This was the view that mom had when she was in her assisted living place. One day (just about a year ago), I arrived early in the morning to find mom uncharacteristically sitting up in bed, staring intensely out of her window looking at this view. She looked like she was deep in thought so I asked: “what’s going on?”.
“Come on over here,” she said, patting the pillow in the bed next to her. As I sat down she quietly said to me “I’m trying to figure out how to tell my friends I don’t drive anymore.”
She told me she had told them that it was because I needed to have the car. “That’s okay, I’ll take the fall for this,” I told her, laughing. But this wasn’t the full truth. The truth was that months before I had arrived in Florida to help her take care of dad, she had been driving him to an appointment one morning when she suddenly felt dizzy.
“Pull over!” dad said. As there was an abundance of fast-moving traffic, she couldn’t and so they pulled into one of those wide turning lanes that they have in Florida to sit “for a minute” (which was the version of this story I had initially heard from dad when he recounted the story to me a few days after it happened).
But as mom recounted the story for me on this day, she said it was more “like 30 minutes” that they sat together in the car – with the engine off and the hazard lights on, in the turning lane of one of the busiest roads in their town. She had a TIA (which usually when I had seen her have them, lasted roughly about 15 – 20 minutes).
When she felt better, she said she was okay to drive but Dad told her “No, not yet” and they sat in the car for a little longer before heading back towards home. As she continued to tell me this story, she told me, definitively, that she didn’t want to drive anymore after that day. She paused before quietly saying “I would never be able to forgive myself if I hurt anyone”.
My mom had had a successful career as an acute care nurse for several years. Anyone who has ever grown up with an ER Nurse knows (as I did) what this is like.
Try to tell them you’re sick and you can’t go to school? The response will be “you’re not sick, get dressed and go meet the bus!” Or the time my dad fell down skiing; when he reached up to touch his forehead he pulled his hand back and saw blood. “I’m bleeding!” he told her, to which she replied, “oh don’t worry about it, it’s just a minor abrasion, you’ll be fine.”
Mom had a way of just navigating through illnesses and injuries that (if they were minor), kept us going as a family. If they were major (as in the autoimmune illnesses my father had), she always stayed firmly grounded in her belief that everything was going to be okay. Throughout my lifetime, I only saw her become rattled once, and even then, as she spoke to me about how she felt, she slowly returned to her belief that everything was going to be okay.
But on this day when she said she would no longer drive as she didn’t want to hurt anyone, in her sadness and concern, I saw the depth of her compassion and caring that I’m sure fostered the great nurse that she was.
“We’ll figure it out,” I told her, “we’ll get you to where you need to be”. “I know,” she said, and then as if on cue, returned her gaze to the trees outside and said, “aren’t those white birch trees just beautiful?”