Strangers in the Night

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caregiving, caregiver support, relationshipsPicture this. It's 2 a.m. and everybody in the household is sleeping soundly, everybody, that is, except me, and thoughts about senior elder care race through my mind. I'm riddled with unanswered elder care questions. I worry about people I love. I feel bad about something I did or said. I haven't stepped foot outdoors in days. And I'm spending money like I have it. When elderly parent care responsibilities are upon me, like many other family caregivers, I'm sleepless in Chicago.

Have you been there, too? Who hasn't? And yet, in those dark wee hours of the night when sleep has passed me by, I turn to strangers in the night for support and understanding. And no doubt about it, I would not be as successful caring for an elderly parent as I am today if it were not for my cyber-space friends and online caregiver support groups.

Three clicks away, my support network is there for me like clock work. One of my caregiver cyber-friends, Jill lives in Florida. When I log-on, she's typically in the middle of typing up a storm about an elder care home care problem she's having. She has a lot on her mind these days. She's currently caring for family with Alzheimer's, and tells us that her elder care checklist is long and getting longer. She writes to us about whether or not she's doing the right things. Our hearts go out to her and we type back immediately that we're there for her through thick and thin. She sends us a :) in return.

One night, just for fun, Jill and I went at it for an hour about how much we hated certain aspects of family caregiving. We emailed back and fourth about our fantasy vacations and ended up laughing hysterically as we both described, moment by moment, one carefree day. Jill and I have never met, nor have I ever heard her voice. And I can't imagine living without her.

To me, online caregiver support groups are the perfect setting to let it all out. No one can see me when I'm crying uncontrollably and overwhelmed with grief; no one knows my real identity when I make negative comments about my elders; and it always seems as though there's always somebody out there who understands immediately when I'm exhausted and too tired to type out complete sentences. The best part of my caregiver support groups is when I rejoin a group after I've been gone for awhile and I'm welcomed back with loving, flowing words of concern and compassion.

Being a family caregiver is one of the loneliest jobs on earth. Sadly, well-meaning friends (and family) don't call or visit. They say things like, "I know you're busy and I didn't want to disturb you."  What they are really saying is, "I don't want to be around you, and the illness and suffering you are dealing with now."

For everyone in my life who stays away from me when I am in the thick of my elder caregiving responsibilities, I have hundreds of caregiver support group friends who wouldn't miss a beat to come to my rescue right when I need them.

The kindness of people in caregiver support groups never ceases to amaze me. If you're feeling alone, and at the end of your rope right now, log on.  You wonder how you ever got along with out your cyber friends.

--Joy Loverde

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