If you only read one caregiver post this year...
...make it this one.
I came home from the Vero Beach Wine and Film Festival with a million things I wanted to share with you guys, but pushing a documentary out into the world is an overwhelming amount of work, and I was still mulling over what information was really important to impart, so I shoved it to the back of my brain (a little dustier than other sections), and plowed into other tasks.
But today it hit me - the most crucial thing to relay. Let me set the stage, or in this case, the lobby.
WWD's first screening at Vero Beach was the opening day of the festival for the Jury Award Winner films only. The festival did not announce this until the weekend prior, leaving me no time to promote. One of my best girls, Nicolette (also a WWD cast member), attended the screening with me.
On the way there I joked that we would probably be the only two at the screening. So, at the end of the film when it's time to pass out our promotional flyers for the second festival screening I'll hand her a flyer, she'll hand me one and we'll call it a day.
I was wrong.
We were 15 minutes late to the screening, of which the festival director gave me a bit of a scolding (I mean, it's not like I haven't seen it before - I know how it's gonna end...). I stammered out all the excuses I could think of before retreating out of reprimand range and into the darkened theatre.
It was packed. Not sold out, but packed enough that Nico and I had to slink to the front rows to find seats. The nice thing about being so close to the screen is that you hear every audience response in stereo, and boy did they respond. With laughter, with empathetic murmurs, with hushed side conversations to companions, "Oh wow, that's my husband to a T!" I vowed to always sit up front again.
When the credits began to roll, Nicolette and I hustled out to the lobby with our flyers, dispersed some to the volunteers and got ready to hand them out to audience members as they exited the film. Thank gawd the volunteers were there 'cause Nico and I did not get much of a chance to peddle the goods.
Instead we got mobbed.
As soon as film goers realized we were in the film they overwhelmed us with thank-yous, joyful faces, full body embraces.
People would have tears in their eyes, smiles radiating from within, and just reach for me. It's as if they saw themselves for the first time, and to confirm that this long-awaited acknowledgement had really happened they had to touch something solid, something that told them this was real; that their stories, their experiences truly matter and are out there for all the world to see.
And this brings me to the crux of what I want to impart to you as future audience members.
If/when you are watching this film in a crowd, don't hug me when it's over, hug each other!
This is the epiphany I had this morning: these caregivers didn't want a piece of me at the end of the film, they wanted to extend how the film made them feel: seen, heard, proud of their highs and lows, ready to step forth, even if a little timidly, into a space of support they might not have considered.
So, if you are feeling the rush of seeing your family caregiver experiences play out on screen and want to keep that 87-minutes of camaraderie going in your lives, turn to your fellow audience members, look for expressions similar to the ones that are playing across your visage, and ask "Are you a caregiver too? Are you feeling what I'm feeling? Wanna get a beverage of choice sometime and celebrate our successes and failures together?"
And then do. If hanging in person is not an option (you working family caregivers have more of a challenge than those of us who have already completed the journey), Zoom or FaceTime at the end of your respective days. Check in every couple of weeks for togetherness. Pour a glass of wine, make a cup of tea, hit a tumbler of straight vodka (if it's been that kind of a week), and ask each other "What's been the wackiest thing to happen lately? What's been the worst?"
Trade your stories. Live out loud. Celebrate yourselves.
Remind each other that this is an incredibly tough road for you and your dementia person, but you show up. On good days, bad days, and "I wish I was anywhere else but here," days you are in the trenches. It doesn't matter if you are supporting long-distance, advocating for your person in a facility, or 24/7'ing that shit, you celebrate the crap out of yourselves. I insist.
At the end of a festival I leave town. But you are sitting in a theatre with those who could become your lifelines, who share the collective experience of living in your neck of the woods, navigating the same local caregiver landscape, sharing the WWD film experience - the foundation for connection is already assembled.
And if you end up annoying the piss out of each other, well, for a few days you'll have something else to focus your ire on, giving you a bit of respite from hating dementia.
I am so proud of you. All of you.
P.S. And if you both hate the film there's a whole evening's worth of conversation for 'ya on how I got it all wrong! Wow. I just keep giving. ;)
P.P.S. You can still hug me if you want, but I ain't the most important person in the room! You and your fellow caregivers are.
P.P.P.S. I have been trying to keep Stumped Town Dementia and Wine, Women, & Dementia in their separate corners, but clearly I suck at it. My apologies.