Author and New York Times journalist Jane Gross was a guest on American Public Media’s On Being with Krista Tippett, in a segment called “The Far Shore of Aging.” Gross discusses her new book, A Bittersweet Season: Caring for Our Aging Parents—And Ourselves(published by Knopf), which was written in part when she was a journalist-in-residence at The Hastings Center.
In telling the story of caring for her own ill and aged mother, Gross, who launched the popular New York Times blog “The New Old Age,” also draws attention to the nation’s deeply flawed system for caring for the elderly, and provides a guide for navigating it—while caring for one’s parents as well as oneself, and advocating for a better way.
On the broadcast, Gross talks about how caring for an elderly parent can be redemptive, despite the significant physical, emotional, and financial toll it can take—and how it can promote thinking about your own aging, and what is gained as well as lost. She also tackles the societal issue of “living too long and dying too slowly, and our terrible fear of even discussing what is appropriate, useful, and affordable in old age.”
Gross notes that old people often are ready to accept that their days are waning, but physicians and families frequently won’t let go. As an example, she mentioned Hastings Center co-founder Dan Callahan and Hastings Board Member and retired Yale surgeon Sherwin Nuland as “80-year-olds who get it.” Callahan and Nuland were recently cited by New York Times columnist David Brooks for an article they wrote for The New Republic, in which they call for a radical reinvention of the American medical system – and new ways of thinking about living, aging, and dying. Brooks notes that Callahan has long called for adopting a new attitude towards health care – and ultimately death. “For years, [he] has been writing about the social solidarity model – in which death is accepted as a normal part of the human condition and caring is emphasized as much as curing.”