March 23, 2018
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Belfast area support groups people helping others

By Abigail Curtis, BDN Staff

BELFAST — Sometimes, people just need a little help from other folks who understand what they’re going through.

Providing that help is the goal of several area support groups that are run through Waldo County Home Healthcare Services and Waldo County General Hospital, according to social worker Margie Spencer-Smith. She is the facilitator for the monthly cancer education and support group, the hospice caregivers support group, and the family caregiver education and support group.

“We use a lot of laughter and humor,” Spencer-Smith said. “It’s really just helping people cope and helping them take care of themselves.”

Sarah Tarpley of Belfast attends the cancer support group.

“It is helping me immensely,” she said. “Just the support of other people going through similar situations.”

She said the group is a place where she can talk about whatever she is going through at that time and that Spencer-Smith is a “great listener.”

“We welcome anyone, and anyone’s welcome,” she said. “You can always come and just sit and listen. You don’t necessarily have to share a whole lot if you don’t feel comfortable. It’s a very safe place.”

Ann, a Searsport woman who is taking care of her mother, who has Alzheimer’s disease, said the caregivers support group has been valuable to her. She’s been attending it for more than a year, even though the idea of attending a support group was not a natural fit for her.

“I’m not one of those psychological, analytical, psychobabble people,” she said. “I thought everybody would get in a group and moan and groan and say, ‘Oh, woe is me.’”

But she found that the difficulties of being a caregiver outweighed her discomfort at the idea of group sharing.

“I went because I was really at a loss,” Ann said. “You get angry. You struggle. All kinds of emotions.”

At the group, she found other people who understood her challenges, and that was a help. Now, Ann said she feels like a “veteran” who can recognize what new group members are going through.

“It’s still a struggle,” she said. “It’s like being on a path, and the people in the group are on different parts of the path. You get so bogged down in the struggle that you don’t see the obvious.”

Other group members, and Spencer-Smith, can help make the obvious more clear, she said.

“I was complaining to the group that my mother doesn’t want to put her pajamas on at night. It’s a constant struggle. Margie said, ‘So? Does it really matter?”

She thought about it and realized that the answer was no. It didn’t really matter.

“You just feel like as a caregiver, you’re living in an insane world. And you tend to overlook that kind of thing,” Ann said.

According to Spencer-Smith, caregivers in stressful situations often can lose perspective, and a support group can be a time to get it back.

“It’s really a matter of keeping a healthy attitude about the bigger picture. Trying to help people lighten their load,” she said.

The groups are drop-in, and they have varying attendance. Sometimes, just three or four people attend, and once she had 15.

“Most of the time, people are just talking to each other,” Spencer-Smith said. “People just share, on a very deep level, what’s going on with them and help to support each other.”

It might sound like a cliche, but sharing is a great thing, she said.

“It really helps people know that they’re not alone, that other people have gone through similar experiences,” Spencer-Smith said. “That gives them the strength to cope with their own situation — and also ideas on how to cope differently.

The hospice caregivers support group, which is co-facilitated by Harbor Hill social worker Jessica Porter, is held at 1 p.m. the third Thursday of the month. It is located in the upstairs dining room of the Fort Point Unit at Harbor Hill, on Footbridge Road in East Belfast.

The cancer education and support group, for adults with cancer, their families and friends, is held 4:45-6:15 p.m. on the second Wednesday of the month in the Education Center of Waldo County General Hospital.

The family caregiver education and support group is held noon to 1 p.m. on the first Thursday of the month at the Waldo County Home Health and Hospice Conference Room, opposite Waldo County General Hospital on Northport Avenue in Belfast.

For more information about the groups, contact Margie Spencer-Smith at 930-2500, ext. 4795.

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