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Do We Tell Mom?


"My brother living in Boston just had a stroke, which is the same thing that took our father. My brother is okay, but my siblings think we should lie to Mom about his condition, telling her a tooth problem is affecting the way he talks. They fear the news would cause her to worry, affecting her health. Mom is 89 years old and rather frail. By frail I mean she is a little, bird-like woman. She gets around with a walker, she has high blood pressure and arthritis, and she seems to get a bit smaller each year.

I think we should just tell her the truth and let her deal with the facts. I don't think it is fair to keep what is going on from her.

What do you think?"



My first impulse would be to approach the situation head-on, just like you are thinking. Most of us will insist that we want the cold, hard facts as soon as they become available. We actually yearn for the whole story in most situations.

In your brother’s situation, your siblings are protecting your mother from trauma and worry, much like we do with children at times. Someone has made the determination that Mom cannot handle the truth right now but can tolerate a tooth problem instead.

Frankly, mothers are adept at figuring out the truth.

They can always tell when we are withholding information from them and figure things out one way or another. My own elderly mother always seems to zero-in on trouble. If your mother is of sound mind, (you have not indicated otherwise), I believe she will eventually figure out what is going on. Now if your siblings would agree that getting the story piecemeal is more palatable for her, then it is fine to give her half-truths until the entire story comes out. That approach is still better than flat-out lying.

What you and your siblings need to do consider is your mother’s willingness to forgive and forget your slight deceptions. Each family has their ways of communicating, some are very direct on a consistent basis, some provide half-truths, and others withhold information forever. I doubt that the approach you speak of is unusual for your family, and your mother is likely quite familiar with the pattern. If this type of information is usually communicated this way, it will play out as it has in the past, for better or worse.

I wish your family the best as you process the health news.