A Vow to Cherish
Recently one well-known minister was asked on TV for his counsel regarding a man whose wife suffered from Alzheimer’s disease. Because the wife didn’t recognize her husband anymore, this man started seeing another woman. The minister replied by saying, “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.”
The minister’s co-host reminded him that marriage vows include taking care of each other “for better or for worse” (the marriage vow also specifically mentions “in sickness and in health”). His immediate response to that was, “If you respect that vow, you say ‘til death do us part...This [Alzheimer’s] is a kind of death.” He went on to talk about a man he knew whose wife also had Alzheimer’s but still saw her every day until she died. In addition, the TV minister encouraged the viewer to “…get some ethicist besides me to give you the answer because I recognize the dilemma.”
While I honor this minister as a man of God, I must take exception to his initial advice. It’s one thing to divorce a spouse who is unfaithful and not willing to make the marriage work. But it’s another thing if your spouse becomes incapacitated. Jesus said in Luke 6:31, “And just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise.” If you were married and suddenly became bedridden, wouldn’t you want your spouse by your side?
This reminds me of the Terri Schiavo case in Florida a few years ago. In 1990, Terri collapsed due to cardiac arrest and was in a near vegetative state for 15 years. Terri’s husband Michael repeatedly petitioned the courts to have his wife’s feeding tube removed against her parents’ wishes. In the meantime, Michael Schiavo moved in with another woman and fathered two children out of wedlock before Terri died in 2005. Although one might sympathize with Michael’s desire to have normal marital relations again, he still committed adultery.
I also recall Billy Graham’s film ministry releasing a movie in 1999 called “A Vow to Cherish.” Ken Howard played the part of a business executive caring for his wife (portrayed by Barbara Babcock) whose memory was failing due to Alzheimer's. While I personally found the movie depressing, I liked that it showed a husband willing to remain faithful to his wife despite his brother and a new female friend suggesting he “move on” with his life.
God is bigger than any disease and can bring healing to anyone including the elderly and those with Alzheimer’s. As long as a sick spouse is breathing, there is still hope for recovery.
“Moses was one hundred and twenty years old when he died. His eyes were not dim nor his natural vigor diminished.” - Deuteronomy 34:7