One of the most important aspects of healthy aging is connection to people of all ages, but being with people in my age group gives me the feeling of belonging and camaraderie that I don’t get elsewhere. I enjoy people of all ages, but only my own cohort understands what we are all experiencing, to one degree or another.
I belong to a very special group that has impacted my life for the past eight years, and has not only offered me support and acceptance but friends who I would never have met otherwise. This is the Senior Women’s Support Group at the JCC on 76th Street and Amsterdam Avenue. Some of us have been together for many years and have been through difficult losses, and some are newer, but all are there to provide a caring and supportive environment. We discuss many topics that touch our lives in different ways. This group offers such an accepting environment that many of us have been attending for years. It’s described as a support group, and that it is. We come from varying backgrounds (and even countries), and often are new to the city. Our ages range from the early 70s on up. The group offers an atmosphere of compassion that is precious anywhere, but especially in New York City, where life for seniors can be lonely and difficult, as well as fun and fulfilling. The feeling of trust and safety in our women’s group is hard to find outside of family.
Though we certainly disagree sometimes, and though we don’t all feel the same way about problems brought to the table, everyone eventually comes to feel the empathy of the other members, which makes it easier to discuss difficult topics and to know that, no matter what the issue, we will be listened to in that room. It is a place where we can disagree and yet feel safe. Indeed, this support group more than lives up to its name.
There is no assigned topic, but there is always something to discuss. We have talked about everything from health problems, family issues, age bias and getting around New York with disabilities, to productive use of time such as volunteering and sharing ideas about interesting activities to pursue in the city. We discuss joyful events such as new grandchildren (or great-grandchildren!), weddings, Bar and Bat Mitzvahs and trips. Most of the women have lunch together after the meeting. The group has gone on outings, such as a water-taxi ride, lunch at L’Ecole, the restaurant of the French Culinary Institute, and outings to various museums and lunches at special restaurants.
The group initiated and primarily conducts the “Stay-Connected” program now used throughout the JCC, which is available for seniors living alone to be called daily if they wish. Conceived after one of our members died alone, we feel this is an important contribution.
Feeling connected to others, and especially to those who are in the same stage of life as ourselves, is important. Of course, many of us have families and friends, but this group has a very special bond. Though some of us get together outside of the group in various combinations, when we are in that room, we are one. This is more impressive considering the differences among us, and the fact that many of us have nothing in common except our ages. But we are able to reach across that table and offer comfort, support and caring to anyone who needs it that day.
My women’s group has made a huge difference in my life. I want to thank them all for the years of friendship, support and acceptance. I certainly hope we have many more years ahead of us and will be there for each other in whatever joys and sorrows await down the road. Thank you, all of you!
Finally, an item worth a mention: Since my column about hearing loss and the cost of hearing aids, I’ve learned that Costco has had audiologists and hearing aids for years at much lower than market costs, and now they are upgrading the hearing aids, which is good news for the many senior citizens who want them but cannot afford the high prices. There is a Costco at 517 E. 117 St., right off the FDR Drive. You can also get eyeglasses for half the price of some of the leading retailers in Manhattan.