Grown-up de­ci­sions

The Canadian Jewish News (Montreal) - - Parshah - Lauren Kramer

As a kid, I re­mem­ber thirst­ing for adult­hood. The sheer free­dom of be­ing able to drive any­where I wanted, to make de­ci­sions with­out clear­ing them with my par­ents and to be an in­de­pen­dent per­son would be ex­hil­a­rat­ing, I as­sumed. Child­hood was so re­stric­tive, by com­par­i­son, I thought. I was cer­tain that life truly be­gan when you reached adult­hood.

What I didn’t know back then was that with adult­hood comes the bur­den of count­less re­spon­si­bil­i­ties, and the weight and worry of se­ri­ous de­ci­sion-mak­ing with gut-wrench­ing reper­cus­sions. Look­ing back, child­hood was a per­fect time, by virtue of its very free­dom from re­spon­si­bil­ity.

One ag­o­niz­ing adult mo­ment I face in the next 30 days is when I re­move my fa­ther’s car from his posses­sion. For the last three years, my sis­ter and I have spent count­less hours try­ing to con­vince our dad to stop driv­ing, only to have our re­quests adamantly and bel­liger­ently de­nied. Since his Alzheimer’s di­ag­no­sis, his ori­en­ta­tion on the roads has de­clined rapidly, and he can no longer be trusted to find his way or know where he parked.

“There is noth­ing wrong with my driv­ing,” he thun­ders ev­ery time the sub­ject comes up. He for­gets that in the last four months, he’s lost his car twice, caus­ing us large dol­lops of stress and anx­i­ety as we filed po­lice re­ports, drove end­lessly around our city in search of the ve­hi­cle and reached out to the com­mu­nity to help lo­cate it.

The last time this hap­pened, I knew we’d turned a cor­ner be­yond which ex­cuses about his driv­ing were no longer fea­si­ble. The car just had to go. As (fairly) level-headed grown-ups, my sis­ter and I knew we had to make an adult de­ci­sion, in­voke our pow­ers of at­tor­ney and put his driv­ing to an end.

Still, know­ing and ex­e­cut­ing are two dif­fer­ent things, and we de­layed as long as hu­manly pos­si­ble. The rea­son? The car is a sym­bol to my fa­ther. It rep­re­sents

To­day, re­spect­ing my dad means keep­ing him safe, even from him­self.

in­de­pen­dence and the abil­ity to move around freely at will, even though it’s a free­dom he rarely ex­er­cises any­more. His car is also a point of pride for him as a man. A spot­lessly clean, gleam­ing piece of metal, it is laden with the bells, whis­tles and gad­gets that men as­so­ciate with suc­cess. In a word, the car is sexy. Take it away, and the sym­bol of its sex ap­peal departs si­mul­ta­ne­ously.

There are long, end­less fights in our im­me­di­ate fu­ture as our dad rages against those that would deny him the free­dom to drive. There will be no point re­mind­ing him that Alzheimer’s is rob­bing him of di­rec­tion and cog­ni­tive aware­ness, no point bring­ing up the miss­ing car episodes that added wrin­kles to our fore­heads and grey to our hair. Anger and in­dig­na­tion will con­sume him for a long time, and the fall­out in our re­la­tion­ship will hurt.

Tense and wor­ried just an­tic­i­pat­ing this day, I called the Alzheimer’s helpline for ad­vice. “Use cre­ative sto­ry­telling,” they sug­gested, a sweet phrase that es­sen­tially means ly­ing. I could do that, sure, but it doesn’t feel right. “Re­spect your fa­ther,” the Ten Com­mand­ments in­struct in no un­cer­tain terms. I want to do this, even with the Alzheimer’s di­ag­no­sis in our midst. I want to hon­our him by re­spect­ing his wishes and do­ing my best to ful­fil them.

But I’m well into adult­hood now, and I have to make grown-up de­ci­sions on his be­half, since he lacks the in­sight and in­tel­lec­tual prow­ess to make them him­self. To­day, re­spect­ing my dad means keep­ing him safe, even from him­self. That shiny clunk of metal is headed to a car deal­er­ship very soon, and my dad will be dev­as­tated when it goes.

Though I know he’s wrong for want­ing to con­tinue to drive well be­yond the time when it’s safe for him to do so, it will break my heart to see him griev­ing the loss of every­thing that car rep­re­sents.

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