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Give Thanks for Friendship: How 3 Widowed Women in Their 70s Stay Healthy

Stephanie Held
November 21, 2018
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The #mActivityPeople interview series focuses on the mindful lives and health routines of mActivity’s inspiring community. Submit your own on Instagram—post your mindful mActivity (tag us @mactivitynh!) and include the hashtag #mActivityPeople for a chance to be featured on our blog.

Loneliness is an emerging public health threat. A recent study revealed that 43 percent of Americans “sometimes” or “always” feel their relationships lack meaning and that they feel isolated. Succumbing to isolation, which is the easier option today, puts us at risk for physical and emotional health-related concerns like chronic pain, depression and obesity.

These issues are close to our heart at mActivity. Through our member socials, art shows, shared space for non-profits and group fitness classes, we strive to organize opportunities to connect with others. Because, as The Hill reported, “Those with active social lives report better health. Strong social affiliations — such as being part of a religious group, hobbyist circle or exercise group — have positive effects.”

For this month’s blog, we spoke to three widowed women in their 70s — a stage in life most vulnerable to loneliness. Sara, Marian and Anneke shared heartwarming stories and habits that shed light on how friendship could be the key to living physically, socially and emotionally healthy lives.

Cope Through Community

(Left to right) Marian Wittink, Anneke Hathaway, Sara Ohly, John McCarthy and his dog Winston.

Marian is a yoga teacher. She and Sara met through Marian's yoga classes, but their friendship blossomed in widowhood. When Marian’s husband passed away, they started attending concerts together, went to plays, invited one another to lectures at Yale. When Sara’s husband died two years later, they sought out other ways to resist isolating habits.

“Losing Nick was a terrible shock. I think I was numb for a year, but I made sure to practice yoga and started healing through singing,” said Sara. They joined the Vintage Voices group at the Neighborhood Music School downtown and met Anneke. Anneke lived in Portland, Oregon until her husband died. She moved to New Haven to be closer to her daughter and family who live nearby.

“The group became very important to all of us. And we’re always happy to have new members. We have lunch together afterward and always talk about things going on in New Haven. We are like sisters — emotionally very connected and understanding of one another’s situation in life,” Marian said.  

Maintain Physical Health

Supporting one another to stay physically healthy and active is the basis of a good friendship. And as we get older, exercising with people we connect with can help to move us along. Anneke leans on her friends and mActivity instructors for extra support,

“I’m 75… I’m going to be 76. I have a bad knee and recently had hip surgery, so it’s important for me to feel good about the people I work out with. Both Amy and John helped me to get my strength back using the Pilates reformer. They focused on the whole body, not just the area I thought needed healing. I do Tai Chi on Saturdays with Rich, who is also very good, and work with Sergio who helps with my posture,” she said.

Marian explained that exercise has always helped her to feel at home wherever she is. “Because it is time spent with a group of people, it becomes a social gathering place,” said Marian. “It’s especially important as you get older to continue to be physically active, particularly to strengthen muscles for balance. You don’t have to do it all on your own. I recommend having a trainer.”

Meaningful Conversation

After Pilates, Sara, Anneke and Marian all meet for tea or coffee in the café. They shared that when they take class together, it brings them closer and inspires conversation on a deeper level. “We talk about death and dying. We talk about birth, we talk about the deeper things in life. I mean, you can have mundane conversations with anybody, but really sharing your life starts eliminating a sense of loneliness. The three of us share our personal issues, our views, what might concern us with our children,” said Marian.

Create Extended Family

As a yoga teacher, Marian believes that staying connected to yourself comes first. “That’s what yoga teaches us. You and your body are so connected that once you can feel good and accept that space, you can be anywhere.” For familial connection, Marian visits family in upstate New York. Sara takes the train to Boston or Brooklyn to see family and grandchildren. In New Haven, Anneke, Sara and Marian turn to one another for emotional support.

“I live alone but feel very connected to whatever I’m doing – writing, cooking, spending time with people I care about. I consider us deeply connected at this stage in our lives. In widowhood, your friends become almost your new family support system,” said Sara. “We are not lonely.”

Choose a Mission

Getting involved in a cause, whatever stage of life you are in, is a sure-fire way to connect with like-mined people. “Part of being well is aging well and keeping yourself interested and engaged in all the things you enjoy,” said Sara. Sara, a retired school teacher and writer, is devoted to social well-being. Marian, a retired nurse, is interested in Chinese medicine. Anneke, a retired clinical psychologist, is a community activist.

They joined groups that inspire them. Marian supports healthcare, Anneke joined an environmental group, Sara works with refugees and immigrants at IRIS where she teaches English. She is also working on implementing a music program. Each role and activity provides a sense of joy, meaning and impact on issues that affect the world today.

Why mActivity?

Like many of our members, what initially brought these women in was our East Rock neighborhood location. It was community that made them stay, “The three of us decided to go to mActivity for the IRIS fundraiser as the gym was opening. The speakers were so inspiring. There were some 300 people at the event and we immediately joined the gym.

"mActivity is the first gym I’ve ever joined at the age of 74-years-old. It has become an important part of my life and health. It’s clean. It's beautiful. It’s light. It’s airy. You can sit in the sunshine, read or talk to your friends. It’s a good place for everyone to find healthy connections,” said Sara.


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