Television evangelist and Christian conservative Pat Robertson created a firestorm of controversy last week when he announced that it was acceptable moral behavior to divorce a spouse diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. According to Robertson, God understands if a man who needs companionship chooses to divorce a spouse of 30, 40, or 50 years, wipes the slate clean, and remarries quickly to “start all over again.”
I don’t much care what Robertson says, having long ago come to the conclusion that the so-called Christian leader oozes so much insincerity and hypocrisy he’s amply demonstrated he considers the teachings of his chosen religion optional when the believer finds those teachings inconvenient and incompatible with personal desires or circumstances.
Robertson is one of many self-proclaimed Christian leaders and political figures whose behavior has convinced me they ought to spend much less time proclaiming their beliefs and much more time striving to manifest those beliefs in their own behavior.
I’m not normally inclined to presume to judge the behavior and actions of others; I’m answerable and accountable for my own imperfect behavior and actions. But I have enough personal knowledge of Alzheimer’s to know first-hand how repugnant, ignorant, abominable, inhumane, immoral, and, to put it mildly, unchristian Robertson’s pronouncement really is. I doubt Robertson has enough intelligence, awareness or integrity to realize his remarks were so blatantly hypocritical they deserve to be denounced and ridiculed, and I’m encouraged that many religious leaders have publicly done so.
I know something about Alzheimer’s and the devastation it wreaks upon families of its victims. Alzheimer’s took the life of my mother and it claimed her much too early and held onto her much too long. My mother was a healthy, vibrant 52-year-old when Alzheimer’s began eroding her mind, her memory, her personality, and eventually her life, 20 years later. It is a tragic disease and a difficult journey for all affected. Alzheimer’s claims many victims.
There’s a quote about Alzheimer’s in a book by Sherwin Nuland entitled “How We Die: Reflections on Life’s Final Chapter” that, for me, captures the unique effects of this insidious disease.
It reads: “It often seems as though the families of Alzheimer’s patients are sidetracked from the broad sunlit avenues of ongoing life, remaining trapped for years each in its own excruciating cul-de-sac.”
“The only rescue comes with the death of a person they love. And even then, the memories and the dreadful toll drag on, and from these the release can only be partial. A life that has been well lived and a shared sense of happiness and accomplishment are ever after seen through the smudged glass of its last few years.”
No one knows the landscape of that excruciating cul-de-sac better than the spouse of an Alzheimer’s victim.
Despite Robertson’s hypocritical attempt to redefine death in “till death do us part,” there are other options to the despair of that excruciating cul-de-sac besides choosing to jettison one’s spouse so one is free to “start over” with a clean slate and the blessing of Robertson-as-oracle.
What spouses of Alzheimer’s victims need is the support and caring of family members, friends, neighbors and community volunteers through their long, difficult years of loneliness and loss. What spouses need is opportunities for temporary reprieve that allow them to join the “sunlit avenues of ongoing life” for periods of time.
September is World Alzheimer’s Month. If you know someone whose spouse or family member is suffering from Alzheimer’s, consider turning your personal beliefs into actions and offer that support and reprieve. Make a sincere offer to run errands, go grocery shopping, make dinner, mow the lawn, or one of many other routine activities made unmanageable by the circumstances Alzheimer’s creates for caregivers.
If the offer is refused, make it again, and yet again. Set a time to drop by and visit, play a game of cards or just chat, providing the conversation and companionship that can disappear so quickly with the onset of this disease. Offer ongoing support in whatever way the caregiver needs.
Somehow I think God, or whatever higher power one believes in, will appreciate those actions far more than Pat Robertson’s solution.