Midlife Cabernet: Avoid the Guilt Trip when Taking the Car Away from an Elderly Parent

I told my widowed, elderly mother that I was taking her car to get fixed. That was four years ago. It takes a long time for some parts to arrive at the repair shop. Especially if the car has been sold.

She was in her eighties when she drove her car into the back of her garage, panicked, shoved the gear into reverse, and then smashed into the closing garage door. Damage: two dented fenders, a hole in the wall, a broken garage door, and a wounded ego. Her car already resembled the winning entry in a demolition derby from all the dings and dents. Fortunately for everyone, they weren’t caused by running over a kid on a bicycle.

Because I’m the only daughter and because my brothers have absolved themselves from any responsibility for their mother’s care, it was up to me to take away her car. This called for creativity, good humor, and compassion, and I refused to drive on a guilt trip as I drove away in her vehicle. A car is the last symbol of independence, and she wasn’t ready to admit that her reaction time was as poor as her driving ability.

I’ve lost count of my mother’s car accidents. One particularly bad one occurred when she stomped on the gas instead of the brake. Her car went off the road, flipped upside down, and dragged through the ground until it stopped. The sun roof broke and she had dirt and sagebrush imbedded in her head. She was taken by emergency helicopter to a hospital and I rushed there with the well-worn, overused “Power of Attorney” file, terrified of the “no artificial life support” agreement I would be pressured to sign.

But she perked up a few weeks later, just as she has after every calamity. In the past few years, she has suffered a broken back, a broken hip, a broken knee, shingles, pneumonia, and eye problems. Just last summer, kind Hospice workers told me she only had 72 hours to live and to plan the funeral. But, again, she rallied. She has slipped into dementia and is confined to a wheelchair. Now she backs the wheelchair into the wall, but there’s not much damage.

Every now and then she’ll have moments of clarity and ask about her car. “Still waiting for those parts,” I say. We both shake our heads and mutter in disbelief.


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