Sunday, May 20, 2012

Meet and greets and new heroes

"Hi there, my name is Jane," I say, reaching out my hand to a woman I have never laid eyes on before. She warmly smiles at me and finds my hand. I sense a sadness in her eyes. I glance around the room and it seems to me everyone has that same look. Do I possess that same look? 

We all are thrown into situations where we either know not a soul or maybe we do. The usual conversation goes something like this, "Hi, my name is Jane. Where are you living now? How many children do you have? How many grandchildren? What are you doing for a living?" Sound familiar? The script may vary a bit depending on the situation, but you get the general idea.

My most recent Meet and Greet was unlike any I had ever been to before. I am still unsettled by it, probably as it is a new experience for me and I am trying to understand the importance of it in my life. This new conversation continued, "Where do you come from, where is home?" she asks. "Tell me about his illness." There it was... the reason we were brought together.. our spouses illnesses. It was so unlike the usual questions we are asked when meeting someone for the first time and she went right to the heart of it. I continued to make my way around the room, meeting these amazing women and men, and each conversation was a similar play on the first one.

We were all trying to escape from the reality of our home life and share for a few days, our common bond, being Well Spouses. We traveled near and far for a Respite weekend, a weekend for just us, a weekend to renew old friendships (for many) and to make new ones (like me, as it was my first ever Respite weekend). A weekend to relax, go to dinner, walk on the beach and have inspiring conversations. A weekend away from a life that has become something that most never expected or wanted. 

I felt like I didn't fit in. Am I now being identified as a caregiver, a Well Spouse because of my spouses illness? I felt that I wasn't escaping from anything, I felt that I really didn't need a respite. My spouse, Gary, is still holding down a job and living a very normal life. Was I really supposed to be there? Did I really fit in with the group? I am sure everyone feels the same way when they arrive at their first Respite weekend. Deep in my heart, I knew why I was there. I was there to establish those connections, make those friendship bonds that I would be able to grasp in my time of need. I needed to work on building those connections.

These men and women are true heroes in every sense of the word. They have made their commitment and are in it for the long haul with their spouses, for better or for worse, in sickness and in health. They are making their ill spouses lives as comfortable as they are capable of doing. Many have sacrificed so much of their own lives for their spouses by choosing to end their working careers early to become full time caregivers. Many do it with very little help from the outside world. I am in awe of their commitment.

I would encourage you to check out and learn about this amazing group of selfless individuals. I found them two years ago when Gary received his cancer diagnosis. I was overwhelmed, he had already been diagnosed three years before with Parkinson's and then the dreaded cancer. I went online and looked for a support group and was fortunate to find out that Wellspouse had a support group very close to my home. I needed people who understood what I was going through. I needed to find somebody to lean on. I needed the support.

I am early with this group, I know that, but I am developing a relationship with individuals that get it. They know, they understand. So even though the questions were hard to answer at the Meet and Greet, it made me realize I need their strength and support.