DIANE GOTTLIEB

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Old Friends—The Best Fit

I went to a friend’s funeral last week. A dear friend, whom I’ve known for almost 30 years.

 

Steve Ringler. He had been my veterinarian for many years—no small feat! I have, in the past, been what I sometimes call an animal “collector.”  At one time, I had four dogs, thirteen cats, two bunnies, two turtles, three tanks of tropical fish, and a guinea pig. (I used to volunteer at a few animal shelters in Westchester County, N.Y., and somehow several of the oldest, sickest, or most ornery of their “residents” ended up coming home with me—often right before they were scheduled to “get the needle.” I just couldn’t stand the thought of them being “euthanized.”)

 

Steve was funny—so funny. He was loved by many and will be deeply missed 

 

Steve with Rose in 1976

Susan with Rose, also 1976.

Steve and his wife Susan ran a neighborhood veterinary clinic in Dobbs Ferry. (You can still find Susan working at Dobbs Ferry Animal Hospital with Dr. Gary Mendelsohn.)

 

Steve was a wonderful clinician with a huge heart. He was funny—so funny. He was loved by many and will be deeply missed.

 

 

 

Life got in the way, and we fell out of touch

When my first husband died, Steve and Susan drove two hours to the funeral (We had moved upstate a few months before). Later that summer, I spent a wonderful, healing weekend with them at their summer home on the Delaware River, where Steve enjoyed many hours engaged in one of his many passions—fly fishing.

Steve was already ill by then. His condition deteriorated dramatically over the next several years.

Time passed. Life got in the way, and we lost contact. Steve passed on March 15.

I wish we had kept in touch. I wish I had been a better friend.

The power of friendship  

Friends. They nurture and encourage, challenge and console. And while, they certainly cannot heal all, friendships do add to our overall health.

Dr. Julianne Holt-Lunstad from Brigham Young University analyzed data collected in over 100 studies on mortality rates as they relate to social relationships. Dr. Holt-Lunstad found that “people with stronger social relationships had a 50% increased likelihood of survival than those with weaker social relationships” (https://journals.plos.org/plosmedicine/article?id=10.1371/journal.pmed.1000316).

The risk of weak social relationships was found to be “comparable with well-established risk factors for mortality such as smoking and alcohol consumption.” Weak social relationships present an even greater risk of mortality than does obesity.

Friendships help us feel supported, which, in turn, has been correlated with “lower blood pressure, better hormone function, stronger immune systems and possibly lower levels of inflammation.”

Additionally, friendships can even reduce some of the cognitive losses people associate with aging. Barbara Hagerty in her book Life Reimagined: The Science, Art, and Opportunity of Midlife cites research that discovered that “socially active people had less than half the memory loss of those who were less engaged.”

 

Feelings of loneliness are on the rise, a sad trend that is expected to continue in the future

Yet, even with all the physical and emotional benefits that having strong social networks provide individuals, maintaining friendships is becoming more and more challenging.  This is especially true in affluent countries. Not only are we living farther apart from family members than ever before, many of us have fewer friends than women and men of the previous generation. More people are living alone today than ever before, and feelings of loneliness are on the rise, a sad trend that is expected to continue in the future.

 

Of particular significance are long-term friendships—the ones that have developed over time

Emily Sohn, in the Health and Science section of the Washington Post, cites some pretty grim statistics regarding the deteriorating state of friendship: “According to a long-term study published in 2006, people had an average of about three friends they felt they could discuss important things with in 1984. By 2005, the average number of confidants had dropped to about two. At the end of the study, close to 25 percent of respondents said they didn’t have anyone they could truly trust, triple the proportion from two decades earlier” (https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/more-and-more-research-shows-friends-are-good-for-your-health/2016/05/26/f249e754-204d-11e6-9e7f-57890b612299_story.html?utm_term=.5f56585ede78).

 

Still, more important than the number of friends a person has is the quality of those relationships. Of particular significance are long-term friendships—the ones that have developed over time.

 

We know our old friends better—and they know us. We’ve lived through so much together, seen each other through our joys and challenges; we’ve cheered each other on, grown, laughed and cried together.

 

We are there for each other by choice—not because of familial obligation but because we want to be. Old friends can feel like comfortable slippers. They fit like nothing, or no one, else.

 

But sometimes we choose to put those slippers in the back of the closet. We go out, live our lives, become occupied with the myriad of things that call to us and direct our attention elsewhere. Sometimes, we take those old friendships for granted. We believe they will always be there when we want, or need, to pull them out.

 

Sometimes … that proves not to be the case.

 

Why wait for an “occasion” to reconnect?

I saw two other dear friends at Steve’s funeral. Adriane, who is the only friend I still have from graduate school, and Joann, who also worked at the animal clinic and who had taken my Mommy and Me classes, when I taught at the JCC many moons ago. It was wonderful to see Adriane and Joann, even under the circumstances. We shared our sadness—and our comfort in slipping right back to where we had been when we had left off.

 

Sometimes it takes a tragedy to bring old friends back together. Sometimes, it is another, happier event. But … why wait for an “occasion” to reconnect?

 

I often mention how grateful I am for this blog. One of the many joys for me is that because of the blog, I have reconnected with several old friends. Sue Matthews, whose interview posted in January (https://dianegottlieb.com/interview-with-sue-matthews/) is one of them. I’ve reconnected recently with another Sue—a friend from my days as a student at Forest Hills High! And just last November, I  reconnected with Clare, when I bumped into her, her daughter and granddaughter at Chicago O’Hare, on my way back with Steven from a weekend visit with my son and daughter-in-law. Clare and I were neighbors and became close friends when both of our oldest kids were toddlers—over 30 years ago!

 

Time does fly. You turn around and years have passed

Susan Ringler and her kids put together a slide show for guests to watch while waiting for the funeral service to begin. It showed Steve and Susan as a young couple, full of hopes and dreams for their future. There were lovely pictures of the two of them through the years and pictures of Steve with their kids, kids he always spoke so fondly of and with so much pride.

Steve lived his life doing what he loved, working and living alongside the woman he loved.

At the service, the rabbi spoke about how during the last few years Steve was trapped in a body that didn’t cooperate. Now, he was free from that pain. I hope Steve’s family can find a little bit of peace in that knowlege.

 

Before Susan left for the cemetery, she and I talked. I apologized and told her that I wanted to be a better friend now, if she would be willing to let me back into her life. We have spoken since. Catching up with someone to whom you don’t have explain yourself is a most wonderful gift.

If I have learned anything from last week, it is the value of rekindling old friendships. Old friends. Comfortable slippers. I am grateful for the fit.

 

Is there someone with whom you’ve lost touch? Someone with whom you’d like to reconnect? What will it take for you to reach out?

 Please leave a comment or send me an email. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

 Have a wonderful week.

 

See you next Friday!

Diane

Diane Gottlieb

16 Comments

  1. Sarita K Sid on April 5, 2019 at 8:00 pm

    Beautiful & soulful 🙂
    We’re not old friends yet, but one day we will be.
    Love you xo

    • Diane Gottlieb on April 5, 2019 at 9:08 pm

      Thank you, Sarita. And while we have not know each other for a long time, I consider our friendship an old slipper. Love you too.

  2. Leslie on March 31, 2019 at 12:00 pm

    A beautiful, gentle, intelligent post.
    Dr. Ringler was a superior vet who took care of my dogs, Biggie and Bella.
    It’s always neat to learn about separate connections a person has to other important people in your life. Like seeing him at your wedding and learning about his friendship with my sister-in-law, Lori.
    We are overdue to catch up. I have no doubts that will happen soon.
    Love you,
    Leslie

    • Diane Gottlieb on March 31, 2019 at 1:14 pm

      I’m so glad you knew Dr. Ringler! It is really nice to discover shared connections.
      Thanks for your words about the blog. We are definitely overdue, Leslie–let’s speak soon! XO

  3. Clare on March 30, 2019 at 7:34 pm

    Oh Diane! I had such a big smile on my face as I read this. What a great topic and so true. It was such a wonderful surprise to run into you in the airport. I have always treasured our friendship.

    • Diane Gottlieb on March 31, 2019 at 1:07 am

      It was a wonderful surprise! I feel blessed! I have always treasured our friendship too. So glad we’ve reconnected!

  4. Sue Mangot on March 30, 2019 at 2:20 am

    I love you, my old slipper💜

    • Diane Gottlieb on March 30, 2019 at 3:05 am

      Love you too, Sue. XO

  5. joann weiss on March 29, 2019 at 7:41 pm

    hi Diane what a beautiful story about Steve and susan and old friends……I was crying. It is so true about connection and getting our slippers out from behind the closet . I love you

    • Diane Gottlieb on March 29, 2019 at 9:29 pm

      Thank you, Joann. Let’s commit to keeping “our slippers” out of the closet and not let so much time go by! Love you!

  6. Nicky on March 29, 2019 at 6:40 pm

    Diane – I feel like you are an old friend! I so appreciate knowing you and trading emails about our lives and supporting each other in anyway we can. I have been thinking about my long term friends and how much I appreciate them. It is difficult to stay in touch sometimes – even if in the same town. Thanks for the reminder!

    • Diane Gottlieb on March 29, 2019 at 9:28 pm

      I feel the same about you, Nicky! What a delight it is to be your friend and to hear about your projects! It can be difficult to stay in touch. Glad the piece was a reminder for you–writing it served as a reminder to me too.

  7. Ellen Burg on March 29, 2019 at 2:42 pm

    Hi Diane,

    After reading this blog, I thought it would be a perfect time to say hello to you and tell you I amreally enjoying reading your thoughtful and well written blogs! You were an inspiration to me, when I first met you so many years ago at the JCC and attended your groups, and you are still inspiring me with your writings! I hope you and your ‘kids’ are doing well! I’d love to catch up with you in person if you are ever in the Westchester area again!? Ellen Burg

    • Diane Gottlieb on March 29, 2019 at 2:57 pm

      Ellen! So wonderful to hear from you and, yes, a terrific time to reach out! Thanks so much for your kind words! I would love to catch up! I have your contact info–will send you an email today! Yay for old friends!!

  8. Adriane on March 29, 2019 at 10:28 am

    Yes, old friends, comfortable slippers…. I am always thankful for our friendship of almost 37 years!! (I believe it was in 1982 we first met!) So true that we chose to be there for each other thru the journey of our lives- by choice, not an obligation! Our friendship warms my soul and you’ve written, so beautifully, about the value of the power of friendships! I truly love you!!

    • Diane Gottlieb on March 29, 2019 at 12:29 pm

      37 years already, Adriane? Amazing! How the time flies!
      I, too, am so very thankful for our friendship–just think of ALL the things we’ve seen each other through! I look forward to many more warm, comfortable years with you as my dear friend–always just a phone call away. I truly love you too!!

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