Girl groups

There was a definite process by which one made people into friends, and it involved talking to them and listening to them for hours at a time.” – Dame Rebecca West

Nothing tops the power of a girl group. Whether youre swamped with a crisis at work, unruly kids, or too much estrogen, you can always count on the harmony of other womens voices to lift you higher.

Girl groups rock. And I dont mean the musical variety, although Im a fan of those too. But right now Im applauding the whole idea of women banding together to form their own circles and support groups. Never in the history of womankind have we been so overbooked, so stressed, and so starved for emotional connection as we are today.

Blogging is, of course, a fine way to discover new friends with common interests. But blogging can’t be compared to forging three-dimensional connections in one’s own community. Like the quilting circles of my grandmothers era, female support groups provide the personal contact that can keep a gal from unraveling at the seams.

But first, some definitions are in order. A support group should never be confused with a clique, which still has the hollow ring of adolescence. Websters New World College Dictionary defines a clique as “a small, exclusive circle of people; a snobbish or narrow coterie.” A support group, on the other hand, has a large collective heart. It is typically formed around a positive agenda – to explore complex issues like new motherhood or breast cancer, for example. Individuality is welcomed and encouraged; sage advice is exchanged to aid the group as a whole. And the conversation is always therapeutic.

Over the years Ive belonged to several womens clubs, but the “Second Sundays” circle I helped form at my church is the first to spring to mind. Though the group eventually came to its natural end and has since disbanded, I’ll never forget how that incredible family of women coached me through some difficult challenges, from major surgery to my sons graduation party. Meeting monthly for several years, we rehashed a variety of topics, including healing and forgiveness, letting go of our kids, rebuilding friendships, caring for aging parents, and caring for our stressed-out souls.

It was an uncommon grab bag of gals. Our ages ranged from 44 to 84, and we represented a wide variety of professions from social work to finance. The generational differences enriched the group. The older women offered their wisdom and experience, while the younger members helped the elders view life with fresh perspective.

If youre inspired to form your own official girl group, heres what to do.

Decide on a focus for your meetings. Keep the circle small, preferably under twelve women. If its much larger, there wont be time for everyone to get a word in edgewise. Always commit to a regular meeting time at the same location, unless you prefer to rotate your gatherings at various homes. And for everyones sanity, keep the refreshments light, as in coffee or tea and store-bought cookies.

Above all, your support group should be about nourishing friendships and feeding the soul. So, forget the gourmet brownies but be sure to bring an open heart. — Cindy La Ferle

— Part of this essay appeared in slightly different form in The Daily Tribune of Royal Oak. The complete original version is reprinted in my book, Writing Home

Top photo: My beloved soul sisters: Debbie, Norma, and Shirley

Soul sisters

Is solace anywhere more comforting than in the arms of a sister?”  ~Alice Walker

A dear friend of mine is undergoing cancer surgery this week. It’s the kind of surgery I can’t imagine having to face, and while my friend is handling it with grace and courage, my heart is breaking for her.

She’s part of a small group of friends I call my “soul sisters.” The four of us met 16 years ago when I started a women’s spirituality circle at our church. We soon discovered that the difference in our ages only enriched the connection, and our friendship deepened even more after we started organizing our own retreats. We’d book rooms at a nearby Jesuit retreat center, where we’d stay up all night and rehash our doubts and toughest questions as well as our belief in something greater. I like to remember those nights as soul-filling pajama parties.

Over the years we’ve rallied our collective strength to grieve and repair our wounds and losses. I was a certified basket case the week before my first hip replacement surgery, for instance. So the soul sisters booked an overnight retreat to get me out of the house and to ease my anxiety. We’ve also celebrated birthdays, holidays, and our kids’ graduations together. But the thread that really binds us is the unshakable knowledge that our love is unconditional.

Since I am an only child, having “sisters” like these is one of the greatest gifts in my life.

Earlier this week the four of us gathered for lunch at an upscale seafood restaurant. We wanted to see our friend one more time before her surgery, and to give her a safe place to talk about the days ahead. We wanted to renew our vow of solidarity, and to remind her that we’re here to do anything she needs.  It was a humid afternoon, and despite the fact that a storm was brewing, we chose to dine outdoors on the restaurant’s patio.

An hour passed quickly, as it always does when we’re together. Meanwhile, the sky turned charcoal, thunder rumbled, and the rain came down. It drummed like a mad percussionist on the canvas patio cover, threatening to dampen our table — but it didn’t. So we stayed outside under the canopy, just the four of us, talking and laughing nonstop.

And we enjoyed the rain. We all agreed there was something cozy and romantic about it — sort of like being little kids and feeling safe in bed under the covers while a storm roars overhead.

And that’s what pure friendship is all about, really. It’s about feeling safe with each other when the storms roll in, sometimes one after another. Our friend told us as we left the restaurant that she believed her surgery would be successful, no matter what the outcome, because she had so many loved ones lifting her up.  She reminded us that love is more powerful than anything and is impervious to things like cancer and surgery. Love rides out the storm. — Cindy La Ferle

— The oil painting above, “Four Women and Music,” is by Marilene Sawaf, and is used with her kind permission. Please visit Marilene’s beautiful blog to learn more about her art.  —