Long-Distance Parenting

Parenting through tough times

It’s not easy to parent when one team member is critically ill and both parents are thousands of miles away from home.

My cell phone let out an angry buzz that reverberated through the sticky Naugahyde, rousing me from my one-eyed slumber. I grabbed for the phone and checked the time, then the number. Home. Where exactly was I?

I punched the green button, took in the IV poles, antiseptic smells and insistent beeps in one breath. “Hello?”

“Mamá?” Laura’s hesitant voice came over the airwaves.

“What’s up, Sweetie?” It was nine o’clock in San Francisco, an hour later back in Bozeman—way past bedtime on a school night.

My voice triggered a series of sobs and snuffles. My heart broke. All I had was the power to listen, to sort, to try to make sense of the garbled story gushing through the earpiece. If only my arms were a thousand miles long and I could hold my baby in my lap, rock her gently and soothe her troubles as I had kissed her boo-boos when she was little.

I checked on Pedro, who appeared to be asleep, although it was always hard to tell because his eyes didn’t close completely any more. My mind multitasked while I murmured questions meant to help Laura calm down and speak coherently, and breathed gentle pats of compassion with my voice.

“She said what?” What I thought I’d heard Laura say couldn’t be true. How could anyone, even a twelve-year-old, be so cruel? My voice hardened and my hackles rose. “Tell me again what Susie∗ said.”

“She said that if my dad died, then you could marry her dad, and we’d be sisters.”

I did the only thing I could think of in a situation like this one. I conjured up a laugh and said, “Wow! Susie must really want some more sisters to suggest a thing like that!”

“But is Papá going to die?”

“He’s breathing right now,” I answered. “And the doctors say he’s doing better than he was yesterday.”

I could hear relief wing it’s way into my ear from a thousand miles and a time zone away. “That’s good.”

“Sweetie,” I assured her, “God is watching out for us, he hears our every cry and prayer.” My words felt empty without the closeness of my arms around her shoulders when I whispered words of faith.

“I know,” Laura whispered back. “But promise me, you’ll never marry Susie’s dad. Ever!”

“Now that’s a promise I can make, honey.” I started to giggle. Susie’s dad was twenty years my senior, divorced, and just the thought of being married to him…well, it made me giggle.

“O.k., that’s all I wanted to know.” Laura sounded better, more confident.

“There is no, no, no, no, no WAY!” I swallowed a snort and fought to gain control. Breathing out, I managed a hearty, “I love you!”

“Me, too,” she answered. “Bye.” I prayed that was a chuckle I heard as the connection died.

“That Laura?” Pedro turned to look at me, his face frozen expressionless by the lymphoma cells, his eyes dulled from the drugs. “O.k.?”

“She’s o.k.,” I assured him. “She just had to tell me something that happened at school today.

“Good.” His eyes smiled briefly, then he drifted off to sleep.

Author’s note:  Today, Pedro and I celebrate 25 years of marriage.  We survived both cancer and caregiving and are the proud parents of two lovely young women who have also survived and thrived.

What parenting challenges have you faced on your caregiver journey?



Anita currently teaches English to 7th-12th graders. She describes herself as a 'recovering cancer caregiver' who gives thanks daily that her husband has been cancer-free for ten years.

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  • Barbara Gibson

    Oh Anita…, I had to laugh and cry and recall a moment in time when my son was a first grader…
    We were experiencing the last few days with our Grandma Garnet… She battled lung cancer for a little over a year. When she got her diagnosis the cancer had all ready spread to her brain from the original site… thirteen tumors were all ready visible.

    She had worked for many years as the Unit Clerk at Salem Hospital in Oncology, and “knew the ropes”… although it was a painful journey, there are some memories of that year that are the most precious ones I have and share.
    My son Morgan was just a little guy, who loved his Grandma very much. He carefully pushed her wheel chair to chemo therapy, gave ALL the patients orange juice with enthusiasm ( maybe because he found the juice machine fascinating)…

    Her final days were a struggle for all her children and grandchildren…Even when there is an ending, we all face those hours with the heavy feelings, emotional bursts and the exhaustion, barely thinking, just breathing and going through the motions of real, every day life that occurs outside the ever confined walls…
    We adults were all overwhelmed, the sadness, the peace of her final rest… I must say it all balls into an emotional blur just a bit.
    Friends and family loved and cared for the children when we ourselves were challenged with decisions, and processing the loss of our “Dear”…
    A few days passed and I sent my young son off to school, trying to return to life and the routine.
    Early in the evening of that first day back, I received a phone call from his teacher. Frantically she gulped out what had happened during his day.
    It seems that my son was waving his hand quite enthusiastically during the “show and tell” segment. Wondering what he wanted to share, that could not keep him still, she called upon him.
    “My Grandma Died”… and he proceeded to tell them all about it in 7 year old words…
    He had” let it out” to a whole room of first grade classmates.

    The teacher tried to keep composure, tried to dry tears, and wondered if my son might need to see a counselor. GOD bless her.

    Children have a way of seeing only what is right in front of them at the moment, while we are busier bustling around doing whatever it takes to manage the bigger events.
    I did learn something from this littlest son of mine, as Mommies sometimes do, it was about those little minutes, the smallest sighs… and even the tiniest smiles that crept into the corners of our mouths during the dark hours that I will always recall when the tears were rolling.

    • Thank you for sharing your story, Barbara! Kids can be so honest with their grief (and they’re probably healthier because of it!).

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