Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School senior Nick Gross had never taken a walk across his back patio like the one he took Saturday — wearing a cap and gown to receive a diploma from his high school principal.
It’s been quite a year for the Montgomery County, Maryland, high school student. There were the challenges of a school year interrupted by COVID-19, which he shared with students across the country. But then there was the added challenge of caring for two parents, which he shared with his brother, Jake.
Their mother, Holly, requires constant care due to ALS, the ailment also known as Lou Gehrig's disease. Their father, Jim, has early onset Parkinson's disease.
Holly Gross’ diagnosis would have kept her from seeing her son's graduation, but not so on Saturday.
“[I’m] beyond proud. He worked so hard while caring for me,” she said with the help of a speech-generating device.
Nick and his brother have been there for their parents when visiting nurses and helpful friends cannot.
“They’re really the only ones who can lift their mom now, so they have to handle a lot of things, and they do it with so much maturity,” their aunt, Angel Woods, said.
Nick managed to make the crew team at his school and get accepted to Villanova University. Jake is starting his senior year at Boston University.
“It was a lot, having crew five hours a day, coming home and helping her, but we got through it,” Nick said.
The family has a tight circle of friends that makes meals, does the shopping and addresses other needs. They’ve dubbed themselves Holly’s Helpers, but even they can’t provide the round-the-clock care the Grosses need.
“We’re doing classes, working jobs to help pay for school, and then we have to come home, care for our mom, take her to bed, stay up all night helping her overnight,” Jake said.
The brothers, however, are not complaining.
“Absolutely. [I’m] just repaying whatever I can do to help her,” Nick said.
And like at any commencement, Nick's parents beamed.
“I feel great,” Mr. Gross said. “I’m very proud of my son.”