As the jukebox blared, we all danced and raucously sang (OK, shouted really) out the words to “Bye Bye Miss American Pie”, “Aimee” (my personal favorite of course) and yes, even “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” at the top of our lungs. I looked around the circle of about 35 of my college sorority Chi Omega sisters and it felt like thirty years had simply melted away. Our early 1980’s hair and clothing may have changed over time, but our character and the essence of who we are – separately and together – is still there. We have all had our challenges during these years apart, but on that weekend I know I was not the only one who felt a bit levitated in spirit.
I spent a weekend recently in my home town of Athens, nestled in the soft, green hills of southeastern Ohio, re-connecting with dear friends from my college days there at Ohio University. I’ve stayed in close touch with some of these women, but others I hadn’t seen since graduation and I knew very little about how their lives have unfolded. As we perused old photos and yearbooks, told stories, sang together, toured the campus and our sorority house, and lovingly toasted those who weren’t present, it became clear that the deep bonds formed through our past shared experiences were still there.
The comfort and familiarity of connecting with old friends who I knew back then in my “less responsible” days somehow opened up a part of me that doesn’t get to come out and play much anymore. It allowed me to let go of the stress of caregiving bit by bit. The laughter and good will among us was gloriously cleansing and healing.
As friends asked me about my life, forefront for me, of course, was my caregiving for my parents. And so many of these amazing women shared their own caregiving stories with me: Barb who has cared for her husband who had a stroke sixteen years ago; Laura who took care of her father who had kidney failure for twelve years starting so young almost immediately after we graduated from college – she says it changed her life; Marcie, who had to come a day late to the reunion because her aunt, who has dementia, had become lost the night before but was finally found by the police; Therese and Laura, who shared their dedication and energy for supporting their mother. I learned of another friend who sadly couldn’t come to the reunion because she is caregiving for her mother who is living with her – I wish she could have made the trip; I know she sure could have used the break and taste of freedom.
We told stories on ourselves and shared our greatest joys – children, grandchildren, accomplishments, travels and other adventures. We also talked of devastation, grief and loss – divorces, deaths, illnesses, moves and lost jobs. Diane lost her husband on 9/11; Ann lost her father recently after years of the slow ravages of Alzheimer’s disease. I hope they and others were fortified as I was by being surrounded by old and true friends.
Our similarities and our differences reminded me of how the diversity of our lives weaves together an intricate balance to all of us as a group. We become better together – or perhaps our connections bring out the best in us.
I was so struck by the strength and depth of these old friends, and the fullness of their lives. Their resilience in the face of adversity was inspiring. What a comfort it was to hear that so many of them are following my own caregiving journey via Facebook and my blog. We exchanged tips about products or services that help our caregiving efforts (some of them pretty hilarious.) There is nothing like first-hand experience. Some friends said to call them any time I just needed a listening ear or a pep talk. And they meant it. I may just take them up on it.
Getting away to attend this reunion wasn’t easy for me, and I grappled with so many priorities before I decided to go. But I know that taking care of me is paramount in being able to care for my parents. So I went, and I’m incredibly glad I did. Re-connecting reminded me of where I come from, and who I am - a caregiver, yes…and so marvelously much more.
Photo Credit: Abby Ott