Right now, I have a fellow church-goer whose husband is in the last stages of Alzheimer's disease. He developed when he was in his 50s, which was unusual and really sad to boot. His wife has been by his side the entire time helping to cope with this problem. In fact, it was not until recently that she tried to send him away to get better care. Right now, though, he is in Hospice care as he is unable to eat or drink. They keep him sedated because he has become violent in these final stages.
Needless to say, it sad to see this man deteriorate as he has. He used to make pancakes for the Christmas morning service and served on Vestry. He was able to do a lot until his Alzheimer’s set in. Then he had to helped with communion as he was not sure what to do himself.
Then yesterday I heard about Pat Robertson’s unchristian comments about divorcing Alzheimer’s afflicted spouses. I just shook my head at the sheer absurdity of the statement. To call such as disease the “walking death” is a little extreme in my opinion. For the most part, this fellow churchgoer was still taking communion up until a month ago. I went to his house to help administer it and he still remembered the Lord’s Prayer. As far as I am concerned, he may have been losing his mind, but he still remembered enough. There was no death in this.
As to the question of divorce, I believe that marriage is sacred and difficult. To literally live with another human being for your entire lifetime is a lot to ask someone. Human beings are naturally prideful and selfish, so even in marital relationships you can see the attitude of “what’s in it for me?” rather than an attitude of “what can I do for you?” Now, I am not saying that for a person to have a set of reasonable expectations from his or her spouse is wrong, but you have to be willing to meet the expectations of your spouse as well.
For those who are married and find a spouse has been afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease, I have my deepest sympathies. It is difficult to deal with someone who probably will forget who you are someday, especially someone who is probably your best friend and someone with whom you have lived with for so long. I cannot imagine having to deal with all the various problems with my wife should she ever come down with that disease or something like it. But I also cannot imagine divorcing her because of it.
This is not to say that the thought would not cross my mind several times. I am sure that I would seek the easy way out. I do believe that there are legitimate reasons for divorce because our hearts are hard. At the same time, I do not believe that divorcing a person who is terminally ill, which you are if you have Alzheimer’s, is one of those legitimate reasons. It is not an act of love, but of pure hedonistic selfishness. And seriously, do you really think you could start a new relationship with someone if they knew that you divorced your terminally ill spouse (Newt Gringrich)?
While I really do not care what people ultimately do in such situations, Christian or otherwise, I do condemn Pat Robertson for his statements largely because he should know better. But I think the years of being famous within many Christian circles has led to a level of pride I hope to never come in contact with. What he said borders on justifying euthanasia and Christians would do well to shake the dust off their feet of him and move on. I personally have never really found any Christian leader to be particularly inspiring myself, rugged individualist that I am, and I recommend that others do likewise.