Lying—it’s a cardinal sin in professions in media and the law and former journalist Stephen Glass worked (and works) in both fields. But it’s not, as Glass finds, a cardinal sin in life all the time.

When in 1998 his editor at the New Republic discovered he had been fabricating stories—making up characters, quotes, whole scenes and anecdotes, and going to lengths to cover his tracks—Glass was fired. So Glass went to law school, and though he found work at personal injury firm, he also found, because of his past record of lying, he couldn’t advance and isn’t allowed to use “attorney” in his job title, though he had passed the bar. Such is the way our pasts catch up with us. 

In a long story for the digital weekly news magazine Air Mail, Bill Adair, Knight professor of journalism and public policy at Duke (with whom we at the INDY regularly collaborate) writes about Glass’s life after the fall, so to speak.

After he’s fired, Glass swears to always tell the truth going forward and, in the midst of untangling the legal issues related to his firing, meets his life partner and eventual wife, lawyer Julie Hilden. Hilden has her own haunting past—she abandoned her mother, who had early onset Alzheimer’s disease and abused Hilden as a child. Hilden recounts this in a memoir she wrote in her 20s, The Bad Daughter. Hilden’s biggest fear is developing Alzheimer’s at a young age herself.

And that’s exactly what happens. 

The couple moves to Los Angeles and lives a happy life together, with Hilden now writing law columns and Glass working at a person injury firm. Then, in 2012 or 2013, Glass notices that Hilden, normally meticulous, made a mistake in her taxes. Additional incidents prompt Glass to take Hilden to see a neurologist and other doctors—though she had tested negative for the Alzheimer’s gene, doctors warn that Hilden, at 46, could have the disease. 

The rest is a story of the lengths to which humans, or one human, will go for love. Hilden, at first, seems unbothered by her potential fate. She asks Glass to let her live as normally as possible, because she’s happy with her life as it is. She asks him to pretend to friends that nothing’s wrong. In essence, she asks him to lie.

From the story:

Hilden was adamant that not only would she not discuss the disease, she wanted to pretend everything was normal and didn’t want friends to know. That put Glass in a predicament. For more than 15 years, he had worked hard to lead a truthful life. And now he was being forced to lie.

But this approach of “therapeutic fibbing” can be a helpful technique for Alzheimer’s patients because it allows them to avoid painful truths. Patients often don’t want or need to discuss the realities of their diagnosis, so it’s often better for caregivers to avoid the topic or redirect the conversation.

The practice can take a toll on caregivers, who have to keep lying to a loved one. For Glass it was excruciating. “Here I am lying again on some level, which I promised I wouldn’t do—and I’m lying in some ways to the person I love most,” he says. “But it was also an agreement that we had, which was that I would honor her desire to enjoy her life.” And so he lied—pretending with her that she didn’t have the degenerative disease and lying to friends about her condition as well.

The details of Hilden’s unravelling are heartbreaking—at one point, she tells Glass she wants to have a child, but can’t remember the word “baby,” so instead says she wants a person. Soon, friends cotton on to what’s happening, and Hilden needs around the clock care from in-home aides. She loses the ability to speak, and then to walk.

“It would have been so easy for him to cut and run—and frankly, many people I know would have done that,” a friend remarks of Glass. “And that was the farthest thing from his mind.”

Read the whole story, Loving Lieshere—you’ll have to give up your email address for access, but it’s well worth it. 

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