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    Girlfriends Getaway by Kathleen M. Rehl

    Once a year, three girlfriends from across the country and I meet in an interesting location for several days. 


    We’ve known each other for decades and range in age from our late 60s to early 70s. We’re a mixture of married, divorced, widowed and remarried women. Our children and stepchildren are grown. One woman has a very elderly mother. We were strong career women years ago. In general, we lean left politically. Our religious views vary. What we have most in common is our friendship. Some time ago, we dubbed ourselves “The Fab 4,” and that’s stuck. 


    This past September we met in Asheville to enjoy historic attractions (including the Biltmore estate), art, walking tours, delicious dining, mountain music, unique shops, wine and chocolate, gorgeous sunsets over the peaks, playing cards, PLUS . . . profound conversations about what’s important to us.


    Research validates the value of female friendships


    Studies show that women who nurture close relationships are happier, have fewer health problems, are more resilient, and live longer. The Nurses’ Health Study from Harvard Medical School concluded that women with more friends were less likely to develop physical complications as they age. Results were so significant that researchers said not having close friends is as damaging to our health as smoking or obesity. 


    Each evening during our girlfriends getaway, we gathered in our rented house’s cozy living room to enjoy conversations lasting long into the night. We sipped wine and herbal tea while nibbling healthy dark chocolate and savory snacks. In this relaxed setting, away from regular daily responsibilities and activities, we easily shared what was on our minds and hearts about several topics. We revealed secrets we might not have told others. We celebrated our successes and were honest about problems as we spoke of what matters to us during this highly supportive time together. Below are a few specifics we discussed.


    Special themes


    • We celebrated the 68th birthday of one girlfriend. We sang Happy Birthday but purposefully didn’t give gifts. (At this life stage we don’t want more stuff.) Rather, I presented the birthday gal with a card with a poem I wrote specifically for her. We know there are fewer years ahead than behind us, and we cherish these milestones with friends. 


    • What marriage means and a bachelorette evening for a soon-to-be bride. After being widowed years ago, one girlfriend came to our annual gathering wearing a sparkling engagement ring. Although she never expected to find love again after her late husband’s death, she did. She was open to our thoughts about marriage. That included my experience as a recently married woman, who was formerly widowed also.


    • Health and wellness tips. Each of us is dealing with some health challenge—varying from minor to more significant. We shared how we’re coping through physical exercises, meditation, and changes in the food we eat. One friend now is “mostly vegan,” in part to help fight climate change. We swapped healthy recipes. Some even shared changes in our sex lives as we age.


    • Recommendations for leaving career work to retire. All three of my girlfriends retired several years ago, and they spoke about the sorrow and joy of letting go. I’ll soon end my “encore career,” as I start my 74th year. Although I’ve loved my work, it’s time for a change. My girlfriends applauded this decision and are holding me accountable on my commitment.   


    • Relationships with our adult children and extended family. Knowing we all sometimes feel challenged by a relative is comforting. One friend shared that listening to her daughter without trying to “fix” her problems helped their relationship. I was delighted to tell my girlfriends about accepting a great new job offer, following many months without work. My girlfriends knew the anxiety I previously felt. 


    • Recommended books, movies, apps, podcasts, websites, online classes, and blogs. We four will always be life-long learners. 


    Time with my girlfriends was fun. But trips like this are more than just a nice vacation. It strengthened our friendship bonds. During our final evening together, we decided where and when we want to spend time together again next year. We also promised to stay in touch by email and phone. 


    TIP: Your time with girlfriends doesn’t need to be far away, expensive, or lengthy. 


    Getting together with one or a few girlfriends can be a picnic in a nearby park, where you walk the trails and share thoughts about your lives. Or drive to a nearby town for an arts festival plus a leisurely lunch. The getaway location can be wherever you and your friends want to go.


    Especially during the past decade, I’ve realized how essential it is for me to invest in female friendships. They add a lot to my happiness. Girlfriends have helped me through my most challenging events and celebrated with me during successes. Yes, I’ll continue to make time for our memorable trips with these women, whom I cherish dearly.


    Have you enjoyed a girlfriends getaway? Would you encourage others to consider this activity?


    Kathleen M. Rehl, Ph.D., CFP®, CeFT®, inspires widows and their advisors through her speaking, writing, and research. She authored the award-winning book, Moving Forward on Your Own: A Financial Guidebook for WidowsHer work has been featured in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Kiplinger’s, CNBC, USA Today, among other publications, and online.