My mother was never a big fan of driving. It was just something she learned to do so she could get around in the world. When she remarried, 28 years ago, my step-father assumed most of the driving. He loved to drive and he loved his cars. Aside from the few times she was alone and drove to volunteer at the county hospital or go to a meeting, when they were together, he was the pilot and she was the navigator.
The less she drove, the less comfortable she was behind the wheel. When the inevitable health crisis happened and Dad could no longer drive safely, she moved to the driver’s seat. Even though their application for paratransit service was accepted, they would not schedule a ride. The taxi company was available, but they were reluctant to use it. For doctor’s appointments, they occasionally used the special “private driver”. If a friend offered a ride, they accepted, but it had to be life or death for them to ask a favor. After nearly 20 years of cheering me on as I worked to start ITN and ITNAmerica, they had no ITN to meet their needs. It reminded me of my many older friends who have helped us with our work in communities all over the United States, and are waiting so patiently to use the service themselves. Now it was happening to my parents.
My mother was doing the driving, and we all knew that was not a happy situation. She was OK as long as they only drove to places where she knew the way, like shopping, the library or the bank. But as my father’s health declined and the doctor’s visits increased to three or four times a week in distant locations, my mother’s driving anxiety escalated to the seriously uncomfortable zone. I suggested to her that when the winter weather arrived, she would need to use the alternative transportation plan. It simply was not safe.
That was when the back up plan moved up to the first position as our parents’ free choice. We had every single thing in place for them to stay in their home, but when they thought about living in the suburbs, without ITN and without the ability to drive a car safely, they decided to move. They found an independent living place they love, put their house on the market and sold it in one month. My mother organized the entire move. I once told her that if she had been born at another time, she would have been the CEO of a large corporation.
“Sweetheart,” she said, “I am happy I have lived at this time. Look what I have seen in my lifetime. I would not change it for anything.”
Every time I try to teach my mother something, she teaches me something else. My father still copy edits so well, he finds errors in newspapers, magazines and published books. The skills and qualities that make us whole and human and wonderful have nothing to do with driving. We can all move beyond it, and we can all learn grace from the older people in our lives who do it so well.