By TOMIE LUNSFORD
Telegram Staff Writer
Being a member of a club isn't just a diversional activity.
It's a useful tool in building strong mental health.
'The nature of your relationships with other people is important to your well-being,' said therapist Linda Chupik, the founder Chupik Counseling & Consulting in Temple. 'Studies show that people who participate in activities that are not self-centered, like social and service clubs, live longer than those who don't.'
And they're generally happier.
'Organizations offer many different activities - like quilting, bingo, book reviews or whatever - for you to get involved in,' said Bill Berning, a 40-year clinical psychologist retired from Associated Family Counselors in Temple. 'And that provides social stimulation, which is an important step in coping with life's blows.'
Mary Young understands this. She recently wrote a letter to the Bell County Newcomers Club, thanking its members for their help and friendship in her transition from wife to widow.
Her husband died of cancer in early 2008, and her first six months of widowhood in her Alabama hometown seemed unbearable.
'I wasn't happy being by myself,' Mrs. Young said. 'The children were grown, and I didn't work anymore. There didn't seem to be anything to do.'
So the 77-year-old woman packed her bags and relocated to Morgan's Point Resort to be near her daughter and grandson.
'That way my daughter could go back to school for her master's degree,' she said. 'And I could be the live-in maid and nanny.'
Moving closer to children can be good or not good, Berning warns. 'It's a double-edged sword,' he said. 'It depends on what you're expecting from the situation.'
Grieving parents shouldn't look to their adult children for an automatic fix, he and other experts say.
'You can't expect to be Mommy or Daddy again,' write Angie Williams and Jon F. Nussbaum in 'Intergenerational Communication Across the Life Span.' 'You've got to learn how to relate to each other as adults.'
In Mrs. Young's case, her daughter, Gina Talbott, was happy to have the help. Mrs. Talbott is a full-time teacher at Jefferson Elementary School in Temple, and her husband is an apache pilot serving in Iraq.
Offering help to loved ones can be a useful step in the healing process.
'But it isn't all of it,' Berning said. 'You've got to rebuild your identity, and that comes from doing things outside the family, outside yourself.'
And that's where Newcomers Club entered the scene for Mrs. Young.
She learned of the group from a couple of women she met at church.
'They told me that they had a monthly coffee and a monthly lunch, and a bunch of different activities,' Mrs. Young said. 'Sounded good to me, so I tried it. And their dues was the best $15 I ever spent. I met so many people who showed me the way to different functions. They helped me find my way around, and now I have something to do most every day.'
Through networking, Mrs. Young met several friends and learned of other clubs she now enjoys.
'I got in touch with First Baptist Churchof Belton, and they have a Golden Agers group that's a lot of fun,' she said. 'You get to take a bunch of day trips. Very wonderful for senior citizens.'
She's also been recruited to help with community fundraisers, like the upcoming annual Valentine cookie sale that benefits the Morgans Point Volunteer Fire Department.
And to her delight, she's found the Potts Swim Center at Belton High School and all the area places to play bridge.
'Those are activities I enjoy,' she said. 'It keeps my mind active, and it's a chance for socialization.'
And it helps her physically too.
'These activities get me up and dressed,' she said. 'With the Newcomers Club, I get a calendar every month that's filled with things to do. There's something for every day, and I just pick and choose what I want to do. It's great.'
Berning said this sort of involvement and energy is precisely what widowed people should look for in a social club.
'Socialization is key to healing,' he said. 'You've got to redevelop new friends and a new way of life. You're no longer in the couple category. You've got to transition to the single life.'
Old friends are important to maintain though.
'Old friends are helpful because they're part of the good memories, and you want to hang on to those,' Berning said. 'But with the death of a spouse, your relationship dynamic has changed. You can't go out as a foursome anymore. You need to meet other people who share your new perspective. That's part of dealing with your grief constructively.'
And when you start enjoying the new activities and the new friends, the experts say not to succumb to guilt.
Barbara Brabec, a widow who keeps a blog at www.barbarabrabec.com, says this step may be hard but it's not impossible.
'When my husband's end was near, he said I should get a cat when he was gone because he wanted me to be happy in spite of his not being there,' Mrs. Brabec said. 'That's what love is all about. We must remember that our husbands wanted us to be happy in life and in death. For a while, you might have to force yourself not to feel guilty when life gives you a reason to laugh, but it will come to happen naturally.'