The young woman on the inside is strong and vibrant. Self-sufficient and capable. Beautiful and lively.
The woman on the outside, with her greying hair and thin skin, is tiny and frail. She breathes with the help of oxygen and spends her days confined to bed or chair.
Most of the time, they co-exist peacefully, each unaware of the other’s presence.
The discord comes when the two meet. When the woman on the inside tries to stand, but finds she’s unable. Tries to answer questions about herself, but gets even the basic facts wrong. Tries to place food in her mouth, but instead finds it in her lap.
Frustration sets in, because the woman inside knows she is able. But her physical body is no longer in synch with her mind, and the two do not cooperate with one another.
“How are you today?” asks the nurse. “Fine,” she replies, unaware that oxygen is flowing through a tube beneath her nose.
“Do you have any pain?” asks the doctor. “No,” she answers, not remembering that she can no longer stand after breaking her hip.
It’s hard for us to know how to feel. Because of the woman on the inside, anxiety levels are lower. But it frustrates the woman on the outside, because she doesn’t understand. And the two can swap places without any warning. So you never know which one you’re with at any given moment.
The rhythm of her breathing is comforting. It is a reminder of her physical presence. But everything else creates unease. Each new report from the doctor, each change in her physical status brings more questions. But since she is unable to contribute to her own care, others must make decisions for her.
Others must also bathe her and feed her. The lively young woman lies helpless in a bed. Long gone are her dignity and privacy.
Occasionally, the woman on the outside perks up. She watches television, or replies with one of her signature quips. Those moments are rare gifts. And every week there are fewer of them.
At some point, she will need peace. And we will be left with memories of both women. I hope the memories of the woman on the outside fade quickly, leaving us to reminisce with joy about the woman on the inside.
Dementia is such a horrible disease, for just the reason you so beautifully write about – it’s impossible to know what the inside is feeling when the outside is absent.
Sadly, we’ve been at it for many, many years with my father-in-law. But experience doesn’t make it any easier.
Sniffle. What a beautiful young woman she was . . . she is. May she find peace soon.
Today was a good day, and I may write about it later, but I know you’ll appreciate the essence. She received Holy Communion for the first time in decades today. My heart was full of joy, for I’ve been praying hard for her.
This is lovely. I love reading your pieces about your MIL – I know it’s been such a difficult road with her – yet even with all those conflicting feelings about her, your writing about her is always so clear and candid. Hugs to you! 🙂
I’d simply like to second this . . . and send some hugs, for what they are worth.
Deborah, they are worth a great deal. Thank you.
Honest Mom, I’ve come a long way. So has she. I’m so glad that we seem to have come to a place of love and respect.
This story makes me cry. It reminds me of all those month’s I sat by my mother’s bedside holding her hand, talking to her and cherishing every minute I spent with her. It was so sad to see my strong and independent mother laying in bed looking fragile and helpless. It has only been 2 months since her passing. I would give anything to have just one more mother/daughter conversation with her.
Ann, I understand. My own mother has been gone for six years. For what it’s worth, the first couple of months are the hardest. So take some comfort knowing that it will get better. Your heart will get lighter, and you’ll be able to remember a lifetime of love instead of months of pain.
Reading this makes me sad for what may come. My husbands grandmother is showing signs of memory loss/dementia and it’s very hard to get her to seek help. My FIL refuses to see there is a problem and I am left trying to put together the pieces. This is such a beautiful tribute to your MIL.
While it is sad, it is part of life. My FIL has Alzheimer’s, and now my MIL has vascular dementia. It has been a long, difficult road. Offer as much help as you can, and seek out resources for assistance. Please email me if you need some direction. I’ve been on this path for fifteen years. happinessengineer (at) yahoo (dot) com.
And thank you for the kind words. “It is meat and drink to me.”*
*William Shakespeare, As You Like It
I’m reminded of my grandmother reading this. She went through something very similar, and it’s a reminder that many of us will, as well. Love to you.
My own mother was denied the gift of old age, as was my father. So, while I cared for both of them until they passed, their experiences were very different. Navigating this with my MIL has made me keenly aware of the bittersweet gift growing old can be.
Just beauiful and also heartbreaking.
As are many things in life.
You make me cry too. You could easily have been writing about my mother. Watching her decline and her frustration is so very sad.
I know with certainty that if she had any idea how far she had declined, she would come unglued. Her dementia has, in many ways, been her survival.
Thanks for sharing this beautiful synopsis, Lisha. My grandmother is going to be 102 in February, but it is only in the past decade (believe it or not!) that she has had to really struggle with aging dilemma of feeling like she should be able to do the things she used to do, but for obvious reasons cannot. Gratefully, she is still mobile and does some of her own ADL’s. My mom is otherwise her full-time caregiver, and it has become a bit sad for us all to know that Gram would really like to leave this world and move on to the next (whatever that means for her). She’s so tired, so very tired, and yet her body just keeps going. Everyone talks about how amazing it all is, which is true to an extent, but it is also a mixed blessing in many ways. Regardless of today’s circumstances, I love her! XOXO-Kasey
My MIL hasn’t been able to perform a single ADL in over a year. When we broke it down into ADLs when home health began was the first time my husband was able to objectify her decline.
What a beautiful tribute, Lisha! You have truly captured the essence of aging; the great and the not-so-great all wrapped up on one.
One of your best pieces, yet! 🙂
Carol, thank you so much for those kind words. This one came out easily, sitting in the chair next to her bed a few days ago.
You have a gift, as does she in you ~
Goodness, your MIL was so lovely. I’m sure it helps to remember the woman on the inside. It must be so frustrating for her. You are good to be able to find her humanity during these difficult times.
Yes, she was. And until a few months ago, was as well-maintained as the woman in the photo. Removing the long fingernails was a horrible trauma. But that’s where we are. 😦
As someone who manages a rehab unit I see this struggle every day but have never had it put into words so well. You have a wonderful gift.
Thank you for those kind words. And thank you for your work with others. That is truly a calling.
I hope you’ll visit here again soon.
you made me cry! thanks for sharing…
Made my cry, too. Thanks for stopping by, Amy. 🙂
Your writings continue to amaze me. The women both on the inside and outside will one day know how awesome you really are. Its great how your writings express the person you are.
I hope she does. But what I’ve finally learned is that it doesn’t matter. What matters is the way I feel about how I am. Freeing myself up from others’ expectations has freed me completely. And, in turn, has made others’ see me in a better way. Win, win.
Thank you for writing what my heart feels every day that goes by….smiles and tears; tears and smiles.
There are so, so many of us going through this. I find comfort knowing I’m not alone. I hope you do, too.
I LUV the photo…beautiful & classic! The tale is common enough as we’ll all be going thru it one day, but so very very touching…..thanks so much for sharing!
We just recently found that photo! The woman in that photo is the epitome of the Woman Inside. Elegant, poised, beautiful. We should all see ourselves in such a good light.