Isolation chose me about a year before it became mass protocol due to the Coronavirus pandemic. Social distancing was already the name of my ecosystem — or so it seemed, as my father suffered the aftermath of a debilitating stroke and I spent five nights in the hospital by his side, alone, lost, dazed, panicked; abandoned. I begged members of my family to share this with me, to pick up the other side of the coffin, to offer up an ounce of strength so mine could rest. Earlier that year, my brother had walked me down the aisle. He wouldn’t be walking me down this one. Without much explanation, I was on my own.
The social distancing spread. I felt radioactive. Doctors, nurses, even social workers looked at me with judgment. I was dirty. I hadn’t left the sixth floor even to eat.
“Wait,” I thought. “Aren’t these the very people I should go to for help? Why isn’t the social worker asking me if I’m okay?”
It was then that I realized the social worker wasn’t there for me — she was there for the hospital. She was there to bill health insurance companies. She was there to facilitate my dad’s transition into rehab, for the sake of institutional workflow.
I had no idea what I was doing, and I was entirely unsure of my role as decision maker. There was one thing I was willing to bet on, though: other young women are experiencing this crucible. Even more, I knew in my bones that young women show up for each other.
We just have to be connected.
That’s when my brain and heart gave birth to what has become I Ally, a platform to provide access to resources, solutions and support for the growing population of Millennial Caregivers.
Recently, my husband and I were preparing to move my father, still in South Carolina, into our home in New Jersey, when COVID-19 became a firm reality in our country. I became so afraid that this was the answer to the question. Not moving him in with us, not singing Bob Dylan songs together (because Dylan remains, y’all), but the Coronavirus. It was clear that the safest option was for him to stay exactly where he was to avoid exposure. Defeat began to creep in at my corners. My biggest fear was nothingness: no communication and no way to know if he was okay.
Then, again, I thought, there must be other daughters, sons, caregivers who have this same concern.
That’s when I encountered the friendliest ally I had encountered since my father became ill. It was the organization Golden Volunteer, offering mutual aid platforms in response to the pandemic. On this platform, someone could post a need for help, and someone, in turn, could post an offer to volunteer.
I wondered, could I, on this platform, write a post asking someone in South Carolina to perform a wellness check on my dad? I decided to inquire. Golden Volunteer’s response to my concerns became the first operating piece of I Ally: a branded mutual aid platform for Caregivers. Caregivers who were in isolation with their ill parent or patient and needed respite. Caregivers who needed bleach. Caregivers who needed masks. Caregivers who needed medication delivery. Caregivers who needed to know where they could be tested for the virus. Caregivers who needed each other!
My deeply personal need to close the social distancing gap that caregiving had given me, instead of being inflamed by the pandemic, found a solution in the face of the pandemic. It was Golden Volunteer, it was other people who needed help, it was other people whose generosity flowed freely. It takes a lot of bravery to ask for help, but it also takes a lot of bravery to offer help. It requires one big shed of armor. It requires a collective softening, awareness, and presence. I won’t stay angry at anyone I see as failing to help me, but I will never stop asking for help. I will never quiet my voice. I will say it loudly, especially when it is another young woman who is sitting alone with her dad in a hospital — because she might not yet be able to form the words. It’s okay now, because I can say them for her.