Cataracts and Cars


The eye doctor examined my elderly mom and offered her the miracle of cataract surgery to restore her sight. She retorted, "I don't need it; I can still read my Bible--in French." Glaring at me, she slam-dunked the conversation with, "Can you do that, Junior?"

The doctor, simultaneously amused and perplexed, responded, "Of course she doesn't drive--right?"

Mom did drive, everywhere.

The eye appointment came after her sidewalk railing suddenly took to leaning to the south. A quick once-over of Mom's car confirmed that, ready-or-not, a moment of truth in her driving career had arrived. When confronted, my ever pleasant and honest mother refused eye contact, squirmed, and weaseled while halfheartedly mumbling all manner of implausible scenarios.

She always enjoyed my visits--but not this time.

"I'm tired, Junior; I'm going in to rest my eyes." She turned toward her back door.

I'll admit neighbors had been reporting their concern about Mom's failing ability to drive safely, but I'd avoided a confrontation with the response that I have four bright, well-coordinated children, all of whom had been in accidents or gotten speeding tickets. Mom seemed to know her limitations, drove very slowly, and had not hurt anyone or anything. I knew the time was coming--but I hoped not yet, because driving was such an important part of her independence.

After all, I reasoned to myself, this is not just some generic senior citizen--a statistic on a chart. We're talking about my mother, the woman whose womb gently housed and nurtured me into this world.

My strategy was to monitor--wait and watch for something that would make the decision easier. Now, unfortunately, my task was clear.

"Wait, Mother. We have to talk. You've knocked over this railing which you've driven past for years, apparently because you don't see as well as you once did. And now you're refusing to have your cataracts removed. We're at a tender moment. You've always been the greatest mom on earth, but today it's my turn to be a good son and ask you not to drive anymore if you won't have the eye surgery."

I'd taught Mother to drive in her 50s. So it was an emotional and sad moment--to me. But not her.

She reacted as if I'd turned enemy, and thus she mustered every ounce of her energy to resist, change the subject, and somehow get me off her back. After several more fruitless exchanges, I could see the personal strength of my mother was going to prevail, unless I switched to a parental role and became adamant. I continued my sad duty.

"Mother, I cannot and will not allow you to drive any more, and certainly not if you won't even consider having your cataracts removed. Please hand me your keys. I must take them with me."

She responded by stuffing them in her purse, turning her back on me, and marching into the house. Totally out of character, she silently shut and locked the door behind her without so much as a goodbye.

"Then I'll have to remove your car's battery," I called out as she disappeared.

In the garage I found a wrench for the battery terminals. Dad's wrench. Dead for 20 years, I wondered what he would think about this. In one of our last conversations, he admonished me: "Take good care of your mother."

Is yanking our her car's battery while she fumes in the house taking good care of my mother? I wondered.

My bravado of a moment earlier melted as I reflected on my life growing up in the house where Mom still lived. Do I have to be so confrontational and hurt my dear elderly mom who always stuck up for me during all my false starts and foibles?

Lost in my memories, my delicate surgeon hands twisted loose the battery terminal bolts. Suddenly, out of the corner of my eye, I saw Mom silently slip into the garage. But this was a different Mom. Her demeanor was quiet, subdued, and submissive.

"You don't have to do that, Junior. If you think I shouldn't drive anymore--I won't."

My real mom, the one I know, the one I love, is back!

Then her boisterous mood resurfaced, but this time with a teasing twinkle in her eye. "And besides," she said, "I'm afraid you'll ruin my car!"