It was a match made in heaven: me, a reporter with a 91-year-old mother and mother-in-law, assigned to interview a reporter who has written a book about her sick, frail mother's final four years. And so, while it might have taken another writer 30 minutes to interview Jane Gross, author of A Bittersweet Season: Caring for Our Aging Parents — and Ourselves, our two-hour talk could have gone longer if it hadn't been interrupted by a call from my mother-in-law.
See also: The AARP Caregiving Resource Center.
Hopefully for Gross, a former New York Times staffer and founder of the Times' New Old Age blog, many others in our demographic will find her primer for old, old age — and the adult children who take care of their parents — a godsend. Gross distills dense concepts such as Medicaid and Medicare, explains the shortcomings of even first-rate nursing homes, medical specialists and emergency rooms, and offers suggestions for dealing with a health care system that stymied, stumped and infuriated her. She writes about her ailing mother's move from an assisted living facility in Florida to another briefly in New York, near Gross and her brother, and then to a nursing home, where she died at age 88.
What may be most valuable about A Bittersweet Season, however, is the writer's candor, whether it's admitting to wishful thinking that her mother just hurry up and die, describing her loneliness and emotional pain, or dissecting spats with her brother Michael Gross, a prominent author.
In an interview with the AARP Bulletin, Jane Gross shares other insights.
Q. You describe your mother as no-nonsense, difficult and unaffectionate. How hard was it caring for someone you didn't feel close to, and toward the end of her life, did it change?
A. It was difficult all the way, but our relationship changed dramatically in the last two years. I came to love her, and she came to love me, and my guess is we both did all along in our own prickly way, but it was all out there at the end. I hadn't expected it to have a redemptive piece, but rather be something I did gritting my teeth because it was the right thing to do.
Q. You and your brother didn't always agree on caregiving, and there were tensions. What kind?
A. Fortunately, none were about big things. We never disagreed about medical, residential, financial or end-of-life decisions. I thought we should never both be out of town at the same time, and he thought I was obsessive. We fought about that quite a lot and what I would describe only in retrospect as my self-righteousness. It was "there's only one way to do it and that's my way." A lot of my attitude had to do with that whole Mommy-liked-you-better thing. My brother was calmer, and that's a male thing. Men compartmentalize better. And frankly, part of my annoyance with him was that he wasn't having as hard a time as I was.