You feel guilty – you’re lying to someone. Even if it was a white lie, you’re being dishonest…but at the same time you have to balance that with doing what’s best for him.”
By: Victor Abalos
Some psychologists believe so-called “white lies” are an important currency in any relationship. It’s a way to manage the little challenges of getting along with husbands, wives, children and co-workers.
But for Beatriz Lopez, white lies became much more – they became an important language of love in her family as they struggled to deal with her oldest brother’s rapid slide into dementia. The white lies were sometimes told to protect him from possibly hurting others – like when they told him the CHP had come to confiscate his car keys. The DMV had actually suspended his license but Jose Lopez, already diagnosed with dementia, refused to stop driving.
Or the white lies they told him when it came time to take his pet dog, Jazzy, away for adoption. He kept forgetting to feed and clean up after her but Beatriz and the rest of the family knew he’d never give her up willingly. “He was so close to her – she followed him everywhere and we were worried what he’d do if we tried to take her away.”
So they told Jose Jazzy was sick and needed to go to the vet. He was able to say goodbye to her without knowing – or remembering – he would never see her again.
“You feel guilty – you’re lying to someone,” Beatriz say. “Even if it was a white lie, you’re being dishonest and I’m just not the kind of person to do that, especially with family. But at the same time you have to balance that with doing what’s best for him. The lie is justified.”
Jose, who is now 64, was diagnosed with advanced dementia four years ago. It was heartbreaking for the Lopez family – who like many families had their challenges but tried to keep each other close over the years. Jose, was known to be a “macho man,” according to little sister Beatriz – a man rough around the edges.
He rarely showed emotion and when he did it was often anger. He was also a father to three children but was long estranged from their mother who had remarried. The kids are all adults now and Jose had difficulties with them. He hasn’t spoken to his only daughter in many years. Not even the diagnosis of dementia would bring them back together. His oldest son, Jose Jr. died of cancer only two years ago.
Beatriz remembers her brother at the funeral. He’d already been diagnosed with dementia and she isn’t sure he was completely aware that his son was gone.
“He realized there was something wrong but wasn’t ready to admit it.”
“It’s incumbent upon us to really try to come together as families,” says Dr. Clive Kennedy, Professor of Clinical Forensic Psychology at The Chicago School. “We can’t wait until weddings and funerals. Let’s get together and have a meal together and open up and talk about the things that some families avoid.”
It was because the Lopez family – out of concern for their brother’s safety – eventually connected with each other that they were able to take action. And when they finally convinced Jose to get tested it was because they had gone through this before.
Beatriz remembers the day the family confronted the issue head on.
“We told him we were all getting tested – even though it was only him. And we knew there was a high probability that he had (dementia). When we got the results and we told him, it was an emotional moment. We told him ‘remember what dad had? We think this is what you may have too.’”
Beatriz and Jose’s father had died of dementia-related issues and Jose’s diagnosis brought back painful memories.
Jose now lives in a special residential facility designed for dementia and other patients who have cognitive loss challenges. Beatriz and her brother Luis, sister Lina and Jose’s son Jim come to visit often.
“When we moved him to the facility, we told him he was moving to a new apartment. We told him it was bigger and there would be more people to socialize with.” More white lies, said Beatriz.
“Sometimes it’s sad (because) I don’t think he recognizes me but that doesn’t stop me from going to see him. I like to spend time with him. But I’ll admit I’ve driven away in tears because he didn’t recognize me.”
Jose’s diagnosis, along with their father’s, brought home hard realities to Beatriz and her siblings.
“It scares the heck out of me. As we age, we tend to forget things anyway. ‘Where did I leave my keys?’ I think I am I starting to show symptoms. I am hyper sensitive when I forget things. But I’m afraid to get tested. I don’t know if I want to hear that news. It’s like a death sentence. Makes me more aware. I play brain games to keep my mind active. I’ve seen what it does.”
Her experience with her father and brother motivated Beatriz to take action.
“I also made arrangements, should I get it. I don’t want to put my kinds through the same struggle. They shouldn’t have to deal with that emotional and financial toll.”
“We’re talking about difficult conversations,” said Dr. Kennedy. “We may even start avoiding the person in question and that’s not the thing to do. This is the time families should start pulling together not apart.”