I am a bit of a social media zealot and I definitely get crap for it. I fiercely contend that, when executed thoughtfully, there is no better way to share the words that are often too scary or painful to utter aloud.
In my own times of personal struggle, of which there have been many, it has been immensely comforting to me to reap the support of people in my life, some of whom I seldom, if ever, see. When my ten-year-old son transitioned to being my ten-year-old daughter, I (with permission) shared the news on my Facebook page. It was easier that way: I could reach a lot of people without having to make phone calls or send out a letter or, perhaps the most frightening, being forced to explain in the checkout line at CVS. Like ripping off a Band-aid, I typed it, reviewed it, took a deep breath and hit “post”. Then it became very real, very fast. The “likes” and comments came in with a speed and fury that was, frankly, overwhelming. But, and this is important, it help to catapult me into figuring out how to move forward. Because now I knew I was not alone and that I had to be the adult.
In the past three days, three families that I care about have been shaken to their cores, have come face to face with watershed events that will forever change their lives. Three families who do not know one another are each in shock and have been jack-hammered into a life that they know nothing about. They must now, while grappling with the unexpected, carry on as parents who know something that the kids do not: we have no idea how we are going to get through to the other side, but we have to be the adult.
Our kids, no matter how old, truly believe that we parents know what we are doing. We have the answers. We’ve got this. They look to us for strength, for solutions and explanations, for a safe grip. They look to us as their protectors, their backbone, their safety net. The dirty little secret: we need them as much as they need us, but we have to be the adult.
It began with a friend’s cryptic Facebook status:
It isn’t very often in life that we are given a glimpse of how much one matters to family and friends. You all know who you are, I love and appreciate each and every one of you.
Clearly, something was up. I read back to her previous statuses trying to see if I had missed something, but nothing jumped out at me…and I am a pretty good sleuth. We’ve known each other for years and years, we’ve broken bread, and, for many years running, she has supplied me with a very classy plastic “glass” of wine to keep me warm while on her street for the epic annual Halloween festivities which make Mardi Gras look like child’s play. But we are not close friends, so I argued with myself over whether to send her a private message, wondering if our having not been in touch for a bit would make it inappropriate for me to check in. But I did check in. And it was appropriate. She, out of nowhere (it is always out of nowhere) has been diagnosed with AML. It’s scary. And life altering. And she still has to be the adult for her two kids.
Saturday morning, I rolled over, determined to stay in bed past 7 a.m. and hopped over to Facebook. There were pictures of last night’s drinks, shots of budding flowers despite the forecast for snow, links to quizzes that I (more often than I care to admit) get sucked into. And then this:
There are so many of you that I share stupid banter with on a daily basis. You make me laugh, keep me in on your lives and give me a lot of joy. it is for this reason that I share this tragedy: my son, Adam, died on Friday night. He was at a concert in Miami, he took the drug molly and died. He was the funniest, most brilliant and, pretty darn complicated person I have known. We are devastated, but I wanted you to know.
I gasped. I slammed my hand up to my mouth, carefully re-reading, hoping, praying, that I had, dear G-d, read it wrong. I did not read it wrong. But it is so wrong. Adam’s mother and I call each other “the dear friend that I’ve never met”. We have many friends in common, her having grown up in my current neighborhood. She lives in another part of the country now, but had seen, through many of the “mutuals”, my announcement about my child and had reached out to me. We clicked immediately and have been in touch ever since: over her kids, my kids, getting divorced. Her being a therapist came in handy more than once. And now this. Without hesitation I messaged her. She responded immediately. In shock. Angry. Terrified. But, through the power of social media…not alone. She has a great husband and two kids at home. She is numb. And she has to be the adult.
And then this morning. This time determined to stay in bed past 6 a.m., I hopped over to Words With Friends. I do not know how many games I have, only that there are so many that I can no longer start any more. I play religiously and, thanks to the messaging component, get to keep in touch with people who aren’t even on Facebook. (Aside: I have a friend who has been playing WWF with a randomly assigned opponent for about a year. They finally decided to meet and, just a week ago, shared the picture of their first in-person meeting on, you guessed it, Facebook.) So, at the tender hour of 5:49 a.m., I saw that my opponent who used to live nearby but moved to a sunny, warm climate was also online.
Me: Fucking snowing here.
Him: It could be worse. Have been at the hospital with J. all night. He was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes yesterday…”
What!?!? This kid is 11. His, and his family’s whole damn world just changed. It will never be the same. Ever. Just like that. J.’s parents’ heads are spinning. This kid, who has joyfully entered and embraced the tween phase of independence, can no longer be on his own for a while. It is literally a life or death situation. It is terrifying for my friend and his wife (also a friend). And they have to be the adults.
Had I not looked at Facebook or Words With Friends I would be none the wiser to any of these situations. I am grateful that I have been actively communicating with all three: my friend who is facing the fight of her life, my friend who has to bury a child and my friend whose child’s world just got tossed in the air. I hate what they are facing. I hate how frightening life can be. I hate the complete and utter lack of anything to do for any of them that will change things. But I love that they are not going it alone.
I am not going to preach that you should cherish every day, or hold your children close or count every day a blessing, although those are all good tenets to live by. I am, however, going to remind everyone to be kind. Be supportive, in whatever iteration you choose. We all just want to feel loved, supported and connected…including and especially these parents who still need to be the adult.