When I was little my siblings and I knew that dishonesty was a sin. If not straight to Hell, we were at least off to purgatory for a good while. And though my parents had not set out any parameters on the good Lord’s Commandments, we knew anything immoral, unhealthy or unsafe counted. Fibs on the other hand - little white, wisps of untruth that did not hurt anyone, but might preserve our backside – those were okay in our book.
Our fibbing employed three techniques.
Shock and awe:
“Who broke the towel rack?”
“What! Someone broke the towel rack?”
“Who finished all the ice cream and put the container back in empty?”
“Who dropped Granny’s hat in the toilet?”
“Marty (the baby of the family) did.”
Now, a mother myself, I am fully aware that we were not putting one over on my parents, most especially our eyes-in-the-back-of-her-head mother. She knew what was what with ice cream, towel rack, fancy hats and whatever else we laid at her feet. I just figure with three children to raise, she had to pick and choose her battles, and she knew how to pick ‘em. The tough stuff got handled at home with belt and bare backside. All else was washed clean come penance with a good dose of Catholic guilt and seven Hail Mary’s.
And now I find myself in a similar situation. But, it is not my children doing the dirty dead that are the problem. It is my adult, highly educated, cerebrally- functioning parents (er…make that Mom, Dad is open for debate at this time) who have had more years with the good Lord’s decree “Thou Shall Not Lie” than my children and I combined, and should know better.
They, of course do not see what they have been up to as lying. Rather, they are protecting their independence from prying children who, they think, want to yank it from them before their fist is even cold or dead.
So, they hide things. Serious things, thinking that if we knew, we would be up there in an instant shuttering their lives and loading them into the first bus to nursinghomedom.
Things like, falls in the middle of the night, which require a call to the patience-wearing-thin-police, to hoist them out of the tub, or off the floor. Things like, spending entire days in bed, pain searing away all desire to eat, drink, get up. Things like blood pressure spikes (“Yikes, it was what!?”) or closet doors knocked off track by unsteady hands groping for security. All concealed from us with their brusque, or cheerful, phone conversations. Conversations forever ending with “we are fine.”
If pressed, vagueness descends, wrapping itself around answers to pointed questions, making it impossible to see what is troubling them, to piece together an accurate image of their lives, so far away and misunderstood. Voluntarily or involuntarily, the ambiguity is there none the less, leaving us worried. Wondering which is it - dementia, distrust, denial? And what do we do?
Sometimes amid all the dishonesty of the last six months, I have tried to jokingly refer to it as their “payback” to us, for all our childhood falsehoods, to find the humor in this minefield of eldercare, their lies “tits” for our “tats”. But then I remember: while we fibbed, deflected, denied we knew never to lie about the dangerous stuff, the stuff that could leave us, or someone else hurt. My parents don’t seem to know this and we are at a loss as to how to re-teach them. Too bad I can’t put them over my knee and administer a good dose of old fashioned hide tanning.