I’ve been living with the progressive condition of heart failure for over 13 years now. And for the bulk of that time, I have been relatively stable. That long period of stability was recently disrupted, however, by an “episode” or two of nearly losing consciousness in late March, which resulted in some hastily arranged tests, lab work and appointments with different members of UHN’s cardiology team. While I consider myself lucky to have the extraordinary quality of medical care than I do, the impact of the past few weeks was more emotional for me than I anticipated. In truth, my emotions took a veritable ride on a roller coaster following this latest episode.
As part of the ongoing treatment and evaluation, another medication has been added to my growing handful of pills, and I’m scheduled for a transesophageal cardiogram later this month to determine if I am a viable candidate for a mitral clip, which could help minimize the leakage from my mitral valve. “Progressive” has taken on more meaning, disrupting my sleep with late night intrusions of worry and anxiety. It’s no surprise then, that my emotions have been in a bit of a slump. Yet, thanks to the tender care and concern from my husband, daughters and some wonderful Toronto friends, my mood has finally lightened.
“Oh you gotta’ have friends,” Bette Midler belted out on her 1972 album, The Divine Miss M. How well I know that. During the aftermath of my first husband’s death many years ago, I nearly wore a permanent groove in the vinyl, playing that one song again and again. Thousands of miles from my family, I was in sore need of friends, and thankfully, I had them in a handful of dear Nova Scotian friends who stood by me, offering immeasurable support and love to my daughters and me. I have never forgotten their concern, support and love—and I remain connected with them now, even all these years later.
I am grateful to have a handful of enduring friendships in my life–one even going back to grade school. Yet in this extended time of COVID and its variants, my husband and I have seen or heard far less of our friends than we usually do. I’ve missed the conversations, comfort and closeness that are unique to long friendships. So it was a dose of good medicine to be invited to our friends’ home for a casual Friday evening dinner together—all of us still only slowly venturing into public places. But that afternoon, I had been out of sorts, my blues lingering like a relentless band of low pressure. I finally complained that I really didn’t feel like going out. “Too late to cancel,” my husband said. “Besides, it’ll do you good.” He was right: it did.
Our friends are wonderful hosts, and dinners together are always relaxed, with great conversation and more than a little laughter. Friday evening was no exception, and the time together did much to raise my spirits. When we stood to don our coats for the ride home, our hostess remarked, “It’s good to see you smile, Sharon.” I realized how true her words were. It felt good to smile, to share stories around the table and bask in the warmth of our friendship. I was still smiling as we got into the car, and two hours later, as I got into bed, the smile remained. I was grateful for the evening and the friendship we shared. Then again last night, another friend invited us for dinner on the spur of the moment. There was no special occasion, she said, “I just want to do it.” Later, as we returned home , any lingering doldrums I felt had been feeling had completely vanished. I felt more like “myself” again, something I owe to the good medicine of close friends.
Lydia Denworth, author and contributing editor at Scientific American, whose book, Friendship: The Evolution, Biology and Extraordinary Power of Life’s Fundamental Bond, published in 2021, sees friendship is a lifelong endeavor, something we should always be paying attention to throughout our lives. Here I pause, remembering that there have been times, despite how important my friendships are to me, that I have sometimes let them take a back seat to an over busy, over demanding life. Yet it is our friendships we benefit from, as research has demonstrated many times, helping us find meaning or purpose in life, and important to our health and longevity. “Good friends are good for your health,” the Mayo Clinic states, and matter to our health in multiple ways:
“Friends… play a significant role in promoting your overall health. Adults with strong social support have a reduced risk of many significant health problems, including depression, high blood pressure and an unhealthy body mass index (BMI). Studies have even found that older adults with a rich social life are likely to live longer than their peers with fewer connections.”
Do you remember the song “You’ve Got a Friend?” Written and first recorded by Carole King in 1971, singer James Taylor’s recording of it that same year became the number one song on Billboard’s “Hot 100.” It’s been sung and recorded by many other vocalists since, the lyrics an enduring testimony to the importance of those true and enduring friendships in our lives.
You just call out my name
And you know wherever I am
I’ll come runnin’
To see you again.
Winter, spring, summer or fall
All you have to do is call
And I’ll be there, yes I will
Now ain’t it good to know
that you’ve got a friend…
Write about friendship this week. What role do your friendships play in your life? Why do they matter to you?
We have more than a few good friends over time—and our friendships can change as our lives do. Write about a best friend. Or a friend who has been invaluable to you at a difficult time. Or writing about losing a friend to time and distance.
How do your friends make a difference in your life? Write about a friend whose friendship has stood the test of time and life stages.
How have you shown up as a friend for others?
During the prolonged pandemic of the past two years, how have you sustained and nurtured your friendships, whether close or far away?