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The Internet: The Kindness of Strangers

How an online support group helped me cope with my daughter's terminal illness.

My fingers still have the memory of tapping out each letter in the e-mail I sent one sleepless night: I  t-h-i-n-k  s-h-e  w-i-l-l  d-i-e  s-o-o-n.

After my 34-year-old daughter was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer, I connected online with caregivers through the Cancer Care website. We encouraged one another when test results were bad. We celebrated when news was good. We became sounding boards for the anger and frustration that we dared not express to our sick loved ones.

A group of us began e-mailing, and 10 women, previously complete strangers without the Internet, became virtual family in cyberspace. We were there through the decline of a parent, the lingering of a spouse, the death of a child. We typed out our pain and exposed our broken hearts to friends we’d never met, closer in some ways than people we’d known for years.

The Internet kept me connected to my online family during the long days and nights of my daughter’s dying at home. It didn’t matter if it was noon or 2 a.m., I could express my desperation, loneliness and despair, knowing there would be notes of sympathy and understanding when I logged on later.

After my daughter’s death, these women became my lifeline. When I couldn’t bear to answer the phone, watch TV or listen to the radio, I knew I could count on them to “hear” my grief. There were days when they were the only connection I sought to the outside world. A year later, when I read another mother’s e-mail informing us that her daughter had died, I sat at my computer and wept. Via the Internet, she and I have supported each other through the pain of helping our daughters die, and we now support each other through the grief of losing them.

It’s been two years since my daughter died, and I’m not sure how I would have borne them if I didn’t have this online family to turn to each day. We help one another see through the sorrow and tears and find the blessings that are all around—even on the Internet.

The AARP Bulletin’s "What I Really Know" column comes from our readers. Each month we solicit short personal essays on a selected topic and publish some of our favorites in print and online. Deborah Pace is a reader from Valparaiso, Ind. Contact Deborah Pace at chandrasmom@gmail.com.

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