In the normal human lifecycle, we all find that new friends, neighbors and acquaintances regularly go in and out of our daily lives. Like it or not, it’s normal. As an older adult, it becomes important to remain connected to friends and relatives who can enrich our lives and help reduce loneliness and social isolation—so prevalent in today’s elderly population.
Experts emphasize the importance of maintaining and building friendships, but here we’re going to divert from the statistics and professional advice. Through the personal and life experiences of two residents of The Carrington—Mary Ann Dolan and Trudy Schragal—we’ll share how they found lasting friendship and a true community of active, like-minded older adults at the Lincolnwood senior living community they now call home.
Taking the “Big Step” Toward a Senior Living Community
It might be said that Trudy was “dipping her toe” in the water when she first came to The Carrington. “I moved in October of 2018 with the intention of staying for three months just to see how I felt about the space,” says Trudy who brought with her from her Northern Wisconsin home, rented furniture, and only her clothes and necessary items. “After only three months my mind was made up—I had found a new home,” she says. “Back went the rental furniture and I started to make my apartment my own. Everyone I met was welcoming and the available activities, close proximity to family, friends and my Wisconsin home for summer visits sealed the deal.”
Mary Ann moved to The Carrington about a month later than Trudy with her husband Terry, who had Alzheimer’s. “Three of my four children live in the Chicago area, and they wanted a place nearby where we could both be safe and happy,” says Mary Ann. Terry was a genetics and neuroscience professor, and his career had taken him and Mary Ann to various locations, including Saudi Arabia to establish a children’s research center for the government there. “I’ve lived in 30 different houses,” Mary Ann says, “so I know what makes me feel good in a home. My children took me to The Carrington and it just felt right—big windows, bright colors, open and new, people around—this is it, I said.”
A Friendship Ignites
Laughter often binds friends together. “Mary Ann and I met playing chair volleyball,” says Trudy. “I realized we were both often laughing at either what was happening or what someone said. Trudy goes on to offer this sage advice: “The friendships we make as seniors are essential in the pursuit of keeping us engaged in daily life. Put a little effort in and reap the rewards of a support system right in your neighborhood or community. Someone to laugh with, talk to and enjoy your day with.”
Mary Ann remembers their first meeting well. “Yes, playing volleyball! Trudy sat across from me, she got sassy, so I whipped the ball at her,” she laughs. Shortly thereafter, Trudy joined Mary Ann and Terry for dinner, and both women realized they were going through many of the same life experiences—partners who needed their love and attention, happy times in their relationships, grief during life’s final stages, families and children, “Mary Ann even likes my dogs,” says Trudy, “points in her favor!” At a community like The Carrington, you’re surrounded by many others who are going through similar experiences in the same stage of life.
Strengthening Community Through Storytelling
Looking back, both Mary Ann and Trudy say their circle of friends developed through the workplace, at school and through other family members and friends. “Yes, I moved around a lot,” says Mary Ann. “I’m a Midwesterner and was in the academic world—I think meeting new friends was easy for me!”
“I think you learn about others in conversation,” says Trudy. “Through the same activities you enjoy and the questions they and you ask. For instance: Do you laugh at the same things? Have you traveled to the same places? Read the same books? Seen the same movies or know the same songs? Building and maintaining new friendships requires that you ‘let people in’ and allow them to share their stories.” It’s not surprising that Trudy started a popular class in storytelling at The Carrington. Mary Ann is a participant.
Mary Ann adds: “I’m also very interested in the ‘differences’ a person can bring to a friendship. I think of the ladies I met from all over the world while living in the diplomatic quarter as a guest in Saudi Arabia. They led me down a whole different path to knowledge, understanding and new perspectives.”
“Learning in every aspect of our lives is most important,” Trudy agrees. “One should never stop trying to gather information on the simple and complex issues of the day or the curious happenings of nature and life in general. All this contributes to personal growth.”
Trudy summarizes the benefits of community in the lives of older adults: “Community is so important to build and partake in for seniors. Often, we’re left on our own as friends and partners leave us. It’s easy to become isolated with the television or radio as your only companion. Life offers so much more. I always say that coming to The Carrington offered me a second life. I feel like I’m living my college years again. Yes, with less vigor but mentally stimulating and full of interesting people and adventures right on my doorstep. Life offers opportunities for each of us if we are willing to take them.”
Storytelling Opportunities that Promote Friendships at The Carrington
It’s very important to rekindle relationships as seniors,” says Trudy. “We have all lost people dear to us—either a partner or certainly friends. You have to make an effort to be outgoing, kind and willing to step out of your comfort zone by testing activities offered in the community.”
Thanks to many residents who believe in the concept of community, as well as building and maintaining friendships later in life, and staying engaged in life, the following activities help residents, neighbors and friends at The Carrington combat boredom, loneliness, stress and isolation:
- DOOR STORIES. Resident Karol Verson leads an enjoyable and interesting hour-long session during which five to six residents talk about the art on and around their front door. Some are as simple as “we made that at craft class.” Other pieces have wonderful background stories about a family member or travels. Karol facilitates the discussion and participants ask questions. These sessions help residents get to know one another better.
- EVERYONE HAS A STORY. Jackie Favish was inspired by all the wonderful stories of residents she was hearing around the community. She developed this storytelling program around it. So far, the group has heard from a Holocaust survivor; a bridge-playing patent attorney who was a neighbor to Oprah Winfrey; a couple from Columbia and Cuba; tales of music and majesty from Broadway to the White House; and Mary Ann’s adventures in Saudi Arabia.
- WHAT’S IN THE BAG? Residents Harvey Cohen, Phil Castrogiovanni and Kay Vrooman debuted this program in July as a take-off on “20 Questions.” Participants bring an item hidden in a bag. Audience members are organized into three groups and, group by group, the bag-holding resident is asked questions about the bag’s contents. After a certain time or number of questions, each group guesses what’s in the bag. In the end, the resident tells the group about the item in the bag.
These storytelling events at The Carrington are entertaining and give residents opportunities to learn more about their neighbors. This type of sharing is encouraged and nurtured, and The Carrington staff feels so lucky to have the support of active and outgoing residents who help organize these programs.
Final Words from Trudy and Mary Ann
MARY ANN: “It’s extremely necessary to build and maintain friendships as you age. Always smile and talk to everyone around you. You’ll be surprised how they respond. You’ll never know who might become your next friend. A common denominator. Someone to talk to, share with and keep you on the right track. Someone supportive.”
TRUDY: “Friendships with others outside of your family are essential to keep you interesting and interested in the world around you as you grow older. Finding someone you enjoy talking and dining with. Find a class or hobby you find interesting and therapeutic for mind and soul.”
The Carrington offers community gardening, water aerobics, volunteerism, fitness classes, arts & crafts, regularly planned activities like Wednesday Happy Hours and a multitude of amenities for seniors that will help you connect with others who enjoy the same things you do. We like to think of our senior living community as an extension of your current way of life—just a little easier and a lot less stressful!
Have questions about The Carrington? Click around our website and then contact us today to learn more.