Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Dreaded Phone Call

There's one thing every caregiver dreads, and knows she or he may get one day.  I thought about that a lot today, at the end of an interesting January.

The Dreaded Phone Call.

I can remember back in my 30's, when I lived about 1400 miles away from my father.  My father was in his early 70's and suffered from various health problems.  I was fortunate because his younger sister was his caregiver.  Still, I feared for the day I would receive The Dreaded Phone Call.

And one evening, in January of 1986, it came.

I'm only at the beginning of my present long distance care giving journey with my mother in law, and I've already found so many "fellow travelers"in co workers and people I meet in other settings. (I will note here that when I was growing up in the 50's and 60's, "fellow traveler" meant something completely different.  Maybe it still does.)  Some of them have already received The Dreaded Phone Call.  Others await it.

It isn't necessarily a "someone has died" phone call at 10pm, as you prepare for bed.

For one fellow traveler, it came right before Christmas when she got a phone call telling her that her fiercely independent 90 plus year old mother in law had broken her collar bone in a fall.  It would be the end of the in law's independence and the beginning of countless hours of stress for this fellow traveler.

For another fellow traveler, it came today in the early morning, when a relative called to say her mother had fallen, and he couldn't get her up by himself. Between the two of them, they finally got her up.

But then, she fell again.

The fellow traveler was realistic.  She knew she would get these calls again and again, until one day, when she knew she would get the true Dreaded Phone Call.

I am one of several long distance care givers for my mother in law.  We are quite aware that we may be watching what will happen to us in 20 or so years.  And we wonder, why does it have to be that way?  We all - all of us - have to make it up as we go along. There are no manuals.

Our aging parents, so many times, haven't made plans for this day.  And you know what?  They were care givers for their parents.  They should have known better, right?  Well, will we know better?  Will we remember what our parents put us through and not put our own children through it?

Or will the cycle continue, generation after generation?

When will each of us generate our own Dreaded Phone Call?


  1. Alana, I'm visiting from the UBC. Yes, the cycle goes on. I am also 60, and the sister I thought would always take care of Mom has now become crippled. So someone may have to move to another city. We can just do our best as things unfold. All blessings to you on your journey.

  2. Interesting post Alana - as someone with parents who are getting older and their comments about caring about their own parents, I would say that our intentions are there to make it easier on our kids but I wonder if the cycle will keep on repeating! I hope that it does get easier, but when emotions and family are involved it is definitely not a phone call we want to get. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Alana, We've kind of reverse engineered this one. I helped care for three aging parents/in-laws and now my younger brother is the one taking care of our mother. I moved in with my kids while I still have the health, energy and mobility to help with kids and house and business. We live in Europe (Air Force) for now while Mom is in Pacific Northwest, USA. I've lived thru a number of dreaded phone calls. Now I'm grateful to have time with my daughter and teens before they have to start dreading anything and we can all help each other live our lives and grow and prosper.
    Thanks for sharing about this. (Dropped in from UBC)

  4. It would appear to me that we spend our entire lives refusing the future, at least at one time or another. Some of us refuse adolescence and the distance it imposes between the now and the infant we were, some of us push back the day we accept our resposibilities as adults, with aleatory results, some of us dread our forties, or fifties, or going bald, or beginning the menopause, or reaching the big 60. And some of us are even so unlucky as to experience most if not all of these situations.

    But almost all of us do our level and assiduous best to ignore the inescapable future that ill-health, ageing, diminishing faculties and death make hold in store for us.

    I guess the only way to deal with the Dreaded Phone Call is to consider it not as being dreaded, but inevitable and natural..

    Well, that's my humble take anyway, even though I know it's easier said than done.

    Thanks for a very thought-provoking post. I enjoyed every word of it.


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