Will I lose my dignity?

There’s a cartoon series on YouTube by KurtToons called Subway Thoughts. In each short we see a guy, maybe around 30, riding the subway and we hear his internal monologue. He comments on things going on around him and things in his head. It makes for a rather funny series. There’s one however, titled “The Old Man”, that goes deeper than funny. It dives into something we all fear: old age.

Take a look if you’d like, but be warned about some explicit language.

The guy notices an old man on the train in front of him. He’s got wrinkles and bandages. His hair is patchy and disheveled. The young guy sees him and asks himself what it will be like to be so old. “It’s a struggle to get anywhere, you’re ugly as sh*t, people are just waiting for you to die…” He acknowledges the fear so many have of their future. The guy even goes so far as to acknowledge his fear of incontinence. Who will clean him up? Who will he spend his last days with? He’s freaked out when he realises that he’ll be dead one day. Even his internal swearing captures the fear of the unknown.

The fear of aging may be universal, so may be the fear of dying. But what the character in Subway Thoughts is fearing is not specifically age, but rather losing his dignity.

In the movie (and musical) Rent there’s a scene where Collin and his lover Angel are attending Life Support, a support group for those suffering from AIDS. In a powerful and moving scene one of the group members stands and begins singing, asking the deepest questions on their heart. “Will I lose my dignity? Will someone care?” Soon everyone is standing and singing. “Will I wake tomorrow from this nightmare?”

Two years ago I worked as a tech at a cancer hospital. The patients were generally older but most were terminally ill. It was my task to feed and bathe them each day. When a patient is weak enough so not to be able to feed or bathe themselves, they can feel their dignity slipping away. I had to do my best to respect the patients’ dignity, acknowledging their humanness and their story. Though I had to physically care for them in very humbling ways (including the eventual washing and moving of their body to the morgue) did not mean that they had to be treated as less than human. My patients (and their families) simply wanted to know that someone cared and that someone loved them.

Whether we age or are terminally ill or have social stigmas against us, we fear losing our dignity. We want to know that someone will care for us when we are most vulnerable. Maybe you’re asking those questions now. Where can you find the support you need?

Then there are those around us who are at that point in their life now, asking those very questions. How are we supporting them? How are we letting them know that they’re loved?

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