Compare & Contrast

Two and a half weeks ago I spent 44-ish hours with my former mother-in-law (FMIL), who had some out-patient surgery and asked me to be with her. Since my former husband passed away, 2 years ago, she and I have seen each other more than we did the entire 16 years I was married to her son. A lot of this was due to geography. I now live in the same state as she does, and only a couple of hours away. We are both smart feisty girls who appreciate each other, even if our politics are squared off in opposite corners waiting for the bell. 

My FMIL is 90 and has age related memory loss. I knew this from prior visits but didn’t realize how much memory loss there was until I spent this time with her. Her compensatory skills are fantastic. She makes herself notes and keeps them on the kitchen island counter, neatly collated by date. Granted, she doesn’t always toss a note when it’s obsolete, but she remembers where her notes are. My mom writes notes for herself (from time to time) but the minute they aren’t in her sight, they don’t exist. 
My FMIL has a community of friends, one of whom I met while staying with her. It was delightful to watch these ladies chat. It was almost like they were having individual conversations in tandem, but they were truly enjoying each other’s company. My mom tends to lean on her neighbors and have very one sided conversations about negative subject matter. This intel is from mom’s neighbors…
My FMIL was completely open and honest in front of me regarding her medical history with the outpatient intake nurse, discussing things I never knew. My mom, when told her CT showed tremendous arthritis in her neck (found while they were looking for bleeds in her head), could only get wound up and defensive about this news. Why? It’s just arthritis, it doesn’t make you less of a person.
My FMIL drives with attention and clarity. I feel safe as her passenger. I would let her transport my grandson. My mom, well, we don’t need to rehash her driving… Nor the fact that I would ground my daughter and son-in-law should they even let the baby within 50 yards of my mom’s car ;->.
My FMIL lost my FFIL 13+ months ago. She misses him, grieves, and yet, finds purpose in each day. She keeps herself busy, rides the mower to keep two acres of grass under control (90!) and bosses the gardener every other week, is large (actually petite) and in charge. My mom is depressed, refuses to attend grief counseling and other than engrained routine is not self directed, save telling others in her immediate community how to accomplish their projects (unsolicited advice) and ask others, repeatedly, to do things for her that she should hire someone to help her with. This is not the sum total of her existence, but I know for a fact that certain neighbors are being stretched as she approaches. 
My mom is 11.5 years younger than my FMIL. I look to my FMIL, age related memory challenges and all, as an example on how to age. My FMIL is an amazing artist across many media (colored pencil, water color, needle point, quilting, etc.) I wish my mom would pursue the activities she used to enjoy (gardening, drawing, writing poetry etc). It’s in the face of dementia that she is unable to engage in the activities that used to bring her spontaneous enjoyment. Spending time with my FMIL was uplifting, reassuring, delightful, even if I had to watch FOX news ;->.

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