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A Bittersweet Season: Caring for Our Aging Parents--and Ourselves Paperback – May 1, 2012

4.6 out of 5 stars 167 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


“Unique and lovely. . . . How wonderful to have [Gross’s] mix of sage advice, pithy insights and practical discoveries at hand.” —Abraham Verghese, author of Cutting for Stone 

“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.” —The Seattle Times

“A forthright story and trenchant advice. . . . Intimate and affecting.” —The New York Times Book Review

“A smart and highly detailed book about navigating the complex eldercare system as it related to healthcare, insurance and end of life. . . . The kind of book social workers might suggest to the family who craves more perspective about the logistical issues mentioned above. . . . Readers will find they are engaged by how much they learn in reading Gross’s account.” —Psychology Today

"Hugely informative, and a gripping read." —Betty Rollin, author of Last Wish
A Bittersweet Season is sure to become required reading for anyone with an elderly parent who depends on long-term care. It's also a worthwhile read for anyone who is interested in America's health care system as it braces for the demands posed by demographic changes that include a sharp rise in the group now termed the "old old." —The Huffington Post
“An invaluable guide. . . . Excellent. . . . . Jane Gross has taken her own painful experiences and worked hard to give needed help to us all.” —Commonweal Magazine
"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.” —Robert B. Reich, author of Aftershock
 “This is tough stuff, and Gross writes movingly about the toll it takes on her and other caregivers. . . . She’s serious about documenting the often hidden workload borne by middle-aged daughters and sons.” —The Boston Globe
“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.” —BookPage
“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
“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.” —The New York Jewish Week

“A Bittersweet Season is a brave and compelling book by a masterful storyteller.” —Carol Levine, director, Families and Health Care Project, United Hospital Fund

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.


Product Details

  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (May 1, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 030747240X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307472403
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.9 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (167 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #29,943 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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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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