when aging parents live with you

Illustration: Julien Pacaud

3 of 8
"There's a Dad In My Living Room!"
"Well, Min, how did you sleep?" asks Martha, my father's daytime caregiver. Min is short for Minnie Mouse, the nickname my dad gave me when I was 5. He and my mother were the only ones who ever called me that—until now. Meanwhile, the nighttime caregiver, Sandra, is snarling on her way out, "Why don't you ever do what I tell you?" I flinch, but then I realize she's talking to her teenager on her blinking Bluetooth. There's always tension during the morning changing of the guard because Sandra does not like people in her business.

"How are ya?" calls out my 87-year-old father, with the smile that's always charmed everyone.

Last Thanksgiving, Dad fell down our stairs and broke his hip. He then spent three months at a nursing facility, where he got pneumonia and started seeing things like teenagers skiing on roofs. My husband said, "We should bring him home—to live, not to die." And that's how my father came to occupy my living room.

He came with an entourage. His around-the-clock attendants have become part of the household, and so has his corgi, Trilby, who tussles with our two golden retrievers. Fortunately, my father, unlike his dog, is exceptionally sweet and easygoing. "Can I help?" he often asks, words I now find terrifying; his life-changing fall happened when he was—helpfully—carrying a pile of blankets upstairs.

Here's my advice to anyone considering an arrangement like mine: Be a Buddhist. Don't cling to the life you had before. I used to love mornings. In fact, it was my dad who taught me to savor good coffee and silence. Now I have to make eggs for me, my husband, and Sandra. We have to discuss whether Truvia is better than honey, whether sugar is better than Truvia. I give Martha a section of the paper, and she gives me the rundown on all the bizarre crime stories in the greater Houston area.

Then, with the efficiency of a five-star general, she gives me my to-do list: "Min, we're out of latex gloves." "Min, you need to reschedule your dad's physical therapy because it conflicts with his podiatrist appointment." She reminds me that my father wants to take a Caribbean cruise. "Soon," I tell her. "Right after hurricane season ends."

Despite feeling like the hurricane under my roof will never end, I've managed to experience some joy in all this chaos. I know the day is coming when my father won't be with us anymore, and I know how much I'll miss him. I watch as his caregivers kiss the top of his head and tuck him in, and I know I'll miss them, too.

— Mimi Swartz