I could not believe this article: Pat Robertson says Alzheimer's makes divorce OK.
I have never been in the situation of having a partner with Alzheimer's so I cannot comment on the acceptability of divorce or even having another companion while your spouse is still alive. As a minister, if someone wanted to speak with me about that, there would be a lot of pastoral care and discernment which I hope would help them make their own intentional and loving choice.
So, my main problem with Robertson's view is not his statement that divorce is ok, because one cannot make such a generalized statement. My bigger issue is Robertson's justification for why you can divorce your spouse with Alzheimer's. I believe his justification is outrageous, disgusting, and just promotes stigma of this disease.
The article says:
"Terry Meeuwsen, Robertson's co-host, asked him about couples' marriage vows to take care of each other "for better or for worse" and "in sickness and in health."
"If you respect that vow, you say 'til death do us part,'" Robertson said during the Tuesday broadcast. "This is a kind of death.'"
The idea that Alzheimer's is a death is ridiculous. It is a change, a deterioration, an illness, a long goodbye, but not a death. The person is still here and worthy of our love and care. Just because they are not exactly the same person we married, does not mean they are dead. Heck, I am not the same person my husband married eleven years ago.
As I sat at dinner with my Mom today, I kept thinking, "How could I tell her she is already dead?" That her life is gone, she has lost everything? Even people in the last stages of dementia who outwardly do not remember anything, who may not even know who they are anymore, are not gone. We have no idea how much is going on internally.
However, we do know that people have lucid moments. Moment's of recognition of a loved one. Moments where they sing a song from childhood, or recite a well loved prayer. Moments when they smile at you as you sit and talk to them. Clearly they are not dead.
Seeing Alzheimer's as a death only increases the fear around the disease. It takes away their humanity and allows us to distance ourselves from the pain of our own loss. It allows us not to care anymore. It allows partners to easily get a divorce, children to never visit their ill parent, friends to walk away, and communities to push people off into a corner.
All of us change over time, people get all different kinds of illnesses, we do make decisions on how our relationships will be going forward. The right way to make that decision though is not to let fear make excuses for us, we need to make a loving and responsible choice.
We may have to put a parent into a nursing home to keep them safe. There are illnesses or situations where parents have to let their children live somewhere else because that is what is healthiest. These are difficult decisions, not to be taken lightly. I believe Pat Robertson is seeking to create an easy way out for people instead of asking them to really face all of what such a decision would mean mentally, emotionally, and spiritually for all involved.