This is a much-needed book. Support networks don’t just happen by themselves. These two experienced, compassionate experts have provided a realistic map and plan on how to help create and be part of a trusted, supportive network.
Why we all need such a network is becoming more important than ever. Health care insurance plans are being trimmed back or taken away from retirees; hospitals don’t let patients occupy beds very long; and all government social and health-care services are being cut way back. Who can you count on? Your personal support network.
Psychology researchers have found, over and over, that resiliency, health, and long life are enhanced by having many good relationships and friendships. Loners, in contrast, don’t hold up as well when struggling with long-lasting physical, emotional, or situational challenges.
Being part of a community of friendly people who enjoy many good times together has many benefits. If anyone is hit with a major personal difficulty, others are available to help in many ways. They may console, problem solve, bring food, take care of pets, provide transportation, wash dishes, fill out forms, rent a movie to watch together . . . the list goes on.
Enjoying good times together is an essential factor. Resiliency, recovery, and health are enhanced by many positive emotions. A good support group has many pleasant, happy people who laugh a lot, talk about many satisfactions in the work they do and in their lives, express appreciation, give hugs, delight in the accomplishments of others, and have a realistic optimistic attitude about handling challenges.
The wisdom offered to you by John and Judy is shown in their guidelines on how to receive help. When you face a serious difficulty, you may have to make a significant shift in your feelings about receiving help from others.
For example, a few years ago a friend of mine was seriously injured in an auto accident. She had fractured ribs, a fractured pelvis, and massive bruising. When she was recovered enough to be released from the hospital, she faced a dilemma. She had to remain in bed for many days while her bones mended, but she lived alone in a small house. She needed twenty-four-hour care in case any complications developed. She needed help with eating, going to the bathroom, turning the lights off and on, setting the thermostat, and so forth.
For her, the hardest part of her recovery was to accept an offer from two friends to go live in their home and let them care for her. She was an independent woman! She had always been generous in giving help to others. To accept help from others was more difficult for her than dealing with the pain of her broken body.
Now, when talking about the accident she says, “The biggest gift was learning to receive love. In the past I would never complain nor accept help from others. Now I do.”
John and Judy are experienced guides who can lead you through the challenge of learning to ask for and receive help—if you are willing to accept their guidance. They speak from personal experience about what they have had to learn on their own.
John comes from a midwestern farming community and a large family of survivors. When he was fifteen years old, his mother had a massive stroke from which she did not recover. His older sister died in her thirties of cancer. John, his father, and his remaining sister have learned to rely on inner resources and an outer safety net to survive tragedy. He remembers a very difficult time when one of his cousins was killed in a flying accident. This was the second of three sons his uncle Bob had lost. John’s father and another uncle felt Bob’s pain very deeply because they had each also lost children who were in their twenties or thirties. After the funeral Bob said, “I don’t know how I can go on.” John’s father replied, “Bob, we’re survivors. And we have each other.” The two brothers put their arms around Bob and held him as he sobbed in deep agony over his loss. In the months that followed, Bob recovered and the family healed from another tragic loss.
John served two years in the Army medical corps, counseling returning Vietnam veterans who had been traumatized by what they’d seen and experienced. In his professional career, he has focused on helping individuals and families find strength, adaptability, and community to draw upon during life’s changes and challenges. His work with clients has given him many insights into how to create and sustain support networks.
Life has a way of making experts walk their talk. John personally knows what it’s like to rely on a safety net. He developed a form of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma several years ago. He refers to it as “currently incurable” and is learning to live, love, and work both as if his days may be short and as if he may live for decades.
Judy’s father died when she was thirteen. In her home she and her two younger siblings were not allowed to talk about their father’s death or their feelings about it. Her mother, a college graduate with a business degree, took control of her father’s small business. With hard work and long hours, her mother made the business far more successful than it had been before.
For Judy, this was a powerful model of leadership and personal success. At the same time it also meant that she “lost” her mom—in the same way that highly successful corporate executives are often unsuccessful at remaining emotionally close to their children.
When Judy was in high school, her mother married a man who was raising three children by himself. Her mother sold the business and devoted herself to her new blended “Brady Bunch” sort of family. Judy was delighted with her new stepdad and felt happy about the way all six kids knit together and truly felt like siblings.
Judy’s stepfather has been her true dad for most of her life and his children became real sister and brothers. She feels blessed and grateful for the events that led to this happening, for the strength and resiliency that came with and through them.
Judy married when she was twenty-one, had three children, and then adopted another. She says that when she adopted a fourth child she was able to use her experience from her own childhood to handle wanting him to maintain connection with his birth mother, but feeling somehow jealous of his love for her. When she thought back to the way she’d found room in her heart for a “new” dad, she realized that if a mom or dad can love more than one child, then a child can love more than one mom or dad too. With this attitude and feelings of good will, mixed with common sense regarding family roles, she was able to see her son’s other mom as a resource, rather than a threat. This led to many positive results for them all.
After twenty years of marriage, Judy and her husband divorced. The divorce was difficult for everyone. However, it created space to bring another family into their lives, just as had happened when she was a teenager. She and her children found that sharing lives and living arrangements with another single-parent family can be very positive. The family that they’d only known slightly before that time has grown into one of the best parts of her family’s friendship web. Judy says that through marriages and moves, her large extended family has stayed in close touch.
Judy’s professional work includes starting and running a nonprofit organization for single-parent mutual support and home sharing. She says that these are some things she’s sure of:
- Community is needed in my life.
- Most people will be helpful if given a chance.
- An assumption of goodwill is an excellent place to begin.
John and Judy wrote this book to provide you with useful and effective guidelines on what to do to create and sustain a network of loving, supportive people. And the good news is that the efforts put into creating your personal safety net and care-sharing team will bring not only safety but also rewards beyond your imagining.
– Al Siebert, PhD
Author of The Survivor Personality
and The Resiliency Advantage