By Dr. Marion Somers, Ph. D., Ask Dr. Marion

QUESTION: My 86-year-old mother-in-law has lost a number of friends over the past few years to them either moving in with relatives or passing on. Now she is losing one of her oldest and dearest friends who also happens to be her next-door neighbor. They have depended on each other for various things like dinner or a cup of tea or picking up each other's mail while one was out of town. She sounds so down I'm not sure what to say to her. She is strong and will survive, but it is very sad. Do you have any suggestions? Pat in Georgia, 59

ANSWER: Losing friends or relatives is a trying time for all of us, and especially for those who are older. There is always a natural period of grieving and remembering. We cannot replace those who are lost to us. But I try to show my clients to be grateful for the blessings and joys these people have given them, and to be buoyed by the friendship that has enhanced their life.

No matter what age we may be, we are in control of making the most of our lives. Your mother-in-law needs to make the maximum effort so she can go forward in her life. Sometimes people reach out to us, but usually we have to attempt to make new friends or acquaintances in order to build new relationships. It can be very empowering and exciting to renew ties with family members, or to reach out to our religious organizations or clubs or social venues. This all takes time and effort, but it's usually well worth it.

Having new people in our lives can be very rewarding. We all seek companionship and the comfort of knowing someone cares. Sometimes the simple gesture of volunteering our time and talents, the act of giving, comes with its own rewards. When we stop thinking so much about ourselves, our grief and loss can be healed.

©2006 Elder Health Resources of America, Inc.