Why did you write Holding the Net: Caring for My Mother on the Tightrope of Aging?
Caring for my mother as she aged was one of the most profound experiences of my life. I found it both very frustrating and very rewarding. After it was over, I kept returning to various scenes in my head. Then my friends started telling me about caring for their parents, and while the stories were unique to each family, they shared the same themes. I realized that almost everyone will go through some version of my story—parenting one or more of their parents. So I decided to tell the very personal story of my family in the hope that others would identify with my experience, feel validated in their own experience, and maybe learn something to help them get through.
Who are the main characters?
My mother, my sister Barbara, and me. I use a lot of dialogue and action scenes to reveal the personalities and relationships between me and my mom, between my mom and Barbara, and between Barbara and me. People are at the center of the whole experience of caring for an aging parent, and what those people want and need is what makes a good story. A friend of mine loves the scene where my mother and I gab over cocktails in the sunroom of her condo. Those kinds of scenes are the heart of the book.
What are some of the key things you learned that you write about in the book?
Well, the book is very much written as a story, so you will not find many (if any) places that I say, “This is what I learned,” or “This is what you should do.” But some of my insights are woven into the narrative. For example, after several missteps I realized that it always seems like it’s too soon to step in with an aging parent, and then just when it seems like the right time, you find it’s too late. I also found that a little bit of knowledge went a long way, and it really paid off to research my questions on the Internet, and to tap into my friends and colleagues when I wasn’t sure about something.
You are a healthcare professional—a hospice consultant who has worked with Medicare on quality of care at the end of life—how did that help you, and what part of that knowledge do you share with readers?
Being a healthcare professional was mostly helpful in that I knew what kinds of questions to ask. Mostly, though, I found myself more caught up in being a daughter than a professional. Often, I had to will myself to tap into my professional experience, and at times it was very helpful. I write about certain elements of Medicare payment, and about using the Medicare nursing-home-compare website to find a good place for my mother to receive rehab. I introduce readers to Geriatric Care Managers, explain the differences between adult congregate living and assisted living, discuss the relative costs of different care settings and support services, compare pacemakers and defibrillators, and more—all in the context of my family’s story.
Who do you think will want to read Holding the Net?
I used to think the book would appeal mostly to other baby boomers who are facing the prospect of parenting their parents. Then a colleague in one of my writing groups, an older gentleman, said the book made him think about how he will interact with his children as he ages. Almost everywhere I go these days—the gym, dinner parties, and even in line at Starbucks—I hear people talking about issues with aging parents. I guess that’s my dream—that the book will end up for sale next to the cash register at Starbucks!