wedding couple hands

Alzheimer's is just part of "in sickness & health" for this caregiver.

I recently watched a clip on the internet where Pat Robinson talked about advising a man to divorce his wife who was a victim of AD.  Mind you, this is not a criticism of the Reverend or the man’s desire to begin a new life.  We all do what we have to do.

“She’s gone,” the distraught husband had told Robinson.  “She’s gone — just gone.”  Affirming what he believed to be true, the husband was seeing another woman. Understandably, he yearns for companionship, happiness and everything that was once held so dear in making life worth living.  Advising that he remain financially responsible for his wife’s wellbeing, a divorce was recommended.  After all, the man had already left his marriage. With advice from clergy — not necessarily approval — I am certain the husband felt an enormous burden lifted from his shoulders.  Nevertheless, it isn’t my place to be anyone’s judge.

There was nothing said about his age or how long they had been married.  A good while ago we had friends who were a few years older than we – married for a long time.  Happily married with grown  children and numerous grandchildren, Jean and Boyd lived a good life.  Suddenly, Jean became very ill with cancer.  Together, they fought the brave fight, but lost.  Boyd was left alone and not even the devotion and company of his children was enough.   Loneliness is a torturous and demoralizing companion.

Eventually, he married again and for a while the newlyweds were happy.  The new wife, and I’ll call her Sadie, was a good woman who had been widowed, so it was natural for two lonely souls to reach out to one another.  However, the fates were not kind and within a few years, Boyd developed Alzheimer’s.  Coping as best she could, for as long as she could, Sadie finally returned Boyd to his children saying, “I’m gone,” and she divorced him.

I can’t say that I was surprised.  Dedication and long-term caring for a victim with AD is no easy task.  A few years of togetherness, even in a happy, but short, marriage, doesn’t form a good, solid foundation such as one fortified with 40 or 50 years of history which creates the required devotion and “long suffering” it takes to see the illness through to its ending.  I don’t blame Sadie for ducking out.

If all the stats were in, and this is only a generalization, I do believe that women are better at coping and as caregivers than their counterparts, and I’m not talking about Sadie.  Most men are not natural nurturers, whereas women appear to come equipped with budding broad, encompassing wings and caring hearts, bursting into full bloom with the birth of the first child, or some other life-changing phenomenon.  From there on in it just gets better.

And yet I’ve seen friends show by their actions that my observations may be biased, if not downright wrong.  After a year or so caring for his wife Elaine, Arch moved the two from their family home into a cozy apartment in a semi-care facility where they could be independent with help as needed.  He cared for her as she muddled along with mild AD in a most kind and loving way until he fell, broke some ribs and died of pneumonia.  It was then they separated, she going to the home of their son and his wife and finally to a full-care facility, and he to eternal rest.  Perhaps I can again return to the thought that we just do what we have to do, and it probably has nothing to do with gender, nor does it have anything to do with right or wrong choices, but it has everything to do with us as individuals and who we are.

I’m reminded of a sweet email that circulates across my screen periodically.  It tells of an old man waiting to have stitches removed from a minor cut on his hand, and continues something like this:

The nurse watched as he fidgeted and looked at his watch, and then asked if he had another appointment.  He explained that he spent each morning feeding his wife breakfast at the nursing home — something she could no longer do because of having Alzheimer’s.  “Does she know you?” the nurse asked.  “No,” he answered.  “Then it won’t matter if someone else feeds her breakfast just this one day,” she concluded.  “It will to me,” he replied.  No need to wait for the doctor. The nurse quickly removed the stitches and sent him on his way.  An added p.s. reminded us that we all need to learn how to dance in the rain.

“God won’t be angry with you,” said my son-in-law Tim.  “If you need to place Ken in a full-care facility, I’m sure He will understand.” Attempting to ease my worry following a horrendous automobile accident early in 2010 I knew he was guiding my way into options for my return home and decisions which would have to be made.  “It isn’t about God,” I replied.  “It’s about me.”

As it worked out I have wonderful caregivers to help with Ken and I’m glad he’s here at home.  I’m glad I can come and go without guilt, or do busy work and stop in my chores to pat his shoulder and say, “Hi, Hon.  How are you doing today?”  He may mumble something or he may not, but he’s here with me, and that’s what I want – what I have chosen.  I’m glad that I can check on him before I go to bed, tuck in the covers, kiss him on the forehead and tell him once again that I love him. “Through sickness and in health – till death us do part.”  Divorce?  For me – that’s not an option.

Originally posted 2011-10-08 04:07:56.


  • Chessa Honey says:

    Thank you for this powerful post. My grandmother passed away from Alzheimer’s disease on December 23, 2010. She and my grandfather lived in our home for quite a few years. We had the priviledge of caring for both of them to their very last breath. My “papa” stepped into eternity just over a week ago, Sunday Oct. 2, 2011. They were married for 64 years when my grandmother died. My Papa grieved greatly as he watched AD take over the love of his life, but he made a vow to her and before God and never was divorce an option. “Through sickness and in health, so long as we both shall live”…. powerful words, full of more meaning than we could ever imagine on the day we speak them and in the years to come.
    Thank you,

    • aromick says:

      Thank you for sharing the sweetness of your grandparents’ and their life together. I can’t imagine abandoning a spouse in their greatest hour of need. Devotion to one another is what marriage is all about, and not just when life is good. Our wedding vows include the bad times as well. And they were blessed to have the devotion of family.

  • ClearCare says:

    Mr. Robinson’s position on divorcing a spouse who has an Alzheimer’s disease raises a controversial issues whether it is ‘moral’ to divorce a spouse with AD simply because his/her memory simply just faded out. Some critics are saying the marriage vows include being there for each other in sickness and in health. Many people seem to find the reverend’s position pretty much disturbing.

    • aromick says:

      Thanks so much for reading and for your thoughts. I read many of the comments and most people were distrubed — especially — with the reverend. I took neither side, posing only what I would do — am doing The moral code I was taught and have lived by is not the moral code of today. The husband, assuming his taking up with another woman was complete on all levels, had already abandoned his moral duty — and marriage — and using the high road of a former moral code, his action is not a moral one. So I agree with what you are saying. If there is a difference, Pastor Robinson only advised, but didn’t give his stamp of approval on an issue which presented a long list of unknowns leaving countless questions unanswered to his audiance. So many in today’s society are ready to jump ship and destroy a marriage at the first sign of a broken finger nail. It’s no wonder they can’t commit to the long haul of a tragic terminal disease. I’m just grateful I don’t have to judge either the husband or the reverend.

  • I love all your articles but this one is especially dearing. I remember going “showing’ for a facility to help with my in-laws; my MIL had had a severe stroke and my FIL had AD and their lives were entwined with caring for each other – mainly her caring for him. We finally got them in a double room so she could take care of him best she could while the doctors and nurses and cna’s came and went and while food was prepared. She was able to be with him when he died and we as their children had the ability to come and visit just as we would come to their home and visit. It fell to me to show up at least once each day to monitor the staff and in that way getting to know many of them on a personal basis. We found that seemed to afford more personal care for our parents. Looking back, we were so blessed to get them a place together, it didn’t start out so good and that is a story for another day, but the Lord willing it worked out for them.

    When my FIL died, my MIL came to live with us for another 15 years including packing up and moving back to Indiana with us so she could enjoy her great grand children as our son was in grad school. To open her bedroom door and to find her sitting in her motorized recliner going up and down with her grandson pushing the buttons laughing together while another one was on her hospital bed making both the foot and the head go up and down cackling produced memories I’m sure she took with her into eternity!

    • aromick says:

      I’ve always said your were a good dil, and you are so right about peeking in daily (and at different times) to check on staff. Unfortunately, those who don’t have dedicated family watching over them get less quality care. It’s just a matter of fact that a facility can’t provide constant one-on-one service to all their patients. Your in laws were blessed with you and devoted family. Loved the little ones playing with her equipment. I do believe older people relate to little ones. They seem to be on a common level. Good to hear from you. Hope you sil is doing well.

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