The friendship between Charleen and Phyllis began at a square dance competition when they literally bumped into each other on the dance floor.

The fiery redhead and the hot-headed blond traded barbs over who was at fault. Their insults turned to laughter as they each tried to outdo the other. When they discovered they lived a few miles apart, the deal was sealed. They would be best friends for over forty-five years.

Charleen’s three children and Phyllis’ two were all within a few years of each other. Most weekends found them at the other’s home, barbequing, dancing, or playing bridge.

Their friendship endured through their husbands’ cancer diagnoses and their own health challenges. Charleen and her husband moved out of state, then moved back five years later.

One year Charleen sent a humorous birthday card to Phyllis. As a joke, Phyllis sent the same card back. Not to be outdone, Charleen added a page the next year, reusing the card yet again. They’d each make up a poem, story, or rhyme about the previous year, and soon it was stuffed with extra pages. Terrified the card would be lost, they didn’t dare mail it, only personal delivery would do.

In 1977, Charleen and her husband traveled to Europe to sight see and pick up a new Mercedes in Germany. Phyllis’ birthday greeting that year:

“The year of travel overseas for a new car. Come move to Sacramento so you won’t live so far!”

The following year, Charleen and Roger did move back, along with Charleen’s mom, daughter, son-in-law, and new grandbaby:

“We took your advice and we did move; now among friends we can really groove. With Sister and Brother Rogers and grandbaby so sweet, living in Sac is a really big treat.”

Their friendship deepened when each of them found a relationship with Christ.

Ten years later, Phyllis penned:

“What do Charleen and the speed limit on the Interstate freeways have in common? They are both 65!”

Charleen wrote the last entry in December of 2004 on Phyllis’ birthday:

“Goodbye Phyllis. Life is not the same without you. I will miss you and grieve for you till I see you in Heaven.”

Life without her spiritual sister would be as bleak as a rainy day in January. No more birthday card sharing, no more dinner and bridge game evenings with their husbands. No more weekly phone calls just to check in. Who would keep Charleen’s gray roots at bay? How could she live without her fiery red-head? Phyllis’ death left a Grand Canyon-sized hole in Charleen’s life.

Phyllis’ passing was the first in a long line of deaths. Mickey, Mimi, Eva—it seemed like Charleen attended a funeral every other month. At ninety-one, Charleen had outlived all of her friends.

For many elderly, this is a common scenario. As caregivers, we try to fill a void left by our aging parents’ friends. Sometimes we are the only person our aging loved one sees on a regular basis.

Loneliness is a leading cause for poor physical and mental health among the elderly. [1] When loneliness sets in it can increase the risk of high blood pressure, over eating, under eating, excessive drinking, depression, heart disease and other debilitating diseases such as arthritis, osteoporosis and glaucoma. People who are lonely are twice as likely to experience a decline in daily activities.

I experienced the same feelings of isolation as a young mom of two toddlers. My husband and I moved from my hometown of Sacramento to take a position as missionaries to the rural communities around Helena, Montana. I left behind my parents, grandmother, church family, and my best friend. I was miserable. Everyone in our little town of four hundred knew each other. I was the outsider, a city girl in a ranching community. I can’t remember ever being that lonely. Introverts like myself don’t make friends easily.

The difference between my story and Charleen’s is that I finally made a few friends. Some of the younger moms in our church reached out to me, since I had two preschoolers. The older ladies included me in some of their activities. Charleen’s story is the opposite. A person in her ninth decade doesn’t make new friends easily, especially if she’s dependent upon others for transportation. In Charleen’s case, she’s not only legally blind, but also in constant pain and is only able to sit for about an hour before having to lie down.

[1] The Elder Loneliness Epidemic ,Anne-Marie Botek Contributing Writer


To receive blog updates by email, click here to subscribe to this blog for help and hope as you journey through the Caregiving Season.