Author Jane Gross (right) and CT’s Commissioner on Aging, Elizabeth Ritter speak to a packed house about caring for our aging parents at the SilverSource Autumn Breakfast. (contributed photo)
STAMFORD, CT - When Jane Gross visited her mother in Florida, her goal was fun. Taking her to dinners, bringing her books and doing an enormous grocery shop was the routine. But her mother was minimizing problems and not sharing information, so Gross and her brother decided to move her back to New York, motivated by the desire to get their lives back to normal.
“The feeling at the beginning of the process was like getting hit by a truck. There’s a collision of fear and ignorance,” said Gross. “You don’t go back to normal. Especially if it’s the second parent; there’s something eerie about there being no more grownups.”
(Left to Right) SilverSource Executive Director Kathleen Bordelon, NY Times Journalist and Author Jane Gross and CT’s Commissioner on Aging Elizabeth Ritter. (contributed photo)
That was one of the many insights the author of “A Bittersweet Season: Caring For Our Aging Parents – and Ourselves” shared with a packed audience at Thursday's SilverSource Autumn breakfast in Stamford. Gross, along with Connecticut’s Commissioner on Aging Elizabeth “Betsy” Ritter, delivered valuable advice for those assuming the role of caregiver.
Ritter opened the event with unique insights on older adults in Connecticut, sharing that with over 20% of our state residents over age 60, Connecticut is the 7th oldest state. Additionally, AARP estimates that one in seven CT residents are unpaid or family caregivers, and that as Baby Boomers grow older, that number will surely rise. “We need more paid caregivers, and unpaid caregivers need more support,” said Ritter, who then asked the audience to ponder what we should be doing now to plan for that.
“We’re all going to be a client of SilverSource at some point,” said Senator Carlo Leone (D-Stamford) at the SilverSource Autumn Breakfast. (Left to Right) Senator Carlo Leone, SilverSource Executive Director Kathleen Bordelon and Elizabeth Ritter, CT’s Commissioner on Aging. (contributed photo)
Sharing more lessons from her own experience, Gross explained that one of the biggest problems caregivers face is getting information. “There are silos of information about financial issues, residential issues, and medical issues, but no one knows about all of it. There’s no one phone call that you can make that can answer all of it. I wish there had been a SilverSource for us to turn to,” she said.
Indeed, SilverSource, formerly known as Senior Services of Stamford, provides information, financial support, and other services that positively improve the quality of life for people over age 60. This independent organization understands that older adults and their children sometimes face overwhelming situations, and that the health, finances and quality of life for these caregivers is deeply affected. As a resource center and referral source on aging and related issues and programs, SilverSource is that one call that caregivers can make to begin the process.
Gross went on to discuss another challenge: the role reversal between her and her mother. “To have to make decisions where you’re suddenly in charge of them in ways you’ve never been before I found incredibly emotional,” she said. “Then I had a realization, if I didn’t want to be her mother, she didn’t want to be my daughter even more. At that point anything I could do to make her feel like she was in charge was very helpful to both of us; it shifted the balance back.”
Unfortunately, in this process the parent-child relationship is not the one that gets tested. “When it was going on I was angry with my brother because he didn’t suffer as much as I did. I realize now that I wasted a lot of energy being mad,” said Gross. Her advice: find the best way to divide labor and avoid getting angry because there isn’t enough energy.
However there can be some silver linings that come out of this experience. “You can fix broken families while this is going on,” said Gross. “I had a difficult relationship with my mother throughout her life, but in those last two years the dynamic changed and were a gift from the gods. Now my brother and I have a relationship, that’s not something I had before. You can really work miracles because you’re in it together.”
SilverSource would like to thank Stamford Plus for their sponsorship of this event. To learn more about SilverSource, visit www.SilverSource.org or call 203-324-6584.