Why am I writing about this? I've been there—and it was a bumpy ride.
As a daughter to two aging parents and a sibling with a not-great relationship with my sister, I told myself that I was very independent and grown-up and had escaped our family’s drama. Yet, in spite of my many achievements, I was pretty clueless, like so many people I’ve met since. I had no idea that I was entering a new developmental crisis in the life of my original family, or that there even was such a crisis lying in wait. All the old stuff came back and ambushed me: sibling rivalry, old resentments, yearning for my parents’ love, the guilt-laden ways we talked to each other—only worse.
When Time magazine named me their Boomer expert with my “Ask Francine” column, I’d considered myself pretty psychologically astute, having written about virtually every aspect of family and relationships for so many years. A wife, widow, and mother of five grown kids and step-kids, I was—and am—the go-to person for family and friends when they need advice about coping with their relationships.
Still, the emotions of this phase of family life were new and unexpected; as I learned from the people who sent questions to “Ask Francine,” I was not alone in needing help. Even the family experts I interviewed told me that this family transition was so difficult that even they, who managed relationships for a living, had trouble with it. In my years of research to learn more about all the different pieces of this transition, I interviewed geriatric care managers, leading family therapists, gerontologists, elder law attorneys and many other professionals in the worlds of aging and family. I talked to researchers on caring for aging parents, sibling and parent relationships, end-of-life decisions, dementia, death, mourning, and more.
Most of all, I talked to scores of adult siblings, often sisters and brothers from the same family, who were coping with the emotional and practical challenges of their parents’ aging and what it meant when one of them became the family caregiver. Some had become closer than ever, and others were at war. Most were struggling with complex, often conflicted emotions toward their siblings and parents. What I learned from all this helped me do better through the last phase of my parents’ aging and afterwards in beginning to repair my relationship with my sister. Throughout my life, I have experienced first-hand the tremendous potential we all have to grow and transform ourselves with the people we love. The twilight transition offers us many such opportunities.
With this book, I offer you what I’ve learned to help you through the daunting challenges and outsized emotions of this major life passage. Whether you are just beginning, are in the throes of it, or are looking back on it after your parents are gone, my hope is that it will give you insight and practical guidance that will ease your way.
Francine Russo is the author of They’re Your Parents, Too! How Siblings Can Survive Their Parents’ Aging Without Driving Each Other Crazy (Random House, 2010). The book, widely acclaimed in the media as “groundbreaking,” has won raves from readers and launched Russo on a speaking career.
Russo is a widely recognized journalist known for being among the first to spot developing trends, particularly in her own boomer generation. Keenly attuned to psychological themes, she has honed the intimate interview, drawing her subjects to discover and articulate their own deepest feelings—talents she mined in her appearances on Oprah and other venues. For nearly a decade Russo covered the boomer beat for Time magazine and established a popular niche, becoming Time magazine's boomer expert in her regularly featured "Ask Francine” column. She also developed an enthusiastic following with her articles in media like The Atlantic, The New York Times Magazine, Redbook, Family Circle, and The Village Voice, where she also was a theater critic for many years. She is a New York Times Fellow at the International Longevity Center and a ‘Who’s Who’ expert at the Sloan Work-Family Network. Dr. Russo (Ph.D., English) lives in Manhattan.
A former college professor, Dr. Russo brings a rich personal history to her writing as a daughter, sister, wife, widow, mother of two, and stepmother of three.