Cultivating Friendships That Last a Lifetime
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Cultivating Friendships That Last a Lifetime

Friends are important, but you have to be willing to put the work in.

Robyn Spizman Gerson is a New York Times best-selling author of many books, including “When Words Matter Most.” She is also a communications professional and well-known media personality, having appeared often locally on “Atlanta and Company” and nationally on NBC’s “Today” show. For more information go to

This birthday group of friends has celebrated each other’s birthdays and milestones for over four decades. (L to R): Robyn Spizman, Patty Brown, Norma Gordon, Donna Weinstock, Ava Wilensky, Gail Heyman and Lori Simon.
This birthday group of friends has celebrated each other’s birthdays and milestones for over four decades. (L to R): Robyn Spizman, Patty Brown, Norma Gordon, Donna Weinstock, Ava Wilensky, Gail Heyman and Lori Simon.

Friends sustain us, lift us and show up when we need them. When times are good or bad, they are there, and some friends know us even better than we know ourselves. Whether it’s a shoulder to lean on, or someone to share in our joy, friends are vital forces in our lives.

With Thanksgiving soon arriving, my thoughts turned to what is often called a “Friendsgiving.” My first Friendsgiving was orchestrated by my elementary school friend Helen Krauss. It took place at her home, as she and husband Steve gathered a few couples from our childhood for a festive dinner. She knew it had been a difficult year and wanted to provide an evening of fun. It was a night of joy and reminiscing, and Helen prepared a delicious traditional turkey dinner and showered us with love.

We’ve all heard that we’re fortunate if we have a few true friends, and cultivating friendships takes time and energy. Consider how you’re doing with your own friendships. How often do you talk or see your friends? Do you owe anyone a call? Is there a friend you wish you were closer to? Do you owe a friend an apology? And, last but not least, have you told your friends how much you appreciate them lately? Friendship is an opportunity to care out loud. It’s a two-way street, and bonds need nurturing.

Dr. Rick Blue says that “having emotional support through friendships or a social support network is one of the strongest antidotes to depression.”

Regarding the value of friendships, psychologist Dr. Rick Blue says, “Friendships are so important and all research shows that having emotional support through friendships or a social support network is one of the strongest antidotes to depression. When you have people to talk with, it drives a wedge in negative thinking or depressed thoughts. Friendships allow you to talk about all those things that bother you if you choose to go deep. Having friends is something that you can look forward to, and it gives you the opportunity to talk without fear of rejection. Having a safe place to talk with a friend is one of the most important ingredients to a happy life.”

My mother, Phyllis Freedman, of blessed memory, had a world of friends. We used to joke that mom could make a friend on a desert island. In her memory, I occasionally plan a “Phyllis Freedman Day” and call the people that I know my mother would want me to check in on. While it might be a relative, a close friend or someone my mother appreciated, it’s my way of honoring her, as she was actually my first friend in life. It’s not a surprise that my mother told me when I was in my twenties, “I want you to meet Patty and Larry Brown, I think you are going to love them.” From that moment forward, we’ve been lifelong friends. Leave it to my mother to offer such meaningful insight.

David Schendowich, the Breman Museum’s marketing guru, added, “I met my friend Joe while in college over 40 years ago. All this time we have been friends, business partners and artists who enabled each other to do the impossible. Joe went off, lived his life, pursued his dreams, accomplished greatness while I did the same. We were always in touch, sometimes not talking for months, but always knowing we could. Our conversations, which began in the 1970s, always picked up where they left off, until the day he passed away last year. Joe was a lifelong friend. I can still hear his voice, with his eternal optimism and curiosity, saying, “Do it Schendo. …” Joe taught me what a friend is and how important it is to have one.”

Friends often have traditions they share, like my birthday club of girls. Seven of us, who have been friends for over four decades, gather for each other’s birthdays and celebrate each other’s milestones and simchas — such as children’s engagements — with a shower. Simchas have kept us together for many decades and sharing in each other’s happiness is something we relish and treasure. One of the birthday girls, Gail Heyman, said, “One gets to choose one’s friends, and can be blessed if they can count their great friends on one hand. Good friendships come from sheer love and joy of one another … no matter what life challenges you’re experiencing. Some friendships are from the past, some from the present, and who knows what future friends you may come to cherish. Life is better because of friends, and I am grateful for each and every friend in my life.”

Pre-pandemic, my husband, Ed Gerson, had a dinner club for 12 years with Jay Empel and Lee Izen. The person whose turn it was surprised the other two with the choice of restaurants, the goal being to pick a new restaurant they had not been to yet. Jay said, “The funny thing about it was we enjoyed talking, and while Ed wanted Asian fusion cuisine, I wanted steak and potatoes and Lee was more into the newest, latest or greatest. We didn’t gossip, but we caught up on each other’s lives. Men call it news. It got us out and together and we grew closer as friends.”

Evie Sacks, with her children in 1991, was grateful to lean on her community of friendships in the wake of tragedy.

Writer Evie Sacks has a poignant story to tell about friendship. “In 1991, a fire broke out in my home in a small town in southern Maine, flushing me and my children, then 8 and 11, out into the chilly, pre-dawn darkness,” she begins. “The kids wore thin pajamas, hugging stuffed animals they’d been clutching in sleep just minutes before. We ran outside and stood, drop-jawed, on our neighbor’s lawn, an unwanted front-row seat to our home dissolving in ash. The fire, thank God a major inconvenience more than a tragedy, engendered incredible outpourings of love and caring. An acquaintance from synagogue sent a set of new Corning Ware. A close friend used his legal skills to help us navigate the piles of paperwork. His wife did loads of laundry until we realized that the smell of smoke would never leave the kids’ favorite jeans, leg warmers, and sweatshirts emblazoned with the name of the high school down the hill.”

We all have stories of friends who enhance our lives. But do not delay, as you never know what’s to come. Embrace friends, make new friends and make today Call-A-Friend Day. After all, friends are lasting gifts who brighten our lives and bless us in immeasurable ways.

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