Sunday, March 28, 2010

Pull Over, Ma'am

When my mother was 84 we suggested she stop driving. It wasn’t without cause. She had taken out a few parking meters and the passenger side mirror more than once. Initially, we suggested that she consider not driving, but finally after a series of what we call pauses (it’s like fainting for brief periods of time and then recovering, unaware of what happened), I insisted she give up her keys. Her response was pretty much what we expected.

“Then you might as well kill me,” she said calmly.

We thought she was overreacting and responded with something equally sensible.

“Mom,” we said, “either you are going to kill someone or yourself, and we were thinking we would prefer not to be paying off a wrongful death suit for the rest of all our lives.”

“As an alternative”, I told her, “We will find someone to drive you anywhere you want to go.” She was not a happy camper. But we mistakenly thought that it was no big deal.

Recently, because I’m spending so much time in NYC, I was curious about now not driving would effect my life. And now I understand how my mother felt. It took away her independence. Always having to depend on someone else to get where she wanted to go made her feel like an invalid. Even now, at age 90, she has never forgiven me for what she still considers “unnecessary measures” to save her life. Quite the contrary. She is convinced that if I had simply minded my own business and had let her keep the license, she would not have aged so quickly.

That got me to thinking again. (It happens so infrequently that I am always aware of the infrequent visits of my brain). Someone, maybe me, needs to write a book for all the boomers which addresses the issue of age and driving. The decision not to drive, whether it is self made or forced upon us, should never, as older people, be based soley on convenience. For example, if you cannot drive without causing people to flee when they see you coming, do you want to retire to a place that is beautiful, but in the middle of nowhere? How to you shop for food without using your car? Do you want to be in a house that has stairs you may not be able to climb? Are there interesting activities in which you can participate located convenient to you?

There was a time when people got old and their loving children wanted not to deal with their own mortality, so they put them in storage. It seemed their lives went from steerage to storage. Some smart person noticed that this didn’t happen in Eastern cultures or where people had a conscience, and they created the concept of Independent and Assisted living facilities, where they were served three lovely meals a day, snacks and hundreds of activities. It was like social camp for the elderly. My mom lives in a retirement community where she has her own apartment, 3 meals a day and some activities. The difference between assisted living and retirement communities are the spices on the table, and attitude toward the words assisted and retirement. Otherwise they are places where for our older relatives, who can’t live alone but, in an attempt to make them feel like they have not been stored or dismissed, we ask a stranger to provide the care.

So what’s going to happen to the “boomers” when they get to be 80? Lots of people are buying large homes together and committing to take care of one another – or hire someone to take care of all of them. They buy a van to provide transportation and they live out their lives at ‘home’ with at least a smidgen of dignity. But there are a great many of us who have yet to grasp the concept of “aging.” So what will the future bring for us? We have time to plan, but don’t think it’s an issue with which you never have to deal. Unless you are friends with Dr Kevorkian, or you have a desire to be a vampire, it’s worth giving it a bit of thought. Don’t, however, drive yourself crazy. We’re just sayin’…Iris

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