While I was cleaning out my FIL’s house I did a thing that I am still ill at ease about.
On Otto’s kitchen table, off to the side, sort of covered in stuff ,was an electronic audio bible. It was obvious that my BIL Luke had sent this to Otto some time ago, and the packaging had not been opened. I can imagine that Luke asked if his dad was still reading his bible, and when Otto said that he couldn’t read the text, Luke found this electronic one. I’m sure that Otto was pleased his son thought of him, but truly a bit befuddled about what he was supposed to do with this bit of electronic gadgetry. I think it was important to Luke that his father was not just a believer, but Luke’s kind of believer, spending hours in scripture reading and prayer, ready to spout forth on the gospel at any moment. So, an electronic bible.
It was a good idea.
Except for all of the reasons it was a bad idea. There were small parts and buttons and I can’t fathom Otto reading the instruction manual, which was probably in smaller type face than his printed bible. Otto was never much of a reader to begin with, and while he and God were certainly on speaking terms, I don’t think Otto read his bible much toward the end of his life. Otto was a good and kind man – he loved the Lord. He was also stubborn, set in his ways and not apt to pick up a new habit. In the eternal toss up between the Holy Writ and baseball on TV, well, Otto had a life time of bible reading and he’d been a Cubs fan for a very long time.
I figured Luke would be upset to know that his carefully crafted visions of his father were not accurate and I threw the package out, unopened. I suppose if I had been thinking more, I would have brought it back to our hotel, got it started and made it look as if it had been used. (I always have great ideas 2 weeks later). I didn’t do that, I saw it, knew that it would upset Luke to see it buried, unopened, and I threw it out.
The next day Luke asked about the electronic bible and this is where it gets ever so slightly worse (well, it gets a lot worse.) He asked if I had seen it, telling me that he wanted to see what Otto had been reading, and I lied.
I lied through my teeth.
I lied and said that I hadn’t seen it. I lied and said that I must have thrown it out without realizing, that I thought I saw it on Otto’s table by his favourite chair, and that I was very sorry I had been so careless. I said that I would check with him or Mr. Spit before I threw anything out.
I lied. I lied a whole bunch.
I think I did the wrong thing for all the right reasons, and I’m still not sure this was a good thing to do. It seems kinder to allow Luke to continue with a particular image of his father, even if that image is incorrect. After all, who is to tell him otherwise? I understand in a way that I think Luke didn’t, wouldn’t and couldn’t that his Father loved God, but he wasn’t much of a reader. I understand that Otto is no less than he was, no less worth loving and no less of a child of God because he didn’t read his bible. I’m not sure Luke can understand that. I’m not sure it’s kind to make him try. I’m also not sure that it is wise to do the wrong thing for the right reason. There are entire philosophy books with exactly this sort of problem about means, ends and intent. They don’t seem to cover difficult family matters. They don’t seem to cover sons who feel guilty and daughters in law who try to preserve feelings. They are utterly useless at this sort of thing.
My gut told me that this would hurt Luke, would make a sad and broken person more sad and more broken. Would make his grieving harder and more complicated. My head tells me that it is not wise or good to interfere with someone owning their own guilt, their own feelings and their own emotions.
So tell me, what would you have done?
(it’s ok, you can tell me that you think I am the worst person in the world, and that it is never ok to lie. I’m still not sure what the right course of action is.)