Wednesday, November 19, 2008


In her New Old Age blog, Jane Gross writes that at one point she suggested her ailing mother come live with her and her mother replied: “If I lived with you, I’d be the one feeling guilty all the time. I’d rather it be you.”

I'm reading Hearts of Wisdom: American Women Caring for Kin, 1850-1940 by Emily K. Abel. What strikes me in the first couple of chapters, on the 19th century, is the obligation women felt to drop whatever they were doing to care for family members in case of illness. I was startled by the story of a successful New York physician who left her work to help care for her sister in 1876. One of her patients wrote to her: "Being that you have no husband, your dear mother has the first claim to you." (p. 45)

Abel writes about the sense of competence women got from caregiving, but I'm more struck by how caregiving gave sometimes very isolated 19th century women community because other women came to help and they reciprocated by going to help in other households. How to avoid isolation? My grandmother's wish was to be cared for at home through the whole long process of dying of Alzheimer's and she had the money to allow it, but it looked awfully lonely to me.

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