After a friend’s father had several accidents, it was clear that he could no longer drive. But his father didn't see it that way.
Mine didn't either. In fact, it's a miracle my father didn't kill himself or someone else with his car, because he was a menace on the road.
The day when we give up our car keys is the day we know that we've lost much of our independence and that can be scary.
It's a fact that our skills deteriorate as we age, even if we want to deny it. Although we may feel we're absolutely attentive at the wheel, we aren't.
I'm only in my early 60s, but already I feel a little more distracted when I drive. My reaction time is great, and that's a good thing, because sometimes my mind wanders from the road. And I don't think I'm that different from others in my age group.
Plenty of people drive well into their 80s and I'm not so sure that's a good idea. My 80-something-year-old friend knows that her driving makes me nervous so she says things like "I promise to stop at all the little red things." I laugh, but I'm concerned.
I'm concerned for myself, too. My friend lives in an urban area and knows the public transportation system well. But my suburban life requires a car.
Looking ahead to the day when I might need to give up my car keys, I wonder what my life will be like. Will I live in a retirement home? I'm often in Safeway when the small bus from a nearby retirement home discharges its elderly passengers to do their shopping. Will that be me, one day? I wonder.
The answer is always "if I'm lucky." Because I'd like to live long enough to have to give up my keys due to old age.
Because giving up keys doesn't necessarily mean a degradation in quality of life. It just means we'll get around differently than when we were young.
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Aging brings with it a requirement to accept some of the changes--limitations, even--that come with it. We can accept them gracefully, or we can pretend they're not happening. But our culture has a problem with aging: we don't respect it. We do whatever we can to avoid it. And yet, the body and mind do wear out over time. That's normal.
We see the car keys as more than the keys to a motor vehicle--we view them as the keys to our independence. It's past time for an attitude shift. For a different definition of aging independently.
I'd feel terrible if someone was hurt in an accident caused by my inattention at the wheel. I know my father would have, as well. The difference between us is that I am consciously working out my response to the changes that come with aging now, before it becomes a problem, and he remained in denial about it.
My parents are gone now, but some of my friends are just now facing the need to discuss driving with their aging parents. They dread it. It's a difficult topic and many elderly parents don't go down without a fight. A fight their kids don't want to have. A fight that's unnecessary.
A fight that I don’t intend to have.
Carol Cassara is a writer and ordained minister who believes in living fully in every color of the rainbow. Her essays have appeared in Skirt! magazine, the Christian Science Monitor, several Chicken Soup for the Soul anthologies, on public radio and other venues. After a long career as a corporate communications executive, she is enjoying having more time to write, travel and just enjoy life. When she's not traveling the world, she lives in the San Francisco Bay area with her husband and crazy little maltipoo. Her daily blog inspirations for creating our best lives can be found at www.carolcassara.com.