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Licensed to drive

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My mom (Cynthia Clare) and my brother (Richard Clare) in Coconut Creek, Florida with her newly painted Toyota.

As my mom got older, she was less capable of balancing her chequebook and dealing with bills, which she often paid twice. I eventually tried to take over but was met with much resistance. “I always did my own banking,” she would say.

“But mom,” I’d reply, “you don’t always do it right.” That line got me in trouble, as you might imagine.

Driving was another hot topic. My mom loved her 2002 Toyota Corolla more than anything, even with its many scratches and bumps, even though she got to know a few parking posts a little too intimately. She had that car painted so many times that there was no real body left, just layer after layer of paint. In her last year, at age 88, she paid $500 to have it painted peacock blue. She didn’t ask us before she did it – she knew we would have said it was a waste of money. But it was flashy, and she loved it.

When she was 85, my mom had a fall and broke her hip while in Florida, where she spent the winter months. On her return to Montreal for convalescence, my brother and I decided she should live somewhere with more care than her apartment. We placed her in a seniors residence. She hated it and kept a daily listing of what apartments were available around the city. She even checked herself out a few times.

READ: STRONG BELIEFS COME TO THE AID OF MANY SENIORS

A cognitive assessment undertaken as part of her rehab found that she was below the acceptable level for driving. Her doctor would not agree to sign her driver’s licence renewal, so her licence was taken away.

My mom would angrily vent to my brother and me daily or even hourly. “How could they? I didn’t even have an accident!” Always a tough and determined lady, my mom convinced me to help her regain her licence. So we signed her up for driving lessons.

That was something, seeing her behind the wheel of a driving school car. A physical therapist sat next to me in the back seat (I had my eyes closed), and then she was assessed at a special centre for seniors. She didn’t pass – she came too close to parked cars, they said.

“Nonsense!” my mom replied. “What do they know?”

And indeed, she wasn’t finished yet. She applied to the licence bureau again, and was advised to go there for a driving test. This time, she passed, and she got her beloved licence back (even if she was restricted from nighttime or highway driving). Fortunately, they did not ask her to complete a written test. She most certainly would have failed it.

By now, she was 88 and had a few health problems – diabetes and some heart issues that she refused to accept. “I never had that so why would I now?” she would say. “You are all trying to put me in a box. I want to live as I always did till I die!  Stop making me into an old lady!”

“But mom,” I’d say, “you could get hurt. And how will you manage by yourself? Besides, the cost of insurance is ridiculous, and you cannot go to Florida without insurance.” We used every argument, but to no avail, and eventually I found her insurance at a significant cost. She was off once again to Florida along with her trusty blue car. We prayed she wouldn’t hurt anybody while driving.

She often drove her friends to their appointments, and sometimes she wouldn’t make it back to her apartment before it got dark. (Apparently, she didn’t know how to turn on the car lights.) I would tell her, like you would tell a teenager, “If I catch you out after dark again, I will take away your keys.” After that, I think she decided to stop telling me.

Mom never had an accident, just a few close calls. (Of course, it was never her fault, even if she was driving too slowly, and most likely in two lanes.)

She suffered a stroke in her 89th year while alone in her Florida condo. We found her hours later and rushed her to the hospital. She was alive but had lost much function.

We were advised to send her to palliative care. She fought to live and we flew her home to Montreal. She stayed for months in the stroke unit at the hospital and then was transferred to a nursing home. We could tell she was not happy about that. Even in her compromised state she was giving us orders. She did not want to live like this. So she simply stopped eating. We knew mom wouldn’t want to be fed by tubes. We knew that we had to let her do it her way.

READ: DROP-IN CENTRE FOR VULNERABLE SENIORS OPENS IN CÔTE ST. LUC

On June 3, 2014, mom pointed to the ceiling, as if she was seeing a new car, or perhaps her Florida condo. Then, she gently closed her eyes and left us all alone. We buried her with her driver’s licence.


Nancy Friedmann grew up in Montreal. She is a snowbird like her mom and
currently resides in Hollywood, Fla.