“You’re so nice playing with me. God bless you and yours forever”
Me: I enjoy it!
“You did it again!! CONGRATS!!”
Me: Thanks, my friend.
What a week this has been. What a month, in fact. In addition to working in hospice and palliative care, my sons have been squeezing the end out of summer and getting ready for back to school. My oldest is starting high school and my youngest is starting middle school. We, as a family, are making a lot of adjustments.
In times of stress, which is frankly daily, I look for distractions.I love what I do and I love raising my family, but I am not ashamed to admit that I get anxious about change. I look at my smart phone more than is recommended by professionals. I enjoy social media and I love to play Words with Friends.
So this week we got really busy. After a summer of taking it easy and allowing unlimited Fortnite time (don’t judge), we had to buckle down and do back to school stuff. School supplies. Hair cuts. Open houses. PAPERWORK. A lot of stuff.
And “work” didn’t quit. I had patients in crisis. Families making hard decisions. Lengthy conversations. It’s rewarding work but undeniably challenging and time consuming.
With all aspects of “life” ramping up, I needed escapes more and more. I noticed I was more addicted to checking my smart phone than even my own tweens.
I try to check social media with a wary eye. I know that the gorgeous family vacation pictures aren’t as perfect as they seem. I’ve learned not to engage in a twitter war about sports or politics ( and this I’ve learned the hard way). I try to understand that Pinterest is a place of nirvana that we should only visit with curiosity and not use as a standard of expectation.
Words with Friends, however, is a safe place of gaming. People playing scrabble for the sake of distraction and brain engagement. And I love it.
“Whew. You sure are giving me a run.”
Me: Makes it fun!
“Yep, thanks to you!”
I have a steady rotation of playmates. My dad, 16yaskin, is my most steady and equal opponent. Shana Miller, a friend from high school, is loyal and worthy. I have a few others here and there and I am compulsive about responding to our games.
“Al Meggs” has been a player with whom I’ve engaged for two years now. I think I was suggested to him as someone “scores like you” and he started a game. I couldn’t resist accepting and we began to spar. In that first game, Al sent a message telling me I had an “intoxicating smile”. I got scared and quit the game.
Al reached out on the message board and apologized for being “forward”. He admitted he was “clumsy with a compliment”, a self admitted “old fool” and just really liked having an opponent. Initially wary, I restarted the game. Al became a really fun opponent.
Over the last two years, I’ve learned a lot, and not enough, about my friend, Al, over the WWF message board. For starters, Al is better at WWF than I am (but every victory I achieved was cheered by him). Al loved to know that I was a nurse and he called me an angel a lot. Al was vague in describing his life situation, he may have been a retired teacher, but alluded that he was not close to his family. Al checked on me when storms were near Atlanta, and Al was usually the very first to wish me happy holiday greetings.
If a few games or days passed by, Al would send a message - an innocuous greeting or simple question. He admitted that he loved connecting with people.
To be honest, Anonymous Al, WWF Al, became one of my best friends. In my tumultuous life, Al was a constant. A positive reinforcement. When everything else seemed out of order and unpredictable, I really looked forward to logging on to my games with Al and the intermittent messages that accompanied them.
And now, I can’t find him.
I’m sorry to admit that a week or so went by before I realized that I wasn’t prompted to play with Al. After waiting a few more days, I “nudged” him. I watched his picture square, the one that shows his face with grey hair and mustache, jiggle. I thought sure I’d get a response.
Me: Where are you, Al? I’m worried. (July 20)
WWF: Al Meggs has timed out. (Jul 27)
Me: Al. Let me hear from you (Aug 1)
It has been six weeks now. I’ve looked back on our messages for any clues and I’ve internet stalked him. For what I know, Al Meggs is gone. I can’t find him online and he has gone dormant on Words With Friends.
People often ask me how I could possibly work in hospice care. What I know, and they don’t, is the ability to impact the end of life experience in a positive way is such an indescribable gift. Every day I am inspired and motivated by the goodness that we can provide to an otherwise awful experience.
Hospice, though difficult, serves people with anticipated loss. It’s the unexpected that can still take my breath away.
With my least favorite expression, “just like that”, Al is gone. He was someone for whom I cared and with whom I interacted daily. Without warning, he is gone and ridiculously, I am so sad. After all, Al Meggs was a stranger, right? His profile picture could be false. The messages could have been an act, but it didn’t feel that way.
In the chaos of my current life, I really enjoyed Al as a constant. That he isn’t and appears to be gone is a slap, a glass of cold water in my face. When everything else is moving at breakneck pace, I long for something that is consistent and unconditional. The sweet relief of reliability. Al was that.
Now he’s gone.
So if any lesson is painful, it must have purpose. I think Al was a teacher and my relationship with him has taught me some things.
Connection is a universal need and an unquestionable privilege.
Let’s push past anonymity. The internet, with all its flaws, can be a beautiful tool to reach the isolated. You’ll never know what you might find!
Reliability is underrated and desperately needed. The world craves more of it.
Sudden loss stings like a bee.
Cheering for your opponent is undeniably endearing.
Al Meggs, I don’t know you and I don’t know what has become of you. I want you to know that your awkward compliments really did flatter me and your consistent check ins were so warmly received. You were a worthy WWF opponent but I’m most grateful that this online game introduced us to each other and made our connection.
I really miss you, Al. I hope that whatever words surround you now bring you to a circle of friends.