Karen is a member of one of the dozens of free support & discussion groups Alzheimer’s San Diego offers across the county. Keep reading to find out how she and other group members have found a new way to cope after loss.

By Karen Crowson

Our support group has been a source of comfort, education, escape, connection and purpose for the dozens of people who attend bi-weekly meetings in Rancho Bernardo. After the passing of her husband, one of the members speculated that she didn’t know who she was anymore. “I’m not a caregiver, an advocate or a wife. I’ve lost my identity. Where do I go to find me again at this stage of life?”

Within a fairly short time, several other group members faced similar circumstances. As another member put it after the death of her husband: “I felt like I was at the edge of a cliff, and with nowhere to go. I had great support from family and friends, but I ached for the support of a group like what I had experienced with the Alzheimer’s Support Group.”

As several people echoed similar feelings, the idea of a separate Grief Group was born. (We formed under the Alzheimer’s San Diego umbrella and are open to both men and women). Our first meeting occurred in August with a handful of members, although sadly has increased to 9 as of this writing. It has been a safe place to vent, cry, question, commiserate and share at our monthly meetings.

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Our Grief Group founder suggested we all meet for lunch at a local winery, where we dined al fresco on a beautiful autumn day. The location itself was uplifting and led to conversations far different than those in the Grief Group itself. Members shared how they were rekindling past friendships, starting hobbies, engaging in positive activities as they reshaped life without their loved one. Laughter and camaraderie filled the air, and we could sense that something important was taking shape.

The Grief Group holiday potluck

A member suggested we keep the momentum going with a holiday potluck. In mid-December, our group gathered once again, this time at a member’s home which was beautifully decorated for Christmas. Delicious food, wine, and laughter filled the atmosphere as we all shared memories and enjoyed the blossoming of new friendships. Our hostess commented, “I feel joyful, and that feels so good.”

This successful gathering and its goodness led to the decision to change the format of the Grief Group to one meeting room session and one outing/informal gathering per month. It’s heartwarming to see these strong women form friendships that will likely last for years to come. As we conveyed this positive experience with our Alzheimer’s San Diego connections, we learned there is another such group out there as well.

After speaking with Janet Hartshorne, founder of that group in Oceanside, I learned that they too were a spinoff of a support group from Vista. Their group, named Chapter III, has been in existence for 8 years! Janet has observed that after the loss itself, most caregivers have the support of caring family and friends during arrangements for the loved one, and seem to find counseling and/or a grief group very helpful for a time.  However, moving beyond the grief group to navigate in a social setting can be a difficult step for a lot of caregivers. Chapter III paves the way with casual pot lucks at different members’ homes, where discussion on everything from new grandbabies to books, and movies takes place in a safe atmosphere of compassion and lighthearted fun. In the time between their monthly pot lucks, members also socialize with each other.

Losing a loved one is devastating. Leaving your circle of empathy at the same time would be yet another loss. Caregivers are strong individuals with a capacity for caring. Continuing to care for each other after our losses, is one more way we can cope. One member summed up a sentiment we all feel, “There are things that I share with this group that I don’t share with anyone else…even family.”

Need support? Our social workers are here to help. Call 858.492.4400 to learn more about the free resources Alzheimer’s San Diego provides, or visit www.alzsd.org/services.