Am I doing the right thing by telling dad that mom is out and will be back soon, even though she died last week?

4 answers | Last updated: Sep 22, 2016
Cinful asked...

My parents have been married for 63 years and had a wonderful marriage - did everything together. My dad started losing his memory about 5 years ago - short term memory. Six months ago my mom came down with ALS and she died last week. My dad never recognized that she was ill and doesn't remember she has passed. He asked me every day a few times a day - where is mom? When is she coming home? I told him she was staying with her sister and he said he wants to call I tell him she is on a trip to Ireland with her sister and can't use the phone...I can't have him grieving her loss every time he asks since he doesn't remember her illness or I doing the right thing by keeping up the premise that she is out and will be back soon?

Expert Answers

Brenda Avadian, brings knowledge, hope, and joy to family caregivers for loved ones with Alzheimer's and dementia. She cared for her father with Alzheimer's and helps families one-on-one and in groups. She is the author of eight books, including the pioneering memoir "Where's my shoes?" My Father's Walk through Alzheimer's and the Finding the JOY in Alzheimer's series. She presents vivid, compelling, and funny keynotes to both professional and family caregiving audiences.


Although it is hard for us to lie, realize that your father would not be asking repeatedly if he remembered that his wife had died.

You are right not to make him suffer by reliving his loss. When we lie with good intentions--This does sound strange, doesn't it?--to a person with memory loss, we do what is called therapeutic lying. By doing so, we reduce one's unnecessary suffering.

The way you are handling it is exactly the way you should.

When you run out of ideas, add this approach.

Reminisce about your childhood memories with him.

  • "Dad, remember ________ ?"

  • "I remember when Mom used to ________ ."

  • Tell me about the time when you and Mom ________ ."

These diversionary measures will postpone your dad's need to see his wife or talk with her. Plus, recalling memories such as these will be good for both of you.

P.S. How sad to lose your mom so quickly and to ALS. Yet, how miraculous that she didn't suffer long. The average life expectancy of a person with ALS is 2-5 years according to the ALS Association

Related article on Therapeutic Lies

Community Answers

Cla answered...

My mother-in-law had Alzeimers for about 10+ years, my husband & I took some support classes to help us with the process. We were told to never say "Do you remember" we were told that this confuses the patient even more.

Rofsf answered...

At first I thought he should be told. But I could see why they did what they did. My parents have both been gone and they did not go thru this.

Lindasue answered...

@cla ~Sorry for your loss and the method by which your mother-in-law was taken. . There are support groups and there are support groups. I'm sorry that some really well meaning folks make set in cement kind of suggestions about how to cope with the terminal disease. We folks tend to come: No Two Alike.

As short term memory begins to vanish ~ long term memory lingers awhile longer. No need to "tell you that". . . you have lived the experience. A trial go at "do you remember________" Will give one a good idea where the conversation will tend to venture. It will be fine for some and not so great for others, depending, especially on where along the journey the individual lingers.

cla ~ You have a fund of knowledge to share, given your experience. I am in hopes, you still participate in support groups. I can't help but consider that you and your husband would be terrific spokes persons for such gatherings. You, I'm sure, recall how hungry you folks were for information along the way. And, my, how things do change over time.

Life is much different for you now, as you mention your mother-in-law in past tense. It may be that you'd rather not go "there" anymore. Just a thought on my part, how helpful you could be to others. God Bless ~ Linda Newcomb