This may be one of the most personal blogs I have ever written.
I was stunned by Pat Robertson’s recent proclamation that a man is free to divorce his wife if she has Alzheimer’s disease, on the pretense that “She is not there.” I am compelled to respond because if I remain silent, I do a disservice to my family and my father.
You see, my dad went to heaven after suffering from Alzheimer’s for over five years. In the end he recognized no one, and could carry on no meaningful conversation. His every need had to be taken care of by others. He spent much time staring blankly into space.
One of the last times I visited dad, he simply held my hand and ran his rough, work hardened fingers over the face of my watch. “That’s a nice watch,” he said, over and over again. This was the man who survived the Bataan Death March and spent three years as a prisoner of war defending my freedom. This was the man that taught me how to hunt and ride a horse. This was the man loved to take us fishing. The fingers that gently traced the outline of my watch were the same fingers that showed me how to put a worm on a hook.
What would Pat Robertson have done with my dad? Would he have denounced him as a father? Would he have concluded that the Biblical admonition to “Honor your father and mother” only applied to those in excellent mental health. I can only assume from Robertson’s latest proclamation that because my dad’s spirit had been dimmed by this horrible disease I was free to disclaim him as my father, walk away and leave him to fend for himself. After all he “wasn’t there anymore.”
This blog is written with deep empathy for those who have cared for a loved one with Alzheimer’s. I understand the toll this disease takes on caregivers. I saw my mom suffer profoundly as she watched my dad become a shell of the man he had once been. I watched her suffer trying to care for his daily needs and grieve when other caregivers had to be found. Eventually loving professionals were enlisted to take care of dad, but to the end, he was mom’s husband and our father.
I think the following story by an unknown author captures a more compassionate and Biblical scenario than that suggested by Robertson.
It was a busy morning, approximately 8:30 am, when an elderly gentleman, in his 80′s, arrived to have stitches removed from his thumb. He stated that he was in a hurry as he had an appointment at 9:00 am. I took his vital signs and had him take a seat, knowing it would be over an hour before someone would to able to see him.
I saw him looking at his watch and decided, since I was not busy with another patient, I would evaluate his wound. On exam, it was well healed, so I talked to one of the doctors, got the needed suppclies to remove his sutures and redress his wound.
While taking care of his wound, we began to engage in conversation. I asked him if he had a doctor’s appointment this morning, as he was in such a hurry. The gentleman told me no, that he needed to go to the nursing home to eat breakfast with his wife. I then inquired as to her health. He told me that she had been there for a while and that she was a victim of Alzheimer Disease.
As we talked, and I finished dressing his wound, I asked if she would be worried if he was a bit late. He replied that she no longer knew who he was, that she had not recognized him in five years now.
I was surprised, and asked him. “And you still go every morning, even though she doesn’t know who you are?”
He smiled as he patted my hand and said. “She doesn’t know me, but I still know who she is.” Author Unknown
I am so thankful that no matter what our condition, God still knows who we are. No matter how decrepit or deranged he remembers the price that was paid for our redemption. Because of who He is he will never leave us or forsake us.
Dear friends, If at some future date you find me staring into the distance because this disease has wracked my mind and body. I ask you not to cast me off.
Please visit me.
Hold my hand.
Let me touch your watch and sense from some deep place in my soul that you love me.
I ask you to believe that until I go to heaven and look into the face of Christ………….
I am here!!