The Importance of Support Groups

In the summer of 2010, a diagnosis of coronary artery disease after the discovery of two blocked arteries started me thinking about retirement. After a career in secondary education, including eight years as a high school principal, the finish line was getting close, but the diagnosis brought it closer. After crunching the financial numbers and getting my wife’s approval, I decided one more year would be it.

Retirement plans

When the summer of 2011 rolled around, I was more than ready to leave my office for the last time. I had plenty of activities and travel plans to keep me busy, so I wasn’t plagued by the thought of what to do in retirement. I jumped in with both feet. I hadn’t been a classroom teacher for thirteen years. I specialized in teaching English literature, composition, and creative writing. It crossed my mind to teach an adult school literature class, maybe Shakespeare, but it sounded like too much work.

Instead, I started a blog, which consisted mostly of one-paragraph reviews of books and movies, and poetry I’d written. I called it Short Attention Span reviews. It was fun to write but after a while, it felt more like a job than an activity. Then I had another idea that would combine everything: starting a men’s book club, the Short Attention Span Book Club (SASBC), to be exact.

I contacted a few of my friends, most of us in our sixties and early seventies at the time, some retired, some thinking about it. The response was overwhelmingly positive, especially when I said we would focus on books in the 250-300 page range. I said I would create two lists, one of short classic novels, and one of short contemporary novels. At first, I thought meeting every two months would be most practical, but the guys said they wanted to meet once-a-month.

I wasn't alone

A few months after starting the book club I had a heart attack (no correlation between reading and heart attacks). A couple of years later I was diagnosed with prostate cancer. Guess what?

I wasn’t alone. Among the dozen or so guys in the club, several had experienced one or the other or both. Another guy has diabetes. Another is bipolar. So, in addition to enjoying our conversations about books, we became a chronic illness support group.

For nine years we have met an average of ten times a year (in Zoom meetings for the last ten months), have read over ninety books, both fiction and nonfiction. We’ve had email exchanges with well-known authors and two authors have attended our meeting when we discussed their books. We’ve had special guests who are experts in certain authors. We’ve supported one another through any number of health challenges, life challenges in general, and we also celebrate the good things that happen in our lives.

Support for a better life

I can’t site scientific proof to back up my next statement, but I believe it to be true: having a strong support group that includes trust, open sharing and lots of laughter (we’re a very irreverent bunch) extends life and improves the quality of life. My group is just competitive, ornery, and stubborn enough that we all want to be the last one to go. That alone will add ten years to our lives. Thanks to the Short Attention Span Book Club, fact and fiction combine to make a better life.

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