Guest Author: Susanne Skinner
The people who give you their food give you their heart ~ Cesar Chavez
Friends are the family you get to choose for yourself ~ Jess C. Scott
Food is a love language and receiving a gift of food is love made visible.
A recent fall left me with a torn rotator cuff and put me out of commission in unimaginable ways. Surgery sidelined me for two weeks, immobilizing my right shoulder and arm in a beast of a sling. Being right-handed means doing things poorly with my left hand or not at all. The simplest tasks become impossible. Even sleeping is a challenge as I had to remain upright.
But we have a village—a wonderful group of extended family and friends! In the grand scheme of things, a torn rotator cuff is not high on the crisis list. Also in the grand scheme of things is my deep appreciation for the people that supported and fed us!
Friends with Benefits
Our village is a group of amazing friends who rally when one of us needs support. These wonderful friends overwhelmed us their kindness by providing nightly meal deliveries for the first week after my surgery. I’m the chief cook in our family, but with my husband assuming all other duties (and working full time) these meals were like rain in the desert!
It is profoundly humbling to be on the receiving end of this level of generosity. What might be thought of as nothing special to the preparer of the meal is accepted with deep gratitude by those receiving it. There is no greater validation of friendship than feeding one another.
Healing from surgery is hard work. Staying ahead of the pain, beginning physical therapy and the frustration of limited activity is offset by the heartfelt gift of someone’s time and effort to make us dinner. It is also a reminder that as we age, we will face physical and mental setbacks we hadn’t counted on.
Everyone needs a village. The support system within our friendship circle lifts us up and carries us through these challenges. Moving away from immediate family often means relying on your extended family—not relatives but friends you choose who become like family.
The Bigger Picture
It occurs to me that as we age our circle of friends will share just as many losses as we will joys. Part of this reality is knowing most of us have lost our parents and many have lost spouses, siblings and friends and even children. Rebuilding your tribe is an important part of the bigger picture, because we need the friendship and support it fosters.
In the beginning we did not choose each other. We came together as a group because all of us joined the local New Residents Club in the same month. New membership includes a potluck dinner to get to know one another. The club encourages newly formed groups to continue the potlucks (and we do) in monthly rotations at one another’s homes. I love these gatherings and look forward to hosting and attending.
We began as a group of strangers, and over the course of four years we’ve become good friends and neighbors. Caring for one another is a principal tenet of the bond we share. Friends you can turn to for camaraderie and help as you age are a deterrent to loneliness, depression, disability, and hardship.
Quality of Life
Our social networks become smaller as we age, but they also become stronger. Age brings change and being part of a group that will share these changes with you enhances the quality of your life.
Moving to the tropical climate of Florida included defining the quality of life for our retirement years—warm weather, outdoor activities, water sports and laid-back living—and the scary realization that we needed to make new friends.
New friends do not happen over night; in fact it’s harder to make new friends as we get older. But these new connections are critical to aging well. The risk of not doing so is isolation and loneliness. Everyone here is from somewhere else, so it’s a level playing field for establishing new relationships.
Studies prove that socializing strengthens the immune system, lessens cognitive decline, lowers blood pressure, and helps you recover more quickly from illness. It even helps you live longer.
Live Well – Age Well
Aging is an education in and of itself. Growing older changes every single aspect of our lives. Knowing what is happening in and around us is how we manage and understand change in real time. Like knowing the name of the best rotator-cuff surgeon in your area.
Our village supports one another as these changes play out in our day-to-day routines. Sharing information, providing a meal or a ride, and checking in with a quick text or call are just some of the ways we do this. Our private groups on social media include monthly birthday celebrations, bunco, men’s breakfasts and ladies’ luncheons, and our group potluck dinners.
Pop-up invitations are common, from gathering at a favorite restaurant to a day of fishing. Not everyone can make it, but we tend to know what’s up with those missing or unavailable. It’s not intrusive, it’s our way of sharing information about how and when to help one another.
We see each other regularly because staying active and connected is what makes this village work.
Pay It Forward
Spreading encouragement and joy requires little effort and reaps hugs rewards. Small acts of kindness, like checking in on a friend after surgery and delivering a meal are extended family at its real-life best.
We pay it forward because good deeds build community. Instead of paying that person back directly we pass it on; helping each other age well and live longer. And that includes the joy of really good food!