Therapeutic Lying

I Lie!

“Gerard is coming tomorrow and we are going fishing. You have to come with us.”

“Oh.  When did he arrange that?” I ask.   My Bert hesitates and then: “Yesterday.”

Gerard, Bert’s brother, died last December.  But I say: “OK.  I will go with you but I am going to take a book.”  My Bert laughs.  “You can’t fish with a book.  I will get worms.”  Ah! Here is a nugget of reality for me to hold onto. He knows you do not fish with a book but need worms.

It is evening and Bert is looking sad.  Something is bothering him.  I can tell.  He is picking at his fingernails.  He does that when he is worried, anxious, confused.  I ask him what the matter is.  I hold his hands; put my forehead on his, which calms him; he looks up at me and I see fear and puzzlement in his eyes.

“Moeder has not come to see me for a long time.  She does not call me.  It is more than a month that I have not heard from her.” Bert’s mother died, if I remember correctly, in 1982.

“Oh, you do not have to worry.  She is so very busy. You know Moeder is always busy.  She will call you soon.  Do you want a cup of tea?” “Yes, and a cookie too?” he says with a smile.  His hands are still. I answer:  “You and your sweet tooth!  One cup of tea and maybe two cookies coming up.” The sadness is gone, the moment has passed.

That is therapeutic lying.

The first time I heard the phrase my immediate thought was: “Now that is one heck of an oxymoron if ever there was one.”  Little did I know this act would become a staple in my collection of strategies to deal with my Bert and Alzheimer’s disease.

We are taught not to tell lies.  However, we do know about those little white lies, the big whoppers and in Jamaica there is one called a ‘bare faced lie’ which is a lie told to you by someone who looks you in the eye and utters the most egregious lie without the slightest qualm. None of these are therapeutic lying.

Therapeutic lying is a very effective tool every caregiver learns to use.  Like most learned behaviours  you get better at it as time goes by. The more you do it, the better you are at it.  You do it not just for your loved one but also for yourself.  Of course we are going on a fishing trip; Bert’s mother will get in touch ‘soon’. Bert is reassured; I do not have to begin a long explanation of their deaths. No when, where, how nor why he did not know about them.  I do not have to say why we will not be going on a fishing trip with Gerard. I deflect with the offer of tea which my Bert could drink all day, and yes, he does like his cookies and cakes and ice cream or anything sweet.

My Bert attends an Adult Day Programme two days a week.  I would not tell him he is in adult day care which in essence that’s what it is.  No.  He goes to his club. A little therapeutic lying maintains his dignity.

So now I lie. I lie more than I would like but without any regret.  When I lie therapeutically I am showing my love for my Bert. This kind of lying maintains dignity, relieves stress, calms anxiety, provides solace, is a mood enhancer, a bonding technique and saves time which is precious to every caregiver.

Therapeutic lying is good for communication too. It can be the trigger to finding topics of conversation appropriate to my Bert’s interests.  I do fish with a book.  The baited line in one hand and the book in the other, so the next day or two weeks later I talk with my Bert about fishing and how I caught fish while reading a book.  We laugh. Photographs of his mother can bring a multitude of stories.  My Lifers have heard some of them.

The Meander:   Within the maelstrom that is Bert’s brain, time, people, places and events are all muddled. ‘Soon’, ‘yesterday’, ‘tomorrow’ are meaningless.  Yet at times those single words are the sum total of a therapeutic lie.  They are simple and yet so effective.  Some thoughts though lie too deep for tears or lies, any lies.