So there I was in a store at the shopping center looking for a cheap picture frame when I ran into a woman I have half-known for years. Our daughters were in school together at some point in the distant past but never actually played together. Susan and I run into each other occasionally at the grocery store. We’re always cordial when we meet and joke because we seem to have the same shopping schedule, but we barely know each other. She grew up in this small town; I’m a relative newcomer. She tall, blonde and well-mannered. I’m short, frizzy haired and socially awkward.
So after we said our usual brief hellos and asked about each other’s child, I moved down the aisle. A moment later someone called my name. I turned around and it was Susan smiling but looking slightly nervous.
She explained that she had seen my name on a group email address from a local Alzheimer’s support group I attend sporadically. For a moment I was a little shocked and almost defensive—I admit I have not quite figured out how to be totally comfortable acknowledging Ralph’s condition except to close friends—but then came the flash of recognition: She saw my name on that list because she was on it too.
We stood in that aisle for I don’t know how long, sharing our stories, commiserating, advising, laughing, and occasionally holding back tears. For two women who barely knew each other, we felt a new but very real bond and a genuine affection, not unlike what many of us care-giving bloggers feel for each other.
But this was in person. And not at a meeting of a support group, which is in some ways a time out from day-to-day life in order to focus narrowly on my caregiver identity. I certainly appreciate the lovely people I have met there, but connecting to Susan was different, a reminder of how widespread Alzheimer’s is of course, but also something larger I am not sure I can articulate. About openness, and not only openness concerning Alzheimer’s. About hoe people are always deeper and more interesting than we assume. In making facile assumptions (in my case writing off Susan as belonging to a world where I didn’t fit), opportunities for real friendship may be missed.
Susan and I parted that day promising to get together again for lunch one day. I hope we do…