Taking the car away

Published 12:07 am Monday, September 18, 2017

When a woman has lived alone without husband or child for 25 years, her car is her independence. How do you tell a person with Alzheimer’s disease that she can no longer drive? It isn’t easy!

Making the decision to take the car away is most difficult. Three incidents helped me realize that I, the daughter, had to make this decision. First, after my mother-in-law claimed that Mother drove the wrong way down a one-way street, I realized that Mother’s driving frightened her passengers. Second, one day I secretly followed Mom on a Friday afternoon (the worst time of the day and week) into Food Lion. Again, in the parking lot, a one-way lane was a two-laner to her. Leaving the grocery store, she had to turn left against major traffic to get home to Douglas Cross Roads. I was terrified watching her make the turn. The third decision maker: a friend told me her grandmother had had eight accidents, not killing anyone yet. Mother killing herself was one thing. Her accidentally killing someone else would be my responsibility. Thus, the car had to go.

The process: first, when it was time to renew her license, I called DMV and asked them not to grant a new license. Faking her vision as poor (she actually passed), they required approval from her eye doctor to continue her license. Next, I called her eye specialist and asked him not to pass her vision and not to sign the DMV document. We did that. Finally, my mother had no driver’s license.

Now, how do you deal with the anger, the realization that after 80 years, one’s vehicle and independence are gone? The car sat under the carport for months. We hid the keys, but reminding this lady with Alzheimer’s that she couldn’t drive, reminding her that the officer and doctor took her license away was another challenge. I wrote the sequence of events down for her — to save me energy. It didn’t work. She didn’t believe me nor the doctor nor my stupid piece of paper.

Finally, a solution: many years prior, Mother adopted a young priest, “Rev. Bob,” who was assigned to her church. In the late ’60s when my sister died, the young minister helped my mother through the emotional pain. Even after moving away, Rev. Bob would visit or call Mother throughout the years. My husband helped me create the “car lie.” During one of Bob’s visits, Mother had loaned him her car (that part is true). The car broke (not true); “That’s why it is still under the carport, and we are waiting for a part to come from Japan.” She accepted the story — anything Rev. Bob did was okay. We had to tell the story many times, but this fib relieved her anger that we were taking her car away from her. She no longer had done something wrong not to deserve the car. Mother had helped a friend, and cars break sometimes.

Sometimes one must tell a small lie to make a loved one happy. Mother was happier. So was I.

Come to the Alzheimer’s Walk and Education Fair on Oct. 7, 9 a.m. to noon, First Baptist Church (113 N Harvey St.) for free information about Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. For more information, call Emily Albera at 252-944-3446 or go online to www.alznc.org/washingtonwalk.

Emily Albera is former Alzheimer’s caregiver.