Television evangelist Pat Robertson recently responded to a husband whose wife is deep into dementia and no longer recognizes him. The man wishes to see another woman.
Robertson suggested it would OK to divorce and use custodial care for his ex-wife. Her current condition is considered a kind of death, Robertson said, and therefore justifies the husband to break his vow of "til death do us part" so he can remarry.
I adamantly disagree and find Robertson's advice an insult to the marriage vows.
I make no claims as a marriage counselor or expert in caregiving; but I have experienced the dreadful long-term effects of Alzheimer's disease. My wife, Betty, has suffered from the monstrous ailment, and I have cared for her now for more than 10 years.
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We have reached our golden anniversary, and we went together for six years before we were married. Betty was 15 and I was 17 when we fell in love, however we waited until after high school and college before we married. We meant every word of our vows as a promise to God and to each other.
For most of our lives, we have been richly blessed. Of course we have had our share of family deaths and disappointments, but strength and faith in God and our love for each other always prevailed.
I noticed a change in Betty's personality 12 years ago; she began making a lot of negative comments when her demeanor had always been kind and upbeat. After pleading with her to see a specialist, Betty was diagnosed with early to middle stage Alzheimer's.
This is a most insidious disease, and the toll on the caregiver is eviscerating. To watch your love slowly melt away is devastating. Alzheimer's is not a sprint but an extended marathon of various insidious stages. Only through God's blessings have I been able to survive her bouts of delusion, hallucinations, constant fear and verbal attacks that hurt deeply. She has lost her ability to walk, eat, communicate or recognize. There are also the normal bouts of short-term memory loss, aggressiveness, accidents and embarrassing behavior.
To attack this sordid disease one must study, research, attend Alzheimer's meetings and read every book one can find on the care of loved ones. Knowledge is power, and the last gift I can ever give Betty is to see she has flawless care. Anything short of that is unacceptable, and I will do whatever it takes to give her the best care and love possible — period.
Six years ago, Betty knew she had Alzheimer's. She would ask, "What is wrong with me?" When I would tell her, she wanted to know why I would not take her some place to be fixed. My response was that there is no such place, that her medicine only slows the disease. I told her she would steadily decline and then would leave me to take God's hand.
Her response every night for at least six weeks was, "Who will take care of me before I meet God?"
With fear and confusion in her eyes, she would plead, "Lucien, don't throw me away." When I asked what she meant, she would explain, "Throw me in a nursing home and forget me!"
I would hold her and say: "Precious, I will never throw you away. You are my love. That is a promise as long as God gives me breath."
Help from all the pastors of the Georgetown Methodist Church, Alzheimer's Caregiver Group leader and members, Hospice of the Bluegrass, my family and my daughter — who is now the primary caregiver — numerous friends, and my faith in God that love prevails over all issues keep me focused on her care.
The vows I took years ago have evolved into a privilege and an honor. My new job is the best position I have ever held. Betty has lived much longer than was ever forecast. I will continue to hold her hand and wait for God to take her home. I will someday join her — with a promise kept.