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The Two Women

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.

caring for elderly parents

The woman on the inside, with her handsome, young man.

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.


Read more from Lisha Perry Fink on her blog, The Lucky Mom

Lisha Perry Fink

Lisha began her writing career in New Orleans in the 1980s, when she entered the glamorous world of writing corporate newsletters and ad copy. Her words – which have appeared on everything from utility bill stuffers to beer bottle labels and annual reports – finally found a home in 2010 when she launched her first blog, The Lucky Mom. Today she chronicles her experiences on The Lucky Mom's successor, She is currently writing her first novel.

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Tuesday 16th of September 2014

So very real and so very moving. A reminder for all of us. Beautifully written.

Pepper Caruso

Tuesday 16th of September 2014

Thank you for a very touching piece. It was rather familiar too, as you described my grandmother's final year perfectly. Like your mother-in-law, she was a woman who loved life - dancing! parties! beautiful clothes! - and I remember hanging on to the the few moments I saw that lively woman peep through the fog. When she finally passed, I secretly celebrated her freedom.

Lisha Fink

Tuesday 16th of September 2014

I'm glad it touched you so, Pepper. I have seen far too many families focus on only one of the two women. I'm happy you had peace when your grandmother passed.

Jean Whisenhant

Tuesday 16th of September 2014

So beautiful.

Lisha Fink

Tuesday 16th of September 2014

Thank you, Jean. It's a tough subject to talk about, but when we do we can see the beauty within.

Elyssa M.

Monday 15th of September 2014

Beautifully articulated. I'd love to think that I will have as much compassion with my own aging mother and hope that someday I will receive treatment in kind from my own children.

Lisha Perry Fink

Monday 15th of September 2014

Elyssa, I have the same hope for my children someday. It has been a very difficult path, having them watch their grandparents decline. But I believe they will be more compassionate adults for having watched us care for them.

Vickie Shields

Monday 15th of September 2014

Very sad that we have to begin mourning the loss of a loved one before they are physically gone. Beautiful article that hits home with many of us.

Lisha Perry Fink

Monday 15th of September 2014

It is sad. When my own mother passed away in 2006 I felt robbed, because she was so young. But watching my mother in law decline has been far more difficult than saying goodbye. Thanks for the comment, Vickie.

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