“Grace” will blog weekly about her experiences of loving, supporting and relating to her mother. This is a true story.
For years Mum hadn’t driven. Never a confident driver, when she and my father moved from the small town where they raised the family to the city, she gave up driving. When they were working they’d catch the bus most days. On weekend outings, and later after they retired, Dad did all the driving. When Dad’s health began to deteriorate because of emphysema he encouraged her to drive around the neighbourhood. It was too little, too late.
After he died she decided that the big car that he’d favoured was not right for her. She no longer needed to have the power to tow a caravan. The freedom to pop around to the shops or to visit friends was all she needed. To this end my sister bought the big car from her and helped her to buy a little nana car, a runabout that she could manage.
Even with the new car the thought of driving out to our place was too much for her. She only made the trip once and then got caught up in rush hour traffic on the way home which completely put her off the idea of trying again.
One morning I received a phone call from my sister. Mum was in hospital after a car accident. She had been cut out of her car but only had minor injuries. After initially appearing lucid, she went through a period of confusion. My sister and I tag teamed her time in hospital. She was in overnight, for observation and discharged with instructions to have some tests to see if she had blacked out and caused the accident. She’d stopped at a stop sign, failed to see a courier van on the furthest lane from her and had driven into the intersection.
A specialist tested her heart. Another considered the confused state after the accident. It seemed that neither were the cause of the accident so she was given the all clear to drive. Mum wanted a new car exactly the same as the last one. It had been perfect for her. My sister and I scouted the city for possibilities and presented them to her. Apart from the colour the car she bought was identical. Mum was happy. She was still free to travel easily around her neighbourhood.
Not long after this Mum was at her doctor’s on an unrelated visit. The G.P. had received a letter from the hospital about her admission. With the removal of compulsory age related retesting of driver’s licences, doctors have a greater responsibility to check on health issues of their patients that might affect their ability to drive. Mum’s G.P. wanted her to be tested out at Burwood to see if she was competent.
I took Mum out to Burwood for her assessment. Mum went off in her car with an assessor beside her and one in the back of the car. We were duly called into their room after that had taken some time to discuss their assessment. It did not surprise me that they thought that Mum was no longer competent to drive. She was unable to respond to more than one thing at a time. A cyclist to her left, Mum had steered around him over the centre line and then had to quickly correct out of the path of an oncoming car. To be perfectly honest, I’d never been comfortable with the thought of her driving but it eased some of the burden for me.
At this point the family had to work out how to support her to get around the neighbourhood, to maintain her independence and to lessen her isolation. Was this the point that Mum should move from her home into care? Should she move closer to my sister or I so that it was easier for us to support her? Mum refused to entertain either of those options. My sister, my niece, Mum’s sister-in-law, Mum’s friends and I pick her up, run messages for her, chauffeur her and support her with this. It’s a balancing act but we’ve developed a pattern that mostly works.
The response of some of Mum’s peers to the loss of her licence was an unforeseen factor in this process. Mum had mentioned that a couple of them were up in arms, felt it wasn’t fair and suggested that my sister and I should challenge the decision. The pressure of their response to her situation was becoming a burden. It wasn’t until I was visiting her when my aunty popped in and voiced this to me that I was able to take the burden off my mother by explaining the situation. My sister and I had not been remiss, as was supposed, in not fighting for our mother’s licence. She, quite simply, was not competent to drive. I was unwilling for my mother to drive and hurt herself or someone else because it was more convenient for us to not have to include her in our busy schedule.
Now, car sold, there’s an empty garage at her house. She phones a taxi to go to the hairdresser or the doctor. My niece takes her to the library and the supermarket. Friends take her to Seniornet, to craft and social groups. Once a month I chauffeur her wherever she wants to go and my sister takes her around the city or out into the country on Sunday drives. She’s able to live where she chooses and she’s not completely isolated.