For months, we had been on my mother to think about cutting back her driving or to give it up altogether. Her eyesight was in decline and chronic pain was affecting her agility and reflexes. Her car began routinely returning with new sets of dings and scratches.
If you ask my mother why her car was so important to her, she won't hesitate in her reply: "It is my freedom!" I'd venture that most people of her generation (probably mine and my children's, too) would think the same.
Imagine, then, how it feels to have your "freedom" taken away, and you might begin to understand why raising the issue of driving--or not driving-- is so loaded.
Driving is the ultimate symbol of self-sufficiency, independence, personal power--and identity. Remember when you first got your license? I remember--and there are only several other things in life (sex, falling in love, having children)--that match the thrill of that first ride behind the steering wheel. I recently let my 15-year-old son drive our car in our driveway--he was literally giddy from the experience. Losing one's ability to drive is the ultimate reminder of how much you lost, and that more loss will follow.
We finally convinced my mother to see a vision specialist, who told her she could not drive anymore. Losing her license was the ultimate indignity--even worse than her hip-replacement surgery shortly after that: "I'd suffer all the pain in the world just to have my damn car back!" she told me recently.
I understood my mother’s anger, but was also relieved because it removed a danger to her. Having an objective professional evaluate my mother and deliver the news spared me and my brother the battles that I'm sure we would have faced in convincing her ourselves.
My mother has made adjustments to her lifestyle and, an objective observer might note, she's done fine without driving herself. She's tapped into a volunteer group at her church to help drive her. She also has family members in the area who are generous with their time.
When she complains about not being able to drive, I ask her: "Where do you want to go that you can't go?"
"That's not the point," she'll say, "I just like knowing my car is in the driveway and that I can get into it and drive wherever I want, when I want to."
I can certainly relate to that. Most of us who drive- who grew up in a car culture and who love the road- can understand.
But those of us who love the road also must respect its rules.
Eventually we all have to stop.
There are many resources to help start this discussion. Caring.com provides advice on how to talk with your loved ones about driving and, if necessary, getting them to stop. It also has a quiz to help evaluate driving skills. Your family physician/rehab team, your state’s offices of Disability Services, and the National Aging and Disability Transportation Center can also be great assets. The National MS Society also has helpful information on driving with MS, and their Navigators can suggest other resources, including transportation programs and providers.
* Portions of this article were originally published in Psychology Today; reprinted with permission by the author.