The Beginning of Separation

2022 June 5

When was the last time you felt deeply connected to a group of people? A deep and genuine sense of connection is becoming ever more rare in contemporary life. Everyone needs to feel connected, but a sense of connection is most vital when you are in the midst of a life-altering role that is transforming you and your relationships. If connection is so important, then why is it so hard for caregivers to feel as if they are a part of something larger then themselves?

There is no common beginning to our most important informal life roles. Let’s face it, what experience do we set forth on, at the same time, with other people? Yes, there are plenty of marked beginnings in contemporary life, but our individual beginnings seem to rarely coincide with others’ beginnings. A death of a loved one may mark a new beginning, but not for those in your friend network. Getting laid off from work may symbolize a new beginning, but not for those in your extended family. The need to provide care for a loved one may signal a new beginning, but not for those you work with. Beginnings come at us all the time, but too often they are conceived and experienced as private and individualized experiences.

School may be one of the few cultural experiences in which there is a semblance of a “beginning” that is marked and collectively acknowledged. The “first” day of school may be a singular experience in cultural life in which we begin something with others and anticipate responding together to shared experiences and challenges.

Beyond school, however, much of our lives are spent trying to connect with and find others who are experiencing what we are experiencing.

You may start a job at the same time as others, but even this onboarding experience can too easily become conceived as a private endeavor restricted to a one-week training session that quickly fades away upon completion. The birth of a child is a clear beginning for parents, but beginnings aren’t simply about when a new role comes into existence. It’s also about what happens the day after, the week after, and months after you are initiated into a radically new role.

Shared beginnings forge deeply meaningful bonds because they allow you and others to lean on a shared reference point that marks your individual and collective development. New experiences are scary because they seem to defy prediction and require us to constantly make sense of what we are experiencing without knowing what will happen next. Forging a path forward in uncharted territory requires constant awareness because we don’t know what we (don’t) have to pay attention to. Quickly, this all-encompassing focus becomes exhausting and overwhelming. But exhaustion is also a reason to turn toward others whom you believe are “in” it with you. This “not knowing” is the reason, the perfect reason, the only reason necessary, to connect with others.

Shared beginnings are deeply charged opportunities for connection because they can minimize differences that you once believed existed between you and those around you.

New recruits to the military or first-year medical students understand this common phenomenon as an intense type of “boot camp” experience in which who you were and what you once believed becomes less influential than the overwhelming impression that you are no longer responding alone to what is happening. You are not alone but being formed—together—by what is shaping you and others in your common circumstance.

Too often, however, the costs of being separated from common beginnings has significant consequences that are rarely acknowledged but almost always felt.

Separated from others’ beginnings, is it any surprise we come to the conclusion that what we are experiencing is distinct and unique?

Separated from others’ beginnings, is it any surprise we come to the conclusion that what we are enduring is unlike what others are experiencing?

Separated from others’ beginnings, is it any surprise we come to the conclusion that what we enduring doesn’t have a place to be shared or talked about?

Separated from others’ beginnings, is it any surprise we come to the conclusion that what we are enduring isn’t worthy of being shared or talked about?

Beginnings don’t just mark when something starts. They mark how we respond with others. Shared beginnings can be the glue of connection, essential opportunities to find and connect with others responding to similar challenges.

Sometimes, integrating ourselves into a “we” means gaining parts of ourselves that we know bind us to others. Sometimes, seeing how we are being commonly shaped by factors beyond our control means finding parts of ourselves we can recognize in others.

We may not be able to choose what beginnings find us, but we can choose how we think about our care experiences. International care advocate Donna Thomson and I explore this care transformation and many others in our book, The Unexpected Journey of Caring: The Transformation from Loved One to Caregiver. Learning how to allow yourself to find connection with others may be the most important step you take in your care journey because it’s not always about stepping forward as much as it is about reaching out.

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