Blest be the ties that bind through the years

Laurie Snider
Notes from the Nest

Thick sheets of gray ice, lay in frozen heaps, at the lake’s edge. The dull sky, another hue of gray, only lighter, barely contrasted at the horizon, where the lake and sky melded together, into a vast, smoky, white oblivion. This was the view offered by the floor to ceiling panes of glass that occupied the entire south wall of the restaurant.

The atmosphere inside, was considerably brighter. The warm glow of light, from funky, yellow fixtures, the cheerful splashes of colour of Gerber daisies, popping out of vases, on the tables and a roaring fire, crackling and popping, all added to the convivial feeling. This was the first time in years, we had gotten together for a proper visit and our moods were exuberant and lighthearted.

The five of us are female cousins, on our maternal side. There used to be six of us but sadly, we lost Barb in 2016. She passed away, after a 25-year epic battle with multiple sclerosis. In fact, it was at her funeral that the rest of us made a declaration, that a reunion was long over- due and why we now found ourselves enjoying such warm, lively conversation, on an otherwise drab and dreary January day.

For the first 25 years of my life, I saw these ladies and their siblings on a regular basis. We grew-up  together, spending summers at the family cottage, sharing sleep-overs, pool parties and spending every Christmas in each other’s company. Once grown, we celebrated at each others weddings. It was probably after we all had children of our own, that distance, time and our own family commitments led to our drifting apart.

All of us now, firmly in our fifties, a few more pounds and gray hairs between us, spent the afternoon giggling, gabbing and bridging the divide, the past couple of decades had placed between us. Tales were told of our children, our partners, careers and our parents, whom thankfully are all still living.  We also shared, our struggles and heartaches. Serious illnesses, both our own and our children’s that’ve been tackled and beaten back, changes in marital status, jobs and moves, have all left their mark.

Such a pleasant afternoon of mirth and merriment, sharing confidences and the joy of reconnecting with kin, left me reflecting on how uplifting it is, to feel a sense of attachment, to be linked to others. It occurred  to me, that while navigating the various twists, turns and bumps in the road, each of us inevitably endures in life, sometimes it just feels easier to pull off the road, to detach, withdraw and isolate.

We prefer to show the world, our very best. Mingling, mixing and engaging, during tougher times is much harder to do. A little seclusion and sequestration may feel easier, then reaching out and potentially exposing our vulnerabilities.

It turns out, that for the elderly, infirm, disabled, bereaved, people struggling with mental health or addiction issues or for caregivers, social isolation and loneliness have become a worldwide epidemic, with serious consequences for our health. The British government recently said, “This should be treated as a major health issue.” A report published in August 2017 by the American Psychological Association, stated that, ‘Loneliness is deadlier than obesity.”

In a recently released study by the same group, lead researcher Julianne Holt-Lunstad, of Brigham Young University, discovered direct links, between a person’s social interactions and health. Her group studied tens of thousands of people, over several years, looking at things like diet, exercise, smoking, drinking, marital status and relationships. Astoundingly, they found that the top two indicators for living a longer life, were close relationships and social integration; meaning do you have people you are close to, can rely on and do you interact with people on a daily basis. This can be as simple as, chatting with neighbours or the cashier at the store.  These two factors, were more important than obesity, exercise or quitting smoking or drinking.

The British government is taking this so seriously, that last week, for the first time, they appointed a Minister of Loneliness, to deal with the issue directly. Holt-Lunstad says, “Being connected to others socially, is widely considered a fundamental human need, crucial to well-being and survival.

Less emphasis on community, complicated family dynamics, consumer driven society and rampant use of technology vs actual personal interactions, are all contributing to less social integration and increased risks to our health. Being aware of these perils, remaining engaged and checking in on family and friends frequently, offers the best chance to remain hale and hardy.

At 3 p.m, after visiting for several hours, we were politely asked to leave, with still so much to say. We’re already planning our next get-together. I’d say that’s a healthy sign!

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