In 2019, I was in a dark place. Looking back, I think various circumstances triggered this, including the separation between my parents and myself. At the time, they lived about five minutes from me. Both were deteriorating, and it was pretty apparent that they should not have been living in their home independently. Neither of them would surrender their post. In 2018, my dad had lost his privilege to drive.
Months before his driving exam ordered by the doctor, he had told me that he would move out of their home and into an assisted living if he failed the test. He promised me beyond a doubt that he would do this. My mom gave up her license without a fight because, on some level, she realized she couldn’t manage this skill. At that point, he was running out doing errands every day for the two of them.
The day of the test came, and he was confident he would get through it with flying colors. I didn’t because he had taken me on a hair-raising scary ride just before that. He kept confusing the gas pedal for the brake. And as I suspected, he failed every single component. I felt terrible when he arrived back home looking defeated.
The sympathetic side decided I would help him out until they moved into a new, safe environment. After all, he had told me that he would not continue to live like they were if he didn’t pass. I had told him to call me if he needed something, and I agreed to get him to the stores he liked to frequent. I rearranged my work schedule to make this possible. So began my job as his chauffeur, and when I asked about moving out, the conversation went from looking into it to an absolute no.
When I realized he wasn’t going to give in and make some changes, I began the hunt for a driving service he could use. Interestingly, my daughter discovered GO GO Grandparent, a company specifically designed for those who need rides, especially older adults. There was much grumbling about this at first, but then I started getting the texts he didn’t know I signed up for, indicating he was calling for assistance. That seemed to be going along well, coupled with my help for shopping trips.
The months were slipping by, and there was still no indication that either one of them was going to give up their stance and find other living arrangements. During this, I made a stop at my credit union. The teller greeted me and said,
“Oh, I just saw your dad.”
“He must have called for a ride,” I said.
I pulled out my phone and saw no alert that a car had been summoned. When I looked back up, her lips were twisted into a strange shape. The song by Fleetwood Mac, Tell Me Lies, Tell Me, Sweet Little Lies, began to play on the overhead speaker above me. Coincidence? I think not.
“Did you see a driver pull up, or did he drive his car?”
“UH…” Again with the face contortions. She knew he was not to be driving as I had told her this previously. The bank was a daily stop for him, and the staff all knew him quite well. At that moment, I realized I was being played. He had told me over and over he had not been driving. I believed him and hadn’t had the heart to remove the car so soon.
I just nodded at her and glanced over at my daughter. Back in the car, a tracking device was purchased online. I decided not to accuse him and hear more of his deceit, but I would catch him in the act. I called the police department to ask if this was illegal, and I was told it wasn’t technically okay, but if it were being done to stop harm to the community, it could be overlooked.
He had been asking me to take his vehicle on our trips out together, so the next day, I told him we would do that. His first request was to stop at a hardware store. My daughter stayed back and placed the device in the backseat. We finished up our outing and returned home to watch the app on her phone. His conscience must have been bothering him because I got a text requesting a driver. I started to wonder if I had jumped to the wrong conclusion. I hadn’t.
A few days later, a notification came up showing his location. Feeling anger like I hadn’t ever felt before, I got in my car and parked right next to his at a store. We always went out on Fridays together, so why was he doing this on a Thursday? What was so important that he needed a day before going with me?
I found him in an aisle, and I pretended we had stumbled into each other. I wanted to see how far he would keep up the act.
“What are you doing here?” He asked in total surprise. “I thought you were babysitting on Thursdays.”
Wow. He had even planned this according to the schedule he thought I had.
“I had to come to pick up something. How did you get here?”
“I called for a ride.”
“I don’t think you did. I am parked by your car. You drove here, and you aren’t supposed to be driving.”
This was when he tried to get past me in his motorized cart. He was done listening or talking to me. Not moving out of his way, I said,
“You lost your license to drive. The doctor took it away. If you come home with me, I won’t call the police if you agree never to do this again. Otherwise, I am reporting you.”
I was so hopeful that he would cooperate, but that’s not how it went. He told me to get out of his life, and I called the local police station.
Before the officer arrived, my dad was back at his car with me standing guard next to it. He wanted me to move so he could drive away, and I told him no. Then, he was willing to let me take him home now that he saw he had pushed past the point of no return. I stood my ground all the more and told him we would let a third party decide what to do.
To my horror, his license was run through the system, and it showed it was still valid. The physician had not taken the time to revoke it through the state. All I could do was stand there while he smiled at me to indicate he had won. I walked away from him and didn’t look back for a year and a half.
I would see him driving from time to time, and I found out that no matter how often his doctor was told about this, she failed to follow through. He told family members he was taking ‘back roads’ to be safe. I saw him on more than one occasion speeding down a heavily trafficked road during rush hour. When I would hear sirens in the neighborhood, I would wonder if he had caused an accident, and I silently vowed to testify against him in court. At the same time, I worried that I was an awful daughter.
This anger and depression combined created hopelessness in me. I had internalized my parents’ behavior as a sign that they never really loved me at all. Their unwillingness to trust my judgment revealed years of stubborn thinking and hard-heartedness. Then I began to think of all the times I had allowed so many people to treat me like this. I started to convince myself that life had no meaning, which led me to have thoughts of not wanting to be here anymore. I would ask God to send a train to hit my car as I crossed the tracks while driving home from work every day. I couldn’t bring myself to take myself out, but I knew He could do it.
In May of 2019, my mom went into the hospital unresponsive. She ended up in hospice at home. (The repair of my relationship with both of them began then, and that’s another story for another day.) While lying with her eyes closed, I saw her stirring. I walked over and leaned down close to let her know I was there.
She opened her eyes, and they focused directly on mine.
“Are you here in vain?”
The tone was not her voice. It penetrated my entire chest and felt like a physical blow. I heard what she had said, but I leaned in more and said,
“What did you say?”
Very physically weak but determined, she emphatically said,
“Are. You. Here. In. Vain?”
These dark, black eyes were looking for an answer. I felt myself swallow hard as I was faced with an ugly truth.
Somehow my thoughts of wanting to end my existence were being exposed. My big secret was coming out to confront me. How could that be when I hadn’t told anyone?
Quickly, I said, “No.”
She put her head back down on the pillow, closed her eyes, and quietly said,
“Good.” And back off to sleep she went.
In that split second, I realized that I didn’t want to have an attitude of living just for myself. If I no longer existed, what would I miss out on? What future person could I not go on to bless if I wasn’t around? I didn’t want to carry on my parent’s legacy of selfishness. I realized I was still here for a reason, and I was only accountable to God.
Romans 14 states: It’s God we are answerable to-all the way from life to death and everything in between-not each other. (Message)
I let my parents’ poor, selfish decision-making make me feel unworthy, and my reaction was to turn inward to self in a different way. Keep God the focus of your life, listen to the leading of that still small voice and do what it says. This will keep you from buying a ticket to ride the vain train.
The train tracks I crossed daily…