I belong to a few unofficial support groups. One is my cancer-kicking hike group. Another is my Monday evening knitting posse. And then there’s the dog-petting, picture-taking, leaf-throwing, coffee-drinking Saturday morning walking group. Also cancer-kicking.
I first walked with this group as part of my cancer center job (back then it might have been to keep them in line). But I now attend because they’re part of my fabulous support system. Lifetime membership. Whether I want it or not.
Once upon a time, Hubby and I were scheduled to speak during the last hour of a cancer support group. We had arrived early to set up as the discussion portion of the meeting was going full swing.
Although the group was well-attended and its members seemed to care for each other, if I were a visitor looking for a group, it wouldn’t be this one. Attendees seemed to be trying to outdo each other with their dismal cancer details, but this was probably exactly what each needed.
Hubby was never interested in sitting around in a circle and talking about his cancer woes. It wasn’t until a year and a half into his cancer that we stumbled onto the DEFEAT Cancer program (Diet, Exercise, Family, Education, Attitude and Thriving). A different guest speaker and topic, different nutritious meal and exercise break each month. All designed to educate and encourage the cancer survivor and caregiver about nutrition, physical activity, managing stress, genetics, clinical trials — to name a few topics. It was the perfect fit for us from Day One.
So why would you need a support group? Well, maybe you’re caring for an aging parent with dementia and could use a weekly break to hang with others caring for aging parents. Or you’re looking for a fellow group of American families who have adopted international children. Or you’re a Football Fantasy widow needing support through the current season.
Me? I’m interested in the next Partners in Care six-week support group for women who have lost a spouse. Not because I haven’t resolved my grief, but because I’m always interested in learning more. And I’m interested in meeting local widows with similar interests.
Also, although I hike once a month with my cancer-kicking group, I’m also looking for a mid-week hike/snow-shoe group that heads out into the nearby wilderness weekly.
So what does a good support group look like? The correct answer is: Exactly what you want it to look like. Here are a few thoughts and comments from our experience:
1. Determine your needs and desires. Are you looking for a safe place to bare your soul? Are you looking for kindred spirits to do activities with? Do you want to meet face-to-face, online or have phone-based peer support? Spend some time researching what is available in your area or in an online community.
2. Kiss a few frogs. Once you’ve determined what you need, you might have to kiss a few frogs before finding Prince Charming (sorry, it’s the best analogy I could come up with). Go ahead; scout out a few groups until you find a fit. And take a friend if you don’t like to walk into new situations alone.
3. Sign-up. Join. Get involved. You don’t need to commit for the rest of your life. Or even for a full year. But make some sort of commitment and see where it takes you. See what new friends you’ll make. See what you’ll learn through the process.
4. Share the wealth. If you’ve discovered a safe place with exactly the right kind of facilitator and members, let others know about it. Be inviting.
5. Consider giving back. What if you knew a few recent widows, a handful of struggling single moms, a couple of families recently moved to your area? Even though you may not be a professional counselor or social worker, what if you could host a book club, assemble a knitting group, start up a dinner club? Imagine that you could help create a safe place where people have a sense of belonging. Because isn’t that what most of us long for?
Support groups aren’t always called support groups. And they’re not necessarily professionally-led, bare-your-soul discussions. Oftentimes the best support groups are those that include side-by-side activities, which encourages friendship and trust. And then maybe those bare-your-soul conversations come out of that friendship and trust.
You might never have thought you needed a support group. But what about a cluster of friends that gets you because they’ve walked where you’ve walked? What are the first steps you can take in looking for a kindred-spirit group? If you’ve had a good experience with a support group, I’d love to hear about it.
Last year I joined an antisocial support group. We haven’t met yet.
Oh, and if you’re looking for a dog-petting, picture-taking, leaf-throwing, coffee-drinking Saturday morning walking group, have I got the perfect one for you.
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