Driving for Love: A Caregiver's Story

By a Cambridge Caregiver

Providing the care a loved one requires can be a dance between what he or she needs and what you can actually do.  There’s the input you alone can provide: making grandchild interactions happen, perhaps, or sitting in on a medical consultation with pertinent information at the ready.  Then there are the things that could easily be sub-contracted, like grocery shopping and meal preparation.  When it comes to eldercare, you can outsource, or you can step up to the plate.  In essence, the piper gets paid with one or the other of two critical currencies: someone’s money, or someone’s time. 

The tricky part is when you find yourself paying with your life, time off your clock, out of your own calendar, for something that in your mind would make SO much sense to outsource. And in a realm where it’s awfully easy to let guilt seduce you into doing many things, well…when you identify something that’s relatively easy to offload, what do you do when your loved one would still rather have you in charge?

Take driving.  Volumes have been written about the loss of independence that comes when our elders are obliged to hand over the keys.  It’s a game changer, no doubt about it.  In our case, my husband and I thought that coming up with a whole slew of transportation options would make it all tolerable for his parents.  There’s the young adult grandson who can make weekend excursions happen.  There’s the assisted living facility van that makes regular trips to the museum, the grocery store, the health care center.  There’s the nice guy named Stu who we signed up to take my in-law’s call and, with a day’s notice, can get them downtown and back in his nice car with the spacious back seat, no meter running.  There’s the cab company, which will come in a trice, and takes credit cards.  There are lots of options, for lots of different situations. 

And then there’s me.

Actually, I don’t remember offering my driving services specifically, but somehow, here we are.  I’m the favorite driver.  I know where I’m going.  I know the back way, when traffic is a mess.  I offered to drive once or twice, early on, to ease the move to assisted living, and well now, wasn’t that pleasant? 

And at first, I found myself feeling trapped.  Seriously, is this the highest and best use of my time?  Can’t you call Stu and make a plan?  How did I end up in this spot?  I offered up more transportation options—the eldercare bus, the senior shuttle.  Yes, isn’t that nice.  But next Wednesday, can you come out and drive me to the dentist, the lecture, the cardiology appointment? 

And then, somewhere along the way, I had one of those clarifying moments.  Mostly it had to do with putting myself in my elders’ shoes, and feeling the angst that comes with having to plan ahead, wait for a ride, meet a schedule, make small talk with the new guy behind the wheel, wonder if the driver is lost, or is pretending to know a better route that will result in more mileage and a higher tip.  I know how annoyed I get when cabbies go the way I wouldn’t have gone on the way home from the airport.  I know how bossy I can be when I sense they are taking me for a ride and then some.  I know how much more relaxing it is to be in a car with my eyes closed, while my husband gets me capably from point A to point B. 

Somehow, this “aha” moment, noticing from their perspective what the loss of independent driving feels like to them, provided me with a chance to reset the start button, to step back and see how we got where we are.  It also unblocked a mental hurdle for me, around letting it be.  If what they like best from me is the occasional transportation help, well then, that’s what I can do, and yes indeed, won’t that be nice.

As soon as I realized that it was a greater good, to give of myself what my loved ones want most from me, even when I perceive that it’s not what they need most from me—that was a gift, and an attitudinal adjustment that I’m happy to have made. 

Now, if I could just find my car keys…