The Deacon's Bench

The Deacon's Bench

Alzheimer’s, and the long goodbye

This story is a stunner, on so many levels.  It’s reportedly the most-viewed video over at, and I can understand why. 

I knew the two people involved when I worked at CBS, so this really hit close to home.  The pain here is palpable.  It’s hard not to feel empathy for all concerned.  But I have to say: the ultimate choice at the end struck me in a very different way. Watch it and see what you think.  
I’ll say this much: it’s hard to walk away from this story unmoved.      

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Dana MacKenzie

posted June 29, 2010 at 10:13 pm

A heartbreaking story.
But I think I prefer a world where the “in sickness and in health” vow takes precedence.

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posted June 29, 2010 at 10:50 pm

What was the point in telling this particular story? There are thousands of others, with early on-set that ARE STILL honoring their marriage vows up until death. Is this story no less tragic, than the couple that was forced to divorce so that the person with the disease could be in an assisted care facility? But that couple STILL honors their vows.
We live in a disposable society, everyone is made into an object, and our worth is in “how useful” we are to one person or another. Tried of something, not your style anymore, outdated? Get rid of it, out with the old, the broken, the used, and in with the new, the shiny and the fresh!
Jesus wept.

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posted June 29, 2010 at 11:03 pm

Dana, I’m not sure that it isn’t taking precedence here, if not in the classical sense. Our generally longer life spans and medical abilities have created situations that simply could not arise in times past. Our traditional concepts don’t always fit cleanly into those situations. Re-thinking what it means to be this, or that, here and now, may be required.
While I can’t say I applaud what Mr. Peterson has done, I will not condemn it either. Certainly he has not abandoned his wife in any way. In fact, her medical condition makes it the other way around, she is abandoning him, though not of her own volition. Clearly he still loves her, but in practical terms he is most of a widower. He is living with another woman, yes, but I am hard pressed to begrudge him the company, especially given the ‘relationship of three’ aspect spoken of near the end.

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posted June 29, 2010 at 11:35 pm

1 Now when Jesus had finished these sayings, he went away from Galilee and entered the region of Judea beyond the Jordan; 2 and large crowds followed him, and he healed them there. 3 And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” 4 He answered, “Have you not read that he who made them from the beginning made them male and female, 5 and said, `For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? 6 So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder.” 7 They said to him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce, and to put her away?” 8 He said to them, “For your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. 9 And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity, and marries another, commits adultery; and he who married a divorced woman, commits adultery.”
10 The disciples said to him, “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is not expedient to marry.” 11 But he said to them, “Not all men can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given. 12 For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. He who is able to receive this, let him receive it.” (Matthew (RSV) 19)

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posted June 30, 2010 at 12:50 am

My Father in law, John, has been married to my Mother in law Lee, for 52 years this month. He and Lee took in her parents many years ago when her father developed Alzheimer’s. He loved that old man, helped to bathe him, take him to the bathroom and care for him even when that strong old man would fight him when it was time for a bath. He walked around and drove around to find Grandpa when Grandpa went for a walk and forgot how to get home. He held Grandpa’s hand and watched him go through the devastating disease that took his mind, memories and finally his life. But Grandpa died at home, surrounded by those who loved him and cared for him.
My Father in law, John has been the full time caretaker for Lee in their home for the past 5 years. She has Alzheimer’s. John is 81, she is 83. When I (or my husband, their son) visit or call I always ask how John is doing, and why he won’t put Lee in a facility, when that would be so much easier for him, he always says, “That’s what the vows are all about Mish.”
He is truly a man who honors the vows to love and honor all the days of his life.
I know my husband is the same.

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Deacon Greg Kandra

posted June 30, 2010 at 6:49 am

When my father was 63, he suffered a debilitating stroke that left him in a wheelchair, in a nursing home, in a diaper. He couldn’t walk, could barely speak or feed himself. Now, my parents did not have the most idyllic marriage, not by a long shot. But after this happened, my mother ended up selling the house and moving into a retirement facility next door to my father’s nursing home. She visited him every day. On weekends, she’d try to take him on outings. (Before she sold the house, she even brought him home for a couple weekends, where the two of us would somehow get his diaper changed and get him bathed and in fresh clothes.) My dad struggled on like this for seven years, until his heart gave out. My mother died four years later.
I know it’s not the same as living with Alzheimer’s. But my mother’s loyalty to my father was a powerful witness. She took seriously the wedding vows that she had made nearly 40 years earlier. (This from a woman who, many years earlier, once warned me and my sister about marriage, “Just remember, forever is a long time.”) Sometimes, the crosses seem unbearable. But we carry them anyway.

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posted June 30, 2010 at 6:55 am

Firstly I’m struck by how “upbeat” Jan is; hard not to love her to death. At least she has the financial means to “live well” in specialized care unlike so many.
I sort of saw the “ending” coming, as I have a very dear friend by whom I was shocked when his dad put his Alzheimer mother into a adult care facility and yes, got a new live-in (this one much younger). As well, he visits her too.
I know other similar situations, all justified by “they wouldn’t want us to stop living.” All well and good I suppose, I just question what “living” really is, staying comfortable or having the courage to “pick up the cross” and see where it leads.
For all I know this couple may not have been religious in any sense or perhaps of the Jewish faith, which of course, have a different take on suffering than we Catholics/Christians. Regardless, it appears to have been an awesome marriage, but I guess “only in good health.”
This is truly another “where the rubber meets the road” kind of story.
May God’s grace touch them all!

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posted June 30, 2010 at 10:48 am

I’m sure Michael Schiavo loved this story!

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posted July 6, 2010 at 10:57 am

I remember a special moment with my mom. My parents were married for 57 1/2 years when she died. My father visited her daily for the 3 years prior to her death at the nursing facility. I too visited almost daily and saw his love and care for her. She did not always remember the names of her family, but somehow she remembered Angelo, her husband, and Antoinette, her daughter. Perhaps it was the daily visits. One day she said to my daughter, “I know you, but can’t remember your name”. Maybe we can deduce that they know some of their family, but not the name of the person, means they did not forget entirely.
The memorable day came in early Sept. when we decided to celebrate the 57th anniversary of their wedding with a backyard BBQ. It was just the immediate family. When it was time to leave, my son and father began to wheel her towards me for a kiss goodbye. She no longer could get sound out when she spoke. I bent over kissed her and what must have been with great difficulty, said ” thank you, I love you”. From this I learned NEVER ASSUME THEY DON’T KNOW WHO YOU ARE. Visit them, love them and the rewards are as great as anything humanly imaginable.

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