A few weeks ago, after 56 years of driving, my husband gave up his driving licence. The nerve damage that had started in his feet and spread up his legs and into his hands over the past years had reached the point where he recognized he no longer had the dexterity or reaction time to safely drive. He told me he was okay with that. I, however, shed a few tears as we sat in the insurance office, handed over his licence, and transferred our vehicle registration into my name.
He hadn’t driven for several months prior to this. When he had been driving last summer, we’d both been on alert for any changes in his ability. He stopped driving when winter approached, saying he didn’t want me to worry about him driving on winter roads. It’s true I would have worried, but I suspect he worried as well. As spring neared, he received notice it was time for a new driver’s licence photo. This happens every five years in our province. That notice forced us to confront the issue.
Giving up one’s driver’s licence because one no longer has the ability to drive is hard because of both the real changes it brings and all it symbolizes. Loss of independence. Loss of freedom to come and go whenever one pleases. Reliance on others. The end of a particular way of life.
When my father lay in hospital, only weeks away from his death, my brother was reluctant to talk with him about what we should do with his minivan. Even though my father was well aware he was never leaving the hospital, giving up his vehicle would still hurt.
Whenever we went somewhere, my husband did most, if not all, of the driving. On three-and-a-half-day drives to and from Arizona where we spent a few winters. On a magnificent road trip up the U.S. west coast. On scenic drives on vacation in the English countryside. On a stressful winter drive to move our daughter’s car from Vancouver, British Columbia, to Sarnia, Ontario, her new residence. On drives across the prairies to visit family. Sometimes he’d take an hour or two break in the early afternoon when I took over, but not always.
We both knew this day would come. Knowing and accepting are two different things. My husband, at least outwardly, is handling the acceptance better than I am. I’m getting there.
Dealing with a progressive, degenerative disease like hATTR Amyloidosis, the rare genetic disease affecting my husband, means dealing with loss after loss. This was not the first loss we’d experienced, but, to me, it felt like a watershed moment. One day he had a licence, even if he wasn’t using it to drive. The next day he didn’t, and he would never drive again.
Of course, it wasn’t really that sudden an event. Loss after loss have crept up slowly. Being able to do less and less around the house. Increasing difficulty lifting his feet to step up until one day he couldn’t do stairs anymore. Increasing difficulty maintaining balance until a walker was needed when we went out. Continued loss of strength and balance until the walker was needed indoors as well.
Over the past many months, I have gotten used to doing all the driving and am comfortable with it. I bite back the “I know, I know” words when he gives advice or instruction, at least most of the time.
As we accept the loss of my husband’s driver’s licence, I realize it is more than the licence itself I mourn. I mourn all the other losses that have led up to this moment and the many more losses to come. With each loss, big or small, we grieve, find a way to cope, and adjust to a new way of life.
My heart cries for the both of you. Your resilience and good humour will undoubtedly assist you and Rick during these losses. Still….lots of difficult transitions.
You’ve described well what learning to live with our limitations and losses requires. Patience we didn’t think we had, sadness that compels tears, joy in memories of good times; grieving is such an important part of the process. Thank you for sharing from your heart.
Thanks Sydney. I hope you’re doing well.
A very interesting and sad article to read. How our journey changes and we have to adjust. I remember talking to our Dad about giving up his car and driving. God’s strength and support for Rick and you as you move forward.
The last 2 years have prompted life changes by virtue of health related limitations. Like your husband, I have to use a rolling walker, so far, just outside. I have decided to retire my law license. I’ve been a licensed attorney since 1980. It feels like a momentous step and a loss even though I haven’t been actively practicing law since 2015. I admire your husband’s recognition that it was time to relinquish his driver’s license. I dreaded when I thought I would have to take away my father’s car keys. I was saved from that when he decided he didn’t want to pay for parking where he and my mother were moving. Peace with honor.
Suzanne, I’ve had a few glimpses into what you’ve been going through the last couple of years through our online friendship. I admire your strength, resilience, and ability to retain a sense of humour. I think I can understand how hard and sad a decision it must have been to give up your law license. Like giving up a driving license, it is saying goodbye to a part of yourself, even if it wasn’t a very active part of yourself for some time.