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I was on a train back to NY from DC after a work trip a couple of weeks ago, sitting next to my boss (who is also a friend, and a huge oversharer prone to major TMI, FWIW). My mom (who had a stroke a year ago and recently survived sepsis but has bounced back remarkably well) has 24/7 care, shared among 2 aides. I was 2 hours away from NYC when I get a text from one of the aides to call her and that it's URGENT. This aide is a gem and not alarmist in general, but she was there when we had to get my mom to the ER for the sepsis, so is now hyper-vigilant. I had a total anxiety attack and started crying and freaking out in front of my boss. I froze because what if I was going to hear something terrifying while on a train 2 hours from the city in which my mom and I both live? My boss looked at me like I was nuts and told me to call - which I did, but I was shaking. Turns out it wasn't that big a deal (won't go into details, but there was some blood in the poo). A bit of back story: I'm an only child, dad died when I was 6, and I pretty much have PTSD as I spent every day of my life in fear of my mother dying. Even though objectively I fully realize that she is 84 with lots of health problems and isn't going to live a lot longer, she has bounced back from a million physical and emotional assaults, and I still can't imagine life without her. I still panic instantly when she's in an emergency situation. Had I been at home - ie, around 45 minutes from where my mother lives, I still would have freaked out at the text, but I would have rushed over there, had it been a true emergency. I told a friend, who seemed to think my panic on the train and my initial impulse to wait to call back until I was in NYC, and not trapped on a train, was kinda crazy. And I was very lucky that it turned out not to be life-and-death. But I'm wondering what would other people do in this situation, esp if you were an only child with no one else who could rush in on the spot? Let's say you got the URGENT text, were on a crowded train, called and found out that it WAS urgent, that your mother had stopped breathing or died. Would you just go back to your seat and hold it together until you got to the station? I told my boss the next day at work that I was mortified about the whole thing. She told me not to worry about it at all. I know she respects me a lot and values my work, but I still feel weird that I flipped out like that in front of her.

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Xina, I have a sibling and he just doesn't answer the phone and makes everything worse. Don't envy too much.

I think most of us would have felt exactly as you did and freaked out. However, if you didn't call back to find out what was going on... you likely would have been imaging all sorts of horrible scenarios going on instead. It is probably better to find out, even if it were the dreaded true emergency, than to sit there thinking it is worse than it is and just not knowing.
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It's so comforting and validating to hear everyone's stories. I, too, envy people with siblings and/or a less traumatic past.
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Xina, I would've reacted just like you. In fact, I did react like you when I was faced with a similar situation.

I'm an only child, too. My parents emigrated from overseas. Growing up, we were very close because of my mother's significant health issues. My parents were my security blanket. As a child, I saw people growing old and hearing them die but I never saw parents in this light.

When my father expired in 2007, I was a mess. A real mess. A real, real mess. His suffering and death were traumatic. I was diagnosed with PTSD because of the panic attacks, the flashbacks, the hypervigilant behavior, the nightmares...my brain was wired with anger and fear but a lot more anger. His suffering was unjust and tragic.

Moving forward to 2013. At 2am my mother woke up in respiratory distress. I literally froze. And when I tried to move, my shook violently, so I just didn't move. My brain was telling my body to call 911 but my body didn't respond. It was the weirdest feeling ever...I felt like I had hit the wall, and I forced myself to break through the wall just to pick up the phone which was only a foot away from me. I did end up calling 911, rushing Mom to the ER...she recovered and is with me today.

My reaction to her health issue was a PTSD attack from unresolved issues with dealing with my father's expiration. Also, it was my reaction to losing the last 1/2 of my security blanket.

I read so many stories on here about siblings who don't help out and this saddens me because I wish I had a sibling...or any relative...to help take the mental and physical pressure off of me. I love Mom dearly. But taking care of her (and my father) all alone is rough. I stopped talking to my friends because they simply don't get it...they don't understand all that's involved in doing the best I/we can for aging loved ones. And I'm not wasting my energy and time explaining to them what's going on when they have their noses up in the air.

It's difficult for everyone who loses a parent, but when you're an only child it's just hard to deal with knowing that you're it...no more blood family after your parents are gone. For me, I know logically death happens but emotionally I just can't imagine it.

It's good you have an understanding boss but please don't feel you need to explain or apologize for your behavior/freak-out. I think however you react is your business. There is no right or wrong way. You're dealing with a lot and trying to make the best of it. 
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Nope xina I would have done the same as you - freaked out. My dad died when I was 7 & I know what you mean as I needed a lot of reassurance from my mom growing up too. When my mom started getting sick as she got older I too got that awful feeling in the pit of my stomach where I just felt like impending doom was coming. But I know what Gershun means too because when more episodes with my mom came up you sort of steel yourself to get through those times. At the end all I wanted was for her to be at peace. She didn't know my brother and I most of the time near the end, she hated the NH, I hated leaving her there, and she was miserable. To see such an independent strong woman as my mother decline was heartbreaking. There were many times I lost my noodle so to speak. Those were very hard heart wrenching times.
I hope you have several good years with your mother ahead.
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xinabees- okay. What to do? After you asked that it got me thinking about what emergency plans I had for Rainman when I traveled - which was a lot. I was on a plane six times a month. Flights to Utah - 2 hours. Flights to SF - 2 hours. Flights to southern Oregon- 1 hour. So yes, I had a plan if there was a real emergency and I was on a plane and couldn't be reached. No cell phone back in the olden days but there was that weird phone embedded in the back of the seat in front of you.

I had two very close girlfriends at the time. No hubby or SO. I always made sure they knew when I was gone and/or unreachable. Then I made sure the school, teacher and daycare knew the same AND to call one of my girlfriends. My girlfriends were listed on all emergency contact forms everywhere - even with Rainman medical coverage. Rainman knew them both well and would have been comforted to see them.

Is there anyone in your life like that - whom your mother knows as well?

Cause frankly, when your on a plane or train there isn't much you can do - but sit and try to remain calm. Cell phones are a blessing in modern times as at least you can talk to a doctor or police - but even cellphones hit dead spots and they can't provide much comfort by way of touch or a smile to reassure someone who's hurting.
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I think you are doing the best you can in a very difficult situation. My mom is in a nursing home and sometimes the nurses call and leave me a voicemail on my cellphone. I can't check my messages at work until I get a break. Sometimes they will say this is urgent! I will call back when I get the message,but it may be several hours after they called and they don't answer or the person who called is off duty. Very frustrating to say the least, when I have three siblings who are on their call list. You sound like such a caring daughter. You love your mom, and it is okay to get upset sometimes! Sounds like your boss was understanding so just leave it at that. Someday your boss may be in the same delicate situation. You cannot be a genie and blink your eyes to get to your mom every time there is a problem. Knowing this, explain to the caregivers you will get in touch with them or get to your moms side when it is humanly possible period. You are not superman, please take care of yourself, try to get rest, when needed, and just do your best. That's all my parents ever asked of me was to do my best. Your mom I'm sure would agree.
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I think you are doing the best you can in a very difficult situation. My mom is in a nursing home and sometimes the nurses call and leave me a voicemail on my cellphone. I can't check my messages at work until I get a break. Sometimes they will say this is urgent! I will call back when I get the message,but it may be several hours after they called and they don't answer or the person who called is off duty. Very frustrating to say the least, when I have three siblings who are on their call list. You sound like such a caring daughter. You love your mom, and it is okay to get upset sometimes! Sounds like your boss was understanding so just leave it at that. Someday your boss may be in the same delicate situation. You cannot be a genie and blink your eyes to get to your mom every time there is a problem. Knowing this, explain to the caregivers you will get in touch with them or get to your moms side when it is humanly possible period. You are not superman, please take care of yourself, try to get rest, when needed, and just do your best. That's all my parents ever asked of me was to do my best. Your mom I'm sure would agree.
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Thank you for the wise words, everyone - and Jeanne, that sounds so terrifying. So true, Black Hole, about back in the day! I have thought about that. It's a very mixed blessing that we are reachable at all times. There's no break, no boundaries. My phone is on all day, but I turn it off when I sleep (and I have no landline anymore) because I need to disconnect.
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Xina, i don't stand in your shoes. My dad lived to 72 and mom is still with us at 93. I had a fairly non-stressful childhood and both of my brothers are good reliable people.

My brother, who is the one close by to mom, who is in a nh recently texted me " when it comes down to it, everything that we are dealing with regarding mom--physical, dental, psychiatric issues, are all basically uncontrollable. She IS going to die and all we can do is make her comfortable. "

I know that you and your mom aren't there yet, Xina. Your mom is much healthier than mine is. But ultimately, we're all mortal.

I'm not sure what I'm saying here, but I'd like to reach out in comfort and reassurance. You are an awesome daughter and doing an amazing job of caregiving.
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I don't think any of us knows what we would do in that situation. It is not exactly something we practice for.

I was on a bus tour with an alumni group when I got a message from DIL that my son was in a hospital. What?! And then I couldn't get her back on her cell phone. I called the hospital. She was in the room with him. A car hit his motorcycle and threw him 80 feet. But he didn't seem to have serious injuries. They weren't through examining him. I talked to him and he sounded in good spirits. While trying to get in touch I went through the "how could I get home quickly" routine. Since my presence wasn't needed I stayed on the tour and took it day by day. I mentioned it to a few fellow passengers, and each day the tour guide and others would inquire how he was. As it turned out, his injuries were more serious that originally known, but no one knew that until after my tour was over. I helped his wife care for him through his recovery period of about 6 months.

The "in hospital" message with no further details was kind of like your "URGENT" message. (DIL had forgotten I was out of town and left a detailed message on my land line. The cell message was just to let me know which hospital.) That really shook me up, especially until I could hear his voice. I didn't freak out externally, but I was sure a mess internally. And the knowledge that there is no way to get there quickly is a huge stress. At least his wife and his brother could be there immediately and I would just have to be grateful for that.

Things we can't plan for happen. We deal with them -- sometimes more calmly than others. For you, no harm done. Let this go and move on.
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Xinabess, In the good old days (heck, 10-some years ago), you could not have been reached until you had arrived home. THAT was life for generations of weakening elders + their caretakers and a kajillion worried adult children. Don't beat yourself up. We're all making this up as we go along.

Just yesterday, I was reminiscing about this pre-Information Age gem: My dad was a mid-to-long distance truck driver. When I was born (in the 1960s), he was on the road and didn't know it happened 'til he returned home -- I was 3 days old! No cell phones, no constant contact, no GPS.

And in my parents' case, my due date was fuzzy. So dad wasn't at the point where he was calling collect nightly from a pay-phone in East Jeebus to check status. My parents were just doing what they did: a couple of days together....and many days apart.... and catching up when dad arrived home again. 

I have no solid advice. (I'm sure you figured that out already!) Just.....hang in there. The modern blow-by-blow of events we cannot control is overstimulating. When the news concerns a vulnerable loved one, our senses can go haywire. 

(And Rainmom -- raw deal! What a smug little b*tch.)
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xinabess, you say your Mom is doing pretty good health wise. Thank God for that. But one day that may not be the case. It started small with my Mom. Maybe she had a bad cold that lingered and turned into pneumonia. Or a bladder infection that becomes sepsis. On and on it goes. The first crisis kills you. And the second........the third. Even someone like me eventually had to grow a thicker skin. If I hadn't I would have probably died before Mom did.

So, when I say pull away a bit. I don't mean you care any less. But when the crisis's start becoming an almost daily affair if you don't pull away, even in a superficial way you won't survive and because you love your Mom so dearly, you make yourself become strong for her, not for you. That's what I meant by pulling away.
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Just read your post, Gershun. I totally relate. That is how I behaved with my mother. I really don't know how to practice pulling away, though. I have to be more involved than ever right now, simply because I am running the show and my mom has only a handful of people in her life. Right now she is not suffering. She is compos mentis, we go out to dinner, laugh, etc. I assume I will be stronger than I expect to be when she dies - I hope. Still, I am trying to imagine sitting on that train having gotten terrible news. It seems like an impossible feat. I could certainly manage if a cousin or someone else in my family had a crisis or died, but not my mom.
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Susan, I did tell the aide not to write URGENT in all caps unless it was truly an emergency, and she heard me. I think she was being extra-vigilant due to my mom's recent sepsis crisis, which we both let go too long. I told her to use her judgment and call 911 if necessary, esp if I was not nearby.

I've had a lot of therapy and it hasn't really helped that much.

Rainmom, that's too bad about your job. I actually feel OK re: my boss, and as I said, she has told me things that she absolutely should not have, so ultimately I am not that upset about her seeing me being so vulnerable.

I guess my real question is: What would you have done in that situation? Forget about the boss being there, because that's not the real issue, just a detail. Assume you're the only contact for the person/aide responsible for your mom and you get the URGENT text when you can do nothing because you're on a train. Then assume you call and hear that something seriously life-threatening is happening. You tell the aide to call 911, of course. Then what - do you go back to your seat and simply sit there for the rest of the ride as if you're OK? I guess that's what I couldn't imagine - being stuck on a train in this situation. Hence, I froze.
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xinabess I totally relate to your story. My Dad died when I was four and like you, I spent all of my life dreading and worrying and getting myself into a frenzy wondering if my Mom was going to die any second. I actually used to do some pretty pathetic things when I was a little girl. I always asked Mom to leave my bedroom door ajar at night so I could see the light in the hall. I had this thing where every time she walked by or near my door I said "I love you" to her. I played these games with myself, If I don't say it she will die. I left her little love notes that she would see before she went to work. I'd freak out if she was late coming home from work. I'd cry at school about it. The list goes on and on.

So, If I had been you sitting on that train and receiving a call like that I probably would have done the very same thing. Probably even worse, I would have asked them to stop the train and turn it around probably. But hey, guess what? My Mom passed two years ago and when she was laying on her death bed, what I wanted most of all was for her to not have to suffer anymore. I took myself out of the equation during that time. I was strong for her cause that's what she needed. I think when you really love someone that's what you do at that final moment.

I am suffering now, missing her but I am stronger than I thought I could be and I believe you will be too. Practice pulling away a little bit if you can. Take yourself out of it. If you can do that, you will find a strength you didn't even know you had.
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Okay - here's my somewhat similar story and the outcome.

I was a district manager for a large retailer - I had stores in Oregon, Utah and Washington. The company was corporate owned but run by an older man who had been there forever. Nepotism was strong with his adult children in high offices. But the company was based in San Francisco so I didn't have to put up with all the politics that was rampant. Until -

One day I was informed a daughter lived in my area and would be getting an office next to mine - she was going to be a sales rep for corporate customers. Along with this came a loooong lecture by two different bosses well above my own boss of what I could and couldn't do - say and couldn't say, around the daughter as it would go directly to her dad.

So for several years all was well. I did a good job and enjoyed a great reputation as the top preforming district in the company - year after year. Daughter and I had a polite and pleasant working relationship. Then came the earthquake.

Seriously- an earthquake. I live in Oregon and had never experienced one. Daughter had been raised in California and was an old pro. So - it hit. I ran out of my office and froze in the middle of the warehouse. Daughter flew out of her office, grabbed me and drug me back - holding onto me - under a door frame.

As I stood there I thought about my disabled seven year old son - way across town and I wondered who was holding onto him. Was he frightened? Would I ever see him again?

The moment the earth stopped shaking - I started and I burst into inconsolable sobbing. Daughter reassured me, patted my back and feed me Kleenex. After several minutes I was fine. Back into action calling all my nearby stores.

THE NEXT DAY my boss called asking about the earthquake. He sounded...off. For the next year every time I went to SF for meeting - all the higher ups treated me differently...off. And for that next year my boss rode me like a circus pony. It didn't make an ounce of difference that my stores were still excelling, that my employees were happy that our customer service scores were the best in the company- I just couldn't do anything right, to hear my boss tell it.

Eventually, I somehow redeemed myself and everyone pretty much went back to business as usual. Except me. Clearly, I had been judged for a very normal reaction - in my eyes. But not in theirs, I guess. I had - had a moment of weakness.

I never felt the same about my job, my office buddy nor any of the higher ups I had always admired, respected and worked to impress. Two years later - which was the first safe chance I got - I quit my job.
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xinabess, what you experienced was similar to a panic attack. You are worried that you will lose control of your emotions in front of your boss, or where you don't have privacy to do so, and because you were worried about that, when the "urgent" message came, you locked up and did just that.

There's an old adage that applies here - "least said, soonest mended". You explained to your boss, she said don't worry about it and she respects your work - so that's that. Let it go and move on. You'll be ok.

I would, however, address it with the caregiver and make sure she understands the difference between "truly urgent" - as in Mom is having trouble breathing or needs to go to the ER immediately - and "merely concerning" - as in there's some blood in the stool or Mom seems to be developing a cold (things that, yes, need attention, but do not require an immediate phone call or message when you will be home in a matter of a couple of hours). Explain to her what happened when you got that message - it might help her understand the effect on you a little better.   I would also recommend that you discuss these panic and anxiety feelings with a counselor or therapist and see if they can help you deal with them in a constructive manner.  You know that Mom can't live forever, but holding your emotions hostage for years in fear of her passing is not healthy for you.  You deserve to be happy, or at least have some peace about the situation.
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