Trading Places

A Bittersweet Season
Caring for Our Aging Parents—and Ourselves
Jane Gross
Alfred A. Knopf, $26.95, 368 pp.

Jane Gross’s book on caring for aging parents is both an invaluable guide and a terrifying read, a book that tells you things that you didn’t even know you didn’t know—and might rather not want to confront. On one level, A Bittersweet Season provides a moving account of the illness and death of Gross’s elderly mother, Estelle. But woven through the narrative is a comprehensive discussion of the daunting obstacles that face all the ill and dying, and their children too.

When Estelle’s health deteriorates, Jane and her brother bring her back from her retirement home in Florida to New York, in what Gross identifies as a “reverse migration.” A longtime reporter for the New York Times, Gross wants to get the best medical treatment for her mother and have her live closer to her and her brother. It sounds like a good plan; yet in their “heroic phase” of immediate intervention, Gross and her brother make mistakes. They learn the hard way that it is crucially important to find a primary-care physician trained in geriatric and “slow medicine.” Highly respected specialists are eager to cure but have a narrower perspective on the post-operative caretaking needs of the old. Another lesson concerns how to choose a residential living arrangement that will provide sufficient medical care on-site. Adult children may not understand the differences between assisted-living complexes, full-care nursing homes, or expensive continuing-care communities affordable only...

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About the Author

Sidney Callahan is a psychologist and the author of Created for Joy: A Christian View of Suffering.