The Elusive Culprit IV

📅 August 6, 2020

This is a series I take no joy in writing, but the fact that I continue to receive both notes and calls from other people facing these same challenges with their loved ones keeps me moving ahead with this painful story.

The next two challenges which needed to be addressed were the desperate state of my mother’s finances and the dangers of driving.

Shortly after my father passed away, my mother and I went to her two banks and at her request, I filled out the paperwork to become a user on her accounts. I created my own passwords and began to monitor her more carefully online. She seemed to have some sense that this was necessary, and was good about asking me about most of her financial decisions.

We managed to get along like this for a while. But as her dementia deepened, she began to make unwise decisions, using a credit card, for example, to purchase groceries, contributing to entirely too many causes (worthy in and of themselves, but taken together a terrible drain). She still had the oversight of two or three cats and her veterinarian (whatever the motive, pure or not) was perpetually advising tests and even “spa days” for her favorite cat, Elizabeth. Try as I might, I could not stop her from doing this.

Eventually, she began to forget to pay her bills and the late charges began accumulating. She took the newspaper and had a yard care service which sprayed for all kinds of problems, ants and mosquitoes included. When she realized things were spiraling out of control, I took over gradually, though she would not let me handle everything.

The driving was another matter.

Again, gradually, I advised and persuaded her not to drive anywhere except the grocery store and church and Bono’s. These places were short drives and a few turns away from her house and she managed these adequately. If a longer trip was necessary, such as the dentist, doctor, eye doctor, I picked her up and drove her there and returned her home safely.

So the local trips were fine…a good compromise on “control.” She always called when she was leaving and always called when she got home.

We lived with yet another stopgap measure.

Then on January 3, 2018, I received a call from a stranger saying my mother had been in a car accident in a strip mall parking lot. She was unhurt, but the front bumper was half off the car, hanging on “by a thread” and dragging the ground. He took her to a nearby auto parts store and the manager kindly jammed the bumper back into place enough for her to drive the car home.

When she went to find her wallet to pay the man, her wallet was missing. By the time I could drive across town, she had arrived at her home. I searched the car for the wallet, but it was not to be found. My daughter and I investigated the next day, retracing her steps and calling businesses in that location.

A kind manager at Sav-a-Lot searched through the security footage and we unearthed what had happened. She had paid for her purchases and returned her wallet to her purse. She was preparing to leave when a stranger tapped her on the shoulder apparently to ask for money, at which point my mother handed over her entire wallet. The stranger promptly stepped to another line, cleaned out the cash, and (we deduced later with the help of the manager) dropped the wallet in the trash on the way out.

This was the point of no return. It was time to act.

The following Saturday my daughter and I drove to my mother’s house and I took her car, explaining the car was not drivable and must be repaired…which was true.

As I backed out of the garage, Nana laid her hands on the hood and said, “Please don’t do this to me.” I drove the car back to my house and parked it in my garage, where it remained till I sold it.

There followed a barrage of phone calls from my mother, furious…I cannot stress this word enough… with me, demanding explanations which I gave again and again. Over the next several weeks (again, I do not exaggerate), how many times she called, chewed me out, hung up on me, only to call back seconds later, I cannot count, and cringe even now to remember.

At this point, her record of phone calls was 29 in one day. She later broke that with 42.

I was advised to take her to DMV and get an ID card to replace the lost drivers’ license. This was a step I would not have considered had it not been for my experienced friends. While we were there, I had my mother sign a transfer of title of her car to me, a necessary step to selling it.

I will be honest with you—I was not honest with her about all the documents she was signing. There was so much paperwork involved with the ID card, I took advantage of the situation. 

But I never again had to worry she would get in her car and drive away and be lost or involved in an accident in which she or some innocent victim would lose his life.


  1. Judy Andrews

    Once again, thank you for our honesty. I know this isn’t easy for you, but it’s a godsend to many of us who will be having to make some decisions like this in the next few months and years. I think the hardest thing to face is the anger from a parent when you are only wanting what is best for them. I pray God gives us patience and wisdom.

  2. Teresa Haney

    Thank You for Sharing Your Painful Story. Mine is not as bad. I moved my Mom from Tampa to Jacksonville after my father died. Mama has lived in her own home about a mile away from me for seventeen years now. My Mom realized when she was no longer able to drive. She sold her car (cheaply) to my sister who lives in Ohio. (Our Family “inside” joke is as follows: Sharlene got the car and Teresa got the Garage Door Opener. So Who is her FAVORITE Daughter?) I use the Garage Door Opener frequently when I go to my 92-year-old Mama’s house to wash her dishes, change her bedding, change lightbulbs, bring her some food, just visit with her, or pick her up to take her somewhere. Maybe I AM the FAVORITE, after all!

    • Holly

      Thanks, Teresa.


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Holly Bebernitz

Native Texan Holly Bebernitz moved to Jacksonville, Florida in 1967. After thirty years of teaching speech, English, and history on the secondary and college levels, she retired from classroom teaching to become a full-time grandmother. The change in schedule allowed the time needed to complete the novel she had begun writing in 1998. When Trevorode the Defender was published in March 2013, the author realized the story of the Magnolia Arms was not yet complete.


Semi-Finalist - 2021 Royal Palm Literary Award Competition - Florida Writer's Association