Funeral for a Tablecloth

One recent night in California, my son and I went out to dinner with close friends at a Berkeley restaurant. It was a faux diner—designed by vegans and former fern-bar denizens—with the trappings of the lefty elite: a children’s menu with béchamel-sauced “Mom’s” mac-and cheese; fresh-picked organic mesclun; butcher-paper table coverings and crayons.

I’d had an awful day. We were in the Bay Area to see my ailing parents. I’d already visited them with my eight-year-old the day before. My father, who has end-stage Parkinson’s Disease, is living in a group home; my bipolar mother is wheelchair-bound after many failed back operations.

And even so, I stumbled on a moment of grace—a very unexpected one.

I’d tried to prepare my son for his granddad’s hallucinatory confusion, his grandmother’s melodrama. My son and I had talked about death, more than once. How you talk to a child about a family member’s mental illness I have yet to fathom. Still, we’d gotten through these visits, although my son admitted the morning after that seeing Granddad had been “a little scary.”

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