Haims: Dignity and aging

Sometimes, as we age, maintaining a sense of dignity becomes challenging. However, it doesn’t have to. There is no indignity in asking for a little assistance. While asking for assistance may take some humility, there is no indignity. It’s a strange and complicated juxtaposition

Dignity is often defined as one’s ability to have self-worth, honor, and moral deeds. Dignity is a given and it is unique to each person. You can choose to maintain it. While it can be diminished, it can’t be taken away.

Humility is the freedom from pride and/or arrogance — it’s the estimate of one’s own importance. It is quite possible to modify your level of humility and still retain your dignity. Therefore, asking for assistance does not challenge one’s dignity, rather just their ability to be humble.

For a bit over a year, I have met multiple times with a gentleman whose wife has called to get assistance in helping her husband. He’s fallen a number of times and been hospitalized from resulting injuries. While he has sought medical assistance from providers at highly respected medical facilities, nobody has yet to find a cause of his falls.

Because the medical providers have not found a cause, this gentleman has felt that there was no real and concerning issue and therefore there would be no reason to hire Visiting Angels. From his perspective, his incidents were isolated and would go away with time. Unfortunately, this has not been the situation.

He’s a workhorse by nature: self-made. From what I’ve learned, while he has hired and trained many people to work for him in pursuit of a common goal, he’s not one to ask for help. Here lies the problem: He’s not used to relying on others or asking for help — doing so would affect his self-esteem and pride.

Recently, I received a call from this gentleman directly. He asked that I once again come to his home to talk. That he called, and not his wife, led me to believe that perhaps he was ready to accept some assistance.

When I arrived at his home, I was met at the front door by his wife. After a cordial greeting, she smiled and said, “I don’t know what you said when you last spoke, but I think he’s ready to accept some help.”

I was a bit perplexed hearing this. When he and I spoke on the phone earlier in the day, the conversation was brief. I had not pushed for him to receive assistance nor had he provided any affirmation that he wanted our assistance. Rather, just an invite to come talk.

After about 30 minutes of talking and answering questions, he informed me that he was willing to try having a caregiver come to his home. I was surprised to hear this and couldn’t help myself; I had to ask why now, and what changed his mind.

He explained to me that during my last visit to his home months earlier, I said something to him that, at the time, somewhat upset him. However, after having given himself time to think about it, he realized what had bothered him. It seems that I had said that while I understood that accepting assistance required some humility, not accepting help was just pride standing in his way.

I don’t recall saying that to him upon our visit — at least not in that manner. I would never intentionally mean to offend anyone contemplating receiving assistance. However, it certainly sounds like something I’d say in effort to motivate someone to make good decisions. Perhaps I need to work more on my message delivery.

Too frequently, I see people’s pride and ego stand in their way from living a better quality of life. I see this in clients, and I saw this in my grandmother. Sadly, she would not listen to my grandfather nor my parents’ plea for her have a caregiver assist her with her Parkinson’s. Her reluctance to have somebody assist her led to many injuries that could have been avoided.

While I am working on addressing my delivery, the fact of the matter remains: If someone’s pride or ego impedes them from asking for assistance, then they should not be surprised when something bad happens that could have been avoided.

It’s been a few weeks since this gentleman has been having a caregiver assist him. He has not yet fallen and last week stood at the river’s edge and fished with his caregiver by his side. He’s happy and regaining his confidence to do the things he loves.

Asking for help to do something you have done autonomously for a lifetime can understandably affect one’s pride. Nevertheless, it does not diminish one’s dignity.