By Sharon M. Kennedy
As we age, it often gets harder to cling to our dignity. For some folks losing a sense of dignity is due to major health problems that require constant medical attention including poking and probing into our physical body. For others, it’s dealing with non-life threatening ailments like arthritis, knee problems, and poor vision. Regardless of the cause, having to admit we need help can be difficult for those of us who have always been independent.
Something as simple as opening a jar of pickles can cause frustration when our hands no longer have the strength to twist off the lid. Even if we’re alone in the kitchen and no one sees us, we feel ourselves slipping into that gray zone called old age. I remember my grandmother asking me to thread a needle for her. I was just a little girl and couldn’t believe Gram couldn’t see the hole and slide the thread through it. Now I understand.
What bothers me most about losing my youth is realizing it’s never coming back. For the past few years, I’ve avoided driving at night. The result is I’ve missed lots of events I would have enjoyed. I’m too proud to ask a friend to take me. Just because we’re friends doesn’t mean we like the same things. Living on a sideroad doesn’t help either. Our road is always icy in winter. I wouldn’t want someone to slide into the ditch or hit a deer on their way to my place. Imagine the guilt I’d feel.
Dignity is one of those rare qualities in our modern world, but for oldsters it was something we took for granted. As girls, we dressed modestly, practiced good manners, and tried our best to act like young ladies. Fellows didn’t cuss in front of us or tell crude jokes. Siblings argued back and forth, but it went no further than bickering over a candy bar or television show. It was harmless and left no permanent emotional scars.
Despite all our advances in technology, psychology, and peer relationships, it seems many youths and adults today have slid down the dignity ladder. Is it just old fogies who cling to our dignity like that proverbial clinging burr I often mention? Perhaps we want to be called Sir or Ma’am. Perhaps we want doors opened for us, and when we dine out we certainly appreciate a thoughtful waiter. That’s not to say we want to be coddled as if we were organic eggs, but we do want to be treated with respect and some semblance of dignity. We are well aware the niceties of our younger days are slipping away, but that’s no reason for us to fall in line and accept modern behavior. I suppose young people don’t understand us any more than we understand them. It’s more than just a generation gap. It’s a cultural gulf that some of us may never cross. Dignity isn’t simply about decorum. It’s about self-respect and self-esteem.
Growing old means facing a lot of challenges. Some are easier to accept than others. We might be willing to walk with a cane, but no one wants to wear Depends. We might drop things due to arthritic hands, but we don’t want our house to smell like Watkins Liniment. We don’t mind losing a back molar, but dread the thought of a complete set of new choppers. We agree to visit the doctor twice a year for a checkup, but cringe at the thought of a serious illness.
We cling to whatever dignity we have left knowing full well it will disappear if we end up in a nursing home so take my advice. Hold your head high as you walk with a cane while wearing Depends. Dine at a fancy restaurant and hope your teeth don’t fall out with your first bite. And if sickness comes your way, fight it with all the strength of a sumo wrestler.