The power of friendship

The support of friends is always welcome, but never more so than when people are suffering. I saw that firsthand during the past week when, tragically, my sister lost the person who was her partner, best friend and father of her children. It was a shock to everyone in their community to lose someone so young and vital. But people swung into action immediately, to surround my sister with love and support.

Her friends brought food and drink to her home, cleaned her house, mowed her lawn, and even took her dog to one of their homes so she wouldn’t have to think about him. They cried with her, comforted her, listened to her, hugged her and her children, and at moments, laughed with her. It was awesome to see.

Sadly, this support is limited in its ability to ease the pain in the days and weeks ahead, but my sister still counts herself lucky to have it. She knows that she is cared for and loved, and belongs to a network of people she can call upon for help. If what research tells us is true, the negative effects of this huge stressor will be buffered by the social support, thereby helping her stay strong and healthy for her kids.

That kind of support system didn’t happen overnight. It was built by forming connections with people over many years, connections that became increasingly more stable and complex. It was based on shared interests and activities, work and school communities, and sometimes, shared difficulties. It meant giving time, attention and commitment to building relationships.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, our brains are hardwired for connection, to make and sustain strong attachments to other people, and to feel empathy and compassion. I was impressed and moved these last few days by how these attachments can be such powerful sources of strength in times of need.

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