I still remember it like it was yesterday. The family is on vacation – Dad in the driver’s seat, Mom riding shotgun, and all of us in the back whining “when are we going to get there!” Or in another flash of memory, Dad picking me up from college, throwing my stuff in the trunk and sipping on a milkshake the whole time. (Dad loves milkshakes) In my wildest dreams I never conceived of a day when my sisters and I would be contemplating “TAKING THE KEYS!”I ask you to stop for a moment and think about what your own car keys mean to you. (Of course nowadays we’re talking KEY FOB) but at any rate the concept is the same. To me they mean- FREEDOM! Let’s face it – with a turn of a key I can go just about ANYWHERE – and even though my stomping ground consists of primarily a 15 mile radius – the thought that if I wanted to I COULD is intoxicating.
This key decision has been weighing heavily on our minds for at least two years now. It comes at different ages for different seniors depending on health and cognitive ability of course. There is no rule of thumb as to when the “metal toothed key monster” will present itself. In some cases in may be a moot point and Mom just realizes on her own that it’s probably best that she have a “chauffer” from now on. In other cases (like my own) it’s been agonizing.
Initially you want to laugh at some of the circumstances……… “Uh, Daddy- how did that big dent get in the garage door?” or your Mother telling you, “I think the neighbor moved her mailbox further out in her yard because it wasn’t in that spot last week and that’s how that dent got in the car.”
Possibly you make the decision together that Mom will only drive in the daytime, or Dad will only drive to church and the grocery but eventually a decision must be made. That time came for our family over a period of a year and a half. NO ONE wanted to approach Dad about those KEYS . Even the son in laws opted out saying, “well he’s YOUR DAD”. I think we woke up when Dad tried to drive the car through two parking posts at the Doctor’s office, or when we found out he headed to the gas station to get gas and didn’t have his wallet. Ultimately ALL FOUR CORNERS of his car had scrapes and scratches, and the back quarter panel a large dent. Remember how we’ve talked about the signs?
I remember when I talked to Dad about the car scrapes I said, “You know that all four corners of your car have been scraped or hit don’t you?” He quickly quipped back, “Well, somebody has hit me on all four corners! …….. Not the same person at the same time of course.” To which I replied, “Actually Daddy I think it was the same person, and that person was YOU.”
So much to my Dad’s consternation – the decision was made to confiscate the keys. WOW – this was a hard one – and the backlash has not been easy. To hear him tell it, “You’ve put me in prison,” “The DMV gave me my license you have no right to take it – do you think you know more than the state of North Carolina?” “I’ve been driving a car since I was 16 and I’m 92 - you do the math, how many years is that?”We’ve tried to explain to him our reasoning. “Daddy, when you insist on doing something that might cause you to get hurt (a la “not use your cane”) then I guess we can’t stop you. However, when you are doing something that could possibly hurt someone else, then we have to step in – it’s not just about YOU anymore, how would you feel if you hurt someone?”
This is an emotional battle that no one is going to win but as painful as it might be for both parties there will come a time when this decision must be made. The consequences of NOT reading the signs, and NOT making this decision could be devastating. At the core of his existence I honestly think that my Father knows that we love him and that is why this decision has been made. We did make an appointment with his physician and she reinforced our decision based on some physical and mental testing. She delicately shared with him the limitations that aging can take on senior reflex ability, and senior vision. It’s important to note however that this is NOT the Doctor’s responsibility and many are reluctant to intervene because of the relationship they want to maintain with their patient.Do I wish my Dad could still drive? You better believe it! I wish he was still in the driver’s seat and I was in the back whining, “When are we going to get there?” But this I know….. MY JOB ….YOUR JOB ……is to make RIGHT DECISIONS. Some will be painful but necessary. As always I say, read the signs.
We, together with our loved ones are taking this journey.
As always I invite you to share your experiences and stories.
All The Best,