Dishonesty May Be More Painful Than Illness

Dishonesty May Be More Painful Than Illness

Jim Stinson, Former Consultant on Older Adult Ministries


“There has to be something very wrong with me. I can’t eat. I am losing weight. I have a lot of pain, unless I take a lot of medicine. My doctor and my family tell me not to worry. It is nothing that will not heal in time. But I don’t believe them! Why are they lying to me? I wish they would be honest with me. I feel like I can’t trust them.”

How sad! And yet I hear older people express the same emotion many times. In this instance, I know she has end-stage cancer and the family has convinced the doctor that she is too old and frail to handle the news.

My suspicion is a different reality. The family members are likely not willing to deal with her response to such news. They are afraid they will not be able to face it. She is suffering as much from their lack of honesty, and thereby not getting the emotional support she is clearly needs. To be sure, the family loves her deeply and would do anything else for her. They forget, or don’t hear, an increasingly used statement in my ministry with this age group.

“Our older adults mostly have not reached the age they are by hiding from truth. They are often stronger spiritually than we think. They did not get to this age by being weak, they have learned coping mechanisms throughout their lives.”

So I find myself reflecting once again on the pain and loneliness an older person must feel when they can no longer trust their loved ones or their doctor. They feel separated from the very ones they’d likely choose to share their feelings with, and suffer with, emotionally as well. In those times of reflection, I also wonder what a gift for both care receiver and caregiver is missed, out of a misunderstanding of each other. What could be a time of deep sharing, of saying goodbye, of wrapping up one’s life journey becomes a time of physical care, doctor’s visits, and the skirting of issues, the acknowledgement of which would help everyone grow. It is often a missed last opportunity to truly be with a loved one.

What a blessing it is to hear someone say at the death of a loved one, “I have no regrets. Mom, Dad, whoever and I had the best time of our lives at the end. I don’t know what it was, but in those last months, we really got to know each other. We didn’t have any secrets.” It is truly a blessing to be part of such moments.

So, except in rare circumstances, follow the teaching we all know by heart: “The truth will set you free.”

Feel free to print or share with your congregation. © 2015 Rev. James Stinson