A Bittersweet Season (an excerpt)

I sprinted when I should have cautiously watched my step, rushed when I should have ruminated, barked orders when I should have discussed things with my mother. I heard what I wanted to hear, not what doctors or admissions directors of long-term care facilities were actually telling me. Does any of this sound familiar to you? If it does, slow down. Get your bearings. You can't bulldoze your way through this like a work project. Still, you can take comfort in knowing that this precipitating crisis, for many of us, is the hardest part, because you probably still think you can make it right, that you can stop the clock.

It takes a while to learn that some decisions are far more important than others; some things are actually in your hands and some not. What is vital, and well within your control, is being present in a consoling way and respectful enough to bear witness to the inevitable. This, too, is about slowing down. At first it's hard to walk at a snail's pace beside your mother or father when they can no longer keep up, at least without impatiently rolling your eyes. Or to kneel at their level when they're in a wheelchair. But the pace and the vantage become more natural and annoyance softens into tenderness if you let it.

I keep saying that this experience can become something other than desperate and bleak, if you let it. It really is a choice. We all know grown children who have bolted when the moment arrived. But imagining running away doesn't make you a bad person. I fantasized, usually in the hypnagogic space between sleeping and waking, facing another day of ignorance and exhaustion, about pointing the car west and driving, driving, driving. I'm glad that I didn't, because instead I learned what I was made of; I found my better self. I found my mother. I found my brother. But all of that came later.

From A Bittersweet Season: Caring for Our Aging Parents — and Ourselves by Jane Gross, pages 14-15.

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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.