In Sickness and in Health: A Response to Pat Robertson

October 5, 2011 - Trish Vradenburg

When Pat Robertson answered a caller's question on his radio show stating that divorce is a reasonable option for Alzheimer's patients' spouses if they're going to do something in a new relationship, he opened up a hornets' nest of reactions. And many of those hornets had their proverbial stingers out.

Is it okay to check your vows at the door if your marriage partner is slipping into the unforgiving vortex of Alzheimer's? If so, what stage - onset, failing memory, paranoid rants, cognitive disassociation, comatose? Mr. Robertson wasn't that specific. Yet he was clearly wrestling with the reality of that situation.

When my father was caring for my mother, who had Alzheimer's, there were times he looked worse than she did. Disheveled, overwrought, depressed, I knew the disease was killing two people. "Go to Miami," I begged him. "Get away from this for a while. I'll take care of Mom, You take care of yourself. Rejuvenate yourself." Oh, and he rejuvenated himself alright. He came home with a tan and a girlfriend.

I used to write for the TV show, "Designing Women." I am a very "with it" sorta gal. But my live-and-let-live funny bone went on hiatus when I met the very platinum, 15-years-younger, cooing other woman. One time, when I was pulling up to the airport to pick them up, I thought she was giving my dad mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. But then I discovered there was no resuscitation involved.

I didn't know what to respond when my 13-year-old son asked, "Whatever happened to in sickness and health? What, indeed? Did he know I wanted to keep driving? Did he know I wanted to say, "Gross"? I really needed my Mom to get her advice.

But, of course, that wasn't going to happen. The reality was it was not about me (which I hate), it was about my Dad. My Dad, the depressed, despondent husband who had travelled to Miami, had come back to the land of the living. He looked terrific; he returned to neat; he was eager to embrace each day.

Okay, Alzheimer's was going to besiege my Mom - that was a battle I had lost, but there was no way it was getting my Dad, too. Better one victim than two. Now all I requested was that he treat my Mom with dignity and respect for the woman he had the loved for 39 years. And he did. He visited her in the nursing home (well, when he wasn't getting rejuvenated in Miami) and even took her to see my Mom. Somehow, the three of them even became friends.

Though the government makes you think that getting divorced is the wisest way to go if you don't want to go bankrupt, my Dad never did divorce my Mom.

A year after my Mom died, he and Miami got married. They had 14 wonderful years together.

So, really, who's to say.....?

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