October 27, 2019

The Talk



We know all about "The Talk." As kids growing up or as parents to our children, there were certain times when the passing on of basic information occurs. Do you remember these?


  • Stranger-Danger
  • Look both ways before crossing the street
  • The sex talk
  • The protect yourself during sex talk
  • The it's time for you to move out and get a job talk

I still remember when I had to have "The Talk" with my dad. No, it wasn't any of the ones listed above. It was the dreaded "it is time to move to an assisted living apartment and stop driving your car" talk. If you are involved in your parent's life, at some point you are likely to have to do this. It is not pleasant.

My mom died in December 2010. Dad remained in the same independent living cottage they shared. It was spacious, with a full kitchen, living room, two bedrooms, two baths, a laundry and store room, and a back patio. There was a carport and some nice planting up to the front door.

The reality was he spent virtually all his time in the master bedroom or the second bedroom which became a den. He didn't cook any meals so the kitchen sat unused. He certainly didn't entertain or invite anyone into the home except Betty and me, so the living room remained empty. His days were spent sitting in an easy chair in the den reading, napping, and watching the evening news. He drove his car to the building where meals are served - all of four blocks away, even though a tram could pick him up and take him whenever he wanted to go.

I'd be surprised if he drove 25 miles a week. The car wasn't needed to get around the complex or to local shopping and doctor offices. Shuttle buses  provided all transportation. But, for him (like most of us), the car represented freedom and control. Even if he rarely went anywhere, as long as he had car keys, the possibility existed.

After lunch during one of our weekly visits we went back to his home and laid out the reality of the situation. After a few fainting instances, including one in front of staff at lunch, he was rapidly becoming a danger to himself and others. The rules of the community required someone in that situation to leave independent living.

What made it tough is that physically he didn't look 88. He didn't use a walker or cane. He had a slight stoop but was still solid-looking. While his short term memory was poor and hearing even worse, he was still capable of caring for himself on a daily basis.

But, with the random fainting episodes (likely due to dehydration and low blood pressure) he couldn't continue to live alone and certainly shouldn't still be driving. While the complex required that he check in with a nurse every morning, if he fainted during the day, struck his head, or broke something, it could have been many hours before he was discovered.

In the assisted living section there are nurses that would check on him several times a day, be sure he is taking his pills, and encourage water consumption. He would be required to eat two meals a day at one of their dining rooms. This helps insure he was getting adequate nutrition. The one bedroom apartment would provide him with the amount of space he is already using.

The car was actually the bigger issue. Someone with a documented history of fainting who continues to drive is open to lawsuits, even criminal charges, if he caused an accident that injures or kills someone else. With virtually all his transportation needs covered by the community there were only a handful of times he would be unable to go where he wants. In those cases, Betty or I  volunteered to drive him to appointments or to the pharmacy.

Logically, every reason in the world existed for taking these step. Even so, having to shrink his world, take away many of his freedoms, and remove him from the home he shared with his wife for several years was not easy.

Frankly, I was afraid this move and the loss of the car would speed up his aging and possibly lead to depression. It did not. After getting over a brief period of adjustment and donating the car to a granddaughter, he did quite well for the last few years of his life.

He died in 2015, quickly one afternoon just a few hours after lunch, after living a full life of 91 years. He was content to the very end and never had health problems that made him feel like a burden on me or anyone. 


Many of us will have "the talk" with a parent or two sometime during our life. As hard as it was with Dad, I remind myself my children will have to do the same thing with me one of these days.


 I hope I remember how tough it can be on everyone involved.


30 comments:

  1. Yep, we had to do that recently with my wife's father. He was stubborn though, and we had to get the doctor to have his driver's licence taken away. To let him continue would have been negligent on our part. It was tough having to do that, but it was the only logical thing to do.

    On the other hand, things can go a lot smoother. My father voluntarily gave up driving when he turned 80.

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    1. Your experience makes it clear "one size does not fit all." When to turn in the keys yourself, or have a family intervention, really depends on the mental and physical condition of the individual. Unfortunately, that is what makes this subject so difficult: there is no one correct answer.

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  2. We had The Talk twice with my dad, first the one where we took his keys away. He lived in the country 70 miles from me so I spent two days and a night with him every week for five years to help him get to the store, appointments and take him and his girlfriend on dates. My brother lived closer and would stop on his way home from work to check on him when I wasn't there. It was tough but I don't regret what we did to keep him in his own home for a minute. My brother had it a little harder than me because his wife was not supportive of our plan while my husband was completely on board and helped often.

    The second Talk came after I broke my arm and could no longer drive or help myself because I was in a turn-buckle cast for twelve weeks. My brother told Dad he'd have to go to a Hospice home. He took it better than I did. I think I cried for the next five weeks until he died...and then some.

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    1. Thanks for sharing your story. Honestly, I don't know if I could have done what you did: spending all that time every week for five years. That was a truly loving commitment. The fact that your husband supported it is a powerful statement about his character, too.

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    2. I think one of the reasons why some people put off The Talk about driving is because they know it will impact their own life so they bite their tongues until something happens that is too hard to ignore. There was a woman at the senior hall that we all knew shouldn't be driving. It took her going through the wall of a building before her kids finally took her car away. For me, I could not live with the guilt of having a parent kill someone because I knew I should step up the plate but didn't.

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    3. One of the lines of reasoning we used with my dad was the risk he would kill or injure others, or be sued because of an accident and losing a big chunk of his estate in a lawsuit. Those two factors finally convinced him to give the car away.

      I am sure you are correct about some people delaying the "talk" because of the impact on the rest of the family.

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  3. I think it's probably harder to have the talk with our dads than our moms. I remember my mom voluntarily gave up driving the last few years of her life. But my dad? No way. Fortunately, he never went father than the local grocery store, about a mile up the road, and despite the fact that he could barely see at that point, he never had an incident.

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    1. I think you are right, probably because of the generational "rule" that men did the driving. I know my mom drove to go food shopping and run errands, but for most of my life growing up we had one car. Dad took mom to her teaching job and then drove to his work. To this day I don't know how mom got home from school without a car.

      For her to stop driving was no big deal; she drove so infrequently she didn't miss anything.

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  4. Oh, the adventures we had with my father-in-law. He lived in the Boston area and we were in Philadelphia. After my mother-in-law passed we became a bit worried about him. He was dating a woman who lived quite a ways away and they would go out to dinner, which always involved Manhattans, and then he would drive himself home. Finally, I found a realtor who worked with us to get him out of their house and moved to Philly. It was like a game. He had no idea we were involved for quite some time. I remember all the boxes stacked along the 3 walls in his one car garage and thought, 'what will we do with all that 'stuff'?' Found out they were all empty! Mom would never throw out any box that she could keep in case they moved again.
    It took about a year to get him down to Philly and into an apartment a block from our house.
    Once he was in town we relaxed a bit and kept a pretty close eye on him. After a couple of years we found a tri-plex in the same neighborhood and moved him into the 2nd floor apt. I used the 3rd fl for my art studio, most of the time, and we lived on the first floor.
    He found a new friend up the street and they spent a lot of time together with a few other older men and we were grateful for that.
    After a few years we had some scary situations like, fire alarms going off because he placed a dish on a cloth and set it on fire on the stove! If we hadn't been home I'm sure the place would have been destroyed. Actually, I remember one time we were down at the shore and he called to tell us, 'Don't panic, but the fire department was just here and everything is ok.' After that we took him with us whenever we went to the shore.
    Finally, it came time to put him in assisted living. He stayed in his own apt. with a visiting social worker for a couple of years then onto the final phase a few floors up. He passed after 97 years.
    What I learned from all this is, I don't ever want to be a burden of any kind to my sons. I will willingly go to asst. living when I feel it's necessary. I know we never realize when it's necessary but, I think I'll 'get it'. Hopefully not for several more years!

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    1. I am guessing that you and Dave will continue to enjoy the Jersey shore for some time into the future.

      My son-in-law's father set fire to part of his home several months ago...same deal..something left on the stove because he forgot to turn it off. New kitchen, new appliances, and quite a scare. He is not permitted to cook anymore. Age and Parkinson's Disease are forcing major changes in his (and others' lifestyles). He did stop driving about 2 years ago.

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  5. My father checked out due to a sudden stop caused by an immovable object. Fortunately no one else was involved. Our family was grateful it ended this way. Multiple previous accidents had already occurred. Fortunately none of them involved other people. Going to a nursing home was in his immediate future and he would have made a horrendous resident. He always promised us he would meet anyone that wanted to put him in a nursing home at the front door with a gun. I believed him. From the hospital bed he said we needed to go buy another car. We were lucky no one else was ever injured and he was lucky to be able to leave on his own terms.

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    1. I don't think there is anything I can add to your story, except everyone reacts differently. The good news was no one was hurt due to his driving.

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  6. My mother is 86 yrs old. The talk about surrendering the driver's licence didn't have to happen. Mom gradually gave up driving. When she suffered a fall in March requiring hospitalization, I took her licence and keys and she hasn't mentioned them since. She could hardly walk across the kitchen floor never mind access the car and drive it by this point. It became obvious to me that she wasn't managing at home. In addition, I realized that she has dementia. I have never been my mother's favorite child and am often the brunt of her caustic tongue. I always promised myself the day I had to tend to her daily was the day there would be change and there I was, going to her home twice a day to tend to her meals and meds. By this time I was also doing some light housekeeping for her and the yard work. Thankfully my older sister was on board and we had the talk about relocating. Surprise! Surprise! My mom said she would do whatever we girls thought was best. I believe she knew at some level that she wasn't managing at home. She moved into a lodge setting in June and is safe and well looked after by Home Care staff, the lodge staff and family/friends. The "talk" is never easy but it's hard to ignore the hard, cold truth of life.

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    1. Most of us agree we don't want our own kids or friends to have to take on the burden of caring for us. Yet, how many end up doing just that? The human streak of independence is deep and wide.

      Glad your situation ended well.

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  7. Ken’s Mom gave all the boys a hard time about the car keys.She was running into parked cars and signs.. luckily no one hurt before she had a stroke and HAD to stop driving and many other activities.v Dad retired and was happy to stay home most of the time, over his last 15 years he simply quit driving. Me.. I will really enjoy having buses,Ubers, and a retirement village cart me around in my older age! I am already tired of driving here in Gilbert and on our nutso freeways. I am a homebody too..so I only need the car maybe two days a week..we have successfuly gone down to one good car!! VERY HAPPY!!!!

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    1. I don't enjoy freeway driving at any time, but especially at night. I have noticed recently I avoid doing so whenever possible.

      I think I will welcome the time when I live in a place that offers shuttle and tram services for most needs. Uber-type options are a real blessing, too.

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    2. I hardly ever go out at night anymore--it's funny how that sneaks up on you--we go to Hale Theater and some concerts here and there..Ken drives.I have driven so little at night since retirement, that I am now pretty hesitant to do so.. but, I don't have much need..I am an early riser and much prefer to be out and about early and home in the evenings..except for those plays and concerts nearby (Hale Theater!!! Just saw Hello Dolly..)

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    3. We have tickets at Hale for Brigadoon in the Spring.

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  8. I never had the chance to have The Talk with my parents. They both became incapable of driving due to cancer and died in the hospital. I dread what my children will want to do with me!

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    1. We can only hope when the time comes those involved with be understanding but firm.

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  9. I experienced a similar situation with my own mother. She was living in a retirement home and started having fainting spells which resulted in her breaking a hip. We ended up paying for special care at the home about $20M monthly to ensure she didn't harm herself until a bed at a nursing home opened up and it was all down hill from there. It's tough watching your parents get old but they keep teaching you about life right to the end. The importance of having lots of good memories and no regrets and the importance of having gratitude.

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    1. Your last two sentences should be the focus for all of us. Teachable moments can come at any point in someone's life, and good memories are the things that outlast all of us.

      Thanks, Mike.

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  10. To me this post is a good place to start when thinking of giving up MY car.
    I am only 62, but my husband is almost 70. My dad had to give up his keys at 76- it was devastating. Especially in a car town- Phoenix- lack of car meant depending on others for food, church, service. No more "popping out" to the deli or quite drives to the desert.
    After spending the last three weeks in the house, I cannot stand the idea of not having reliable transportation! Depending on my homebody husband to get around has been--not fun.
    I am investing in companies who are putting research into self/non fossil fuel driving cars (Tesla). I think that cities need to have lanes on the highway for those cars. We are people of change, and this is something we can effect.
    I have no interest in living in a big city. I need space and air! Time for solutions.

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    1. Phoenix is like most American cities: no car means not much of an active life. True, light rail helps and the bus system is efficient, but the city is just too large without an auto. New York City is an exception with excellent public transit options (yes, I am aware the subway has issues).

      I like the idea of a dedicated lane in traffic for electric cars...maybe share the HOV lane.

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  11. My mom is still driving at 87, but she is eager to have anyone else drive who will, and she has also stopped going out at night and only drives herself to errands along the back roads to her grocery store, church, etc. She is, however, doing caregiving for her third husband (having buried the first two) and his driving is a nightmare. He has become ill enough to let her drive recently, but she and I have had "the talk" about his driving and I'm very blunt with her. She is in the suicide seat (as we used to call it) in his car, and admits he shouldn't be driving. However, every discussion re: taking his keys ends up with him furious, which makes her life uncomfortable for days. God willing, she will outlive him and I see her giving up driving more and more. They also live where there is hard winter, so that limits their outings, too. Oy vey. This probably sounds cold, but I really hope this latest illness of his keeps him off the road this winter and, ideally, permanently.

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    1. At some point, you or mom will have to simply take the keys and remove them from his grasp. Putting up with his anger is much better than having him involve himself, mom, or others in an accident. You may be able to have the agency that issues driving licenses have his revoked, though that might not stop him, either.

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  12. We're so lucky for the appearance of Uber and Lyft these days.Also home delivery of groceries is a real boon.I personally love to shop at Trader Joe IN PERSON.. but when the days of driving are past ,for me, I'll take a Lyft to get there! There are a couple of local tour agencies that do a lot of day trips all over Arizona.. relax on the bus!! And have friends along! I have already taken a few of those.. I also think of my future, my elder years, and I think there would be some college students who would be willing to give rides, for a reasonable fee.. so,I don't despair about driving too much ..

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    1. I am am amazed how quickly food and grocery delivery services have made their mark. We were in Red Robin not too long ago, and there were 5 slots near the front door for pickup orders for companies like Doordash or Grubhub. All major grocery chains, plus Amazon, will deliver groceries to your home, some within 2 hours.

      Add the Uber and Lyft options for driving, and we either don't have to leave our homes anymore or own a car. All of these options are tremendously helpful to home bound folks, regardless of age.

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  13. I think I’m getting close to this point with my parents. They are 84 and 86 and I can see they aren’t able to do as much. It’s been a tough couple of years for my dad as my mom had ovarian cancer and recently, a knee replacement. My sister and I do what we can but it’s primarily just the two of them. They do have groceries delivered which has helped immensely. But I do worry about my dad driving and even though he has walking issues, he won’t ask for a handicapped parking placard. We did get a temporary one for my mom but he won’t use it if she isn’t with him. It’s tough watching your parents struggle and know it will get worse.

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    1. It is very hard to watch the people who cared for you for the first 18 years of your life, need some of the same type care from you.

      The Uber/Lyft options are quickly removing the last real objections to those who will not give up driving. The complaint about price isn't valid when you consider the full cost of car ownership.

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