Why do we lie?
Or is it fair to label the hopeful words exchanged between parents and children, between spouses, between friends, as deceitful?
Not long ago, I watched the final episodes of “The Killing,” a gloomy Seattle-based cop show. In a tense scene between Sarah Linden—a single mother and detective—and Jack, her oft-neglected teen son, she reassured him, “Nothing will ever happen to me.”
Sure, it’s only television, and grim or not, it’s over in a cleverly scripted forty plus minutes. Given that the dour Linden was a main character, she may survive every calamity concocted by the writers. Nonetheless, what a TV mom said to her son has been repeated with similar words in endless shows, plays, and movies: nothing will ever happen to me.
Have you said that . . . in real life?
Who have you reassured that nothing will harm you? Isn’t it what a parent is supposed to say to a child, whether the child is four or forty? It’s a way of saying you’ll be there for them, that your love is stronger than injury or accident. In a different setting, it may be the stereotypical gruff sergeant preparing his untested, unsettled soldiers for battle. He’s given them the pep talk, he’s shown his scars from skirmishes he survived and now he’ll lead the lads to hell and back and don’t worry, because nothing will ever happen . . .
There are other lies.
I have sat by hospital beds, holding the hand of those facing surgery. Soon, a highly trained, highly educated stranger known as a cardiovascular surgeon will open the person’s chest and dip their gloved hands deep into her or his ailing body and attempt to bring renewed life.
“You’ll be okay,” I have said.
Was it a lie? How could I possibly say that when a person is facing so many risks? What if the surgeon makes a mistake, or there’s a stroke during the operation, or the body’s ravaged by an infection after the surgery . . . oh how long the list of awful what-ifs can be.
In my twenties, I went through a divorce. There were no children, no property to divide, and only a few debts to squabble over. My divorce was an unexpected morning rain dampening my clothing and spirits compared to tsunami-like divorces that wrench apart lives. Still, I had friends tell me that I’d be okay. And maybe those with horrific, ruinous divorces were also told by their friends they would be . . .
How can you know? The whole world is changing.
Your child scampers to school for the first day. Your kid grabs the car keys for the first time to head off to basketball practice. The pregnant thirty-something mom, who has longed to have children and has already “lost” several children by miscarriage, is wheeled into an operating room.
We hold a hand, we smile a tender fake smile, and we say—to convince them or ourselves or both—that, “You’ll be okay.”
Nothing will ever happen to you.
Nothing will ever happen to me.
How can we not lie to a loved one? Truth be told, humans are liars.
When a patient enters hospice care, it is possible to keep voicing the loving, lovely lies. But not for long. Everyone cared for by hospice has been told they have a life-limiting illness. Doctors will guess—and I always think of it as a guess—there are six months or less before the person will die. It is a guess. I’ve seen people “graduate” from hospice after a year of care. They became stable, their health improved. They were no longer appropriate for the medical benefits. It happens. I’ve seen people, informed by wise and compassionate doctors they have many months to live, but they take their last breath less than a week after becoming a hospice patient. It happens.
Whether it’s a fictional mom on a cop show, or you and me, we tell family and friends our truth-filled lies. Hospice challenges the best and worst of those lies.
We may say (and lie), Nothing will ever happen to me . . . because my love for you is fierce and forever.
Perhaps, risking honesty, we could choose to say, Something is now happening to me . . . but my love for you is fierce and forever.
May your lie die and honest conversations begin.
(Hospice vigorously protects a patient’s privacy. I’ll take care with how I share my experiences. Any names used are fictitious. Events are combined and/or summarized.)by