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'We learn a lot from each other'

Caregiver support group for men is celebrating its 25th anniversary


When Howard Shapiro sought the help of a men’s support group in 1989 to help him deal with the impact of his wife’s stroke, he learned a harsh truth: There weren’t any.

Photo Credit: REVIEW PHOTO: CLIFF NEWELL - Because of Howard Shapiro, many men in the Portland area have learned how to keep going after their wives become seriously ill.

But the need was real, the Lake Oswego resident knew. Many men found themselves in the role of caregiver after their wives suffered a health crisis, and they needed moral support and advice. So Shapiro stepped into the void.Today, his Men Only Caregiving Support Group meets once a month at Legacy Good Samaritan Medical Center in Portland, and it is celebrating its 25th anniversary.

“This is a different era,” Shapiro says, “and men now take care of their wives.”

It was not that way in 1989.

After Shapiro’s wife, Beth, suffered a stroke, he says he asked a nurse at Good Samaritan about attending a men’s support group. “If you want one,” he was told, “you’ll have to start one.”

Shapiro did attend a women’s support group, where he was the only man. “They talked a lot about recipes,” Shapiro says, and that just wasn’t satisfactory. So he started a men’s support group and immediately got a strong response.

“The hospital gave us a room and it snowballed from there,” he says. “Guys needed someone to talk to in group therapy, and they were able to talk freely. Some guys cried.

“They felt safe there and kept coming back, and that’s why this group has lasted,” Shapiro says. “We learn a lot from each other. I’ve helped them and they’ve helped me.”

Many of the men joined the group after their wives suffered a stroke, but others have dealt with Alzheimer’s, dementia, cancer.

“You name a disease and it’s in that room,” Shapiro says. “We learned so much about the condition of our spouse, as well as how to boil water.”

Beth Shapiro died after Howard had been in the group for 13 years, but he kept going to meetings. He has gradually acquired an expertise in helping other men deal with their wives’ illness. One of the greatest challenges they face, he says, is loneliness.

“People don’t knock on the door or call,” Shapiro says. “You feel like you’re the only one with your problem. But you’ve got to force the issue. You’ve gotta see people and press the flesh, like LBJ used to say. You need to go hunting and fishing or just go have a cup of coffee with a friend.”

Another challenge men face is learning how to take care of the chores that their wives used to do.

“You’ve got to learn to cook, sew, do the dishes and laundry,” Shapiro says. “You are it.”

The support group is a great place to attain the tools to rebuild a life, he says.

“Guys say stuff in the group they wouldn’t say to a loved one,” Shapiro says. “Guys laugh, feel comfortable and become friends. One guy (Bob Smith of Lake Oswego) wrote a book about the group and included me in a chapter.”

Another good reason to attend meetings is that the support group sometimes hears outstanding speakers, such as Dr. Gary Ward, an expert on strokes, and Tim Ney, an elder law attorney.

Twenty-five years is a good anniversary to celebrate, and Shapiro thinks the men’s support group will keep right on going.

“Why not?” he says. “As long as I can sit up and take nourishment, I can still have this group.”

The Men Only Caregiver Support Group meets at 1 p.m. on the fourth Thursday of every month at Good Samaritan, which is located at 1015 NW 22nd Ave. in Portland. For more information, call 503-296-8500 or email Shapiro at pmahoward@comcast.net.

Contact Cliff Newell at 503-636-1281 ext. 105 or cnewell@lakeoswegoreview.com.

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