Not a Husk, Not a Shell

Featured image: Finnish neolithic stone axe. National Museum, Helsinki

Some people dismiss those with dementia, describing them as “husks” or as “shells.” Perhaps it’s frightening to consider what might reside inside.

            When I was a child, an old woman lived near my grandmother’s home. My sister and I never saw her. We saw her rotting house, shrouded with shrubs and vines, shades drawn. A witch’s house! In a thrill of fear, we’d run past the place. We wondered what might lurk inside, peering out at us as we ran.

            That childish fear resembles the way some respond to people with dementia. Do they fear what resides inside? Or do they fear that seeming vacancy?

            What if we were to seek for the person inside, rather than running away? Family members and people who work closely with individuals who have dementia often declare that she or he is still “in there.” They’d agree with the psychologist Michael Bender, who argues that, “I-ness is resistant to cognitive losses.”

             That I-ness, that essence, that “DickCainness” of my husband, remained to the end.

Anne-Marie Erickson

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