Strong social connections are among the common characteristics of the Blue Zones, those islands of longevity. I grew up in a small family that moved repeatedly, and as a result have always considered my closest friends to be part of my extended family. Time with kindred spirits is among the most enjoyable simple pleasures of life. Conversing while walking, having tea or coffee, cooking, gardening, sharing – the connections we forge and feel are life.
It was only after I became a mother that I got to know my great aunt Louisa. She became a nurturing, supportive voice to me across the 1200 miles between our homes. Born 60 years before home computers, she communicated regularly by email. When my daughter and I visited her six years ago, she had everything she needed in her cozy studio apartment, including a patio with a garden bed for flowers and tomatoes. Friends dropped in regularly, and she still volunteered frequently at the age of 86. She enjoyed trying new activities, and since then had taught herself to quilt.
This year, my aunt, my daughter, and I visited Aunt Louisa, now aged 92. She has lived with a chronic health condition for many years and was seriously ill this winter. She had asked us to help clean her apartment, but I was unprepared for the overwhelming clutter that had developed. Our visit began very differently from my expectations, but we achieved fun and conversation across four generations of women.
We interspersed fun into the hours of sorting, and even the cleaning was enjoyable, with rewards in our conversations and the emergence of a tidy, safe space. At dinner, she narrated the story behind old photos that had been found under many objects on a table, including photos of her grandmother with young children, circa 1890. On the last day of our visit, she told us about some dark, depressing times in her life. She was a brave woman. She has always inspired me with her kindness, energy, and adventurousness, and I told her so; her face glowed with surprise and happiness. Each of us took home memories as well as mementos; she gave me a cheery floral apron that she sewed and a much-loved cookbook. She loved to bake for others, as do I.
Not long after our visit, Great Aunt Louisa passed away.
Despite her health challenges at 92, she emanated joy and generosity, and shared her zest for living with all those around her. I am very sad that I will never again talk with her or hear her love in an email or card, but treasure the conversations we shared. She told me that these were among her happiest days. We will hold her memory in our hearts, and now my aunt, my daughter, and I have a new connection between us in this last visit with her. She will always be a kindred spirit.