94-Year-Old Woman Who Cares for Son Who Is Disabled Finds Unexpected Friendship Over the Phone
A car accident left Frances Utpadel's son with disabilities when he was 18, and she has cared for him ever since
At 94 years old, Frances Utpadel is game for making new friends.
The former film lab technician from Los Angeles recently joined the Motion Picture and Television Fund’s Daily Call Sheet program, which set her up with a fellow film industry member who shares phone conversations with her a few times a week — something she very much looks forward to.
“I was having the downtime because all my friends were moving away and dying,” Frances tells PEOPLE. “I called [Daily Call Sheet] and I thought we’d have something to talk about. That really helped me. I said, ‘We have to keep in touch with people. Don’t keep isolating!’ And, I know what I’m talking about, I’m 94 years old!”
Frances — who retired from the entertainment industry when she was 65 — talks to her Daily Call Sheet partner, Norma, sometimes two to three times a week. The two discuss anything from their daily routines to what’s happening in the world, but simply sharing her thoughts with a kind voice is essential to Frances now that she is in her Golden Years, she says.
“This is something I’m very much for — don’t isolate yourself. I don’t have any friends to be texting or emailing,” she explains. “I hear so many people are doing texting and email, and one of the big stores now, they won’t have any cashiers. And, I say, ‘What are they doing to the people? You’re isolating people. And the world is made of people.’ ”
Frances, who is a mother of three, was recognized at MPTF’s Reel Stories, Real Lives event on Thursday for her strength when facing adversity.
In the early 1960s, Frances and her then 18-year-old son, Terry, were in an accident that left him with severe disabilities.
“We were in an accident together, during the rain, and the car hydroplaned,” she recalled. “And we hit the bridge, and he hit the bridge with his head, and I was thrown up on the thing. I came to and he was face-down in the water, and I got him out. He was in and out of the hospital for a long time.”
The aftermath of the accident caused tremendous stress on her marriage, and when her husband lost his life nearly a decade later, Frances was left to care for Terry and the couple’s two other children on her own.
Today, Frances still cares for Terry, who is now 75. And she’s more focused now than ever on making human connections in a digital world.
“Everybody gets around with a GPS, right? Well, I’ve never had one. You know how I get along, how I got to 94? By using PCS, plain common sense!” Frances says of her philosophy on life.
“I’m used to the generation where you took pictures and had them developed. You don’t have those now. Everybody’s got them on their cell phone. It’s just a whole different world. But, I think, in a way, my world is richer than the other one. I don’t feel deprived about it or anything. I feel I’m better off.”
This “richer” life is not one filled with material things, but of finding valuable time with people, Frances explains.
“That’s the most important. That’s better than any jewels or anything else,” she says. “You can lose your jewels. But don’t lose your friends.”