Dear Older Self,
I want you to keep in mind what an elderly loved one said to you many years ago. It was an important piece of wisdom: “Hang on to your friends, you will need them.”
Please pay attention to this good advice. Stay connected to the people in your life. You need them. And they need you.
You need your friends and family and neighbors for hundreds of reasons. We are built for connection with others. We come hard-wired with the need to belong. We were made to love and be loved. It is in our DNA. It is at the heart of all that matters most in life.
When you were a young nurse you often worked with people who were terminally ill. Many of these men and women, of different ages and different life circumstances, shared a similar piece of wisdom with you. For some of them it felt like an urgent message. The wisdom was this: relationships are what matter most in life. Loving others is what matters more than anything.
Some of them told you that they had failed to love the people in their lives. They had been too busy, too distracted, too shut down. Other people told you that they felt they had somehow managed to make a priority of spending time with others, delighting in them, loving them and taking in their love.
Remember the 45 year old women who had liver cancer and who was not expected to live very long? She grabbed your arm and pulled you down to sit on the bed beside her to underscore the urgency of what she wanted to say. Please don’t miss this in your life,” she said. “Please devote your life to love.”
This thought was not new to you. You knew intellectually that love was the heart of all that matters most in life.
But hearing these repeated comments from people at the end of their lives, when you were so young, and listening to the urgency in their voices and the sorrow when they realized they had neglected the people in their lives brought to life what you knew in theory.
You, dear older self, are now the one nearing the end of your life. Please continue to pay attention to the importance of your relationships. Please do not neglect these relationships. Please pay attention to the wisdom of living in love.
I know this may become more challenging as time goes on. One of the realities you will face is that you will lose friends and family and neighbors that have been a part of your life and a part of your history. These great losses may make you want to withdraw. They may make you want to disengage.
It is important to allow yourself time and space to grieve. But do not neglect the relationships you still have. In many ways you need them more than ever. And they may need you more than ever. Stay connected in your grief. Comfort others and let them comfort you.
You have watched as some of your older friends have welcomed any chance to be with family and friends. You have watched as they reached out to new neighbors or new people in their faith community. These older friends have set a good example for you. Their lives are richer because of their intentional valuing of relationships.
Isolation feeds depression and anxiety. It adds to your stress. This, of course, does not mean that times alone are not important and valuable. But lack of contact and connection with others is not good for your physical, mental, emotional or spiritual health.
Try to remember your elderly grandma who wrote a letter to someone everyday. She wrote to grandchildren, to friends and to her adult children. She wrote to siblings and people who were shut in or struggling with health issues. You can email or text your love and thoughts and blessings. You can also stay connected by having regular times for phone calls with family and friends.
And keep in mind your elderly widowed friend who moved into a senior apartment complex and made an effort to get to know her new neighbors. Remember how she reached out to those who could no longer drive by offering to take them to doctor’s appointments and to the grocery store. Keep in mind how she made herself available to hear their struggles and their joys. Retired and living alone, she kept close contact with family and long-term friends even as she made new friends of her neighbors.
Hang on to your friends. Make new ones. Live in love. Keep your focus on what matters most. Stay connected with others to keep your life rich in all that matters most.
This meditation is taken from Notes to Our Older Selves: Suggestions for Aging With Grace by Juanita Ryan and Mary Rae. You can get a copy at Amazon.com