Adelaide had been my mother-in-law for twenty-three years when my marriage to her son ended. We lived six-hundred miles apart, but as soon as she heard, she called me. I held the phone, tears dripping down my face, while she told me I’d always be her daughter.
Years later, she met my husband, Joel, and gave him an open-hearted welcome that quickly turned to affection.
Now ninety-eight, Adelaide lives independently in the house where she first welcomed me: an ill-at-ease college student hoping to win her approval. When Joel and I visit her, we sit together, chatting easily, as the Logan River tumbles by the living-room windows. She tells us amusing family anecdotes, shares her strong, informed political opinions, uses her iPad to show us pictures of her great-grandchildren, and serves us meals she prepares — though, increasingly, she allows us to help.
When she turned ninety, Adelaide planned a birthday party for herself. Ninety-two people, mostly friends because her family is small, showed up to celebrate the intelligent, soft-spoken, southern belle in her new lavender dress and sensible shoes.
During the party, several guests mentioned they were surprised by the abundant turnout. I wasn’t. Since the day I met her, Adelaide practiced the adage “to have a friend be a friend,” tending to hers with calls, visits, shared activities, dinner invitations, help without being asked, and letters that over the years became emails.
Recently, I watched a 60 Minutes segment about senior citizens who decades ago moved into a retirement community called Leisure World. Now researchers are studying the medical data that’s been collected on them since 1981, hoping to discover what those who lived beyond ninety have in common.
A strong social network is one of the predominant characteristics they share. Most had supportive friends and family members whom they saw or communicated with regularly.
I find myself thinking about Adelaide’s example and the research results. If I want friends as I age, I must be a friend, even when doing so requires time and effort or interferes with my all-important schedule and plans.
I will try to emulate Adelaide’s friend-keeping skills, and, like her, I’d rather do so without living in a retirement community — especially one called Leisure World.