Palliatives, Placebos and Outright Denials

“For thirty years my mother pretended she was moving. My mother survived things she hated by pretending she was leaving.”    Faith Shearin


It happens every new year, this urge to purge, to rid myself of the superfluity of living and get down to the real meat and potatoes of life. Forget the garage cleanout. If you have a garage you know that drill. What to do with all that extraneous junk boggles a sober mind. You leave it as you find it.

This year I’m bent and determined to differentiate between stuff that keeps me going and stuff that simply empties my wallet every week or so. What stuff? Why, pills, elixirs, supplements and other tinctures that promise relief from all known and imagined ills of mankind. Palliatives, placebos and denials.

Did you know that supplements track the alphabet? Vitamin A, B, C, D, etc. right down to ‘Y’ for yarrow and ‘Z’ for zinc. We can’t escape these little addictive additives that promise so much. But do they deliver?

You already know that life is a narrow path, a tightrope with no net, a delicate balance in that parenthesis between two darkness of birth and death. Somehow, I have managed to fortify myself with these promises of longevity. Our cabinets and drawers overflow with palliatives, placebos and denials.

I have to admit I don’t really know what works and what doesn’t, so I keep up the same regimen over the years. Oh, yeah, we all know a little something about palliatives. The very word means ‘cloak.’ They can be anything from cod liver oil to the new Colorado herb of choice, CBD, now sold proudly at your local pharmacy.

The job of palliatives is to relieve pain or alleviate a problem without dealing with the underlying issue. We take a lot of palliatives, and to date a stout slug of white whiskey from somewhere in the swamps might be the best thing going for relief from arthritis pain.

Now placebos are another thing altogether. These little goodies are inert, so-called ‘medicines’ used for psychological effect. They trick the brain into believing they’re what they’re not, a lot like what we all do when we put on a public face. They’re the next best thing to believing fairy tales and taking magic carpet rides.

I had a business partner once who was quick to borrow but slow to repay. The foundation of his raison d’etre was pretense. He lived a life of fiction, fed by placebos of imagination. One day he had to re-up a loan that required his wife’s signature.

I asked her how they handled the massive debt. She shrugged and answered, “Fine champagne when things are good, but when reality returns, we simply curl up in a fetal position on the floor and whine.” Such is the nature of placebos…balloons often burst.

Placebos are more prevalent than we imagine. I had a friend with a big business. Had folks running over one another on the thick pile carpets of his office. I commented that he might be over-staffed, to which he agreed. But, he said, I’m making money and I don’t know which ones to fire. Placebos…money for nothing.

Let me ask you, “Where would we be without things to dull our existence?” Think about it, it’s hard to look facts in the face and agree with them. What’s better than taking a nice cruise somewhere and forgetting the whole thing? Illusion is one of those make-believe placebos so easy to love.

Louis Jenkins wrote that in Sitka, Alaska, people name all the sea lions Earl. It’s because they’re the favorite food of orca, the killer whale. It tosses the creatures into the air and swallows them whole. But before long a friendly, bewhiskered face bobs to the surface. It’s Earl again, the people say, he escaped the whale.

Jenkins concludes with these words: “Well, how else are you to live except by denial, by some palatable fiction, some little song to sing while the inevitable, the black and white blindsiding fact, comes hurtling towards you out of the deep?”

I started with words from Faith Shearin about her mother. Here’s how she concluded her mother’s denial existence: “(Mother’s) Alaska was a blizzard of privacy and imagination, its borders hidden or revealed by the snow drifts in her mind.”


So here I am, evaluating my alphabet soup of palliatives, placebos and looking hard for any signs of denial. Not that I’m opposed to some level of denial. Existentialism is a good substitute.

Want to know how much progress I made? Nothing was tossed, not even King Vita-Man. Listen, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.


Bud Hearn

January 10, 2020