The Art of a Phone Call
Last updated: February 2023
I recently discussed how I could offer support while living overseas. Living abroad and being unable to physically be there during my Mother's cancer journey was difficult. But I did learn a few things during this time. I hope that sharing my experience may help someone in a similar situation.
Because I was living abroad and physically unable to be there, the only way I could really offer my support was via phone or video call. Of course, I sent gifts and flowers when I could. But I was a broke student then, so I couldn't do this as frequently as I would have liked. Yet this was maybe a good thing. What I learned instead was the art of a phone call.
Initially, I only wanted updates on how my Mom was doing. Every call was about her diagnosis and treatments. I mean, of course, that's what we're going to talk about. I want to know if she's okay. That's what we all want to talk about, right? Well, in my experience, not necessarily.
I learned that instead of always asking for updates, it was better to let them come when my Mom wanted to share them. If she's had bad news or maybe just a really bad day, then obviously talking about what is making her feel so ill is not high on her priorities.
Sensing the subject
I realized that I needed to ask questions, but I also needed to provide my Mom with the space she also mentally needed. The space and time to digest updates received from medical professionals on her diagnosis and treatment. I deliberated on this thought a little, and I came to the realization that maybe asking for updates on the day of important medical appointments wasn't the best thing to do.
Instead, I learned to sense the subjects open for discussion by asking more general questions such as, "How's it going?" This provided the opportunity for my Mom to choose whether she wanted to talk about her cancer and treatment or if she wanted to completely ignore the subject. It slowly became more natural to allow my Mom to choose when she wanted to share her updates with me instead of me probing for updates with direct questions.
To video or not to video - that is a question
Another thing I learned was that sometimes, video calling might not be the best idea. Think of it this way, you've just had surgery, or you're recovering from your latest chemo treatment. Are you feeling camera ready? Heck no! So why did I expect my Mom to want to jump on a video call every time we spoke?
This, again, is something I had to learn. I was living overseas. I wanted to 'see' my Mom. But what if she doesn't want to be on a video call? Maybe she hasn't had the strength to brush her hair today because she feels so sick? Or maybe she doesn't want to be confronted by her image on the phone screen.
Looking back, this experience taught me so much. I learned to ask if she was feeling up for a video or voice call. I learned not to make it about me 'seeing' my Mom. I had to make her as comfortable as possible during our calls. If that meant no video, that's how we're going to connect this time.
What this taught me
This may seem obvious to some, but I had to get used to this. I had to put my needs second and make my conversation with her the best it could be, whether that was providing distraction by not making all of our calls about cancer or not pushing for updates, even though that was all I really wanted to know about.
I discovered that the art of a phone call was to allow my Mom to choose what we spoke about and how we connected while catching up.
Has cancer impacted your mood during the holidays?