My real estate career often crosses the paths of elderly people, either alone or perhaps still as a couple. In many cases I get involved at the point in their lives where they have made the decision to move into an assisted living environment and need to sell their family home. Sometimes that is solely their decision and sometimes at the advice and urging of their children. In any case there is usually great anxiety caused by this move. For some there is concern about a loss of control and privacy and dignity.
My advice to them is to accept that they are a time in their lives where they must relinquish some control of things that they are really not able to control for themselves any longer. Even the sharpest of minds eventually finds that it is trapped in a body that no longer is capable of doing its bidding. Things begin to fail, whether it is eyesight or hearing or strength and flexibility. I have found that latter part to be particularly true in my visits to the gym. At 71, I no longer have the flexibility or range of motion to do certain things and exercises that I could easily do in past years. There is also an inherent loss of privacy that goes along with some of the physical help that may be needed. It is impossible to remain private while someone bathes you. Your dignity, however, is something you you can maintain and something that only you can choose to lose; they can’t take that away from you.
What is dignity?
The dictionary puts it this way –
– the state or quality of being worthy of honor or respect.
Usage – “a man of dignity and unbending principle”
– a sense of pride in oneself; self-respect.
Usage – “it was beneath his dignity to shout”
synonyms: self-respect, pride, self-esteem, self-worth
Usage – “he had lost his dignity”
So your dignity is all inside you; it’s all about you and how you comport yourself. Can you still have dignity while someone is performing very person care functions for you? Of course you can. No one can take that away from you. Does anyone think that Stephen Hawking is not a man of great dignity, just because his physical body cannot sustain him by itself? Do people think he is not a man worthy of honor and respect; a man of great pride and self-esteem, based upon the great things that he has accomplished in the world of astrophysics? So why would someone think you to be less dignified just because you may need assistance in some of your daily routine? There is no shame in needing assistance and it’s only you who shames yourself and takes away your dignity. Only you can make that decision to become less dignified; they can’t take that away from you.
Grace is a trait that is often associated with the word dignity. My favorite definition for grace, especially as used in this context is – a controlled, polite, and pleasant way of behaving. It is often used in sentences such as, “he was a man of great dignity and grace.” When you meet someone with dignity and grace it is an enjoyable happenstance. If dignity is an internal state of a person, then grace is its external manifestation and they can’t take that away from you.
The anxieties and fears of taking those first steps into a new stage in life are normal. How well you deal with them may well depend on how well you maintain your dignity and the gracefulness with which you deal with the new world around you. One really positive way to look at this change and turn it around to your favor is to realize that you no longer have to expend so much time and energy (both decreasing commodities at this stage) just trying to do the day-to-day things of life that have become so hard for you. You have help, now, with those things; so, you can turn more of your attention and energy onto the things that still interest you and those things that you can still do. You still have your dignity and they can’t take that away from you.
Maybe you’ll have more time to enjoy a hobby or watch a ball game or read. If you’re still with your life mate, you have increased time to appreciate one another’s company and companionship, without having to shift the burden of your infirmities onto them or onto family. Perhaps you’ll even find time to write and start your own blog. The great thing is that you have stories that no one else can tell, because no one else had the same experiences that you’ve had. Writing down your thoughts and sharing your story will reinforce your pride and self-worth and increase your self-esteem – it adds to your dignity and they can’t take that away from you.
It’s not the end when you have to go into assisted living; it’s just the start of the next chapter of your life. Make it the best chapter yet. Do it with dignity and grace. Be the one at the facility that everyone else there (staff and other residents) enjoys seeing and getting to know. Find out their stories, too. Exchanging stories of things that only people of similar age have been through is a great way to make friends and preserve memories. Taking a positive and upbeat approach to life as it is at this stage is the most dignified thing that you can do; and no matter what; they can’t take that away from you.