In the face of unwelcome diagnoses, serious accidents or other life-threatening events, one of the many challenges is how—and when and with whom—to communicate. Shortly after I was diagnosed with stage IV cancer, my brother set up a CaringBridge site to keep others informed of my condition. While sites like CaringBridge aren’t for everyone struggling with a serious illness or the aftermath of a life-altering accident, it is the case that grace can be mediated in powerful ways through such sites. As you or others in your life contemplate how to communicate with others in the midst of tragic circumstances, consider the following reasons for using CaringBridge as a vehicle to let others know how you’re doing:
10. Sharing your story online means you don’t have to start from the beginning in face-to-face conversations.
Sharing bad news with others is exhausting, especially when it’s your bad news. Allowing others to read about your condition first alleviates some of the grief that comes in speaking the words like “I have stage IV cancer” out loud, over and over.
9. You don’t have to worry about whether you’ve informed all the right people of the latest update on your condition.
Concerning yourself with who knows what about your situation takes away precious energy needed to focus on coming to grips with your own condition. If you use CaringBridge, it will send an alert each time you post an update to those who want one. This permits you to worry less about whether everyone who wants to know has been informed.
8. You can revise what you’ve written before you hit “post.”
Talking about a cancer diagnosis or the aftermath of a serious injury is a serious challenge. Writing updates about how you’re doing allows you to try out different ways of talking about your condition before sharing them with others. Editing before posting can get you closer to saying what it is you’d like others to know about how you’re doing.
7. When others respond to your words in unexpected ways, reading the comments first online gives you the opportunity to consider your response.
It’s not just hard for those of us with the cancer or injury to find the right words; it’s also difficult for those who care about us to find words that might be of comfort to us. Being able to read others’ responses before hearing them face-to-face makes it possible to think through comments you might not have anticipated before having to respond (or not).
6. When it’s too difficult for you to write about how you’re doing, someone else can do it for you.
Hospitalization, surgery, or treatment can make it physically or emotionally impossible to write an update. With CaringBridge, others in your life can write updates for you, and those who care about you can still know how you’re doing.
5. Posting some of the challenges you’re facing can lead to helpful feedback and support.
Sharing some of the challenges facing those of us with serious illness or injury on CaringBridge can solicit meaningful advice. When I finally went on sleep medication, I discussed the nasty side effects in an online post. Many readers of my site then shared their stories of sleep medications and techniques. Their feedback helped me get on medication with fewer side effects, allowing me to start sleeping—and coping a bit better—with my new life with cancer.
4. That there’s a record of your on-going story and others’ on-going expressions of support online is useful for those new to your story and those who’ve followed your story since it began.
For those of us who face a long journey living with illness or disability, CaringBridge can continue to serve as a site for new people in your life to learn more about your journey. That others’ words of support are always available on CaringBridge can also be a source of consolation for family members, who read and reread those comments to help them gather strength.
3. People post words of support in the guestbook without expecting a personal response in return.
Many of us who become the recipients of others’ kind words and actions in times of great need feel guilty about our lack of expressed appreciation or even acknowledgement of the kindnesses. When people post comments of support on CaringBridge, they typically do not expect a response; this allows us to receive the gift of their words without the guilt that we may not be able to respond.
2. Sharing your story online increases the numbers of people praying for and thinking about you.
A diagnosis or injury changes everything. Shock and pain of such bad news threatens to overwhelm. The community of support CaringBridge helps create can carry grieving families when they don’t have the strength to carry themselves. Because a link to a website can be forwarded so easily, networks of support can increase exponentially as family and friends pass on the story. In the midst of the grief that cancer has brought into our lives, knowing of the many who pray for us and keep us in their thoughts helps us keep going.
1. Using CaringBridge makes it harder to feel like you’re in this alone.
To figure out what it means to face your own mortality while most others around you aren’t facing that same reality is often an alienating experience. The world keeps going about its business while your world threatens to stop moving altogether. CaringBridge helps others feel connected to you, which in turn encourages them to reach out to you, which reminds you that even though you have cancer or a disability or a life-altering injury, you are not alone.
Deanna Thompson is professor of religion at Hamline University in St. Paul, Minnesota. Her most recent book is Hoping for More: Having Cancer, Talking Faith, and Accepting Grace, a theo-memoir on living with stage IV cancer. This post is reprinted with permission from her Grace Blog, which can be found at www.hopingformore.com or www.facebook.com/DeannaAThompson. (Photo by Liz Banfield.)
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