Krista brought Jane Gross to our attention at our weekly Monday staff meeting as someone who knows aging intimately from the “far shore of caregiving.”

This Pulitzer-nominated journalist developed her expertise on caregiving and aging not just vocationally, but through living this experience with her elderly mother in her final years.

She started The New Old Age blog for The New York Times and shared her most joyful moments and unexpected insights from role reversals of “becoming my mother’s mother” to learning how to collaborate with her adult sibling. She also has a book called A Bittersweet Season: Caring for Our Aging Parents and Ourselves.

Putting words around end-of-life issues is such a difficult task that, even in our tweets, it became difficult to substitute the words “death,” “dying,” or “aging”  literally when she used demonstratives like “this” and “that” to represent those ideas in conversation.

We live-tweeted highlights of this 90-minute conversation, which we’re aggregating and reposting for those who weren’t able to follow along. Follow us next time at @BeingTweets:

  1. @Janegross settling in at the mic as Krista begins her interview! 15 Jun
  2. “I don’t even remember SEEING old people when I was growing up.” -author Jane Gross 15 Jun
  3. “Very few people tell you along the way that just because you CAN fix X or Y doesn’t mean that you should.” -Jane Gross 15 Jun
  4. “My mother and I had a difficult relationship. I didn’t race to the loving caregiver’s role with an open heart.” -author Jane Gross 15 Jun
  5. “It kicks up all the dust of childhood, everyone becomes who they were when they were 10.” -Jane Gross on the stress of caregiving 15 Jun
  6. “(My brother and I) thought the faster we moved, the faster we could get back to what our lives were like before.” -Jane Gross 15 Jun
  7. “Most of us are more afraid of the process (of dying) than the fact.” -author Jane Gross 15 Jun
  8. “The idea of how to get through this by yourself makes my hair stand up.” -Jane Gross 15 Jun 
  9. “It’s pretty likely gonna be a friend (to take care of me at the end of my life).” -Jane Gross 15 Jun
  10. “My only personal solution to this is to be very conservative on the financial side. I don’t have children to pick up the slack.”-J.G. 15 Jun
  11. “I’m not sure it’s as bad when it actually happens than to watch it happen.” -Jane Gross on aging. 15 Jun
  12. “Rather than squeeze your eyes shut, you decide that there’s something interesting about it in the kind of spiritual life cycle sense.”-JG 15 Jun
  13. “One of the great gifts of being a journalist is you get to poke around at ‘these’ things before they’re your things.”-Jane Gross 15 Jun
  14. “I have seen what courage can be when there is no hope.” -May Sarton in Jane Gross’s “Bittersweet Season” 15 Jun
  15. “You find out what you’re made of. If there’s any advantage to having a long slow dying its the time to get things right.”-Jane Gross 15 Jun

Photo by Michael Lionstar.


Share Your Reflection

2Reflections

Reflections

I've been caregiving for quite a few years now, most recently to my father for the last 4 years. He has a kind of dementia, though not Alzheimer's. Ultimately what I've concluded is that the tragedy is not that people get old or that they get dementia; the tragedy is that so many elderly people get abandoned by their family. I've been visiting my father mostly daily and have found that in spite of all of his dementia, he is often talking about (when he can manage to get his words out as he is also affected by pretty severe aphasia) spiritual matters and expresses them eloquently in his own simple way. Sometimes it is surprising to me, what he expresses spiritually. It surprises me because he was, professionally, a scientist, and always said that he thought that when we died, that was it, we were just dead. What strikes me is how much of the essence of who he has always been is still there. He's still tender and loving, still wanting to give what he can. Because I've spent so much time in nursing homes, I've gotten to know quite a few people with dementia. I find some of the most deeply meaningful moments with people there, things that are funny, sweet, thoughtful, kind. Unlike Jane Gross, I did have contact with the elderly when I was younger, though neighbors I had and liked; and then in high school the first job that I had waiting tables in what we would now call an independent living facility. I got to see that elderly people are individuals, just like younger people are, and not some undifferentiated gray-haired mass. I would agree with Jane Gross that caregiving a parent does stir up a lot of family issues, things that seemed resolved long ago. And that can be painful. I wouldn't trade this experience, though, of caring for my father, or caring for my mother (she died several years ago), for anything. It's been difficult at times, but I've learned some amazing things along the way.

I am a longtime reader of Jane's column and once a contributor. Often what I find so moving about the subjects she tackles is the circling back she and her readers do to questions of how relationships can possibly heal, how to respect a person who is ill, what it means to trust a caregiver with a parent or your own body. Caring for aging parents, aunts, uncles and grandparents can be transformative, but her column has helped me to understand that it is only transformative if you are willing to face the difficult task of learning to give of yourself and taking care of yourself in the face of suffering.