Do you watch Downton Abbey?
If you do, you’ll understand. If you don’t, first, why not and second, start.
Last night’s episode involved a continuing story line that deals with grief and loss, specifically the loss of a child. We’re talking about a grown woman who dies in childbirth, but she’s someone’s child. Her parents are having a very hard time dealing not only with her death but with each other. The doctors argued over the correct course of action until it was too late. The father blames himself. The mother blames the father. No one is talking except to say something cutting or if it’s kindly, it’s not to the right person. (They are British, after all.) Something has to be done because as it stands their marriage is on the brink and, as the Dowager (grandmother) says, “The only way they can conceivably bear their grief is if they face it together.” The situation looks grim.
In an effort to help mend the rapidly growing rift between her son and daughter-in-law, the Dowager (aka the Chicken Lady; SNL reference, look it up; hilarious) asks the local doctor, Dr. Clarkson, to tell the couple that their daughter would have died no matter they did or did not do. He hesitates. It’s not that he doesn’t want to give comfort where he may. It’s that he doesn’t want to lie. (It’s probably also partly that he doesn’t want to admit that he may have been wrong, but I digress). When he says he won’t lie to them, he response is that “‘lie’ is such an unmusical word.” She isn’t asking him to lie. She knows he won’t, because he is a genuinely good man. What she is asking him to do is quite the opposite. In reality, absolute honesty is what she is asking of Dr. Clarkson.
When we don’t have all the facts, and can’t be completely certain, and when admitting this uncertainty might bring comfort or healing to someone, I tend to think of that as a form of kind honesty. What the Dowager was asking of Dr. Clarkson was for him to help a grieving couple through a very trying time by simply playing up one side of the truth rather than the other. It was a kindness that may just save their marriage.