Giving up the car keys
Patsy Lawson | Jun 5, 2012, 10:52 a.m.
It was inevitable. The day came when we had to ask Grandmother for her car keys and essentially bring an end to her driving. She is almost 88 now, and it was pretty obvious to us and the neighborhood that she was not safe behind the wheel of a car. The decision probably should have taken place a year ago, but then the thought of it was too difficult to face. We believed that this would be the toughest request we would have to confront with her. I’ve heard that this is one of the toughest things a child ever has to say to their parents and also the toughest thing that aging parents have to hear from their children. The truth was that instead of confronting it last year we hoped the police would see her poor driving and stop her before we had to bring up the issue, but that did not happen.
When we made the request, she balked, saying that she was a careful driver and had never had an accident (which was true), and that this decision would mean she would become a prisoner of her house and would totally lose her independence (which was also somewhat accurate). She said she would ‘never drive fast (over 20),’ and she could not see how this adoption of a slower speed would create an additional problem. In anticipation of her complaints we arranged for other local drivers to drive her where she needed to go. All she had to do was call and set up the time.
To her this was no solution. Eventually, after weeks of dialogue and some crying spells on her part, she gave the keys to us but immediately began to rummage through the house to find all the extra keys to her three cars, a 2005, a 1987, and a 1973. She also had a 1980 truck. For some strange reason, she never sold or traded in any vehicle she had owned in the last 60 years. Only one of these vehicles was in running condition, and she did not have an extra key to it. The last month was spent with her trying desperately to get someone to fix the four broken vehicles so she, “would just know they were running and drivable.” She promised she would not use them. We spent the last month intercepting all of her attempts to get the vehicles running by phoning the people she hired and telling them she was not allowed to drive and to please not repair them. This resulted in more crying, anger, and statements about my husband not loving her ‘like he used to.’
Her doctor, whose office is in Knoxville, an hour-and-half away, suggested she get an official independent evaluation of her driving. Not a bad suggestion, except that there were no such evaluators in her rural community. My husband had ridden with her several times during the last year and became convinced she should not be driving after she stopped several times in the middle of the highway while cars in the other lane approached and passed her.
As we have struggled to work with this situation a friend said, “You know I feel for her and this situation. It is one of the hardest things they have to give up. I suppose I got really lucky when my mother surprised me by giving me her keys one day and saying, ‘I think I’m ready to give these to you now before you ask. I know I should not be driving now.’” I can’t help but wonder if Grandmother would have ever come to this conclusion on her own. Perhaps this comment will remain with me when I have to confront this same situation in my older years.
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