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December 20, 2011

Does Alzheimer’s Let Us off the Hook in Our Relationships?

Figuring out the mess of illness in the midst of God’s creative work on us

Earlier this fall CBN’s chairman Pat Robertson started quite a scandal when he told his 700 Club viewers that he wouldn’t “put a guilt trip” on someone for divorcing a spouse with Alzheimer’s disease. He called Alzheimer’s itself “a kind of death.” A week later in the midst of the uproar his comments had made, he made an attempt to apologize for his remarks yet left many feeling betrayed.

What Robertson failed to understand and express is really about the symphony of love that God created and designed for our relationships. The symphony of love begins with giggling children who mimic emotions by chanting, “I’ll love you forever.” Teenagers may steal a kiss at dusk. The symphony becomes stronger when adults ignore butterflies and hold hands before a minister and vow to love, honor, and be there for each other through thick and thin, sickness and health.

A song for these lovers might include chimes and skipping beats. As time passes will the vivacious symphony become richer or will it end when tragedy arrives? Instead of Robertson painting the beautiful, although sacrificial and often painful, view of marriage expressed by our Creator’s symphony, he instead concentrated on personal needs, turning a love song into a melancholy whine. Instead of a symphony, it became a solo for one.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, an estimated 5.4 million people suffer with Alzheimer’s and 14.9 million unpaid caregivers provide love and support. Many of those caregivers feel Robertson belittled their sacrifices. The pain and suffering of the caregiver is real. Although it’s a heartbreaking tragedy, the symphony of love can survive.

The symphony of love represents more than a chase after personal desires. The melody and full tones beat the drum of respect, honor, and commitment. The tempo changes as we age. Important issues that once were fought over are set aside. Desires often take a back seat to the determination to be unselfish with your spouse. The symphony God wants to write for you will mimic the love of God. His love isn’t self-seeking and doesn’t run from tragedy.

My parents are ministers and recently celebrated their 61st wedding anniversary. Mother is wired for emotions, conversation, and connection. Dad loves to study and can spend hours at the computer. They made a great team doing church work. Mother attended to the emotional needs of the church while Dad prepared spiritual food for its members.

Retirement has taken a toll on their abilities. Back pain is worse when Dad climbs stairs. Study is harder due to memory and concentration issues. Mother’s osteoporosis and immune diseases keep her from chores and hobbies. Dad would rather spend the day in his study while Mom craves connection.

Robinson’s advice denies the love symphony that flows through my parent’s marriage. Only a rich orchestration will carry them through their daily struggles. When Mother needs help, Dad rushes to care for her even if it means he can’t finish his work. When Dad needs a little quiet time, mother is patient.

Most any day you can find them playing their symphony of love. Mom sits in her favorite chair and stares out the window. Loneliness covers her like a heavy blanket. She prays and waits for Dad to finish his work. Later, Dad dresses in silence and wishes he could stay home. A cup of hot soup and a chance to rest his back would feel so good. He sighs and understands that Mother has been patient.

Dad winces with pain as he descends the steps. They smile at each other. He takes her hand to help her out of the chair. He steadies one side until she anchors her cane. She reminds him to lock the door. He reminds her to check for her cell phone. He places the jacket around her shoulders. They walk hand in hand to the car. This back and forth symphony of kindness is no longer a tinkling gentle lullaby. The orchestra of love that plays now is full of deep rich melodies that resonate out from their life and seem to fill every space they inhabit.

A less committed love wouldn’t be able to play their song. The gentle ring of a bell or the soft high pitch of a flute wouldn’t be strong enough to carry them through these difficult times. Their love is a duet, not a solo performance.

I often stare at my husband, Ron, and wonder what our symphony will become. Will I be like Mother and need full time care? Will Ron need my help to find grace as he works through some awful pain? I hope that we’re learning how to play our instruments properly. I hope I’m learning how to be kind even when the beat urges me to stomp away. I hope Ron is learning to give grace even when the trumpet encourages him to run.
God creates—that’s what he does. He creates the beauty of a mountain stream that blesses every plant along its run. He creates a sunset bold with deep reds and brilliant yellows. He blends colors and weaves golden experiences through our lives like a rich tapestry. The Creator of true love wants to write a symphony for your relationship. He wants to blend tones and melodies that are uniquely yours. He wants to write a vibrant anthem that builds to a crescendo and brings tears to those who hear your song.

In our disposable world it’s important to cherish sacrificial love. We must practice kindness, unselfishness, and total commitment until we can hear God’s love song. When we allow God to teach us to love, his symphony will lead the way to the biggest treasure of our lives.

Debbie Jansen is a family specialist, speaker, author of Discipline Exposed, and founder of The Family Training Center. She and Ron have been married 36 years. www.debbiejansen.com

Related Tags: Alzheimer's, faith, health, love, marriage, sickness


Debbie, this is a wonderful response to what Pat Robertson said on his program. I happened to have been watching that morning, and could not believe what I heard! Thank you for your beautiful rebuttal and inspirational challenge to all of us "almost seniors".

Very interesting and thought provoking. Thanks for taking a stand for marriages sticking together through sickness and in health I have been thinking I was blessed to be able to keep my husband at home through his long sickness and care for him.....but you helped me to see it was much more than just a blessing...it was the last movement in our symphony here on earth. Thanks Debbie. Just beautiful!!!!!

I love this post. All four of my grandparents are still alive, thanks be to God. They are either in their late eighties or early nineties and they are still together with their true loves and only partners they have ever had in life. They have set a priceless example that will always speak louder than advise. Thankfully I grew up with and can still look to their example, now with my own husband, of what marriage is all about. Despite their many surgeries, health issues, age related impairments, and now a terminal illness for my maternal grandfather, they are still devoted and faithful and faithfilled, caring and loving with each other' considerate, tender, helpful, compassionate, patient, understanding and always, always unconditional with one another. They have each been playing God's love song symphony for over 70 years. And I'm still listening...

Oops! I meant to write that they have been playing God's love song symphony for over 60 years! Not 70.

This year my husband's parents both left the earth (in their 90's). They were together over 60 years. My hubby and I celebrated 37 years. Well I celebrated. He's in a nursing home and deosn't remember our anniversary anymore. I'm still here for him and he still lights up my world when I visit him because he smiles that beautiful smile of his and tells anyone who is close that I am his "loving wife". Doesn't matter that he can't remember how long I've been his wife. He knows I am and he appreciates that I'm there. I'm grateful to have him for however long God decides. I'm encouraged by this post. Thank you.

I have been truly blessed by your thoughts and the warmth of your message. I pray everyday that I will be able to love the way your parents love each other. I believe that's the greatest inspiration for those of us that are not yet married. I seek and pray everyday that the Lord will allow me to share my life with someone and I believe he has prepared me to love and honor my future spouse in ever way possible, in sickness and in health, for better or worse, 'til death do we finally part. Thank you for sharing with us. I look forward to reading many more insights from you, Debbie.

Thank you for your insights and thoughtfulness. My husband died of Early Onset Alzheimer's disease when he was just 38, just 5 days shy of our 16th anniversary. Never in my wildest dreams did I expect to be taking care of my husband and two young boys (8 and 4 yrs. old), while in my 30's. While I never would have considered divorcing him, this disease changes not only the person with the disease, but the entire family. As a caregiver, wife, and mother, I found myself constantly having to make decisions about what was best for my husband versus what was best for my children. I loved my husband dearly, but also love my children and had to keep their emotional and physical safety in mind. There was never an easy answer. I realize that our case is unusual, but I just wanted to share a unique perspective on this horrible disease.

My parents have been married for 55 years. My father has Alzheimers and there have been MANY recent challenges such as wandering, hallucinations, and this week he showed some violent tendencies (though this may be partially due to a new medication). My mom has been the primary caregiver 24/7 and has watched the slow and steady decline. He only remembers her about 50% of the time....I'm the oldest daughter and he doesn't remember who I am. Though I'm not advocating divorce, this sympathy has been out of tune for a few years now. I've watched others care for their spouses with Alzheimers and they themselves have ended up sick. A year ago my father-in-law passed away leaving his wife of 60+ years with dementia for me and my husband to deal with. She passed away in August. Now long distance I'm trying assist my mother so she doesn't end up in any early grave from caring for my father. I know the Lord is permitting these things and He truly gets all the glory when we come out of our earthly trials....whether here or in our heavenly home. BUT unless you have directly dealt with Alzheimers, trust me, it is like no other experience this life has to offer.

I've never been a fan of Pat Robertson. I know sometimes his comments are taken out of context. Maybe he was trying to be sympathetic to those dealing with the emotional and mental burden of caring for someone with this disease, but he shouldn't have said it. He should have talked about how to get support.

My dad, my sisters and I dealt with Alzheimer's in my mom. I can say that no matter what decision you make, you second-guess yourself (ex., keeping the person at home or putting them in assisted living). We met many whose family never visited them, or did they only believe that family never visited them?

Jamie & Christine: I feel for you. May God provide all the strength and reassurance that you need.

something sobering and sweet to think about

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