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The Author Speaks

'A Bittersweet Season'

Interview with Jane Gross, the author of a new book on being a caregiver

Q. Did you resolve your tensions?

A. Mostly we didn't in the moment. But even when it was happening, I appreciated that he was responsible, involved and utterly devoted to my mother. He was in no way the deadbeat brother that you read about, and I knew that.

Q. And after your mother died?

A. Little by little, we talked about it. Michael was the one who persuaded me to write the book, and as a fellow journalist he understood how much of the book was going to be very personal, and therefore about him. He read every word about us and objected to almost nothing.

Q. What's your relationship like now?

A. We are closer, but not forcibly so the way we were those last four years, and just as my mother and I came to admire each other's strengths those last two years, Michael and I also came to admire each other's strengths.

Q. You're so honest. You say that during your caretaking phase, you felt lonely and isolated, at times you wanted to run away or wished your mother would die, and you resented being "yoked" to your brother. Don't you think these are normal feelings?

A. Yes! What was most important to me in the book was not the point-by-point "how to's" — I don't actually think you can do that anyway, given how different and utterly unpredictable our parents' trajectories are — but giving other people permission to feel as angry, lonely, trapped, scared and crazy as I did. It's hard to believe there's anyone who doesn't occasionally wish his or her parent would just die so it would be over, but I never heard anyone say that out loud. People don't talk about what a hard time they're having. And nobody wants to hear about it, which I think contributes to the loneliness.

Q. There's so much we can't control about old age. What is up to us, the children?

A. You can't control what your parents, in-laws or your own physical and cognitive problems are going to be, how much is going to be fixable or what it will cost, how long it's going to take, and what it's going to do to your family. What is up to us is controlling if we want to be in denial or not. You have to accept that once parents hit age 85, the vast majority are going to need on average two years of custodial assistance of some kind. You can't walk around thinking they'll be in the small minority who live at home, drive the car, play tennis and then kaboom, drop dead one day without a ton of scary decision-making and enormous expense, or kicking up the old family dust. God bless them if that's how it works out, but it mostly doesn't. People need to try not to be so afraid of dealing with it [sickness and frailty in old age]. You're doing yourself and your parent a disservice if you wait too long to think about this.

Next: A geriatrician can save you money in the long run. >>

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