L’Chaim. To life!
Several years ago, my mother shared a story about a dear friend’s mother dying the day before the friend’s daughter was getting married. In Judaism, those who pass are typically buried with 24 hours. This is dictated by the Torah. Kabbalah teachings also suggest that immediate burial brings closure to the soul in terms of its relationship to the physical body, thereby allowing it to pass over. In this particular situation, the rabbi told my mother’s friend to have the wedding first, and then the funeral.
Life before death.
Although my mother told me this story within another context, I relate it to connections and their growing importance in our lives as we age.
Data from a study published in Psychological Review in 2000 suggests that women’s inherent response to stress is to ‘tend and befriend’ rather than ‘fight or flight;’ in other words, there is a biologically-defined strategy or pattern that involves caring for offspring, joining social groups, and gravitating towards friends under stressful circumstances. This is driven, at least in part, by the release of the hormone oxytocin, which coupled with endogenous opioids and other sex hormones, promotes maternal behavior as an alternative to the male-oriented fight and flee response.
Findings from the Nurses Health Study have also shown that friendships help prevent the development of physical impairment and facilitate a more joyful existence. What’s more, having a strong social network can lower blood pressure and heart rate and improve cholesterol levels.
Our community is ever more important as we begin to lose family members to illness, our children begin their own journeys and our hormones start to wreak havoc on our bodies and our minds. Nature has provided us with a built-in prompt to maintain those ever important bonds. Our inherent tendency to nurture completes the picture.
It appears that as women, we possess the strongest alternative strategy to aging in existence. Our friends.