Community is so important for everyone at every stage in life. Community becomes even more important when an illness intrudes into “normal” life or when life changes. When one does not find that community amongst the relationships or groups already in place, then the question becomes, where does one find that community.
There have been a few times in my life where I really needed community and I either found it or didn’t.
The first time I really noticed that I needed community was when I got divorced from my first husband. I struggled to find it. I think part of the issue is that I grew up in a Christian bubble where divorce wasn’t copacetic. So when I got divorced, I was ostracized by the people I thought would accept me. This scarred me, much more than I realized.
When my second husband and I started trying to get pregnant and had to go through fertility treatments, I shunned community. I kept our struggle a secret. I missed out on community. I understand now that that was not the best decision for me and I wish someone had said to me …. you need support and community will make you feel less alone. No one did (that I heard in that moment) and I felt very very alone.
The third time I needed community, I sought it out. This was related to pregnancy and breastfeeding. I found like minded people and I clung to them for dear life. There are so many times when a family experiences pregnancy for the first time and those first few months (whether it’s the 1st or 21st child) that are just brutal. The help we sought out and received was life altering and I’m friends with many of those moms today.
The fourth time that I needed community, when I was diagnosed with terminal cancer, I knew that it was necessary. I’ve gotten involved relatively slowly but I truly understand what being part of a community of men and women who understand can provide and how I can contribute.
The really cool thing is that my experiences with community and the realization that I need that community has been codified in an actual study. Some of the key take aways from that study are as follows:
“In the study, groups of 8-10 women [with metastatic breast cancer] met every week. They discussed their fear, their loneliness, and their anger, as well as their desires and their ways of dealing with the disease. They soon learned one of the most fundamental lessons in life: Everyone is wounded, to a greater or lesser degree, and has learned to be ashamed of it. In these support groups, everyone was seriously affected by disease. There was nothing left to hide. The women could speak out and share their innermost thoughts with one another.
For some of them, it was the first time in their lives they had experienced the reassuring peacefulness of such trust. Quite naturally, something of a miracle occurred then: These meetings were neither tragic nor pathetic, but tended to be filled with natural laughter and camaraderie. It was as if in accepting their own wounds, they had opened the way to positive emotions, to joy, to the desire to be alive, to the satisfaction of being together here and now.
Sometimes, of course, one of them was carried off by the disease. Then the women talked about the loss of their departed friend. They recalled her hearty laugh when she described her husband’s blunders, her watchful faze as another participant explained the difficulties of her last surgery, or the grace she maintained even when in pain. They yielded freely to their feelings of grief. These moments were very difficult, but everyone felt that the absent member would go on living in their hearts through these memories. Implicitly, they sensed that when their turn came they too would be honored by such recollections and live on in their companions’ hearts.”
David Spiegel, MD (Stanford University) & Irvin Yalom, MD (Stanford University) “Effect of Psychosocial Treatment on Survival of Patients with Metastatic Breast Cancer,” Lancet 2, no 8673 (Nov. 18, 1989) — Anticancer by Dr David Servan-Schreiber, Chapter 9: The Anticancer Mind
How beautiful of an example, that once we feel safe and once we are in community, fear is lessened and vulnerability is possible.
Where do you find community?
I get the community I need from online support groups mostly but I can’t undervalue the importance of physical contact. Hugs are super important. Crying with someone who gets you is super important. Community is super important.