In honour of International Older Persons Month and Mental Health Awareness Week, we’re sharing four reflections from In Praise of Ageing by Carmel Shalev on the theme of ‘friendship’.
Older people are especially vulnerable to loneliness and social isolation – and it can have a serious effect on mental health. In these extracts, Carmel reflects on current friendships and the strength to cultivate new ones.
- It is just as important to have a healthy relationship with ourselves.
We often feel alone and alienated, but we are interconnected in this world in a dynamic process that involves our own attitude to its ephemeral phenomena.
Our relationship to others in the world is layered and composite. It starts with our relationship to ourselves. … Life presents us with fertile grounds for bringing awareness to the way we relate to friends, life and sexual partners, family relatives, colleagues and community, as well as caregivers, advisors, and confidantes.
Our encounters with others offer precious opportunities for personal growth. We can choose the ways in which we respond and engage in a process of mutual nourishment. p. 114-5
- Our relationships change with time.
We put on and take off different masks and roles depending on the circumstances and who we are with. They might be pleasant or unpleasant, friendly or obnoxious, harmonious or conflictual, and happy or sad. In our old age we seem to have time on our hands to be more relaxed, patient and generous. Are we nice to be with or do we make it hard for others to spend time with us? We know that others need a touch that is open and accepting, warm and gentle, just like us. We might treat them the way we would like them to treat us. p.119
- The call of the hour is for us to cultivate new forms of friendship.
Indeed we no longer have mother or father to care for us; if we do not care for one another who else will care for us? If we don’t want to be a burden on children or to rely on the mercy of hired strangers, perhaps we might learn to help and take care of each other in ways we never did. p. 121
- Nurture generosity and courage within your relationships.
We might have childhood friends or school mates, neighbours or colleagues. Some of these friendships endure more than others. Some are new, made between kindred spirits who met by chance and resonate with one another. In our old age, we need to cultivate these friendships for both emotional and practical support. And as our friends age and become needy, we need to nurture generosity in our relationships with them.
We also need to cultivate the courage to ask for help from them in circumstances where we cannot take care of ourselves. We might weave a web of friends who care for one another, share their troubles and joys, and come together to offer help in times of need, giving and receiving practical support according to our abilities and needs, paying forward the gifts we received from others. In times of trouble we can rely on friends such as these, if all they do is lend an ear or sit quietly by our side. So we might ourselves care for the people we know, take an active interest in their needs and welfare, and support them in times of hardship. We can be a friend in this way to others. p. 123-4