In my 14 years as The Phone Lady, I’ve often been asked, “Why the phone, Mary Jane? How is it that you’ve ended up championing the phone?”
Most often I’ve given a quick and easy answer. The phone has been part of every job throughout my working life, from being a receptionist at an ore mine during my summers in high school through to growing my first business from 1987 to 2001.
There are other reasons though. They aren’t a secret but they are deeply personal, and the value of sharing them in a business context hasn’t been clear to me … until now. I learned the power of phone conversations at a young age in circumstances that turned my world upside down.
What were those circumstances? And how did the phone “save” me?
In mid-July 1975 I celebrated my 17th birthday in Lloydminster, AB. I was part of a student exchange program that had brought a group of us there from various parts of Northern, Ontario. My dad called me that day and we had a lovely conversation, but he sounded odd. My mom had died 14 months earlier and, with my older siblings all living away, I was increasingly protective of my dad. He told me that he’d been to a wedding and eaten something that gave him heartburn. “I’m fine,” he said.
I arrived home in later that month to discover that he was only drinking milk, not eating anything. And he was spending a lot of time in bed. He kept insisting that it was heartburn; he refused to go to a doctor.
I was then who I am today: a stubborn woman who insists on making things happen. We lived in a small town and I simply stopped at the hospital on my way to work, spoke to our family doctor and convinced him to drop by our house and see my dad. That afternoon the doctor called to tell me that an ambulance had taken my dad to the hospital.
He never came home again.
He was taken to Toronto. In late September or early October, he was diagnosed with lung cancer. Back in our local hospital, he died on November 17.
What’s this got to do with the phone?
- Throughout his time in Toronto, we talked every Sunday. (Long distance was an expensive luxury … except on Sundays!) Those calls were so important. They kept us connected. He told me stories of his life in the hospital and I told him about school and friends and neighbours. Assuming his Toronto trip would only be a few weeks, he’d agreed that I could stay home alone. As the days and months went by, our phone conversations were vital to my ability to stay strong and focused, as were the daily phone calls with friends and family.
- My dad was a very well-loved guy. He had tons of friends who admired and cared about him. When he came back to our local hospital, the phone was how they were able to stay in touch, learn about visiting hours, surround me – and my siblings who had returned home – with support.
- After my dad died there was a period of shock, where we all simply did what we always did. But then Christmas arrived and conversations about the future. There was little money and a big house and me, needing to finish high school. My siblings wanted to make some decisions. This reality sent me into the deepest, darkest depression I’ve ever experienced. On the days I could get out of bed, I’d make it as far as the living room couch. I couldn’t read or shower or care about anything. What got me through? What got me back to school and kept me going, helped me begin to navigate grief and confusion? Phone calls! Loyal friends who would hang on the line through awkward silences and simply be with me. They brought me stories and laughter and hope. Their conversations are why I am who I am today.
So, in these times of isolation, where we are all battling stress and worry and fear … please talk to each other on the phone. The sound of our voices is so powerful. Picking up the phone and talking to someone can – and will – dispel despair and bring hope. We will come out the other side of this so much stronger by continuing to talk to each other.
If the transition from text to talk is a challenge, I’ve created a free download with ideas on how to make this happen. No email addresses needed to access it. Please share it widely.