Till Alzheimer’s Do We Part? A Reply to Pat Robertson

Excuse me, what did he say? It’s okay to divorce someone with Alzheimer’s because they’re already gone? I vehemently disagree.

Forgive me, I rarely use my blog as a platform for my political or religious views, but the statement Pat Robertson made this past Tuesday on his 700 Club program hit me in a very personal way.

It’s only been eight months since we placed my Daddy’s body in a grave and assumed full-time care of my Mom whose mind has been confiscated by dementia. What my two brother’s and I found when we attempted to fill our beloved father’s shoes hit each of us differently–but all of us realized immediately that our Mom was in a very vulnerable state and could not be left alone again–ever.

Within minutes of hearing that our Daddy was gone, we were inundated with this warning from our parent’s friends and physicians. We had no choice but to quickly adjust our lives to accommodate her needs. And we did, lovingly and willingly–just like our Daddy did.

In fact, Daddy loved our Mom so sacrificially, so tenderly, that not one of us had any inkling how far her condition had progressed until this past January when we gathered with other mourners in their home.

It is because of Daddy’s unconditional love displayed day after day, year after year to our Mother that ignited me to speak up when I heard Pat Robertson’s advice to the man who is already seeing someone else: “I know it sounds cruel, but if he’s going to do something, he should divorce her and start all over again, but make sure she has custodial care and somebody looking after her,” said Robertson.

Had Daddy heard that on his TV, he also would  be writing to Mr. Robertson right now. My Mom may have Alzheimer’s, but she is not “gone,” Mr. Robertson, she is very much alive!

Granted, living and caring for someone with Alzheimer’s is extremely difficult. I lived with Mom for the first four months after Daddy died. It just so happened that the day Daddy suffered a massive heart attack snow-blowing his driveway in New Hampshire, was the last day on my job, so I volunteered to stay with Mom while my older brother worked on myriad other tasks, issues and obligations surrounding her care and home. We all scrambled to educate ourselves on her condition and to figure out what life will look like for all of us from here on out, but what a learning curve! This was NOTHING like anything we had ever encountered.

Those four months were the most emotionally and physically draining days of my life–but I would not trade those precious minutes I had with my Mom for anything. Did I get angry? Yes. Did I get discouraged, scared, hurt, tired? All of the above.  At times she became physical with me and when she did I felt very, very alone. The thousand miles between me and my husband, kids and family seemed millions.

So, is Pat Robertson right, that because Mom has Alzheimer’s that she is, “gone, they’re gone!  They’re gone!” ? On a surface level, I can see how someone can think that. But she isn’t gone. Mom feels, thinks, smiles, sleeps, eats, talks, reads and socializes. She goes to church, watches TV and dresses herself. Sure, some of those tasks are getting tougher for her, and the doctor said she will slide down fast from here, but as I said, she is very much alive.

Because I understand what it’s like to live with someone who has Alzheimer’s–even for just a few months–I can see how tempting it would be to find some “logic” in Robertson’s statement, especially if I was the spouse who wanted to “start all over again.” But the craziness to his advice is that as a Christian, his entire ministry is founded on the Gospel of Jesus Christ, on faith in God to do the impossible and on the infallibility of the Holy Bible; there is NOTHING in the Bible that even comes close to such an option for marriage!

What the collective community is scratching their head over is that for decades, Mr. Robertson always responded to such callers with prayer. Why didn’t he just bow his head and pray healing over that woman with Alzheimer’s? Why didn’t he pray right then and there for her husband to be given divine strength from God to fulfill his marital vows to his sick wife; why not assure him that The 700 Club staff would keep that couple on their prayer list, believing God for a miracle?! Isn’t that why people tune into The 700 Club?

Mr. Robertson, where is your faith?  Is Alzheimer’s bigger than God? Is it the only thing outside of His ability to heal? Did someone just discover an ancient manuscript of Holy Scripture in some dusty Bedouin cave that lists additional caveats to the grounds for divorce?

Truly, I have no finger to point. Divorce was an answer I used more than once to flee circumstances I didn’t like. And, I confess that there were times that the madness of my Mom’s disease drove me insane and I thought I, too, would lose my mind. Pockets of void in her logic would appear unannounced in conversations and just when I thought we were making progress, I’d learn that the entire time she had no idea who I was. I cannot describe how it feels to look into my mother’s eyes and see that my entire existence escapes her.

At those moments it was tempting to think, there’s no use, she’s gone, and then the next moment she would look at me with such a tender, helpless look in her eye and tell me she loves me and that she is so glad she gave birth to me and apologize for forgetting who I was a few minutes ago.

Pat Robertson “said he wouldn’t “put a guilt trip” on someone for divorcing a spouse with Alzheimer’s disease, calling Alzheimer’s itself “a kind of death.”  I get that. I really do. I get what he was trying to say to that person; I get that because guilt is a huge factor in caring for someone with Alzheimer’s. Guilt related to my Mom’s care is even now gnawing at the cords of love that once bound my family together. Yes, Alzheimer’s will try a family to its very core, but because it does, families need the hope that is only found in Jesus Christ–the hope that The 700 Club broadcasts around the world every day.

Mr. Robertson, your answer to this caller was hopeless; a weak, self-centered excuse to skirt around holy matrimonial vows. It was a nullification on your part of all the foundational biblical principles you espouse daily on your TV show.  Have you forgotten why millions of viewers trust you? They trust you because you have consistently led them to the throne of God for every answer they need. They look to you to remind them that faith in Jesus Christ is the only answer to every problem they face and that if we only ask and believe, our Heavenly Father is willing and able to do the impossible!

Mr. Robertson, for the sake of the great and noble works you have done for Jesus Christ and His kingdom over so many decades, please publicly retract your statement and return to what you do best: leading hurting people to the throne of God for help.



4 responses

  1. Well done Cheryl, unfortuenty personal responsibility is a dying trait in this country…we are no longer responsible for commitments we’ve made…

  2. That was an amazingly-written, heartfelt, first-hand account that just brought me to tears both in sadness and in anger. Only those who have lived with this or watched/cared for a loved one who has gone through it could possibly understand. Shoe on the other foot, Mr. Robertson. What an excellent blog – thank you, Cheryl.

  3. Well said. In all of the encounters I had in working in and around Alzheimer’s/dementia care units for 5 years, some of the greatest displays of love and compassion were in those same areas. Husbands, wives, sons, daughters, all caring for stricken loved ones, showing the world what true, sacrificial love looks like. No, Mr. Robertson, it is not OK to “divorce and move on”. Only an individual that carries no love for another could view that as a viable alternative to staying and loving the other person through such a time. I highly doubt that the man in question would feel the same were he stricken with this most debilitating of diseases and occasionally have the ability to reason. How heartbreaking to think that someone who claims to espouse Christs love could even remotely conjure such a thought. Shame on you, Mr. Robertson. Shame on you.

  4. […] posting my rebuttal to Pat Robertson’s shocking advice on The 700 Club last Tuesday, I went to The 700 Club’s “Contact Us” page and posted a link to my […]

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