Several times in the past we have discussed age and driving and the day that comes to many when we must stop driving for our own and everyone else’s safety. Sometimes it is a parent we care for whose keys must be confiscated and last week Candace Craw-Goldman, who blogs at In Repose, emailed about her mother who is 80 and lives with Candace:
“Physically she is pretty weak, has a frozen shoulder, spinal stenosis, a bulging disk, does not have full use of her arms and walks with a cane. She is forgetful at times and gets very anxious and takes anti-anxiety medication. She…has congestive heart failure, is pacemaker dependent and has some other medical problems.”
Candace was reluctant when for weeks her mother pestered her about being allowed to drive to the grocery or Wal*Mart, but finally relented if her mother followed Candace and Candace’s daughter as they drove:
“In just the four miles from our home to the first stoplight we watched her in our mirrors and counted 20 times that mom left her lane. The road is hilly…and curvy. 17 times her tires crossed over to the left, 3 times to the right. I thought very hard about pulling over but there were no other cars on the road at that time and pulling over would have been an additional safety hazard of its own. We got her safely to the Walmart parking lot…”
Needless to say, Candace’s mother is now grounded – no more driving. But she is petulant about it, believes Candace invented the number of lane-crossings and feels defeated, causing a lot of family friction.
Candace works in the time to drive her mother, but she’s busy and cannot always do it when her mother wants. There is a local taxi service, but her mother has never taken a taxi and is frightened of new things.
It must be awful to be forced to give up an important privilege that at the early end of life marks our passage into adulthood and responsibility. By the time one can no longer safely drive, we’ve had decades of practice at being an adult and when the keys are taken away, it is like being made a child again, deprived by others and now dependent on them.
It is not just elders who have trouble learning new things. All my life, when confronted with a new situation, I’ve wanted to know as much as possible about how it is done before I do it. Look at all there is to learn if you’ve never taken a taxi:
- How do you order the taxi on the telephone? Can you book a time or even days in advance?
- Can you talk to the driver while riding?
- How do you pay? (When, after my first taxi ride in London, I tried to pay from the back seat as in New York, the driver insisted I get out first and pay him through the window.)
- How much do you tip?
- Will the taxi wait at the supermarket or Wal*Mart or must you call from the market when you are done?
- If so, is using a cell phone another learning curve?
- Can the driver be asked to help get packages into the car?
- Will the taxi driver help get packages into the house?
For a big-city person, taxis are second nature but for others, when you break down the steps, there is a lot to learn if you’ve never taken a taxi, are shy of new things and don’t want to feel like an idiot for not knowing the drill.
Giving up driving may be as big a rite of passage as getting a drivers license in the first place, a 50th birthday, marriage, etc. - a giant transition into a new way of living. It is hard to admit to oneself that you are no longer competent to drive - and it will never change. You are not going to “get well”. In addition to whatever health conditions an elder lives with, turning in our keys is one more intimation of mortality.
Some elders make these transitions with little fuss; others do not. I’m not a psychologist and don’t know how best to deal with the intransigence someone like Candace’s mother expresses about giving up this kind of independence. But it’s not hard to understand that it is a painful crossing of a great divide.
When we must be the bad guy our job, I think, is to figure out what we can do to ease them through the change in their lives. And maybe in doing so it is also practice for the day when we too must make a similar transition.
[In an era when everyone dances without a partner, is there still such a thing as a wallflower? Today at The Elder Storytelling Place, Ronni Prior recalls what it was like to be one in Teenage Wasteland.]