Someone once told me that different people are meant to come into our life journeys at different times. They walk with us along the path, sometimes they hold our hands and they may stay connected to us or after that part of our journey may go another way. The point, though, was that there are individuals along the way that are there for us when we need them, although we are not always open to that nor do we see it clearly until long after.

I know that to be true in my own life. I have had friends who supported me through tough times and friends who were a part of times of great joy and everything in between. It is the challenging experiences that, I think, truly demonstrate the value of these relationships. When someone else understands our pain, has been through the same kind of difficulties and is there to support, it can make a terrible experience easier, at least in part, to bear.

As one example of many I can think of, when my mother died I was 25, living far from home and managing a full time career and a year old son. I truly did not know anyone who had lost a parent, anyone who could relate to my situation and listen to my seemingly endless grief, anger and questioning. I was blessed with colleagues in my workplace, most old enough to be my mother, who had been through their own losses and who understood and helped me cope with my own. Their kindness and love helped me through some of the darkest days.

We frequently see the same phenomenon with support groups in the healthcare setting. People come together over an issue or disease they have in common, from groups that address bereavement to others on health topics like Parkinson’s disease or Alzheimer’s. The list goes on and on.

What we see in these meetings is that the connections are immediate and powerful. Many people who attend have thought that they are the “only ones” wrestling with this problem and to find that others are facing the same challenges is meaningful. To be able to validate your emotions and to share both concerns and ideas is tremendously powerful and can be beneficial. These groups, and the relationships that develop, are “safe spaces” where folks can share freely and know that others will understand, not judge and offer comfort and help.

I watched this happen just the other evening. The Jewish Home Family hosted a program at Englewood Hospital Medical Center that was focused on the latest research in Parkinson’s disease. More than 170 people were in attendance. Some of them were healthcare professionals but the vast majority were individuals with a diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease and their care partners. Some of them clearly knew one another and connected in many ways. Still others looked a bit at a loss, facing either a new diagnosis or a loved one whose diagnosis had left them anxious and unsure.

During the course of the evening, many of these individuals had the chance to connect. They connected with some of the staff who work on Parkinson’s programs. They connected with people who run local support groups. And they connected with one another, feeling that they were no longer alone. The conversations that began have already begun to continue and the relief of those connections—well, it matters.

Life is filled with challenges, with unexpected twists and turns and complications. I often say that we think our path through life is a solid one but then something happens and we remember, yet again, that our journey is all on shifting sands. Letting someone in to help us navigate that sand, opening ourselves to the connection with others can make not only our journey, but also theirs, richer and stronger.