Solving the Dignity Dilemma:
How You Can Now Have Privacy During Assisted
By Robin Lenart
I love riddles and especially enjoy searching for the secret
that’s hiding behind the obvious. Here’s one I first
heard from a boy in my 6th grade class. As most riddles, it
was presented as a question: If you were confronted with a bear
behind you, a tiger beside you on your left, a lion on your
right, and a church in front of you, which way would you run?
Right on cue I picked the “correct answer” and said
“I’d head for cover to the church”. My friend
enjoyed asking again, this time with a giggle, “You’d
go to church with a bare behind?” With 11-year-old vivid
imagery, the thought of being exposed in the most respected
setting would make meeting a tiger almost do-able.
In real life, dignity can be like a riddle, confounding our
senses and reason. While the choices may not be so painful as
fighting off wild animals, the pain vs. shame scenarios do exist.
You know that feeling you get when you find yourself recovering
from a medical procedure and catch sight of your friendly nurse
coming in your direction carrying a wash basin and towels. She
had heard it all before I’m sure…”Thanks,
I’ll wait till I get home…I can do it myself…Ugh,
I don’t need a bath anyway, really.” Why couldn’t
we just tell her the “naked” truth? Like a seasoned
riddle solver, she would have to de-code the story and discover
the hidden message: Fear of dignity loss.
My first encounter with this phantom emotion came during a
hospital stay when I was only eight. It was there that I discovered
the invisible boundaries of my personal comfort zone. I moaned
about the dreadful gown. It did not resemble the “gowns”
Cinderella or Barbie had. Where was the elastic, the zipper
or buttons? Why would anyone want to wear a dress held together
only at the neck? And to make matters worse, no underwear underneath!
Thankfully my Mom was the champion for whatever cause I had
for the moment. This time it was survival of the self! The “whys”
and “what -fors” were not for information, but rather
the cry for help from the fear of vulnerability deep within.
Mom understood. To my relief, she smuggled my under garments
to me so I could be covered. Since there was no talk of me breaking
the “rules”, my bet says she had a little talk with
the attending staff.
Little did I know that one day, I’d be returning the
favor, coming to Mom’s rescue from the same boogie-man
of dread. Again, I came face to face with these sensitive issues
when she came to live with me and my husband. As she struggled
with Parkinson’s, I worried about her entering a stage
where she may need more care. I secretly dreaded the day when
I would have to help with bathing. My mother was a dignified
lady. I wanted to help protect her dignity, not be a part of
her losing it. . How could I honor her while invading those
intimate boundaries of personal care?
As a caregiver I saw many in the home heath care industry.
Therapists, social workers and aides came into our home. I asked
questions, collected stories and took notes. I wanted to hear
how others were dealing with this issue of being naked in the
presence of a family caregiver. I heard from compassionate nurses
and aides who suggested creative ways of staying covered. Showering
in a slip or keeping the undergarments on during bathing were
a few. But when these wet garments needed to come off, the problem
of exposure returned again. Having a choice to say no to bathing
was the popular solution, but if a shower was truly needed,
then what? The Certified Nursing Assistants I questioned said
about half of their new clients refused baths due to embarrassment.
Oddly enough, among the bath-dodgers, they said doctors were
the worst offenders! Perhaps because the Medical community at
least, attempts to acknowledge the embarrassment factor with
a variety of cover-ups. However flimsy, these paper shawls and
dresses may not be the most fashionable, but I’m grateful
they are not taken away! Unfortunately the accepted way in personal
care was simply biting the bullet. How would I feel if my son
or son-in-law needed to help me into the shower? Or on the flip
side, as a daughter, would I feel uneasy about helping my dad
if he needed my care?
I believe my own discomfort as a family caregiver helped fuel
my frustration. And so began my quest to get to know more about
this peculiar emotion.
Should I out-smart it? ...Or just make peace with it?
The answer to my prayers came with one of those light-bulb
moments as an idea flashed in my mind! Why not cover just the
“bare” essentials? I envisioned a flap-type wrap,
which resembled the garment Tarzan or Jane would wear while
bathing under a tropical waterfall. Discovering a solution to
the problem of embarrassment seemed so simple, yet had its challenges.
This new loin cloth accessory needed to cover, but not get in
the way of personal hygiene. And it needed to be water friendly,
so it could be used in the shower where it’s most needed.
As I finished my sketches, the day came (none too soon) for
me to assist my mom in a quick body clean up. A makeshift prototype
was formed from a couple old hand towels quickly stitched and
safety-pinned together. We both made it through the bathing
crisis without the discomfort of embarrassment.
I discovered from this simple garment, there was a definite
relationship between dignity and clothing. Mom’s honor
found expression by covering what was private to her. I felt
I was given a secret that solved this dignity riddle.
The dread of boundary crossing was replaced with a peace of
mind regarding all of her personal care. Her new “birthday
suit” was born and was aptly named “Honor Guard”.
It had three flap-panels and a matching chest shield that got
wet with her during her showering. When it was time to dry off,
a companion dry set, lined with terry cloth was placed right
over the wet garment, so it could be removed under the cover
of the dry garment. It was so easy. Her fresh clothes were put
on right under the dry garments. All through her stages of care,
her Honor Guard was worn for whatever was needed. There was
no need for body exposure. We both enjoyed the benefit of dignity
for clothing changes, sponge baths and even help in the bathroom.
Through the next year, we both soldiered it out, as she needed
more help. Many emotions were felt and shared. Embarrassment
was not one of them.
My quest to share this simple solution with others led me to
launch Dignity Resource Council,
a nonprofit organization for other caregivers and moms like
mine. Many have been covered and comforted by the garment she
helped inspire. As my story is told, perhaps someday, personal
care garments will be standard for all wanting the comfort of
If you would like to have an Honor Guard garment set for you
or your loved one, visit Dignity Resource Council's web
site. We offer Women’s and Men’s garments you
can purchase right online. We also have a charitable program
called “Love Covers” which helps with the purchase
price on a sliding scale, as our funds allow.
Dignity is a beautiful state of being. It’s like a warm
sunset that covers us with a beautiful glow of appreciation.
And who wouldn’t like to be seen in a good light?
Robin Lenart is a conference speaker and Executive
Director of Dignity Resource Council. For more information about
personal care garments, visit www.dignityrc.org
or call 844-678-4698.