Driving into the ditch

I’ve passed the ditch Dad drove into almost every day since I’ve been staying with Mom in Ruidoso. It’s not very deep, but enough to give one a bit of a scare.

It was the beginning of the end for Dad behind the wheel. Families dealing with dementia often have a big struggle over getting their afflicted loved one to “hand over the keys.” In America especially, the car is such a symbol of independence. For those with Alzheimer’s, having to give up such a huge part of their independence is soul-crushing. While mental and physical faculties are usually quickly fading during the mid-stages of Alzheimer’s, people are usually still self-aware enough at this point to grasp the loss, and what the disease has claimed from them. It’s a heartbreaking moment.

For Dad, that shallow ditch was the beginning of the end of his driving career. Always a slow, careful driver, the big boat of a car he drove gently went off the road and settled into the lower ground. Mom and Dad were physically fine, but mentally and emotionally, they were wrecked.

The car set next to their condo for many months, until someone mentioned how long it had been sitting there. It went to the junkyard. Now the only memories of the car is a set of car keys and some old oil and brake fluid sitting in the storage closet outside.

The ditch represented more than just a minor car accident involving a man struggling in the mid-stages of dementia. My parents’ independence also took a hit, and sank along with the spinning wheels into the ground. They would manage, thanks to the small but very efficient public transit system in their small town, but that unplanned meeting with the ditch transformed their lives forever.

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