When it was time to speak with our parents about the transition from driving, my sister, two brothers and I began the conversation with each other by email. We agreed that transportation was only one part of the services necessary for our parents to live as independently as they wished. We decided to divide the communication according to our abilities, and we worked by consensus over many months.
We agreed, in advance, that our goal and hope was to be a support for our parents as they grow older. To that end, we needed to learn their wishes so we could help them on their own terms. We had no preconceived ideas about what was best for them, and we love and respect them far too much to presume to know their needs and desires better than they. We did have clear ideas about safety, and we anticipated that we would need to stand firm and together on that part. We understood we would need to have many conversations over many months, and we agreed that some of us would have one conversation, and others would have another.
We distinctly opted to avoid an “encounter” situation. Maybe we would have done this eventually, if our parents had not been reasonable. But they were paragons of reason. I’m not saying this was easy for them. I don’t think it is easy for anybody. I’m saying that they were willing to have the conversations, and together, we had a successful dialog, instead of a confrontation. Our family experience really resonates with Liberty Mutual’s national survey, which found that an overwhelming majority of seniors are much more open to having a conversation about their driving than their children think. The survey found that 94 percent of seniors would not be embarrassed discussing the topic, and 80 percent said that such a conversation would not make them uncomfortable. Ninety-two percent of the seniors said their children “have a right” to raise the issue with them.
In our family, I started the conversation with my mother. I waited until we were together, and since we live several states apart, that took awhile. I spoke for all the adult children, and I said, “We love you. We want to be sure you and Dad have everything you need to live exactly as you choose. To support your wishes, we need to know more about your needs.”
My mother was half perplexed, and half ready to assure me that she was in control of everything and needed nothing. So I listened and said, “Well, what if the time comes when we need to help you? How will we know what you want?”
“I’ll tell you when the time comes,” she said.
In my family we always say, “God forbid,” before something bad that might happen.
I said, “God forbid, you have a stroke and cannot speak. How will we know what you want or need?”
“I see,” she said.
“I’m assuming you want to stay here, in your own home,” I said.
“Yes, of course,” she said. “Moving out of this house is out of the question.”
“OK, I said, “then that is what we want for you. How do we help you to do that?”
That is as far as we got in that conversation, but it was enough to get started.
Soon, other siblings had conversations with Mom, and she in turn, had many conversations with Dad. Our talks continued for half a year, slowly, lovingly, gently, steadily, respectfully. My brother in the insurance business talked with them about how they might activate their long term care policy, when the time comes, and how they might choose a personal care assistant. My sister, a healthcare professional, asked them for a list of their doctors, with contact information, and about medications they need. My step-brother, an experienced business man and a good negotiator, volunteered to have the conversation about driving with our Dad, who is actually my step-father. He waited for a time when our parents were visiting his home, when he could be alone with his father.
When he emailed us that they had a good conversation, we were all surprised and happy. This was the conversation we were all dreading. My step-brother reported that our father said his driving was just fine. My step-brother did not argue with him but asked Dad if he would agree that he would not be driving forever, and that driving until he crashed was not an option. Dad agreed. My brother asked him if he thought he would need to stop within the next 5 years. (He would be 98 then.) Dad agreed that was likely. Then, my brother concluded, we needed a plan for when that day arrived.
My part of the conversation was senior transportation, and we worked on it, as I hoped we would, while they were both still driving.
To be continued…