Jim Sharples woke one morning to find that his wife had died quietly in her sleep. He was now alone for the first time in 50 years. Jim was a disciplined man. He had worked hard all his life and was a fiscally responsible person. Jim’s three children respected him and had never questioned his decisions. So after their mother died, they watched silently as the routine he followed for most of their life started to breakdown. Jim stopped going to the gym, he started relying on others to do the cooking and he became frail using a cane and then walker to get around.
When it came time for their father to renew his driver’s license all the children knew that their dad should not be driving. Jim’s oldest daughter, Janie, lived in another state 400 miles away and she listened patiently on the phone to her siblings as they expressed their concerns about their father's driving. But in the end, Janie left all the decision making to her brother and sister. At one point, Bill, the youngest, removed all the car keys from Jim’s home and stated emphatically to his father that he should not be driving. The result was a war of words and nerves; the entire family was in a constant state of tension with Jim angrily declaring that they had no “right” to keep him from driving.
Finally, Ruth, the middle daughter, unilaterally decided to take Jim to the DMV to renew his driver’s license and end the family drama. Ruth was sure that the officials at the DMV would take one look at her father and THEY would tell him he could not drive. Ruth stood by, in amazement and horror, as her father passed the eye test and was told to meet the examiner out front for his road test. Jim managed to get his walker in the back seat without help and after the examiner settled into the front seat; Jim confidently put the gear in drive and drove his car straight into the DMV building. Fortunately, no one was hurt and the damage to the building and car was minimal. Justifiably, Jim’s driver’s license was not renewed and he never brought up the subject again.
Jim’s children now recount that story with humor and relief. They no longer struggle with “how to tell Dad he can’t drive any more.” But what about the rest of us, to use Jim Sharples word, many people believe driving is a “right”. In the United States, a driver’s license is recognition that we are capable and sensible enough to operate a motorized vehicle and as teenagers we strive to get our licenses as soon as possible. Our car symbolizes freedom; it is freedom to live anywhere we want, come and go as we please and declare who we are through make, model and color of the car we drive.
So it should come as no surprise that as we age, we desperately hold on to our driver’s license and our cars. At Footsteps we submit that the discussion is not just about driving; it is more holistic than that. The question is how are we going to live as we age? The Census Bureau states that by 2050 people 65 and over will comprise 21 percent of the U.S. population. Almost one forth of the population of the US will be struggling with the emotional and practical side of aging.
Sadly for the families involved, these stories are becoming all to familiar as are the pleas of family members asking for help as they struggle with out how to tell mom or dad they no longer should be driving. At Footsteps, we want to work together to help you navigate both the emotional and the practical aspect of aging and driving. Together we will explore when to stop driving, how to discuss the issue with those we love and what are the alternatives.