How To Build A Support System: Start With Your Kith
Do you have kith?
Dictionary.com defines "kith" as "acquaintances, friends, neighbors, or the like; persons living in the same general locality and forming a more or less cohesive group." You need your kith and your kith needs you. Human beings necessarily depend on each other. As John Donne said, "No man is an island."
Just as we may not be aware of our big toe, until it hurts--we may not be aware of our dependence on our kith--until we hurt. That is what happened to Maria--and it changed how she related to neighbors and friends for the rest of her life. When Jorge died, Maria had no one. Not only had she lost her husband of thirteen years, but she lost only support; her only confidant.
Shortly after Jorge's death, Maria started having stomach pain. She ordinarily would have talked to Jorge about it, but he was gone. She figured the stomach pain was due to grief. And besides, who would watch the kids when she went to the doctor? Two months after Jorge's death, Maria's appendix ruptured, and she became violently ill at work.
Maria noticed that the intense stomach pain would not go away before she left for work that morning. By lunchtime she was doubled over, heaving in her garbage can. Her supervisor called "911", and Maria was quickly transported to the hospital. Marie's major concern, before the ambulance took her away, was about who would watch the children when they came home from school.
Suddenly, others needed to be involved in her life. The network of persons that she brushed by daily, but did not interact with much--all became aware of how very alone Maria was: Her colleagues at work, the school, her neighbors, and the people in her church. Everyone pitched in during the week she was in the hospital. But they could not organize the support system necessary to meet Maria's ongoing needs--only she could do that for herself.
How to build a support system
Starting From Ground Zero
Maria noticed, while in the hospital, that she was not as alone as she thought she was. She had kids--and she had kith. Certainly, Maria missed the more intimate relationship she had enjoyed with her husband. She was resolved to build more intimate relationships, but that would take time. Until then, she would concentrate her efforts on building relationships with her kids and her kith. Tending to her small community of relationships became the most important thing she did every day.
Maria was so appreciative that her kith filled in the gap left by Jorge's death during the week she was in the hospital. She wrote letters of appreciation to everyone who helped: Her coworker picked the children up from school and kept them in her home while Marie was gone; her neighbor who picked up her mail and mowed her lawn; the friends and coworkers who came during visiting hours to brighten her day. Maria read each letter out loud to the recipients of her letters. She choked up a little when she shared her deep feelings of appreciation; but her kith did not seem to mind.
Appreciating her kith was not new to her--but she had never taken the time to express her gratitude. She decided that from that time forward, she would not keep the good things she thought about her kith to herself--she would seek out the person she had positive thoughts about and let them know.
She thought about what had, in the past, stopped her from reaching out as much as she needed to. The immediate answers were "time" and "not knowing how to start". "There are ways," she told herself, "that I can work around these barriers." Nurturing kith, she realized, was as much of a reward as it was a responsibility. Maybe tending this responsibility could help her feel more alive. She had the will to restructure her life to make her relationships the focal point.
Building a System to Identify Opportunities to Connect
To simply the amount of work it would take to contact kith, she spent an evening listing the names, phone numbers, addresses, and e-mail addresses of her kith her computer and syncing it to her cell phone. She also set up a card file to keep track of the small details that would help identify opportunities to connect with kith and where to start: Birthdays, names of children, interests, and small details of conversations with her kith.
Before she went to bed each night, she updated her file system with what she had learned about her kith during the day. This practice gave her a good starting point when she reengaged the person the next time.
She spent at least an hour a day relating to a person or persons in her kith. Phone calls, sharing lunch or break time, going on walks--she found many ways of including others in her life.
Soon, people began to talk about how much they appreciated Maria's thoughtfulness. By putting some thought and effort into the relationships she already had, she felt her life expand from the inside outward as she nurtured and was nurtured by her kith.
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