Recently my father had emergency surgery in another state, and I had to find ways to support him and my mother from afar. I learned a few things from this experience that may be useful to others going through similar situations.

When someone does not ask for help, it can be difficult to know how or when to step in.  My mother is very independent and prefers to handle things alone. Most of the time this needs to be respected, but in a crisis people should not be alone.

The stress can blur people’s memory and make decision making even more difficult. When going through a crisis it is always important to have two people present to listen and digest the information.

Prior to this emergency, my parents provided this for each other. When there was a health issue, they attended doctor’s appointments together. They would each take notes and then go home and compare them after. They always captured different information. We listen through our own lens and usually do not grasp or hear everything presented. By doing this together my parents could recap the meeting, compare notes, and feel confident they had the information they needed.

The first day of my father’s hospitalization, my mother was alone, refusing any friends who wanted to come and help. When trying to recap the information she learned she found herself struggling. This is when my brother and I decided that she needed a second set of ears. Thankfully my brother was able to get there quickly and although my mother had initially refused, she was so grateful to have this burden of being alone lifted.

I wanted to help in the best way I could, so I had my brother call me from his cell phone when the doctors came in and put me on speaker phone. I was able to ask questions and be a third set of ears. When the hospital social worker came in, I was able to introduce myself and get her cell phone number. From then on, I would text her for updates on my father’s discharge and rehabilitation needs. My mother really appreciated that I was able to help coordinate some of the care, even from a distance.

Since I could not be there in person, I looked for other ways I could help take things off my mother’s plate. I had her give me a list of family and friends to contact and update on my father’s health. I used my online shopping skills to order some adaptive cups and items that allowed my father to be more independent while in the hospital.

Lots of family and friends asked how they could help. My mother and father did not want any visitors, so I made that clear to everyone. I asked a few to drop off some food items at my mother’s door. I told others to wait and know that we will need their moral support later in the recovery process.

Eventually I was able to go in person and have some important conversations with my mother. I stressed how important it is that she take time to rest and care for herself. I also explained that I could always help troubleshoot problems or anything that causes them stress. I urged her to always let me know when issues arise because you never know what resources, equipment or strategies exist that may reduce your stress if you do not ask for help.

No matter the distance you can always find ways to support a loved one in a crisis. It may mean just being a listening ear. One friend has been sending my mother a supportive text or inspirational quote every morning. She does not ask for or expect a response. This kind gesture means so much to my mother and lets her know she has the support right there if she needs it.

Listen to the main caregiver and what they need. Find ways to lesson their burden without adding to their stress. Distance does not have to be a barrier to helping those we love.

Martha Shapiro can be reached at Senior Concerns at 805-497-0189 or by email at



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