Dad handed me the keys to the car yesterday. I remember the first time he did this. I was 16. It meant the start of independence for me, and in retrospect it marked the beginning of the end for his time as an active, hands on parent of young children. Over the next five years that same ritual was repeated twice more, and soon after that all three of us were gone. That time, handing the keys to me was a sign of growth. It was celebrated.
I’ve been taking them grocery shopping every week for the last few years. It started as an easy way to spend some time together. I notice how much slower they are; a 20 minute trip for me takes over an hour with them. I watch as mom, so much shorter than she was a few years ago, talks with the butcher about what cut of meat she wants. He has to lean forward to hear her. My dad spends an eternity picking out fruit, carefully checking pineapples and melons to determine which one is at the perfect stage of ripeness.
The vibrant, strong people who raised me are mostly gone. I’m glad he and mom are still here, and I’m grateful they are mentally sound and able to continue being active participants in their own lives. He and mom are in their late 80s. She stopped driving a few years ago; he hung on, unwilling to give up, but hardly ever using the car. It was his decision, made a few months ago.
Steps taken during childhood and adulthood are celebrated because they mark an expansion of opportunities and expectations. Each of those steps: getting a driver’s license, moving out, a first job, represent the start of a new phase of life. Living long enough to become elderly is an accomplishment, but often one that brings a contraction of opportunities. The steps my parents now take are not “firsts”, they are “lasts”. The last trip they will ever take. The last car they buy. The last home they will live in.
Dad handed me the keys to the car yesterday. Not for the first time, but for the last time.