For Seniors: My Personal Journey Caring for My Parents

Apr 11th, 2010 | By | Category: For Senior Women

My father continues to drive his car. I find it unusual only because he is 94 and I would guess that most 94 year olds have handed over their keys, either willingly or not. This is one area of control in Dad’s life that he has steadfastly refused to relinquish. No one in our family has chosen to confront this issue with him. And actually, his driving skills are better than many who are considerably younger than he.

The ‘car issue’ with my parents has more to do with filling it with gas than actually driving the vehicle. Neither of my parents are able to manage the pump. Dad tries but he is not able to get the gas to flow. His dementia possibly prohibits him from even sliding the card through the slot. So he then asks Mom to go inside and tell someone that the pump isn’t working, which she does and is told what they need to do at the pump to make it work. By the time she has gone into the station 2 or 3 times some kind person might go to the pump and help them get their car filled with gas…or not. In any case, about 3 months ago, I started taking the car to the station when dad was resting, filled it for them, and to Mother’s relief, the car magically remained filled.

So, one day as I was driving to the park with them for our morning walk, I noticed that the gas gauge was a hair below half. I asked my father if we could stop at the station on our way home and get it filled up. What I didn’t say was that Mom was getting nervous about her having to help him at the gas station and she wanted me to do it. His response was, “no, it wasn’t low enough.” What I heard was, “I don’t want you telling me I need to put gas in my car.” What I felt was that I had insulted his dignity.

The next day, when we’d finished walking, Mother asked him if we could put gas in the car as we were driving home…it was now two hairs below half. His response was the same…he likes to get closer to an empty tank, he told her, and me.

The following week as we left the house for our drive to the park, Mom looked at me with a wistful plea and asked me to just stop at the station. Knowing my father’s need to be in control of his own car, I threw out one of my “Help, God” prayers. As I walked that morning, I remembered that a few days previously, my husband had asked me if I would put gas in our car with the statement that it was at the half way mark. Then I knew what I could say to my precious father and not insult his dignity, nor take control from him.

We finished our walk that day, got into the car and I turned to him and said, “Dad, a couple of days ago, my husband asked me if I would fill our car because the gas gauge was at 1/2. He likes to keep our gas on the top half of the tank. You and I both drive until the gas tank is nearly empty, but your wife is like my husband…she is more comfortable with the gas tank full. Dad, I honored my husband and did what he asked me to do. Would you be willing to honor Mom this morning and fill the car with gas just because she wants it filled?

When we got to the station, he got out of the car, stared at the pump with a lost look and handed me the credit card. He simply said that it was too cold to stand out there and he got back into the car. I don’t know which flowed harder, my tears or the gasoline. But I had a grateful heart that his dignity had one more time been preserved.

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