The Driver’s Seat

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“I think I’m done with driving,” Mom randomly announced while unpacking a grocery bag.

“If you want to stop driving we’ll make a list of your weekly activities and work out a schedule,” I responded.

Just as quickly as she brought up the subject, she dropped it.

A week later mom announced, “I told your sister I’m going to stop driving.” Without making eye contact, she lifted a tea cup to her lips and sipped. Before we could discuss further she changed the subject again.

This is her way. Mom never asks for help. If she can’t do it herself, it doesn’t need doing. And if she stopped driving she’d need help getting around.

I knew mom was serious. She hadn’t just thrown out the idea to hear herself say the words. She was taking baby steps toward making non-driving a reality.

A thriving 88-year-old, she’s strong, confident and self-sufficient. She’s always moving. She’s washing dishes, dusting furniture, sweeping her outside patio, cleaning out closets. Was this woman ready for the limitation of waiting for a ride? Could she rely on local transportation? No more driving to the library, senior center, or the local drugstore on her own.

I knew she wouldn’t be driving forever, but she showed few signs of slowing down. Perhaps I’d missed significant clues.

Independence ruled Mom’s life from a young age.

Mom grew up in Honolulu, where she pretty much walked where she wanted to go, within the radius of 5 miles. Church. School. Grocery store. Swimming pool where she competed in swimming meets.

Just before WWll she married dad. He carpooled to work leaving the car just sitting in the driveway unused. She immediately learned to drive.

Driving equalled freedom. Mobility. She didn’t have to sit at home or take the bus. She took my sister and me on rides around town and to picnics at the beach.

Soon Dad revamped a beat-up, stick shift Jeep that he’d picked up cheap from army surplus. She reveled in driving from  country to town. Today she laughs about its lack of seat belts and how unsafe that car was when we’d cross over the Pale, a very windy valley. No seat belts. No car seats. No crank-up windows. Sister and I must have hugged tight to the back seat from sheer inertia.

Seeking adventure, we moved to Los Angeles. So much to see and learn about their adopted city. Their first purchase was a car.

Almost immediately we found a local church where we attended Sunday service. Whenever an outing was organized for the Sunday school kids Mom volunteered to drive to places like Clifton’s cafeteria, a turkey farm, the beach and the museums of Exposition Park. She enjoyed the adventure as much as us kids.

Mom loved the freeways where she could drive for miles north to Santa Barbara, south to San Diego, west to the beach, east to the mountains. Trips completed in a single day.

Ten years in LA, Dad unexpectedly died.

Mom had never worked outside the house. But she knew how to drive. She found an entry-level job in a nearby town.

At least one weekend a month we drove down to San Diego to visit family. During those early morning trips we glimpsed great expanses of open space, clusters of mountain ranges, orange groves as far as the eye could see, and cattle grazing in open fields. Truly a magical journey.

Mom’s enclosed garage is attached to her condominium. Moving her mid-size car in and out of the garage is more difficult for her since cataract surgery.

And since having surgery the DMV has required her to take the behind-the-wheel driving test every year. Retaining her driver’s license has been a challenge.

Once Mom lets her driver’s license lapse we’ll work out that schedule.

“Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat. I am.” Mark 8:34

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Power of Ohana

IMG_5483_smallThe Hawaiian word for “family” is ohana. To people from Hawaii, family isn’t limited to blood relations. Ohana extends to long-time intimate associates, family friends, cousins of cousins of cousins of cousins. Ohana is revered, cherished, treasured.

If you’re lucky enough to be part of someone’s ohana you have a bond for life.

Earlier this year my cousin died. A young man, barely 50, his untimely passing rattled the ohana. Well-educated, career focused, hard working, his death made no sense. In that confusion the wound of loss slowly heals.

Six months after his death, his mother arranged a Celebration of Life to honor her son, a chance for the ohana to remember him fondly, then say goodbye.

Plumeria and maile leaf leis lined a table filled with placards of his accomplishments. Photos of Cousin with his father, his mother, his brother. Remembrances of happier days gone by.

Prayers. Hymns. Hulas. The large auditorium was filled with table after table after table of ohana dressed in Aloha attire – a communion of souls in attendance to commemorate his life.

While his Uncle delivered the eulogy pictures flashed in my mind of the babe-in-arms attending my wedding forty something years ago; the toddler bouncing in his crib, refusing to go to sleep when company came to call (such a fun-loving, cute kid); the baseball player in his high school production of Damn Yankees; the dinner companion at a family gathering offering me a tasty sushi because he knew I loved them. Those moments that happen in all our lives . . . that we don’t notice . . . that we take for granted . . . that we don’t realize passes like vapors through our days and knits the fabric of a relationship with those we love.

A chorus of Aloha O’e (Farewell to Thee) ended official proceedings.

Lunch was served.

Photos taken.

In the words of Uncle Wil: “Aloha nui loa (we love you very much), dear Cousin,” ’til we meet again.