborative efforts services are provided by community members or outside sources. These can include home repair and remodeling, light housekeeping, grocery shopping, Meals on Wheels, and much more.
We hear repeatedly that a positive and optimistic attitude and a concerted effort to both establish and maintain social connections will steady the course of the best of times and the worst of times.
Abstracted from 70Candles! Women Thriving in Their 8th Decade,
by Jane Giddan and Ellen Cole, coming soon from Taos Institute Publications.