Merriam-Webster.com defines the term as follows:
support group — a group of people with common experiences and concerns who provide emotional and moral support for one another.
Alan and I attend a monthly ALS support group provided by the Muscular Dystrophy Association. Attendance varies from month to month, but it seems we have anywhere from six to 10 PALS (persons with ALS) along with spouses, relatives and caregivers. The usual format for these hour-and-a-half long meetings is to split into two groups — patients and caregivers — each led by a licensed clinical social worker. Sometimes speakers are invited to come and present helpful information about such things as assisted communication devices or other resources.
When faced with a devastating diagnosis such as ALS (or cancer, Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, Alzheimer’s, etc.), some people withdraw and prefer to be alone. They may not be comfortable talking about the illness. Maybe they’re afraid of becoming overcome by emotions in front of strangers. Possibly they just don’t want to come face to face with their own future they may see represented by the participants of a support group.
I think I can understand these feelings. But my first thought when approached about considering an ALS support group was, “Yes!” Both Alan and I felt strongly that we would need all the support we could get.
Friends and family sometimes ask if we have found this group helpful. Our typical response is to begin with an emphatic, “Oh, yes!!” and then proceed to list all the reasons why.
- Commonality. Everyone there is going through the same stuff we are. They “get” it.
- Information. We learn about helpful resources, equipment, and the disease itself. Each case is unique through sharing common features.
- Encouragement. In addition to the LCSWs, there are several individuals whose upbeat outlooks always brighten my life!
- Compassion. We experience this daily from family and friends, but you cannot ever have too much.
- Friends. Who among us can’t use another friend or two or three?
There are several more I could list but these are the main reasons we make Support Group Saturdays a priority. If you or someone close to you is dealing with a serious illness or trauma, I encourage you to at least try to get to a support group meeting specific to your diagnosis. Go at least twice before giving up. Life doesn’t have to be bleak all the time. Try.
“Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.” ― Leo Buscaglia
Editor's note: Be sure to visit MDA's support groups page to learn more about the support services provided by MDA in your community and online.
About the Author
Hi. I’m Patty, and I’m a wife and mom to two grown daughters, and I'm in my 50s, dealing with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or ALS (also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, or motor neuron disease). This blog is my journey through uncharted waters. People ask me constantly how I’m doing. The short answer is “OK.” I add “so far” in my head most times. So that’s what I’m calling this little corner of the interwebz, OK, So Far. So if you’re up for it, come along on this roller coaster ride known as my life. I can’t promise much in the way of entertainment, but I’ll try not to be too boring! Thanks for stopping by.