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Selected Readings

Excerpt from: A Bittersweet Season

Read a selected passage from Jane Gross' memoir about lessons learned the hard way as she went through this life passage with her own mother.

Top 10 List of Caregiver Resources

Jane Gross recommends these ten organizations as invaluable set of resources for caregivers. Find a full list of recommendations in her book "A Bittersweet Season."

Pertinent Posts from the On Being Blog

As we focus increasingly on ourselves, who do we leave behind, abandon? Abraham Joshua Heschel's prescient words on aging and vanity from his essay "To Grow in Wisdom."

Great sayings and photos from Walter Breuning, who died this year in Montana at the age of 114.

Ina's Story, a new therapeutic initiative for caregivers of loved ones with Alzheimer's.

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Could the brains of 670 nuns from Mankato, Minnesota be the key to understanding Alzheimer's?

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An unexpected package. A book. A gift. Days with My Father.

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The first Buddhist chaplaincy training program in the U.S. is featured in this beautiful short film about end of life care.

"It's a prime time of my life, and I basically gave it away." A film that explores one family's story on the high stakes of caregiving for their parents.

About the Image

Herbert Winokur, now deceased, sits in the kitchen of his daughter's home with his granddaughter Isabel in the background. Along with her husband (the photographer) and two children, Julie Winokur moved her husband and two children from San Francisco, CA to Montclair, NJ to help care for her father who suffered from dementia.

(photo: Ed Kashi/VII)

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I am glad that this show was repeated this morning as I had missed it when first aired last year. Like many who have posted comments in this space, I wish that I had had heard Ms. Gross's wise words back in 1996 when my mother's life (and mine) were changed after she suffered a series of strokes. Like Ms. Gross, I am an aging, single, and childless baby-boomer. My father had died (also from stroke) when I was still a child, and my mother and I, always very close, had grown even closer after his decease. One of the most important points which Ms. Gross made during her conversation with Krista Tippett was that many of us in America are almost unaware of the elderly, thereby placing us in a state of ignorance about what aging entails. As my mother and I lived together until she became ill and I had to place her in a nursing home (where, after 6 years at the age of 89, she died), I witnessed her gradual decline. Stroke crippled her, diminished her cognitively, and, the worst, left her aphasic. Being an only child in such circumstances is both difficult but in some ways easy as well in that while I had to do and feel everything, I was also spared some of the divisive situations that can often arise between siblings when trying to navigate the unchartered waters of caring for an aging or ill parent. This part of life is an exam for which you cannot prepare. We should be grateful, however, for people like Jane Gross who are the teachers among us imparting valuable lessons.

Thank you for this profoundly resonating hour and half of unedited conversation about aging and dying. I once heard a saying that "we are children twice and adults once in this life" and I think this conversation explains why those words are so true. As I witnessed my mother's slow physical, mental demise and her evental finality last year, all of the paradoxes, bittersweetness, cliches ad irony of life came crashing in on me. I have lost many loved ones over the years including a spouse, sister, father, friend and many extended family members, but losing a mother in midlife leaves a barreness unmatched. My mother was the longest running human being in my life, I knew her longer and in some ways more intimately than I even know myself and no one can ever replace the conversations, language, lessons and perspective that she shared with me for over 5 decades. Thank you Jane and Krista for giving me words to relish and ponder.

What an outstanding interview! I would like to read Heschel's essay from the 1961 WHCoA / To Grow in Wisdom. If anyone has found an electronic copy the URL would be most appreciated.

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There is another side of this situation, when a spouse needs to take their wife/husband. At the age of 54, my wife had a watershed stroke when she had open-heart surgery. We went from a normal life to spending a month in the hospital after the surgery. Then four months in a nursing home, then intense therapy and another nursing home stay. Soon I was able to bring my wife home. She lived at home with me for about a year. My kids helped a lot. Then; back to a nursing home where she has been since 2003. I wrote a book about my/our life in the first 3.5 years after surgery. The book title is Frozen Grief. The following text is is what I wrote on the back cover of my book

When a person’s life ends; there is a grieving process for family and friends. The closer your relationship is to the person the longer the grieving. The grieving of your loss doesn’t go on forever and the person is not forgotten. From time to time memories of past events will come back. Those memories for the most part are good for you.

In my case I am still grieving the loss of my wife. My wife is alive but her life is a long way away from what she or I would want it to be or thought we would have. She is not able to do the many things a grandma would do for her grandchildren. She is not able to do many things for herself, plus, she can’t live in her own house with me.

Life sucks sometimes. Many people have a tragedy happen in their lives. For me, in my situation, what could I do? I only had two choices. I could stay and deal with the problems and frustrations of being a husband/caregiver or I could leave. I chose to stay!

Thank you for this conversation. However, I regret the assumption that assistance in the late-80s AIDS crisis, was only provided to the afflicted gay men by the gay community. Outside of a few select cities and across the US, straight people, myself among them, stepped up early and cared for our friends. We were young and dealing with end-of-life issues, when our peers were starting families as would be normal for that age. Decades later, we gay and straight survivors easily include markers such as when we cared for so-and-so, when so-and-so died, at sos-and-so's funeral, in our conversations but only among ourselves.

Wives Scontras I can see what you necessarily mean, but have you ever deemed an alternate means of looking at it?
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I listened to this as I made my Mom's family holiday cookie recipe and tried to grapple with the fact that my Brother and I will be moving her to Assisted Living on Thursday - she is 88. This interview could not have been more powerful, more poignant, or more relevant to my world right now. I laughed, I cried, and I felt like Jane Gross was living my own life. I too am one of two siblings, a son and daughter, caring for our aging Mother. Like Jane, I never had a close relationship with my Mother, my Brother was clearly the 'favored' child. But we now face this new chapter in our lives together and thankfully we are very close, so it has made some of these decisions and other issues a bit easier to accept and work through. But it has been a challenge, being a type-A personality, to try to step back and appreciate this time for what it is. I can't agree more that we live too long. The time between a good quality of life and eventual death is simply not fair to anyone, especially to my Mother who asks every day 'Why does God keep me here?" This interview with Jane Gross is simply so powerful and so instructive and could not have come at a better time in my life. This was the best holiday gift I could have ever received. It only serves to reinforce my belief that we may not get what we want, but we always get what we need. I needed this right now. Thank you for sharing this with everyone!!

I love the title of this interview because, indeed, aging seems to be away on the far shore. I am a social worker working in a rehab unit of a large nursing home. I do this work because I helped care for my mother when she was diagnosed with Alzheimer's. She has been gone for just over two years now but hardly a day goes by when I don't think of how life was for her in a nursing home. I am one of eleven children and since I never married or had children of my own, I was closer to my mother than my siblings in many ways. In her Alzheimer's mind, my mother thought that I was her sister. During her years of suffering from Alzheimer's, my mother and I had an entirely different relationship than we had when I was younger. Our relationship changed for the better and it had been a very good relationship previously. My mother began telling me that she loved me and saying 'please' and 'thank you' to all who did anything for her. During her several years at the nursing home, the staff came to love her as if she were their own mother, despite some of her behaviors. I will be forever grateful to many of them for taking such wonderful care of her. In my work I see many adult children struggle with caring for one or both of their parents. Many people these days are working longer and live a distance away, not always by choice. The elderly struggle with maintaining their independence for a long as possible and, unfortunately, make the wrong decision about their lives towards the end. We do live too longer, thanks to modern medicine. The elderly outlive their money and means to live and sometimes sit and wonder "when is my time to go". It is heartbreaking. We are sad when they are gone but there has to be a quality to life or else many people believe that it is just not worth living. Yet I am always surprised at the number of people who hesitate to make end-of-life decisions. We all will die, some sooner than others, before we get old even. It just serves to remind me that I should just live in the present as much as I can. And as a geriatric social worker, be there with a listening ear when an elderly person or adult son or daughter needs support or encouragement.

It is so heartbreaking hearing more of the elderly today were being left behind by their children. Some children will just hire a caregiver to take care of their parents who are suffering from different illnesses worse, others are dying. Personally, I understand that we too have our own lives, have our own children now to take care of but to just leave our parents in the hands of a caregiver is something I cannot afford to do. What we have become now its all because of our parents. They may not be able to do things they used to do, they may have contagious diseases, hypertension, heart diseases, too weak to get out of bed... but, taking care of them just like the way they cared for us is one of the many ways we can show to them how much we love them and how grateful we are for having them as our parents.

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Voices on the Radio

is the creator of The New Old Age blog at The New York Times and author of A Bittersweet Season: Caring for Our Aging Parents — and Ourselves.

Production Credits

Host/Producer: Krista Tippett

Senior Editor: Trent Gilliss

Senior Producer: David McGuire

Technical Director/Producer: Chris Heagle

Producer: Nancy Rosenbaum

Associate Producer: Susan Leem

Coordinating Producer: Stefni Bell

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