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A Bittersweet Season: Caring for Our Aging Parents--and Ourselves Hardcover – Deckle Edge, April 26, 2011

157 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


“A forthright story and trenchant advice . . . Gross’s chronicle of her mother’s decline is intimate and affecting, and her advice to readers is insightful . . . A Bittersweet Season manages to send its voice aloft, its two parts harmonizing in sorrowful, haunting song.”
            -Annie Murphy Hall, The New York Times Book Review
“[Gross is] an incisive reporter with a fine eye for detail . . . A Bittersweet Season is sure to become required reading for anyone with an elderly parent who depends on long-term care.”
            -Associated Press
“This is tough stuff, and Gross writes movingly about the toll it takes on her and other caregivers. Although her tone is often darkly humorous, she’s serious about documenting the often hidden workload borne by middle-aged daughters and sons.”
            -Kate Tuttle, Boston Globe
“Nothing can fully prepare you for the overwhelming experience of caring for your elderly parents, but Jane Gross’s new book, A Bittersweet Season, comes awfully close . . . Gross is an incisive critic of our systems and institutions.”
            -David Takami, The Seattle Times
“An invaluable guide . . . One thing is for certain: Individuals, families, medical professionals, and our society’s institutions have a pressing moral duty to reform our failing systems of care for the fragile old and dying. Jane Gross’s excellent book can help us do better on all these fronts. Middle-aged adult children can read with their parents and help prepare themselves and each other for the inevitable. Families can be encouraged to have those difficult conversations. Jane Gross has taken her own painful experiences and worked hard to give needed help to us all.”
            -Sidney Callahan, Commonweal
“A Bittersweet Season is sure to become required reading for anyone with an elderly parent who depends on long-term care . . . The time to read the book is before the crises begin to mount.”
            -Winston-Salem Journal
“Accessible and always compassionate . . . Readers may pick up this very well-written book to learn about taking care of their own ailing parents, but will soon realize that it’s also a wake-up call to become educated in order to make informed decisions about their own inevitable aging.”
            -Sandee Brawarsky, The New York Jewish Week
“Poignant . . . Both heartwarming and heartrending.”
            -Edith Paller, Haaretz
“Smart and highly detailed.”
            -Meredith Resnick, Psychology Today
 “In A Bittersweet Season, Jane Gross combines her unique perspectives as a health journalist, daughter and caregiver to unflinchingly explore the last phases of her mother’s life and death. Interwoven with this inspiring personal narrative are practical, hard to access, vitally useful lessons and information she learned along the way. One way or another the issues and circumstances vividly portrayed in this book will be faced by us all, so we would do well to use it to help us contemplate the inevitable and prepare as best we can.”
-Timothy Quill, M.D., author of Caring for Patients at the End of Life
“Jane Gross deftly weaves the story of her mother’s final days with a moving account of the toll that takes on her life and the life of her brother and the lessons learned along the way.  Hers is an indispensable handbook for anyone facing the prospect of caring for an aged parent.”
-John Darnton, author of Almost a Family
“Few of us were raised, much less educated, to care for our parents at the end of life. Now that need has become commonplace, opening the door to a demanding and complex duty. Jane Gross tells us the story of the struggle she had in caring for her dying mother. It is moving and at times wrenching, but as a resourceful and probing journalist she puts her story in the larger context of how we organize health care in this country, what science is coming to know about aging, and how as individuals and institutions we can meet the challenge in ways both wise and loving. It is a book equally touching and informative, a rare combination.”
            -Daniel Callahan, author of Taming the Beloved Beast
“A Bittersweet Season is a brave and compelling book by a masterful storyteller.”
            -Carol Levine, director, Families and Health Care Project, United Hospital Fund
“In A Bittersweet Season Jane Gross has produced a deeply felt and beautifully written account of a journey to the emotional center of caregiving—one backed by thousands of readers’ confirming details from her New York Times New Old Age blog and her outstanding capacity as a journalist to distill experts’ knowledge of aging and late life caring.”
-Dennis McCullough, M.D., author of My Mother, Your Mother
"Hugely informative, and a gripping read."
            -Betty Rollin, author of Last Wish
“Jane Gross’s book tells us that taking care of our aging parents will be emotionally demanding and potentially very expensive.  In a time of financial crisis, Washington is telling us not to count on it for help. This book is an invaluable and comprehensive primer on what most Americans will face soon.  Its honest and loving message is to prepare yourself now.”
            -Jeff Madrick, author of Age of Greed
"With great insight and empathy, Jane Gross guides us through one of the most difficult of all life transitions—the decline and death of our parents. Not only does she provide a wonderfully helpful guide for how and what to do, and when. She also enables us to understand what our parents need, and what we ourselves need, during this passage. When the old roles reverse—as we take care of them instead of them taking care of us—we're likely to face deep challenges, as well as final opportunities for love.”
-Robert B. Reich, author of Aftershock
“Jane Gross’s journey as child of an aging and ill parent is one that too many of us will be making. How wonderful to have her mix of sage advice, pithy insights and practical discoveries at hand when and if that time comes. A Bittersweet Season is a unique and lovely book.”
-Abraham Verghese, author of Cutting for Stone 
“A Bittersweet Season deals with a sobering topic. But the narrative is so lively and informative that readers will come away feeling more prepared than pessimistic . . . An intelligent guide to handling the onset of old age with sagacity and sensitivity.”
            -John Slania, BookPage
“Old folks—the fastest-growing demographic of all—are indeed a problem, particularly for their Boomer kids . . . Problems like [ours] need a good, big, authoritative book, and here it is: A Bittersweet Season.”
            -Ann La Farge, Hudson Valley News
“This remarkable book tackles difficult subjects with aplomb . . . A Bittersweet Season could be called a love story. While Ms. Gross freely admits the flaws in her family’s relationships, she also chronicles how a previously loosely woven connection becomes strengthened by time and trial. Reading this book and applying its lessons affords the reader an opportunity to better know and understand their parents and to prepare for the inevitable aging process.”
            -Phyllis Hanlon,
“I raced through A Bittersweet Season in three days . . . I couldn’t put it down. Every page held valuable, practical, unexpected information.”
            -Pamela Kelley, Alzheimer’s Reading Room
“Gross’s tone is straightforward, but not cold or clinical, when she shares the heartbreaking story of her aging mother, who died in a nursing home. With well-written and researched prose, Gross debunks misconceptions about assisted-living facilities and offers eye-opening anecdotes about Medicare and Medicaid, including how her own upper-middle-class mother ended up on Medicaid and virtually penniless due to health-care costs. The author also gives gentle guidance for understanding the biology and psychology of aging and ways the adult child can best help the parent . . . With a poignant, honest voice, the author recalls her mother's suffering. This book will remind readers that quality-of-life issues are important, and will hopefully prompt those types of discussions. There are no easy answers here, because there are none. A thought-provoking reso...

About the Author

Jane Gross was a reporter for Sports Illustrated and Newsday before joining The New York Times in 1978. Her twenty-nine-year tenure there included national assignments as well as coverage of aging. In 2008, she launched a blog for the Times called The New Old Age, to which she still contributes. She has taught journalism at the University of California, Berkeley, and at Columbia University, and was the recipient of a John S. Knight Fellowship. She lives in Westchester County, New York.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; 1 edition (April 26, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 030727182X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307271822
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.4 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (157 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #467,144 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Jane Gross, founding blogger of "The New Old Age'' at the
New York Times,'' was a correspondent there for 29 years and preciously a reporter for "Newsday'' and a researcher at "Sports Illustrasted'' magazine. "A Bittersweet Season,'' (Knopf/Vintage) is her first book. You can follow her more recent work on aging and caregiving on the "Bittersweet'' fanpage on Facebook at

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

90 of 91 people found the following review helpful By The Spinozanator VINE VOICE on April 2, 2011
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This is a memoir about the final years in the life of the author's mother - AND a guide to the Rube-Goldberg-like complexities of Medicare, Medicaid, assisted living facilities (great for those who need no assistance), and nursing homes. It's about how the system is broken - a ridiculous maze of conflicting and unrealistic rules that (unsuccessfully) try to make a for-profit health care system humane. It's also about how, as Phillip Roth put it, "Old age isn't a battle - it's a massacre."

The number one killer in the US is heart disease - number two is cancer. After a motley assortment of other diseases causing "early" death, we are left with that large group where everything is wearing out but the body refuses to die. This group is subjected to endless serial humiliations - physical and financial. Even if older couples enter their golden years with a million dollars they can die bankrupt and on Medicaid. Enlightened ones might even plan for it and give their assets away early. The wealthy and the destitute have less to worry about.

Gross definitely gets it right. My wife and I (mainly my wife - as Gross succinctly points out, the primary family rep is female at least 80% of the time), are going through this for the third and fourth times now. We have faced or are facing most of the issues she covers. Her chapter about Thanksgiving dinner in the nursing home (touching on a pecking order resembling a high school cafeteria) was perfect. She could have been describing our exact facility - with one dining room for those who could use a fork and another for those who required "feeders." In her words, "The elderly hate that you have to visit them in these surroundings on a holiday, so act like you're having a decent time even if you're not.
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55 of 55 people found the following review helpful By Jill I. Shtulman TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on May 6, 2011
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
The worst nightmare of most adult children is that their parents will die a lingering death, suffering a drawn-out and humiliating series of losses and depleting all financial reserves. Yet somehow, we think, "It won't happen to OUR family."

Wrong! In Jane Gross's important new book, she reveals that approximately 40 percent of Americans, generally past the age of 85 will follow this course - and that number will only grow with improvements and prevention and treatment of cancer, heart disease, and pulmonary disease.

Those of us who are baby boomers - used to being in control - must stand by and (as one of Jane's bloggers stated), "watch our mothers un-live." Yet we are stuck in a medical world where old age is considered a disease with a cure...when in reality, precisely the opposite is true. There ARE no heroics and there IS no cure for aging. Jane quotes Dr. Sherwin Nuland in saying, "The very old do not succumb to disease, they implode their way into eternity."

This one is PERSONAL for me. Like the author, I was thrust into an unanticipated role of moving my vibrant mother halfway across the country to a senior facility nearby. It upended my life, causing never-ending cycles of guilt, resentment, frustration, overriding terror and exhaustion - along with the days of feeling unaccountably blessed to have the chance to be a part of my mother's world again. I trusted my intelligence and management skills and believed I was making all the right choices. I wish I had read this book two years ago! Among the insights that Jane Gross reveals:

*The Medicare fee-for-service system is broken. To get paid, doctors must recommend a billable procedure; recommendations on lifestyle changes, for example, translate to no payment.
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49 of 50 people found the following review helpful By atmj TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on April 24, 2011
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This book is particularly pertinent to me. My Mom is 84 and has just moved to be near me and lives in an independent living facility. However the author points out, if you are in your 40s and your parents are in their 70's it may be time to have that difficult conversation on how they want to finish out their days. The story starts out, with the author Jane Gross moving her Mom from Florida to NY state to be near her after some medical issues. This book tells of her ensuing struggles and mental angst that we will all face someday.

If you are in your 30's-60's and have living parents, this book will provide you one example of what you may well face as your parents age. There are many questions and choices that have to be made. This is a combination memoir and cautionary tale of the end of life struggles in our and our parent's futures. The author writes of what she went through with her Mom very specifically, but also provides information and discussions on aging in the US.
Some things unique to the author and her Mom, that she acknowledges:
* The author's Mom knew it was time to move nearer to family, there was no resistance. This is not the most common situation.
* The author's Mom was of sound mind and quite practical.
* The author's Mom purchased long term care insurance and had assets of her own
* The author had a brother who worked with her at this time
* The author and her brother have upper middle class jobs
* The author and her brother are childless
* The author and her brother live near New York City, so prices as well as availability of services were high.

To many of us, this situation is much better than we will face.
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