Saturday, September 17, 2011

Already Dead?!

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.


Rev. Katie


  1. This is an excellent post, THANK YOU. I was appalled by Pat Robertson's comments, particularly the one about Alzheimer's being a kind of death.

    I think you hit the nail on the head with your last sentence.


  2. Thank you for this post. I saw his article too and was as appalled by it as you are. I had wanted to blog about it too but am not up to doing much blogging yet while my fractured wrist is still healing.

    Since you did such a terrific post on it, I am just going to do a fast mini post to point folks to this blog post instead.

  3. If I would have Alzheimer's disease and I'm still aware of that I probably would offer my wife to leave me if she wants to. Saying that "This is a kind of death" is overgeneralized and really out of whack. Even the slow process of dying from a terminal disease can be a peaceful and harmonic experience...

  4. As I watch my mother and her partner deal with her advancing Alzheimer's Disease, I am so grateful that he does not subscribe to the Pat Robertson view of either commitment or AD. She is not the woman we all knew and loved so much, but her disease does not change the love we feel for her nor the concern for her happiness and well-being.

    I was very offended by his remarks. They struck me as callous and dismissive. They were certainly not helpful to families and spouses who are affected by this disease every day.

    I intend to share this post --- there are so many people dealing with Alzheimer's in one way or another. This blog is a touchstone.

  5. Hi, Katie. I finally found my way to your blog. This is one of the first entries I read and could hardly believe what I was reading, although I should have, because Robertson often says some outrageous things. But this flies in the face of all Christian morality! I could no more think of divorcing Karen because of her disease than jumping off a cliff! The man needs help!

  6. Marriage vows say "til death" not "til Alzheimer's." People are alive as long as they are in their loved ones' hearts. There are cases where both the elderly and their loved ones benefit from the help of adult day care centers.

  7. What about people in hospice services? I don't like the idea they're pushing.

  8. It's heartwarming when you see couples walk along retirement communities Long Island and suddenly you realize that one of them has an Alzheimer's disease. It's amazing how they still stick to one another no matter what.