Our dog, Karl, died a few years ago. His mind was willing, but his back legs and hips had enough. He lived to the ripe old age of 14…which is a ridiculously long time for an English mastiff to live. We adopted him when he was 6. I don’t know what his life looked like before we met that day at the shelter, but I am affirm that he lived his best life once he ended up at our house.
We made the choice to euthanize him after he could no longer walk on his own. We stopped at Burger King on the way to the vet. He put down a whole serving of chicken fries in the backseat. At the vet, they gave him EZ cheese (you know, the kind in a squirty can) as they injected the medication.
As far as pet deaths go, it was among the best. He lived a long life. He died eating EZ cheese.
But it sucked.
Losing a pet sucks.
And that’s why I had a hard time with this story.
I was presenting for a class at a local nursing college when a student told me about her neighbor with dementia. His dog, Daisy, had passed away a few months back. Every morning he woke up and looked for Daisy. He’d ask his wife where Daisy was.
And everyday, he was told that Daisy had passed away.
Every. Single. Day.
He was told everyday that his dog died.
You know the day we lost Karl? He lived that everyday.
And he cried. Every. Single. Day.
This pain of losing his dog was inflicted upon him each day. However, he was unable to process that information. And he’d ask again the next day.
It’s like giving a shot. You feel the pain. Except with this shot…the medication wasn’t injected. So, really, it was just like stabbing him repeatedly with a needle.
His family thought that, in time, it’d stick. He’d remember that Daisy was gone. So they kept telling him, time and time again. And he cried, time and time again.
His family didn’t want to lie. I mean, honesty is the best policy, right? Isn’t that what our parents taught us?
Except…maybe there are exceptions. Maybe dementia changes the rules.
We don’t like to call it lying. In my field, we call it therapeutic fibbing. It makes us feel better.
So where is Daisy?
She’s on a walk with a friend.
She’s at the groomer.
She’s visiting another family member.
She’s at doggie daycare.
Sometimes we feel like we are breaking a rule of ethics when we fib to someone with dementia. If someone with dementia is unable to process our reality, let’s step into their reality. If their reality suggests that Daisy is still alive, let’s be a part of that reality.
I frequently am asked the question: “Is it okay to lie to my loved one with dementia?”
I used to dance around this a bit. I’d talk about stepping into their reality. I’d mention therapeutic fibbing. I once read this philosophical piece about when lying is okay, and I’d tried to awkwardly paraphrase it. It was like a sub-par mini Ted-talk on the ethics of lying.
After going through all this, family members would give me a confused look and say, “So you’re saying it’s okay to lie? Or not okay to lie?”
Now I just say yes.
When the truth causes pain and the information won’t stick anyway…it’s okay to lie.