Dignity or Ego

Dignity or Ego           By Lori La Bey 

A friend and I discussed dignity issues regarding my Mother’s appearance. Her belief, was I should do everything in my power to make sure my mother looks great all the time. “Looks presentable to whose standard?” I questioned. To me today, I look at the word dignity very different than I did even a couple of years ago. I understand the meaning of the word, and in the past I took care of those things that mattered to Mom. I always made sure her hair was in place, her clothes were stylish, and her nails were polished… Although I did not necessarily do all these things myself, I knew they were important to my Mother and so I made sure they were done.

Today when someone asks about my Mother’s dignity, I need to know where the person is coming from in order to answer the question. Is a person stating the word to assure my Mother is well cared for, or is it stated to try to get their needs met, so they are comfortable being around her. Needless to say, my evaluation of the word has adjusted due to my Mother’s condition. Now I look deeper.

Is dignity about alignment with one’s wishes? Does the game plan change when their comfort is now jeopardized? Mom know longer “worries about looking presentable.” Maybe I am defensive thinking people think I do not care, or I am not taking good care of my Mother, due to the way she now looks. My friend who I adore, did not appear to like my questioning of her comment. I Implied, the use of the word dignity was more about making my Mother “look good” to meet others needs to feel comfortable around her. She argued, “No, it was about my Mother’s wishes.” I told her I understand that part, but as this disease progresses, like many diseases do, things change. Things we don’t think about.

I told her, “As Caregivers, I believe we have to go deeper. Are we going to cause them pain and fear to make them look good?” My answer is a steadfast NO! I am not going to pluck ever-wild hair on her eyebrows or chin if it is going to be upsetting to her.” I am not going to have her knocked out and have her teeth pulled and dentures made so they will end up in drawer: as she does not know, she has dentures. I do not even want to take the chance to upset her by telling her that her teeth are bad. My Mother has always been so proud of her teeth. This could be one of those things she chooses to remember, and holds onto, getting angry. What her mind will grab a hold of sometimes amazes me. It would devastate her to know her teeth were rotten.

I also know by leaving her teeth in the condition they are, she will most likely get an infection. This infection could even take her life. But, I know my Mother. I know she can still feel changes in her mouth and it irritates her. I know Mom lost a childhood friend who went to the Dentist and never came home, and my Mother has had a fear of dying in a Dentist chair all her life. I know my Mother does not do well being put under for surgery, and this too could take her life.

There are so many variable to consider as the disease progresses when we make decisions. Each of us must broaden our scope of analysis. In the end, we must make the best decision we can with the information we have. We must let our heart guide us, not our ego. There is no right or wrong. Each situation is different. Each person is different. But, I do think we must look at things from more angles and look deep within ourselves for the best answer for the person we are caring for, and the situation before us.

Doing things to keep my Mother’s dignity was different, easier when she was aware of how she looked. When her ego was intact, she could judge for herself what felt right and what did not. Now, she is fearful of many of the things she used to pride herself on, such as grooming. She is resistant and gets aggressive with people attempting to do certain tasks to beautify her.

Now I have decided to change the rules; to keep her calm, happy, and safe. That is what I believe she would choose if she could.

5 Replies to “Dignity or Ego”

  1. Lori, I believe it is natural to defend your mothers dignity. You bring up a valid observation; (To the general public) – (other than family and care providers) your mothers dignity is preserved when she keeps her appearence in check. So in a way the family and care givers are immediatly judged (as doing a good job or a poor one) based on first impressions.

    The double edge sword: Is it important for your mother to be indiginant of herself at the risk of being indiginent of others needs (such as your close friends)?

    Your belief and honor of your mother it seems is what really matters.

    Good and informative work.


    1. Thanks for you thoughts Dave, It is a very tough journey at times, this bumby road they call Alzheimer’s. So much more thought has to go into everything as the disease progresses. Our standard answers and thoughts don’t always make sense in the equation anymore. This maze of quality of life issues and ethics stretches the heart, mind and soul to brand new levels. Lori

  2. I’ve been catching up on reading your blog, all good stuff!

    A couple of thoughts on appearance: when I was taking care of my wife at home full time, I worked hard to make sure that she always looked the way she would have wanted to look before the disease struck. This meant giving frequent showers, which were very difficult, and applying lipstick, which is not a skill I learned as a young lad! People always commented on how good she looked, which made me realize two things: First, part of making her look good was to make me look good — it was my ego that was being stroked. We need to be aware when it stops being about them and starts being about us. That is, am I doing this to make her feel better, or am I doing it to make me look good? Second, when people saw that Linda looked “normal,” they wouldn’t know how much effort it took to make that happen, and they would tend to underestimate the seriousness of the disease and the difficulty of caregiving. “Gee, she looks so good, she must be doing fine!” Looking good becomes a way of disguising the loss and pain, which is another form of hiding the truth. These days, I don’t mind a little dirty hair or the inevitable food stains on the pants — that’s part of the disease and people should see it.

    1. Hi Dave,
      Great thoughts! It is so true, much of it comes down to our ego and Lord only knows when that switch takes place from true caring to performing, but it usually does. As Caregivers we get consumed in our “duties” and worry of what others think, without even realizing we are doing that. It does mask the problem and allows others to avoid the truth of illness. It also increases Caregivers frustration with why people don’t get the “true picture” of what is going on! It’s cause we are hiding it without even knowing it. People here our comments and updated but many still judge how things are going from the outside in. As raw as it can be at first, there is such true beauty and depth to any relationship once you get behind the appearance issues and questions and standards… The connections are so much stronger when we look and love from deep within.
      Thanks again fro your comments

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