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When The Internet Isn't Awful: What You Can Learn From The Heartbreaking, Inspiring Messages From CaringBridge

CaringBridge is a social network for the ill and their loved ones, but a new book from its CEO has some life-affirming messages for all of us.

The Internet can often feel like a cesspool of bad intentions, casual cruelty, and hopeless ignorance. Which is why a social networking site like CaringBridge, which allows sick people and their families to give their communities updates on their illnesses, gives us hope for humanity. The site has been around for more than 15 years, and CaringBridge CEO Sona Mehring has just released a new book called Hope Conquers All: Inspiring Stories of Love and Healing from CaringBridge.

The book includes several of the most inspiring stories from the CaringBridge archives. Not all of the stories have Hollywood happy endings—which is to say, not every person featured overcame their illness—but there is something positive to glean from each tale of struggle and connection. Here are a few of the most enriching messages.

Even Strangers Can Provide Solace

A woman named Beth Keathley, who used CaringBridge to keep people in her life aware of her treatment for advanced pancreatic cancer, said that a woman she didn’t know had been writing in her CaringBridge guest book for a long time. Her brother had the same cancer as Keathley. This stranger wrote to Keathley to tell her the brother had died, "Yet he was alert to the end, surrounded by his family. She called it a good death."

Keathley was so struck by the note she wrote to the stranger. The stranger said she read her brother Keathley’s entries every day, and that they helped him. Hope Conquers All was published after Keathley passed away, but she had vowed to die a good death like the stranger whose sister reached out to her. "I really want to live," Keathley wrote, "but I also want to die well."

Sometimes Communication Should Be a One-Way Street

Image: Flickr user Seyed Mostafa Zamani

In her working life, Carrie Murchison was high octane. She worked in Congressional offices and as a lobbyist for eBay. She got cancer as a young mother, and when people sent warm and compassionate emails to her, she felt anxious because she didn’t have time to respond to all of them. But when people left messages for her on her CaringBridge page, it took the pressure off. "It sounds selfish," Murchison wrote, "but CaringBridge made it possible for me to take a pass and let people communicate with me in a one-way fashion. And often, on my darkest days, I would just refresh the guest book and hope that somebody else had written."

You Don’t Always Have to be Positive

Image: Flickr user Rory MacLeod

A lot of the stories stress positivity when it comes to adversity. But it was nice to hear one cancer survivor write about how angry and frustrated her disease made her. Lauren Lichtel discovered she had breast cancer while she was pregnant with her daughter. She felt out of control, and terrified. What the website gave her was space to deal with these emotions. "From the outset my journal became the place I could transcend mere information and vent. I shared whatever came into my head, stream of consciousness, and I didn’t care who read it," Lichtel wrote. She didn’t feel courageous letting it all hang out, but when a friend went to get a mammogram because of Lichtel’s honesty, she felt like it was worthwhile.

Success Can Be Redefined. Life Can, Too

Image: Flickr user Lars Plougmann

One of the most wrenching stories in the book is about a young woman named Margaret Worthen. The story is written by her mother and caretaker, Nancy. Margaret was about to graduate from college when she had a massive stroke. Nancy debated several times whether to take Margaret off life support, but ultimately chose not to at each critical juncture. Several years later, Margaret has slowly improved. She can communicate somewhat, and she can laugh. She is going to move into a house with other disabled adults. Margaret has had to sacrifice a lot—a serious, loving boyfriend, having children, her career dreams. But "she has a life," Nancy writes. "It is a small life, but it’s still a life. A small life is not nothing."

[Dog & Cat: Ermolaev Alexander via Shutterstock]

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