When to Lie

 

Question #1

Your grandma has Alzheimer’s disease. This morning she woke up and could not find her husband. He died 5 years ago. If you tell her, she will be sad and upset… at least until she wakes up again tomorrow. Should you lie?

Question #2

Your grandma has Alzheimer’s disease. This morning she woke up and could not find her husband.  He died last night. If you tell her, she will be sad and upset… at least until she wakes up again tomorrow. Should you lie?

Question #3

Your grandma is sharp as a whip. This morning she woke up and could not find her husband. He died last night. If you tell her, she will be sad and upset… at least until she dies in 10 years. Should you lie?

Question #4

If you did not give the same answer for questions #1-#3, then how are the questions different?

 

8 comments

  1. William Hanisch

    Hi Josh,

    I’m not sure how I would answer your first two questions, or even if my answers would differ. But for question three, I would, generally speaking, tell her. That is, I would not lie to her. Since my answer to question three does not result in obvious answers to the first two questions, question four still needs consideration.

    Nobody, save for possibly a few extreme masochists, enjoys hearing about the death of a loved one. But we as humans are emotionally equipped to deal with death through the process of mourning. Experience has shown me that those who allow themselves to mourn properly fully heal, while those who prevent themselves from feeling the immense sadness which mourning generally requires–perhaps from wanting to avoid feeling deep pain–never fully recover and live with lowing lying sadness and anger for, sometimes, the rest of their lives. (Such people often don’t realize their low level sadness and anger–and even deny it–but those who have to be around them certainly do.)

    The grandmother in question three, being sharp as a whip, would know that something is amiss. Being denied the truth, and thereby being denied the opportunity of dealing properly with the truth, she will most likely suffer far worse over the next ten years, than she would if she were allowed to properly mourn her husband’s death. She may be extremely sad for a couple of months, but with proper mourning and family support she will be able to live the remaining ten years of her life much more fully than otherwise.

    Questions one and two, however, are not so clear. Do the grandmothers in those questions have the capacity to mourn? I do not know. Incidentally, in the first paragraph of this comment, I qualified my answer to question three with the words “generally speaking.” If that grandmother is incapable of mourning, I would not be able to answer the question so easily.

    At any rate, and perhaps I could have said this with far fewer words, the capacity for mourning, and the positive effects it has, makes it possible to coherently answer your first three questions differently from one another.

    William

    • bigjosh2

      What if you knew that your sharp grandma in question #3 was going to die tomorrow- before she would plausibly know that something was amiss with her husband on her own?

      • William Hanisch

        If I somehow knew should would die tomorrow, then I probably would not tell her. There would be no point in making her miserable on her last day alive.

    • bigjosh2

      Your Alzheimer’s-afflicted grandma in #1 definitely can mourn – you know because you have told her yesterday and she spent the rest of the day mourning – up until the moment when she feel asleep sobbing. Now she is awake again today and asking where her husband is, do you tell her again so she can spend today mourning again?

      • William Hanisch

        What I meant by mourning in my first comment involves the entire process, which takes time. It’s not possible to mourn in one day, which why I stated my ignorance as to whether it’s possible for someone with Alzheimer’s to mourn. Maybe in some way she can mourn, and after several months she’ll either stop asking about her late husband or quickly remember that he had died after being reminded. I really don’t know.

        But if she can’t mourn in a lasting way, and will otherwise relive the immediate pain of learning of her husband’s death anew each day, then I don’t see the point in telling her.

  2. james

    I wrote a more nuanced reply, but a combination of WordPress commenting reqs. and browser caching issues fubarred my comment. Anyway. To answer question 4, lie in 1 and 2 because A) you’re unlikely to be caught in the lie and B) the downside if you are caught is minimal. Tell the truth in 3 b/c, granny’s feelings not withstanding, you are likely to be caught, and the repercussions will stick with you for a decade.

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