Each installment of The Friendship Files features a conversation between The Atlantic’s Julie Beck and two or more friends, exploring the history and significance of their relationship.
This week, she talks with two women who met through the nontheistic religion of Ethical Culture and have spent a significant amount of time ministering to aging and dying members of their congregation. They discuss how friendship changes at the end of life, and how they work to foster connection and community for members of all ages.
Anne Klaeysen, 68, a recently retired clergy leader for the New York Society for Ethical Culture and a humanist chaplain at New York University. She lives in Brooklyn.
Liz Singer, 71, a geriatric-care manager and the president of the New York Society for Ethical Culture. She lives in Fort Lee, New Jersey.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Julie Beck: How did you two meet and begin ministering to the dying together?
Anne Klaeysen: Liz became a member of the New York society maybe seven years ago. I am always at the monthly newcomer reception, so we met there. She just dove right in, and shortly became the president of the board. I have to confess, Liz, I get a little worried when people dive in so quickly. I’m thinking, Oh dear, is she going to drown? Liz did not drown; she’s a strong swimmer. Liz came at a time when we really needed strong leadership. And she wasn’t afraid to take on a couple of the old boys. So I think there was certainly a feminist bond there. [We became] partners in crime, or [rather] partners in good works.