Making Promises You Can’t Keep

Sometimes we make promises we can’t keep. We make them because they seem kinder than the alternative. We don’t want to deny people their wishes or tell someone that the thing they want is impossible.

Kimberly Williams-Paisley tackles this idea of making promises she can’t keep in this latest installment of our online book club speaking about Kimberly Williams-Paisley’s book, Where the Light Gets In. She writes about her mother’s experience with primary progressive aphasia.

First Promises

After her mother and father received the primary progressive aphasia diagnosis, they went home and got into bed. As they lay there, her father made a big promise on page 75:

“Scout,” he said eventually, “we’ll get you all the help we need so you can stay in this house. You won’t ever have to leave home.”

Of course, he was making this promise without a deep understanding of what goes into caring for someone in the end stages of primary progressive aphasia. He makes the promise without knowing other connected health concerns that may pop up along the way. In the moment, it is a wish of what he hopes will be true vs. what he can reasonably make happen.

Don’t Let This Happen

Sometime later, her mother confides in Williams-Paisley’s sister, Ashley, that she doesn’t want her husband to take care of her. It’s not that she doesn’t love her husband; it’s precisely because she loves him. She doesn’t want her disease to take over his life, too.

On page 75: “I don’t ever want Daddy to take care of me,” my mother cried. “Please. Please don’t let that happen.”

Her sister promises that she won’t let this happen, once again, making a promise she knows she can’t keep.

Do you think it is better to make promises in the moment to help people process their feelings? Or do you think it is better to always stick to the hard truth?

Image: Hunter Newton via Unsplash



  • Anonymous
    October 11, 2018 at 3:45 pm

    My husband had a stroke 23 years ago & he was left unattended by the hospital, leaving himwith hemiplegiq & aphasia & other linked problems.
    My promise has been given within the wedding vow. It is just a matter of implementing ways to care & accompany him in his disability.
    There are bad days but there are also good days to make up for the bad days. Of course we should admitt that our quality of life is altered, but on the other hand, we are surrounded by real true family & friends, altruistic people. At all times, prayer help both of us.

  • Bambi
    December 19, 2018 at 9:23 am

    If only I could say my situation is like sll the others. I do not have a support system. Its me and only me, no spouse, siblings or friends to help take care of a mother who has no one else. She lives in the country still on her own. She still drives which will be ending very soon. I live rurally as well 18 miles away. She has never prepared for this. Insisting to remain in her cluttered home. No long term insurance. No room in the home for a guest or a caregiver to stay. I am hee world. I work(where she comes to pass the day) my days off she wants my company. Its a nightmare to me. And its just started.

  • Mic
    December 19, 2018 at 9:30 am

    Here’s the I see it. My wife had a stroke, open heart surgery on the same day all most years ago.she has aphasia from the stroke .After 4 months in 3 different rehab facilities I got to bring her home. We did in house slp,ot,pt for 2 months. She had a caregiver come in Monday thru Friday for 6 months. When insurance restarted we did out patient therapy for 4 months . She didn’t say her first words until 2 months after her stroke. During this time I’m seeing how to and what to do to take care of her at home. We all want to do everything possible for our loved ones to great better. Some times life throws us a wrench we have no control of that doesn’t mean we stop trying. So yes I would and do anything possible to make her life a little better. Will it make things better we dont know if it will unless we try it.

  • Brenda
    January 16, 2019 at 12:32 pm

    My husband was diagnosed about 6 years ago with Primary Progressive Aphasia. Fourteen months ago, we moved him to Assisted Living, because his illness was too difficult for me to manage. I am 73 (and in good health), he is 75. Been married 53 years. It was heartbreaking. He is now living in a wonderful memory care facility with full-blown PPA, Alzheimers, etc. He is very well cared for and loved by his caregivers and the staff. I never made the promise that I would take care of him at home for the duration. I am getting on with my life. I see him every other day and love our time together. Sometimes he will kiss my hand as a way to say “I love you” or “thank you.” I try to find something memorable about each visit. When I am not with him, I am taking classes, having lunch with friends, playing in my ukulele groups. I’m even taking a trip by myself in a few months. I’m choosing life for myself, and it in no way diminishes my love for my husband.

We'd love to hear your thoughts below! If you have a question for the NAA, we can give you an answer if you write us directly at Please note: inappropriate comments will be moderated.

Your email is never published nor shared.