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I recognized much in Gross and Tippett's conversation about caring for dying parents: the problem of geographical distance, old wounds re-opened, and unequal burdens taken up--or not--by siblings with differing capacities can leave life-long scars even (maybe especially) in families that are "close" but have never before had to parse the grammar of familial love.

As I listened, however, I was caring for my husband, whose debilitating mental illness prompted him to keep interrupting despite my repeated reminders that I was trying to hear. Wives caring for incapacitated husbands is becoming the norm in my circle of friends, and when the spouse's dysfunction is the result of some kind of dementia, the exhaustion, grief, anger, and loneliness exceed even the horror of watching a beloved parent suffer. In my case, my husband's psychic breakdown coincided with my mother's dying (after two miserable years in care); negotiating the terror of his sudden and complete collapse kept me from both my mother's bedside and her memorial service. Now, three and a half years later, with the burden of my husband's care exclusively on me, the many years we likely have left to us as a couple look pretty bleak. When a parent is dying, one can imagine an end to it; when a spouse of one's own generation is chronically ill, the end of the suffering for both partners is hard to envision.

I certainly recognized Gross's fantasy of an imagined dormitory/spa where one's friends--mostly women alone--care for each other: a family of one's own creation. I want to investigate just how that kind of support system can be created, even in the midst of all-consuming caretaking.