There is no doubt that technology has changed the world we live in, and in very profound ways. There are treatments and procedures that save hundreds of lives every day, that a mere ten years ago would have left the patient with little to no hope for a fulfilling or long life. There are devices that allow those with disabilities to move with ease and to live the life that, thirty years ago, would never have been possible. We can communicate with family and friends, hundreds or even thousands of miles away. Now, we can even communicate with our loved ones, and see them, in real time, even though they could be on a different continent. I could keep listing all the wonderful ways technology and all its marvels has shaped our world today, but I think you get the idea.
I think we can all agree that technology has done really amazing things, and will continue to mold our civilization in ways that is utterly un-imaginable to us today. In the Information Age of the 21st century, we have never had more information at our fingertips…
…and we have never been more misinformed or misguided than ever before. Since the earliest of recorded history when people developed hieroglyphics to communicate with one another, to today in the year 2018 A.D., we are lonelier, and more disconnected with our families, friends and community than ever before.
I can tell you that there are times that I have to force myself to put my phone down. The urge to constantly check notifications, comments or likes is an addiction that I am not proud of. The stock holders of Apple and Google and every software or app developer should be ecstatic to learn that they have another addict willing to purchase their products.
My children are fast becoming addicts as well. My household now boasts three kindles, four smart phones, five laptops and several televisions. My television is also smarter than I am! At least, my children remind me of this, as they use it to scroll through Youtube videos, or to google information on! My home is also wired to turn lights off and on, ceiling fans are controlled, and our doorbell is controlled with the simple request spoken to “Alexa.” Soon, our doors will open, and our television will be controlled with our voice as well.
One of the perks of having all this technology is how I can communicate with people who are similar to myself. I can reach out to anyone who might be living a life with the same trials and heartaches that I am going through. It is comforting, and a bit overwhelming at the same time. You see, I belong to a unique community of people called, ALS Caregivers. I am married to a man who has ALS and I am also a mother of three of the most beautiful souls on this planet. Both of these situations are heart-wrenchingly beautiful to be a part of, and also incredibly difficult.
I no longer need a “Mommy and Me” Class to join, to feel as if I can find others who can help listen to my fears or who rejoices in my celebrations. Being a mother and a caregiver to someone who has a terminal illness can be a bit lonely. I doubt there is local ad in the newspaper asking people like me, to join their group. I know I can talk to my friends about what I am feeling or thinking, but it isn’t quite the same. I know that they are willing to listen, but it’s not the same as having others who “know and understand” the situations I deal with on a day-to-day basis. It is like trying to talk about childbirth to a woman who has no desire to have a baby. She may be willing to listen, but she will never understand what you went through, because she has never been in that situation.
When I need a place to go for advice, I often go online to my support groups and have private conversations about what is now my “new normal.” These are private conversations filled with laughter, and so many poop jokes, (there is a strong parallel between motherhood and caregiving) doctor visits, medical equipment, tricks for skin break down or foods that are easy to chew, and even the difficult conversations about loss and dying.
So why do I bring up the great invention of technology?
Because I have noticed a pattern among the conversations on my private support groups. Knowing someone with a terminal illness is uncomfortable. I completely understand how difficult that must be for someone to see someone they love, not look or sound the same as they remember them being. It must be hard to feel so completely helpless. I remember how shocking it is at first. I live it everyday, so the shock has worn off for me, but I remember, and I understand. What I don’t understand is how family members feel that they can send a text message, then assume that that is how to “show up” for their loved one.
Call me old-fashioned, but I think there may have been a day, not too long ago, where people would bring a dessert or a casserole dish, (in Minnesota, these are called “hot dishes” by the way!) and they would visit with their loved one. They would pick up a telephone, the kind that had a circular mouth piece and ear piece, and they were usually heavy and obnoxious, with a cord that stretched from the kitchen all the way to the living room, and they would talk. Sometimes, if they didn’t live within driving distance, they would take a piece of paper and a pen, and they would write a letter. Then, they would mail the letter and hope to receive one back!
I know this seems archaic to some, but these were just a few of the ways that people would connect with others…
So what happened?
When did we become a culture of people who are so self-absorbed, so wrapped up in our own little worlds, that we can’t take twenty or thirty minutes to stop by and visit? I am heartbroken to read of families that are bickering, or who are fighting over petty items or comments, while the person they love is dying. Feelings of fear and frustration are turned to ugly words thrown across social media pages, simply because they can, with no regard to how it might affect an already stressful situation. Family members refuse to offer help, instead, waiting to receive a text asking for help. And in return, they feel justified for their actions, because they have done their part…they sent a text, making trivial conversation, and hoping no one has picked up on the fact that they cannot actually “show up” for the person they love.
I feel even worse for the person who is dying, since they often will not say anything at all. These people are dying, and what happened to all those friends and family? No one visits, no one “shows up” and no one takes time out of their busy life to connect with these people who are dying. These people have little time left, yet they say nothing. Choosing instead to let others walk away, letting their friends and family stay in the comfort zone of playing pretend, letting the off the hook with a little comment here or there on a group text about nothing that pertains to them. The person dying is gracious, and will let family and friends talk about the easy stuff, like the weather, the sport of the season or upcoming television shows, just to put them at ease and let them think that everything is okay. They do this because they understand that it is easier for some to pretend, than to face the fear of their own mortality.
There are times when texting is convenient. I totally understand that! It is faster and more efficient. It is less time consuming. But be honest..as you read this, did you remember your grandparents, and think to yourself that you should probably call them? Did you think of a cousin who has fallen on hard times, or an Uncle who might enjoy sharing a piece of pie with you and maybe even a cup of coffee with. Did you feel regret at losing a loved one and wishing you would have taken just a few minutes to visit and connect with them, since you had no idea it was going to be the last time you would see them?
You are missing the best parts of life! And for what?
A text message?
(Disclaimer* While I no longer live in Minnesota, I have fond memories of many people there. I think the people there are so incredibly warm and inviting is because the winters are so long and bitterly cold, one has no choice but to enjoy a good conversation and strong cup of coffee!
And they are called “hot dishes!” not casseroles! and the people have funny accents, but big hearts!)