“I was completely lost.”
That’s how Jan Yuen, 82, described her life after her longtime companion Hisashi Tanaka died.
Tanaka was a member of Harris United Methodist Church and Yuen, who was raised Catholic, went with him to church and to the Wednesday Royukai Senior Fellowship group. But she didn’t formally join the church.
A church acquaintance came up to her and told her: “I know when you are going to be most lonely.”
The woman faithfully began calling her every night at 8 p.m. and five years later, she still calls.
The opportunity to be among supportive friends that Harris United Methodist or other church or senior groups offer is an often- overlooked path to living a longer and happier life.
Researchers say loneliness and senior isolation is unhealthy, equivalent in longevity risk to smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Having a sense of purpose, like looking forward to weekly gatherings, can extend your life by about seven years, scientists say.
AARP volunteer Gail Satsuma doesn’t doubt that. Her aunt, Adele Taba-Onaga was a regular at the senior fellowship and the church until her death at age 90.
“That’s how my aunt stayed alive,” Satsuma said. The chance to be with friends every week was something her aunt looked forward to and it gave her a reason to live, she said.
The Royukai Senior Fellowship at Harris United Methodist Church has been going on for as long as anyone can remember, perhaps dating back to the beginnings of the church 130 years ago.
Once a week, on Wednesday mornings, kupuna get together for activities, mostly crafts, and the occasional field trip. For the last month, the group made more than 500 yarn lei for the Girl Scouts Lei of Aloha project. Each Memorial Day, the Girl Scouts place lei on about 10,000 graves at the State Veterans Cemetery.
You don’t have to attend the church to join the senior group.
“There are Buddhists who are part of our group,” Yuen said.
Jo Tanimoto-Carmichael, the coordinator of the fellowship group, said the main purpose is not religion, but to give the kupuna a reason to get out of the house and socialize.
Harris’ senior fellowship group may be one of the oldest in Hawaii but it’s not the only one. Senior centers and churches across the state offer opportunities for kupuna to meet regularly and make friends.
Kupuna of religion are welcome to join the Harris United Methodist Church Wednesday Royukai Senior Fellowship group from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. There’s a $4 donation for lunch. If you are planning to attend, the church asks that you call ahead so they know how many lunches to prepare. Call 536-9602. The church is located at 20 S. Vineyard Boulevard.
If Harris church is not convenient for you, senior centers and other churches also offer regular get-togethers for kupuna. Contact the senior center or church nearest you.
Barbara Kim Stanton is the state director for AARP Hawaii, an organization dedicated to empowering people to choose how they live as they age.