Awful. That’s how we feel. We’ve had an issue lurking in the background for a while now and it seems like we can’t prolong it any longer. At age 87, we are going to have to convince my mother Ginny to give up her car.
Ginny loves that car. When she moved from Cleveland, she proudly bought a blue GM Saturn. She’s comfortable driving it and it’s been economical.
She’s got her system down for the days she needs to shop at busy malls. She’s out the door early and parked by the store when it opens. She avoids certain roads and congested areas. She hasn’t driven at night in a long time. I respect her cautious approach.
But we are at the crossroads. First, the car is over 10 years old. The front right headlight area had been recently “dinged” although mom was adamant that it was a service vehicle that had parked next to her that did it. The tires need to be replaced again. The air conditioning is shot. The previous summer, we had looked into replacing it and the price was exorbitant. We chose to add Freon which worked although we understood that it was a temporary fix.
And that’s not the only problem.
Mom had recently confided to Hailey, who promptly confided in me. Mom had fallen asleep at the wheel driving home from the grocery store one morning.
“It was only for a second” she told Hailey, “but I hit the curb which woke me up. I got home ok.”
Hailey was appreciative that mom shared this story. Mom probably wishes she hadn’t.
So, do we invest in a new (used) car and run the risk of another sleep episode? Or, do we sit her down and explain that her driving days are over? Those four wheels are the bedrock of her independence. She has lived alone and driven herself for 39 years now. We both dread the thought of removing this piece from her world.
I saw a news story that in 2016, there were 290,000 crash injuries reported for older adults (over 65). She easily could have been a statistic that morning.
But we also recognized that we had an equally enormous problem. If we took her car away, how would she get around? Get her food? Get to doctor’s appointments etc.?
Ride share options such as Lyft or Uber would not be possible. Ginny is fearful of technology so she is unable to cope with a smart phone or apps of any kind.
We needed time to figure it out so the decision-making eased into a transition period. Over the next two months, while she continued to drive, we did two things. We planted the seed (multiple times) that her car was old and that she should sell or donate it “soon.” Then, we busted our humps trying to think of alternatives. Independent/assisted living facilities do offer van transportation to almost anywhere, but it wasn’t realistic to think we should move her for that reason. It would take months to figure out the financing and find the right place anyway.
Was there a fellow resident in her complex we could hire? Well, mom had only really bonded with one woman named Lois and she was older than mom. We didn’t want to select someone mom didn’t know.
I knew the trick was to find and offer an alternative that was better than driving herself. I was just getting ready to investigate whether medical home help care covers running errands when it hit me.
Betsy. Betsy is my sister-in-law who lives 15 minutes away from Ginny. She had retired earlier than she preferred due to a change in ownership of her company.
Betsy has a ton of energy and is always on the go, looking for things to do. When her own mother Pat passed in January 2016, it left a huge void as she was an incredibly attentive daughter reaching out to Pat everyday with food and/or a visit. She had told us at one point that she was considering volunteering at that same nursing home long after her mom had passed.
This sold me. We hardly wanted to put her in a position to be taking care of another aging woman, but if we could set up times and parameters where she would drive my mother to her favorite weekly stops: Publix, the library, the bank and her hair salon, it might work. We would pay her an hourly rate and it would probably average 6-7 hours a week. I was tentative in asking her, but I just thought this could be a great pairing.
Betsy was all in. Hailey and I told her multiple times to check in with us. If something made her uncomfortable, or our mother became too demanding, we wanted to know. We did not want to put Betsy in an awkward position. She was family. But she was also the perfect person so we prayed it would work.
And this was the angle we used with mom to convince her to finally retire from driving.
“Mom, Dennis’s sister Betsy is interested in helping you out with driving” we explained.
“You won’t have to worry about your car breaking down or a medical issue behind the wheel, she will drive you wherever you like. And she’ll be fun company for you” we added.
This was the final selling point. Although she didn’t know Betsy well, I know that having someone to talk with was enticing. There were times she was lonely.
And so, Ginny agreed to sell the car to the dealership that had worked on it for 16 years. It took a while to figure out a schedule that worked for both mom and Betsy, but it’s been great.
If a pharmacist or store clerk mistakenly thinks Betsy is mom’s daughter, she smiles and replies “No, we’re just car buddies.” And we’re just damn lucky.
A friend recently offered a great tip on this sensitive issue of driving.
“Use the doctor” she said. Her own parent’s doctor literally told her “use me. Tell them that I say it’s time.” It effectively takes that high level of pressure off the child and adds that convincing voice of authority to the decision.