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Group shares feelings ‘side by side’

WESTFIELD-A supportive, informal gathering of area residents meets monthly at the Westfield Senior Center, welcoming persons who may be coping with life’s challenges.

The Side by Side Support Group, facilitated by Tina Gorman, executive director of the Westfield Council on Aging, has been meeting for 14 years.

Gorman started the group the first year she began working for the Council on Aging. She has a bachelor’s degree in social work, a master’s and certificate of advanced graduate study in rehabilitation counseling, and is a certified and licensed rehabilitation counselor.

“The holidays can be a wonderfully uplifting time of the year for many,” said Gorman, adding, “but for some, the holiday season magnifies the losses of loved ones.”

Gorman added that “cherished memories of holiday traditions” may become distorted through the eyes of someone dealing with depression.

“A peer support group can be a powerful tool for sorting out and acknowledging feelings and then discussing practical strategies for navigating through the holiday season,” she said.

Gorman described the group as “very eclectic.”

“Some in the group are dealing with grief and loss,” said Gorman. “Some are facing the challenges of caregiving. Others are managing their own health or disability issues. Participants attend the group for a variety of reasons.”

Gorman noted that members are “extremely supportive” of each other.

“Some attend for a short time, just to get themselves through a difficult situation,” said Gorman. “Others have been in the group for years.”

The group typically meets on the fourth Friday of the month from 9:30 – 11 a.m. at the Westfield Senior Center. This month’s gathering is an exception due to the holidays.

On Dec. 20, the group will travel to The Arbors at Westfield, 40 Court St., for its annual holiday “field trip.” Persons will have time to enjoy the holiday decorations at The Arbors before the 9:30 a.m. meeting begins.

“There are typically about a dozen people in the group at any given time,” said Gorman.

Over the years, Gorman has ended each gathering with an inspirational story or poem, and as of late, participants have discovered the power of humor.

“So now I always finish with a humorous story that I read aloud,” said Gorman, noting that printed copies are distributed to members as they leave. “Some go home and put their copy right up on the refrigerator for all to enjoy.”

For anyone who participates in the support group, they are asked to sign a group procedures agreement that ensures  conversation shared among the members is kept confidential.

For more information on the group or if transportation is needed to attend the meeting, call the center at (413) 562-6435.

“Although the members face challenges and sometimes tears are shed, there is also plenty of laughter,” said Gorman.

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