The downside is that by the end of a week or two of watching my frail 90-year-old father peer through his thick glasses AND a magnifying glass to load up his pill tray—unwittingly dropping lifesaving medications onto the floor—and my stroked-out 87-year-old mother eschew her walker to wobble to the bathroom, I’m a wreck. It takes months to calm down. And then it’s time to go again.
This past visit, though, my brothers and their partners made a point of visiting while I was in residence—and the result was a stress-free week, though in some ways, my parents were on their worst behavior.
They’ve always fought, but now that they are confined to each other’s company, the claustrophobia has escalated their spats into all-out war. My mother will lob a grenade into my father’s territory and then sit back contentedly to watch the explosion.
Oddly, as the warfare heats up and my parents become ever less bridled in their verbal assaults on each other, my brothers and I have developed an increasingly abstract vocabulary to communicate with one another. And so it is that one brother will say that something is “controversial” to convey that a certain subject has drawn blood. And all three children are afflicted with a curious wanderlust and errand hunger that drive us to take long walks over San Francisco’s steep hills and deep dales at odd hours.
We all have learned there is danger in being a white-flag-carrying emissary between warring parties. As the home aides have counseled us, we leave the room when the fighting breaks out. Which means that my parents, who love and look forward to our visits, spend much of the time without us—and alone again together.