Painted sky at sunset. (All photographs by Marylin Warner)

Painted sky at sunset. (All photographs by Marylin Warner)





Rural Kansas cemetery.

Rural Kansas cemetery.


I’m starting with Scott’s quote because it ties in with my feelings about “Therapeutic Lying,” one of the suggested responses to answering the difficult questions asked by people who suffer with Alzheimer’s and dementia. For instance, if a man with Alzheimer’s asks where his wife is, to reduce his stress and confusion, his caregiver could say the wife has gone to the store…instead of saying she died two years earlier.

five mil

As the daughter of a father who died after seven long years of horrible Alzheimer’s—and whose mother is now deep in the confusions of dementia—here’s my take on Therapeutic Lying: it may be easier on the caregiver, but it’s not necessarily better for the patient. The truth is better—and kinder, more helpful and compassionate—when it’s combined with an honest, real “memory story.” For example, if my mother asks where my dad is and if they’ll be going home soon, I serve the answer honestly…with a sweet memory for dessert. “Mom, Daddy died several years ago.” I point to a picture of them together. “Mom, I love this picture of you two. You’re both smiling, and I remember how you always straightened his tie . Daddy would wink and said, ‘Mary takes such good care of me.’ And he was right, Mom. You took very good care of all of us.”

Mom gets honest answers, followed by a true anecdote, and if she asks another question, I’ll give her another truthful answer.   The overall theme here is truth served with kindness.

January 26th is Toad Hollow Day of Encouragement, a little-known day celebrating connection with others through gestures of the heart. To me, Toad Hollow Day fits much better with gentle, honest memory sharing instead of therapeutic fiblets. (For the pictures of 1806 Toad Hollow school and pupils, Google Toad Hollow.)

January 31st is “Inspire Your Heart With Art Day.” In the spirit of the two-faced Janus looking backward, I’m including examples of my favorite art from the past. To be truthful, I know none of it belongs in a gallery, but it all holds special places in my heart. After January 31st, the Janus of Roman mythology will look forward to the year of opportunities and challenges ahead…and so will I.


Twenty-nine years ago, when our daughter Molly was in 3rd grade, she made this "Indian Art" project of clay and yarn.  It's our favorite wall art.

Twenty-nine years ago, when our daughter Molly was in 3rd grade, she made this “Indian Art” project of clay and yarn. It’s our favorite wall art.

Picasso-type portraits of me, painted 3 years ago by my 7 and 10-year old grandchildren. These are definitely "heart art."

Picasso-type portraits of me, drawn and painted 3 years ago by our grandchildren when they were  7 and 8 years old. These are definitely “heart art” that make me smile.


Filed under art, art projects, Dementia/Alzheimer's, lessons about life, lessons for great-grandchildren, life questions, special quotations


  1. The truth is always the best…and how you answer you mother’s question about going home is absolutely perfect! XOXO

    • Thank you, Robyn. Lately, she will ask the same question again later. I’m not sure if she forgot my answer or if she needs more. So I’ll tell her another memory-based story. Often, she’ll close her eyes and shake her head and smile.

  2. The Toad Hollow Day of Encouragement sounds like a fine idea. Celebrating connection should make it a world-wide day.
    Inspire Your Heart With Art Day also sounds pretty good, especially when we see that lovely example of ‘Indian Art’ on your wall. However, a slight shadow is cast on the day if the pictures by your granddaughters approach anything like real life. I can confirm we definitely have proof of aliens living on Earth. I do think that like Picasso the 10 year old must have a serious squint but what really gave you away was the cockscomb on your head where hair should be.I’d sack your current make-up artist if I were you
    xxx Humongous Hugs xxx

    • Good idea, David. But now Grace is 11 and Gannon is 10, and we have the two Picasso-type portraits matted and framed. We all smile at the pictures, but both grandchildren know better than to suggest that I imitate the hair-dos and make up! 😉
      Many hugs to you, too, David.

  3. juliabarrett

    Yes. The truth is best. And then you cocoon a sad memory in many happy memories. I don’t envy you your role. Nice artwork!

    • Thanks, Julia. These pieces of “art” keep us smiling. 😉
      Your term–“cocoon”–is right on for what I try to do. Mom, at least in the past, had an uncanny way of detecting when someone was telling her the truth when she asked about Dad or any of her friends or relatives. So I began “cocooning” the truth with happy memories that would hopefully make more of an impression that the sad fact. I know it’s not for everyone, and it doesn’t always work, but I know it worked a lot better than making up something about her loved ones being gone to the store.

  4. This is a thoughtful post, Marilyn. I have a friend who practices ‘therapeutic lying’ so that his mother doesn’t have to experience the raw fresh pain each time she learns of her husband’s death, but I can also see your point–the idea of pulling the person into a story from happier times might keep her from experiencing the sorrow too deeply by focusing on what was good. And she certainly is lucky to have such a patient loving daughter.

    • Thank you, Naomi.
      What has worked with both of my parents might not work for everyone, and I’m sorry your friend is going through this with his mother. For me, it’s better to tell the truth and quickly follow it with a happy and more complimentary memory that Mom can focus on, and as things progress, your friend might try it on a less stressful question than the father’s death.

  5. I love how you deal with your mothers questions. The art by your daughter and grandchildren is precious. They are keepers for sure.

  6. I fully agree. The truth in love is always best, for everyone. And retelling anecdotes and memories, even if the person has forgotten the facts, is a good way of distracting attention to a positive aspect of the situation. Great art work 🙂 – glad you have a discerning eye (and heart) to appreciate it.

    • I don’t know how discerning I am when it comes to the “art” made by our daughter as a child, and now made by her own children, but we wouldn’t trade these home-made masterpieces for anything! 🙂

  7. I agree, the truth is always better. What a wonderful and compassionate daughter you are, Marylin. xo

    • Thanks, Jill. My efforts don’t always make a difference, but I do the best I can. Plus, retelling good memories for my mom–and for my dad when he was alive–helps me through the difficult times. too. It’s a win-win effort, I think.

  8. I like your “truthful” answer Marylin. And I have many projects from my two children (now adults of course) that I still hold on to. I bought a pink folder for my daughter and a blue-green one for my son when they were in elementary school and kept special things they created. I need to get those out and take a look! xo

    • Joanne, pour yourself a cup of tea, prop up your feet and open the folders you kept of your children’s projects. We forget all their wonderful and creative efforts, and then it’s a delight to see a series of projects. And it’s really fun when we also show the entire folders to our children and/or grandchildren; they’re as proud and happy as we are. 🙂

  9. How wonderful to answer your mother’s question in such a kind and gentle way. It has been a long journey for you taking care of your parents and you’re still doing a great job. I admire you for that.

    • Thank you, Gerlinde. The journey still continues with my mother, and very few attempts seem to make a difference at this point. But occasionally something new–like reading aloud children’s poetry to her–will work, and the surprise is that it makes me feel better, too.

  10. Your approach to truth telling with your mother is heart-warming. Love the art with heart too. The “Picasso” pieces are powerful: I have samplings in each of my grandchildren’s photo albums.

  11. I confess that I lied to my mother but only when she was in a coma before she died. The nurses told me it might have an impact. They said that they believe the hearing is the last sense to go and I was encouraged to talk to my mother throughout her 48 hours in a coma. I only told her positive things and I have no regrets. But by and large, honesty is probably the best policy.

    • Andrew, what you did for your mother in those final hours was a gift of love. Having her son with her, hearing his voice tell her positive things… what more could a mother want? I’m glad the nurse encouraged you to talk to her. It was a bond between you and your mother, and I believe it was one of those gifts that was as good for you as it was for her.

  12. Beautiful Marylin, there is a gentleness and grace in which you live through these days. Your lessons of experience are gifts to all of us. Beautiful art ~

  13. Claudia

    So timely to read now…father-in-law is asking four times an hour where his wife is as he can’t remember. Each time is a mini-death. Monday the 26th would have been my own dad’s birthday. So much to think about….but January sun instead of snow continues to try to make us all shine!

    • And anniversary dates seem to flood us with many memories, both sad and happy. You’re dealing with a lot this month, Claudia, and the repetition of your father-in-law’s questions makes it so hard. I’m glad the sun melting the snow for awhile is making it easier.

  14. Sharyn And Bill Stewart

    Hi Marylin, I liked this post. As a nurse with intensive Alzheimer’s training I always felt that each individual patient should be assessed to determine if they can cope with the truth regarding death of a loved one. A good example would be my grandmother who would ask, “where is Harry” her husband. We told her he passed away 2 years ago, she would cry, grieve and be depressed. It would happen each time she asked about him as she could not remember that he had died. Because of the grieve and trauma that it caused her, we determined that it would be best to not be honest with her. My feeling is that, each Alzheimer’s patient is different, just like the rest of us. The treatment regime and caregiver responses should meet the plan of care that best meets the patients need.

    Sent from my iPad


    • Thank you, Sharyn. You have both a professional and a personal perspective, and I appreciate your balance. You’re right; every patient is different, just like the rest of us. The honest approach–followed with a memory from a happier time–worked better with both of my parents, but that doesn’t mean it would work with someone else. Thanks for commenting on this topic!

  15. I love the way you answer your mom’s questions. I agree wholeheartedly that the truth is always better than the therapeutic lying.
    Beautiful works of art! I didn’t know of Toad Hollow Day of Encouragement and Inspire your Heart with Art day. Thanks for this info.
    Have a great weekend!

    • If you get a chance, Elaine, Google Toad Hollow. The old pictures of the school, the students, and the town (near Kalamazoo, Michigan) are very compelling and explain how the encouragement focus began.
      I really like the Inspire Your Heart With Art Day, too. And the art I like best is children’s art. 😉

  16. The truth might be less painful when said with kindness – as you did with your Mom, Marilyn.

    The art work of our children and grandchildren are treasures. Yours are precious. Some of my favorites are posted on our fridge and on a pantry door for all to admire. 😉

  17. Truth served with kindness sounds like something we should all live by.

    • Thanks, I think so, too. It’s the truth WITH kindness. One of the caregivers said that when she worked at the hospital, she heard a lot of blunt truth that were not combined with kindness or reassurance and left patients in tears.

  18. It seems that your grandchildren perceive you as ours do us…lol!…:)JP

    • Oh, boy, they do have interesting perceptions, don’t they? 🙂
      The “portraits” of me, Picasso-style, keep me smiling…and wondering if my hair really ever looked spiked to them. I’m hoping it’s just artistic interpretations made when they were 7 and 8; the pictures make us laugh, that’s for sure!

  19. So pleased that I am not the only one who still has my child’s art on the wall. Some of the pieces my children did were simply magical, and they still give me great pleasure. The answers you give your mother are gentle and kind. As you say, your approach may not work for everyone, but the questions are mainly about seeking reassurance and relieving anxiety, (as far as I can tell) so how the question is answered is as important as the information given.

    • I think so, too, Gallivanta. It really is about being reassured, and concluding with details of happy memories seems to reassure my mother. I still smile at the art made our daughter, and I really smile at the art her children have made that we hang next to hers. They grow up so fast, and you’re right, there’s something magical about children’s creations!

  20. Yes the truth IS always the best. When I used to visit Dad, before his dementia was too far down the line, if he told a tale that I knew was a little skewed, I would let that pass, and agree with this latest version. If he asked a direct question, then I would seek to answer it as honestly as possible, often deflecting the subject to something less contentious. It worked and we maintained equilibrium. He stopped knowing who we were fairly soon after that but would very occasionally call us by our nicknames. That was always unsettling and very sad.

    • My mom is at that point, Jenny, and she rarely recognizes any of us. During this trip, after we spent over an hour and a half reading her favorite children’s poems–and then I’d make comments about how old my brother and I were when she read these same poems to us–for a brief time the fog seemed to lift. She smiled at me, took my hand, and said yes, she remembered that, too. Those moments are precious.
      I like how you answered your dad’s questions, Jenny, but I especially like how you responded to his incorrect statements by agreeing with his latest version. That, to me, seems like a caring and gentle thing to do.

  21. Hi Marylin!

    Your post made me think! It truly is a difficult situation when your mom – or any other person with dementia – looks for the partner believing he or she is still around. I adore your attitude ‘truth served with kindness’. I will keep this in mind. It is also beautiful because truth alone can be too harsh and too negative. And it shows your strong and loving character 🙂

    • Thank you, Ilka, I appreciate that. I don’t think that works for every situation, but it’s made it easier on me–and my mother–and our relationship. I think she somehow senses that I’ll tell her the truth, but also, she seems ready for the kinder, happier memory I always conclude with after answering her question.

  22. I think your approach sounds much better than therapeutic lying. I don’t have any personal experience, but it strikes me that although a white lie might seem better for the carer at the time, having to keep doing that must have a negative impact – but your way of sharing a happy memory while telling the truth sounds like a wonderful way to give support both to yourself and to your mother.

    • I have an advantage that others might not have, Andrea. Many of Mom’s caregivers also helped care for Dad’s during his Alzheimer’s, so they know some of the real details and have pictures all around and have heard us talk to Mom. They’re very good about giving kind and caring details that off-set the the difficult questions. I realize that caregivers taking care of many dementia and Alzheimer’s patients wouldn’t have that background information, and I don’t mean to criticize those who offer a therapeutic lie as an answer. But for me with both of my parents, that wouldn’t work.

  23. Hi Marylin, I love that you were honest. I actually watched part of a movie last night where the main character handled her father’s Alzheimer’s the same way you did. And has it been three years since your lovely likeness appeared on my “Mindful Masterpiece” post – 🙂

  24. jakesprinter

    The artwork from the past are really amazing Marylin 🙂

  25. Thank you, Jake! The “Indian Art” is decades old (our daughter made it in 3rd grade), and her children’s Picasso-type art of me was done 3 years ago. We see it all and smile every day. Art is much appreciated around our house. 🙂

  26. Jim

    Many visitors interested in Alzheimer’s/dementia look to this blog for comfort as well as good information. We appreciate comments from readers with training and/or care-giving experience, such as our good friend Sharyn and many others who share personal moments, both heart-warming and difficult. Thank you.

  27. Thanks, honey. This has been an interesting journey, first with my dad’s Alzheimer’s, then with your mother’s beginning dementia, and now with my mom’s long struggles with dementia. Hearing from others who deal with it professionally and personally really helps us make sense of it all.

  28. Nancy Parker Brummett

    Love your approach to “speak the truth in grace,” Marylin. I’ll remember that advice.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s