My grandfather is ninety-five years old. He is “all there” mentally, but physically…well, that’s another story. His eyesight is failing; he only has forty percent of his hearing in one ear (zero in the other); he tires easily; and he’s often plagued by dizziness. But, thank God, he’s alive and well.
My almost-ninety-four-year-old grandmother seems to be falling apart. She’s diabetic and has macular degeneration. She recently has broken ribs, taken some spills, and suffers from arthritis. Just this week she tripped and fell in the parking lot outside their condominium. Although she badly scratched up her hands and knees, and needed stitches in her lip, it was a miracle that she didn’t break every bone in her body or lose her teeth! But, thank God, she’s alive and feisty.
These two wonderful old people live together – with no live-in help – in their second floor condo in a place in South Florida called “Century Village.” (Appropriate, huh?) By and large, they continue to be independent and take care of themselves. And, while they don’t get out as much as they used to (they nap during the day and are asleep by 8:00 most nights), they still enjoy shows at the Club House, play cards, visit friends in the hospital, and attend lots of funerals. They have their aches and pains, and seemingly endless number of weekly visits to various doctors, but these two Holocaust survivors have lived – and continue to live – a full life.
Most importantly, my grandparents are fortunate to have their three attentive children nearby; my parents and my two sets of aunts and uncles each live within a fifteen-minute drive of them. These “kids” exemplify the commandment to “honor thy father and mother.” They call daily, visit at least once a week, run errands, do shopping, drive to doctors’ appointments, and are there in an emergency. (Upon hearing of the fall, my aunt dropped everything; rushed over to the scene; spent over four hours in the emergency clinic to get my grandmother patched up; and then got her back home, ensured they were fed, and put them to bed.) My grandparents complain that they’ve become a burden, but we all tell them to stop talking nonsense.
As I watch this process of aging from afar, there’s one situation that really concerns me. My grandfather has a valid driver’s license and it doesn’t expire until he turns one hundred! So, he still drives!!! Now, he doesn’t drive after dark, but he still drives during the day.
I’ve talked repeatedly with my mother about taking the car keys away from her dad. I argue that, every time he is behind the wheel, he’s risking his own life – not to mention the lives of others. (Once he began to back out of a parking spot and didn’t realize that my grandmother wasn’t fully in the car yet! The door was still open, her right leg was still on the ground outside, and he started to drive…) She, in turn, contends that giving up the use of the car would mean the ultimate loss of control and independence for my grandparents. She maintains that this sense of freedom keeps them going.
In a way, I get it. If a teenager freaks out at the prospect of losing the car keys as a form of punishment, why wouldn’t an elderly man resist giving up his keys? Why should my grandfather be punished for becoming old? I get it, but I’m not happy about it. And, I’m powerless to do anything about it.
So, I try to focus on the positives. I am blessed to still have my grandparents. My children are even more so for knowing and having great grandparents. And I pray that I will have the awareness and the strength to voluntarily give up my own car keys.