Rod Dreher

Rod Dreher


Early Alzheimer’s and a husband’s choice

posted by Rod Dreher

Via Deacon Greg Kandra, here’s a story about a husband, a wife, and early onset Alzheimer’s Disease (it turned up at age 40 in the wife). The piece aired on CBS Sunday Morning. It’s about 10 minutes long, but well worth watching. Man, what a sock in the gut. At the six-minute point there’s a surprise you can kind of see coming, and at the nine-minute mark, there’s a shock. I’m not going to offer any spoilers, but I want you to watch this stunning report and tell me in the comboxes if you think the husband made the right choice:
Watch CBS News Videos OnlineUPDATE: Go past the jump to find out what Mrs. Dreher’s opinion of the husband’s actions in this story are. I’m not going to post them here because it would constitute a spoiler. But her vivid, touching, tender pronouncement is worth reading. I post it with her permission. Read on:She said, and I quote:

“You know what? Don’t even give me that crap about how I can’t judge till I’ve walked in his shoes. If I develop early-onset Alzheimer’s and you come around to visit me while you’re shtupping somebody else, I’m going to find some way to haunt your a**, even while I’m still alive. Actually I won’t have to do that at all. M— R— [a Dallas friend] will beat the everliving crap out of you. Can’t you see her balling up her fist and knocking the snot out of you? I can. In fact, all my friends will do it for me. So I’m not worried. Don’t you even think about trying that crap on me. God gave you a mission in life, and you’d better stick to it, hoss.”

Snap. I love my Texas wife, and her refreshing lack of tolerance and understanding. She really did say “shtupping”; you can’t have lived in New York City for five years and not come away with some great Yiddish words.



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Heather

posted June 29, 2010 at 10:01 pm


Yes. He made the decision I would want my husband to make in the same circumstances (and I have a couple of family members with Alzheimers, so I could be at risk). I would never want my spouse to go through that alone.



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Kristen

posted June 29, 2010 at 10:06 pm


In the abstract, sitting back in armchairs to ponder the ethics of the situation, I cannot say I think his choice is right. But if I think of it in more personal terms, imagining people I love faced with such a choice, it seems harder to criticize. It is unquestionably what I hope my husband would do. Unquestionably.
Which makes it nearly impossible for me to say that his choice is wrong.



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Larry Anderson

posted June 29, 2010 at 10:14 pm


The only thing I can say for sure is this: I hope to God I’m never in that situation. And if the situation was turned around? More than anything, I want my wife to be happy, and to be loved. If the time ever comes when I no longer know her, she absolutely has my blessing to move on with her life.



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Peter

posted June 29, 2010 at 10:17 pm


It’s complicated and sad. I think a lot of women are like Heather and Kristin about what they’d want for their husbands and I’d bet, despite what Mrs. Dreher says now, one of her Texas female friends would possibly move in to take over the role this woman has should Mrs. Dreher get Alzheimers.



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Rod Dreher

posted June 29, 2010 at 10:27 pm


Ha! You are so wrong, Peter. You don’t know my wife very well. Nor our Texas friends.



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Peter

posted June 29, 2010 at 10:33 pm


You’d be surprised, Rod. Grief and illness turn everything upside down and you can never predict how people are going to react. It wouldn’t be at all surprising if one of her friends became close to you as your wife drifted away in the deep hole of Alzheimers and suddenly some other relationship emerged.



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Eddie

posted June 29, 2010 at 10:38 pm


I can’t find fault in his decision. What are you supposed to do if that’s your spouse? Watch them forget you more and more for decades? What does that do to people over time mentally and emotionally?
Anyway, to me, that’s an unfair and unseemly demand to make of people. God help them both and everyone else going through this kind of twisted, sick tragedy.



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Rod Dreher

posted June 29, 2010 at 10:38 pm


Well, Peter, we are Christians, and if a relationship is fated to emerge, it had better happen after my wife has died, because it’s wrong for it to happen while she’s still alive. To do otherwise would be a great betrayal. If I were in that situation — the Alzheimer’s victim — I wouldn’t begrudge my wife that companionship for my sake [I mean, sitting here now, I can say that I wouldn't begrudge that to my wife], but it would be, in our tradition, adultery. I would not want her to do it because that constitutes adultery in the Christian understanding of marriage, and I wouldn’t want her to have that sin on her conscience. Anyway, it’s very hard for me to imagine myself doing what Barry Peterson did. I’m just not built that way, emotionally.



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Peter

posted June 29, 2010 at 10:50 pm


The Drehers aside, it’s a very sad story. Imagine listening to ones wife talk about you in the third person and talking to the mirror. How horrible for anyone involved.



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Rod Dreher

posted June 29, 2010 at 10:59 pm


Well, you’re right about that. It was a heartbreaking story, and given the pain there, I have no wish to pass judgment on Barry Peterson. I can say, though, that I pray that if I’m ever in his situation, that I have the strength to remain faithful to my wife in every way, and to rely on the comfort of my faith, our friends, and our children.



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Matushka Anna

posted June 29, 2010 at 11:06 pm


Yes, it’s a terribly tragic story. I watched my grandmother die from alzheimer’s (she was too healthy to die from anything else along the way so it took about ten years). My grandfather had died when I was only one so he wasn’t there to watch. But given everything I know about him and his family and the way they were raised, I can say with almost certainty that he would have stood by her to the end.
Should I go the same route (and I devoutly hope I don’t), Father will have no choice but to stand by me. He may have to put me in an assisted living facility and eventually into a nursing home, but he will not remarry, even after I die. Even though I know this for a fact (he’s a priest – remarrying is not an option), I know he wouldn’t anyway. During an Orthodox wedding, there are no “vows” taken as in Catholic and protestant weddings. There is no “till death do us part” because we do not part at death. The soul is immortal and the marriage is blessed by God unto all eternity.
When one marries, especially a priest, one never knows what one will be dealt. The new bishop Michael was married…for about two weeks. His wife was killed in a car accident. He has never remarried and is now a concecrated bishop. I remember him with fondness from seminary – his gentleness and longsuffering. No one deserves such suffering, but no one deserves happiness either. The world does not “owe” it to people to keep them happy at all costs – even to the destruction of marriages. I’m not judging Mr. Peterson. But I wouldn’t want to be in his shoes either come judgement day.
(And I have no doubt that Julie would haunt you – in a poltergeist sort of way!)



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Charles Curtis

posted June 29, 2010 at 11:07 pm


I’m with you Rod. Until death do us part. That vow’s not just pretty nonsense. It’s tough, austere. It always stings to be truly romantic and faithful.
Still, judge not least you be judged. These sorts of decisions are very personal. I’ve seen widowed relatives of mine in their 70’s and 80’s move in with significant others without marrying. Marriage would have affected pensions inherited from their dead spouses, would have been a poor financial choice.. I wasn’t impressed, but I kept my mouth shut.
I would never presume to judge someone, but I know what I admire. My heroes make and keep vows, even when it costs them, even when it’s lonely and hard. I hope that I’ll be faithful, if I’m ever in such a situation.



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dangermom

posted June 29, 2010 at 11:11 pm


I’m kind of freaked out by how he narrates the whole thing in his Reporter Voice.
Yes, it’s a terribly sad story. But IMO it doesn’t excuse him. I hope I would not rationalize such a thing to myself if my husband had that happen to him, and I cannot approve of the idea of my husband doing it. Sometimes life asks us to go through terrible things, and we should try to go through them with integrity.



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mm

posted June 29, 2010 at 11:11 pm


It’s a humane story. It’s not like they’ve abandoned her, which is this story’s saving grace. To hold them to religious standards that they themselves seem not to profess to any degree of apparent conflict, doesn’t feel any more moral.
If they do profess Christian belief, though for the sake of the body of Christ they need not be in any kind of church leadership.



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Zoe

posted June 29, 2010 at 11:35 pm


This will sound sappy, but when the wife was sitting there talking to her husband without recognizing him, I thought of “spiritual” Alzheimer’s. How many times does Christ appear to us, and we don’t recognize Him (for whatever reason)—over and over again. How many times do we talk about an invisible God, but fail to recognize Him in our brother in front of us. Yet, Christ remains faithful to us.
No I don’t want to judge the man. Loneliness can do terrible things to a person. The pain of not being seen by someone who once new you so well is a heavy burden. But hasn’t something been lost here besides this layd’s memory? I cringed every time the reporter talked about his wife in the past tense. :-/



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TSF

posted June 29, 2010 at 11:49 pm


I find it fascinating that so many have included the phrase “I don’t want to judge” in their responses when that’s exactly what Rod wants us to do: “tell me in the comboxes if you think the husband made the right choice”.



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dhoff

posted June 30, 2010 at 12:12 am


I know the sadness, my mother died of Alzheimers.
Why did he need to go on national TV and let the world know that he is bedding another woman? How humiliating would that be for her if she was in her right mind? Because she doesn’t know, does not make this okay. I am so sad for her.



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lorib

posted June 30, 2010 at 1:01 am


I disagree with you all. If I ended up with Alzheimers, I would want my husband to have as full a life as he could have without me. I love him enough to want him to be happy and not lonely. I would, in effect, be dead, especially in the later phases of the disease, and the thought of him being alone is terrible. Why should he suffer for no good reason? If he met someone he could love, I would absolutely want him to find joy and comfort in that relationship. I have a dear friend whose wife died at 65 of early-onset Alzheimers. In the last few years of his life, when she didn’t recognize him or their children, he began seeing a women he met in a support group and I know that that relationship was a great help to him.



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Cathie B

posted June 30, 2010 at 1:22 am


I’m divorced, that marriage annulled and remarried RC. I can’t say “‘Til death do us part” was for real with husband #1 (hence the annullment), but with the real deal (my current husband of almost 15 years with whom I’ve had 6 kids) I can honestly say that it IS “Til death do us part.”
When we watched The Notebook together a couple of years ago, we had a conversation about what would happen if either of us ended up in that situation. We stick together. Regardless.
I cried – hard when she referred to him as if he wasn’t there. That is pain and suffering. But why is suffering looked upon as bad anymore? Suffering is redemptive. While I can’t imagine being in his shoes here on earth, I’d really HATE to be in his shoes come judgment day. None of us know why God puts us in the situations that He does. We can’t see His master plan. One priest explained it as a child seeing needlework their mother is doing from the back side. It looks all messy and doesn’t make sense. It’s not until you look at it from the top that you see the real plan. We won’t see God’s real plan for us until we’re in Heaven. There is suffering for a reason, we just don’t know what it is.
Dang if I wasn’t crying my eyes out for that poor woman. My husband reminded me, as he just came in to see why I was crying, of the line from Princess Bride (he needed to do something to cheer me up), “Death cannot stop true love. All it can do is delay it for a while.”



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Erin Manning

posted June 30, 2010 at 1:40 am


When my husband and I were first married, we had a next door neighbor with early-onset Alzheimer’s. I only found out when she ran into us at the grocery store, chatted for a moment, and then walked away with our shopping cart–with our baby daughter in it. I followed beside her quietly until she looked up, and I saw the pain and confusion on her face as she tried to apologize, but I assured her as gently as I could that there was no need.
Since we moved away from that area and lost touch with people, I don’t know how her husband spent the next ten or fifteen years–but I do know that he loved her, that he wanted to protect her, that he was kind to her even when she faded in and out of remembering him.
Like Rod, I think that the promises one makes to one’s spouse are supposed to be enduring; “in sickness and in health” isn’t just referring to physical illness. But one of the consequences of seeing the concept of personhood as referring primarily to one’s consciousness is that when the consciousness undergoes a debilitating change as in Alzheimer’s (or many other mental illnesses), people start to act as though the person is actually gone, all but the formality of going ahead and dying. However, if you are a Christian who believes in the soul, then you know that the soul is not merely the consciousness of the person, and that the soul’s own dignity demands that you keep the promises you made, even if the other person is past remembering them.
We could certainly do more to help the spouses of those afflicted by such illnesses. Strong support groups, friends, and most of all the extended family should be there to help the spouse who is most deeply impacted. But while a variety of friendships and relationships are necessary, the decision to pursue a quasi-spousal relationship while one’s husband or wife still lives is still wrong, however much we might wish to excuse it.



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Indy

posted June 30, 2010 at 7:51 am


There are any number of ways these things can play out. None of us knows what lies ahead, for ourselves or our present much loved compansions. Consider the example of former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, whose Alzheimer’s afflicted husband reportedly developed a relationship with a companion to whom he wasn’t married at the facility at which he was receiving care. She had the grace to be happy for him.
http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2007-11-12-court_N.htm



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Richard

posted June 30, 2010 at 8:00 am


I agree with Rod and Erin and others that marriage is a solemn and enduring promise. While I do not grudge him the choice to place his wife in a facility (our family has had to make that same choice), it sure does appear that as soon as his wife was no longer cognitively able to connect with him, he felt free to sever his connection with her.
“Judge not lest ye be judged” – congratulations, you just lost the ability to discern evil. Seriously, of course we must not judge the man’s heart but we can – and must – judge his actions.



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evw

posted June 30, 2010 at 8:00 am


For a completely different response, consider Robert McQuilken. I remember reading an article years ago about his decision to resign as president of Columbia Bible College to take care of his wife who had Alzheimer’s. The story goes that when friends urged him not to quit, they said, “But she doesn’t even know you anymore,” to which he responded, “But I know her.” My favorite line in his resignation speech, below, is “It’s not that I have to take care of her. It’s that I get to.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f6pX1phIqug



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Rod Dreher

posted June 30, 2010 at 8:51 am


Richard:
Seriously, of course we must not judge the man’s heart but we can – and must – judge his actions.
That’s the right response to the person above who remarked that people are saying “I don’t want to judge” while at the same time saying that Peterson’s actions are wrong. Folks are trying to be compassionate toward him; perhaps he has no religious faith that teaches him to regard marriage as something different from the conclusion he has drawn from it. Or something like that. Anyway, they’re trying to give him the benefit of the doubt as a man in a terrible position, while at the same time saying that he’s done the wrong thing. That’s right and proper.
Often when people say “who are you to judge?”, they don’t mean they reject moral discernment; everybody has to decide right and wrong. What they really mean is, “I reject the judgement you’ve made of my behavior,” but what they’re trying to do is apply a pseudo-pious gloss to that sentiment.



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Rod Dreher

posted June 30, 2010 at 8:54 am


Consider the example of former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, whose Alzheimer’s afflicted husband reportedly developed a relationship with a companion to whom he wasn’t married at the facility at which he was receiving care. She had the grace to be happy for him.
Well, yeah, because he was completely out of his mind, and could not have been held responsible for his choice. Barry Peterson, by contrast, retains all of his mental faculties.



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Indy

posted June 30, 2010 at 9:00 am


Rod, did I say the two were comparable? Of course not. I just pointed to it as something that could happen to any of us and the grace O’Connor showed in reacting to what happened to her spouse. A reminder of how humbling life can be.



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Jag

posted June 30, 2010 at 9:04 am


I think glorifying it on TV is almost worse than simply having done what he’s done. So unnecessary…



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Peter

posted June 30, 2010 at 9:05 am


it sure does appear that as soon as his wife was no longer cognitively able to connect with him, he felt free to sever his connection with her.
She’s had Alzheimer’s for 15 years. It’s not clear when his new relationship began. He still has a connection to his wife–who doesn’t recognize him–but the relationship is different because she is in a facility and her mind has deteriorated so much. It’s easy to make him out as an opportunist who moved in his girlfriend the minute his wife was out the door, but that doesn’t appear to be the case.
I don’t know what I’d do in this situation or what I’d want my wife to do. I understand the “death do us part”/”you are a horrible sinner if you fall in love again” argument, but life rarely offers such black and white opportunities even if morality is black and white.



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Peter

posted June 30, 2010 at 9:09 am


I think glorifying it on TV is almost worse than simply having done what he’s done. So unnecessary…
Was he glorifying it or was he just offering their story and letting people sort out their values by looking at the story. He’s written a book about his life and his wife’s illness, but calling it “glorifying” seems unfair. If nothing else, it has provided fodder for people to talk about whether what’s he’s done is moral and what the role of grace is in looking at other people’s lives and decisions.



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john

posted June 30, 2010 at 9:34 am


Quite a jolting video. Regarding ’till death do us part’, well, Barry hasn’t departed from her, although in a sense she has died. Certainly he has died to her, since she can’t even remember him. A tough situation, and I can’t criticize his response.



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jeb

posted June 30, 2010 at 9:44 am


And this could go on for another 15 years, easily. Maybe more. I do hold in respect people who stick with their very mentally impaired spouses (whether through Alzheimer’s Disease, severe mental illness, stroke, etc). Bishop Spong, who comes in for a lot of abuse because of his liberal theology, is one. And I do judge those who give in to the human need for companionship(what seems like) too easily. BUT, folks, modern medicine is partly what has put us in this fix. I have two family members with Alzheimer’s Disease who would have been carried off long since, but for drugs and technology. I sincerely feel that when the body is wearing out, and the mind is already clearly on its way out, intervening with full-court-press treatment is not in alignment with Biblical faith.



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Jill

posted June 30, 2010 at 10:43 am


I have been friends with both Deacon Greg and with Barry and Jan for years. One of the reasons Barry wrote this book is because he wants people to start talking with their loved ones about what they would want in a similiar situation — the number of Alzheimer’s cases in this country is expected to triple by 2050 — and I thank you for spreading that message.



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pst314

posted June 30, 2010 at 10:48 am


“I find it fascinating that so many have included the phrase ‘I don’t want to judge’ in their responses”
Here’s a relevant passage from one of Terry Pratchett’s novels:
“A bit judgmental, my grandmother.”
“Nothing wrong with that. Judging is human. Bein’ human means judgin’ all the time. This and that, good and bad, making choices every day… that’s human.”
“And are you so sure you make the right decisions?”
“No. But I do the best I can.”
“And hope for mercy, eh?”
The bony finger prodded him in the back.
“Mercy’s a fine thing, but judgin’ comes first. Otherwise you don’t know what you’re bein’ merciful about.”



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hlvanburen

posted June 30, 2010 at 10:53 am


“Seriously, of course we must not judge the man’s heart but we can – and must – judge his actions.”
And at the same time we must also hope and pray to never be tested in this way, lest our actions come under similar judgment.



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Eric

posted June 30, 2010 at 11:38 am


There’s a fantastic Canadian film on this subject that I strongly recommend everyone see called “Away From Her” about a long-married couple in which the wife (played wonderfully by Julie Christy) develops early onset Alzheimer’s Disease. It’s a powerful, heartbreaking movie that will leave you with more questions than answers about this topic.
I think Barry Peterson’s choice is entirely justified for the following reasons:
1) The usual reasons I am against adultery are the betrayal, the deception, the humiliation, the loss of intimacy, and, if there are children involved, the consequences for them. These consequences are all meaningful to people with normal mental faculties. To someone in Jan’s condition, they are utterly incomprehensible. There is no betrayal; Jan’s interests are being looked after. There is no deception; Jan is incapable of understanding what she is told. There is no humiliation; it’s not like anyone is sniggering at her behind her back. There is no loss of intimacy, as that is impossible under these circumstances anyway. And, as far as I can tell from the video, they don’t have children.
2) Keep in mind, those of you who are passing judgment, that you and I can go about our lives after seeing this video and will probably not remember it a month from now. Barry Peterson will probably be dealing with this for decades. Long term medical declines of any kind are crushing, devastating experiences, and most people require the support of someone else in their lives to deal with them. To condemn Barry Peterson for what he has done is also to insist that he face this alone. Jan loses nothing if Barry has someone in his life. Barry would lose a great deal if he had to face this terrible trial in loneliness.
To those who would say that what Barry Peterson is doing is not affirmatively admirable, I would agree. He is not asking for admiration; he is asking for understanding. Some of you may say what he is doing is a sin under your religion (beliefs he may or may not share). I can’t argue with that, but I can say that most of you probably know several people who have broken their marriage vows, whether by divorce or adultery, under less trying circumstances than this. Don’t judge Barry Peterson more harshly than you would judge those people. Why is our first instinct in this situation judgment rather than compassion?



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AnitaAshland

posted June 30, 2010 at 11:41 am


Asking whether or not the husband made the right choice isn’t all that interesting. Of course some will denounce this act of adultery as wrong. Others will say we shouldn’t judge. All very expected responses.
I’m more interested in the following questions rather than just throwing stones at yet another adulterer:
Why are men so often inclined to seek out female companionship during times like this or when they become widowers?
Why have we (including us Christians) placed eros on such a pedestal in recent decades?
Given this over-emphasis, is it any wonder a man would reach out for that type of relationship in a period of loneliness rather than cultivate deep friendships or other relationships that would help sustain him?
What can we do about it?



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Pat

posted June 30, 2010 at 11:54 am


“”Judge not lest ye be judged” – congratulations, you just lost the ability to discern evil.”
“And the serpent said to the woman, Ye shall not surely die: For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil. And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat.”
Just sayin’. Perhaps Jesus actually *meant* that line about not judging when he said it, and actually *meant* we should accept all the problems we think it would cause. He was a drastic sort of fellow, wasn’t he? It’s at least an interesting thought exercise, to wonder what the world would be like if we followed his advice in this regard.



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bill holston

posted June 30, 2010 at 12:05 pm


‘for better or for worse, in sickness and in health.’
Mort Kondracke’s book Saving Milly is quite good on this point, when people told him that affair would be morally acceptable.



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MMH

posted June 30, 2010 at 12:12 pm


What I find most troubling about Barry’s response (other than the horrible “reporter’s voice” used to discuss an intimate situation, as someone else mentioned above) is the implicit assumption that Jan is dead. With rational consciousness gone, we apparently not longer need the formality of dying, to borrow Erin Manning’s phrase. I suspect that Erin is right, and that the whole question hinges on our concept of what it means to be a person.



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dangermom

posted June 30, 2010 at 12:13 pm


“To condemn Barry Peterson for what he has done is also to insist that he face this alone.”
No, I don’t think that’s true. Not having a romantic relationship is not the same thing as being alone. A person going through difficult trials may have friends, family, support networks, all sorts of personal relationships.



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the stupid Chris

posted June 30, 2010 at 12:21 pm


I would hate to be in this situation.
Orthodoxy does not divide people into body and soul, but teaches that the point of the Incarnation is the unity of soul and body, and the point of the Resurrection is that the body and soul are resurrected together, it’s not just that the “spirit” lives on. Orthodoxy also teaches that the two effect each other, changes to the body change the soul, and changes to the soul change the body.
In this tragic condition we have a person whose body is dramatically altered, and so the whole person including the soul is altered, and this altered person has effectively, if involuntarily, absented the marriage. It seems to me that the Orthodox Church would, in it’s economia, recognize a divorce and allow a remarriage in such a case, would it not?
If so the moral issue for Orthodox Christians here would seem to be one of process, not content.



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Heather

posted June 30, 2010 at 1:08 pm


I guess these comments really remind my why I left (or at least one of the resons) conservative religion some 15 years ago. To me morality IS of the utmost importance, but to “be moral” is not an end in itself; its a means to an end…..to avoid hurting yourself or others.
Peterson is not hurting Jan….she is past the point of being able to be hurt in this way; instead he appears to be taking good care of her, visiting her, and honoring her. His “new woman” seems very kind hearted also.
So, I hope and pray I’m never in this situation; but if I am, I pray my husband finds someone as good as Perterson’s girlfriend seems to be and they love and support each other.



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Cassia

posted June 30, 2010 at 1:09 pm


I can’t agree with your wife. If I were married and diagnosed with dementia, I – well, I can’t be certain but I’m pretty sure I would encourage my husband to move on once I was past the stage of recognizing him. And by ‘move on’, I mean ‘think of me as dead’. If you have experience of interacting with people with advanced dementia, you know it’s pretty horrible for everyone concerned and there’s not a lot you can do to make things better for the sufferers. If I cared about my husband, I wouldn’t want him to suffer as well. What would be the point?



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Brett Powers

posted June 30, 2010 at 1:41 pm


There are two components of this conversation that require revisiting, and I suspect they are at least in part fueling Mrs. Dreher’s vociferous response.
Component 1) Marriage explicitly demands a vow, one of committment until death. Jan is not dead, hence the vow that Jacobsen took in the ’80s still holds. . .and he has violated it. Plain and simple. Now, that vow is in place for two reasons; one, to insure the safeguarding of the spouse that inevitably sickens first. But there is a second reason, as well, leading to
Component 2) there is benefit to be had in suffering, both on Jan’s part, and more importantly on, on Jacobsen’s part. That suffering he is experiencing is without question enormous, more than most of us have or will experience, and by God’s grace, never will. But it can lead to growth, both for him and for Jan, and to the extent that he is engaging in a married life with another woman, he is closing himself off to that grace and growth he could be making, but is not.
Our response in this situation ought to be two fold:
1) Pray for the grace of God never to face such a trial, and
2) In the event it were to happen, pray for the grace of God to meet it as He would have it, not us. In other words, God give me the grace to man up and face what needs to be faced.
Barry Jacobson is facing enormous suffering. He deserves our prayers, our support, and our criticism. He has failed to man up, and gives scandal to the vow he took with Jan Thorsen.



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Sparki

posted June 30, 2010 at 1:51 pm


Suffering together is part of the deal you sign up for when you speak those marriage vows. Remember? “For better, for worse…in sickness and in health.”
Based on what Mr. Peterson said about his love for Jan and hers for him, I’m pretty sure the vows they took were not, “For better, for worse (until it gets so lonely for me, I need the comfort of another person as my psuedo-spouse)…in sickness (unless you get to the point where you no longer recognize me) and in health.”
My husband had a brain injury in 2007, which some researchers think can increase his likelihood of developing dementia. But I’ll be his faithful wife until one of us dies, even if he can’t remember me. I don’t have to walk in the shoes to know what it’s like — I know what I meant when I said my marriage vows, and I will uphold them, even if it means suffering right along with him.
I saw another report like this about a woman whose husband had some form of dementia, and in the care facility where she had placed him, he had hooked up with a female patient. The healthy wife bore it patiently and forgave him because he is confused and no longer remembers her name or who she is (though he is always glad to see her on her daily visits).
I find it a bit easier to understand how the dementia patient could take up with another woman…not so much the man who vowed to stick with his wife no matter what but now affords himself physical and emotional comfort and intellectual foil with a healthy woman because his wife can no longer give it to him.



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Paco

posted June 30, 2010 at 2:11 pm


I do not agree that he is “not hurting Jan” or that she is “past the point of being hurt”. This is almost like saying if you hide the adultery it is not really adultery. We do not usually marry in secret. We make our vows in public and ask for the support of family and friends (and God if religious)to keep those vows. He knows, his friends know and now a lot of us know that he is breaking his vows. As others have pointed out, he does not need his new live in relationship to keep from being alone. We all may come up short when tested but to pretend we have not failed adds dishonesty to to that failure.



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Eric

posted June 30, 2010 at 2:27 pm


“A person going through difficult trials may have friends, family, support networks, all sorts of personal relationships.”
dangermom, I disagree. A romantic relationship involves a greater depth of intimacy than other relationships. We don’t know whether he has any family and friends and coworkers don’t go home with you every night. A lot of the arguments people here are making about what Barry could or should be doing are based on assumptions about his life and circumstances that none of us are in a position to make.
“Component 2) there is benefit to be had in suffering, both on Jan’s part, and more importantly on, on Jacobsen’s part. That suffering he is experiencing is without question enormous, more than most of us have or will experience, and by God’s grace, never will. But it can lead to growth, both for him and for Jan, and to the extent that he is engaging in a married life with another woman, he is closing himself off to that grace and growth he could be making, but is not.”
The fact that people can grow from suffering is not a reason to look for opportunities to prolong or intensify suffering. It would be another matter if Barry’s suffering somehow helped Jan, but it won’t. The suffering caused by a broken arm might build character, but that’s not a reason not to get it fixed. Moreover not all suffering is beneficial in the long term, and you and I are not in a particularly good position to make the call for Barry that his suffering will ultimately be good for him. It’s very easy to talk about the benefits of suffering when it’s not your own suffering being discussed, which is why people don’t send sympathy cards to grieving people or cancer patients saying things like “well, maybe this is good for you.”



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Max Schadenfreude

posted June 30, 2010 at 2:27 pm


“Just sayin’. Perhaps Jesus actually *meant* that line about not judging when he said it, and actually *meant* we should accept all the problems we think it would cause. He was a drastic sort of fellow, wasn’t he? It’s at least an interesting thought exercise, to wonder what the world would be like if we followed his advice in this regard.”
Yeah, I don’t think you know what you’re talking about. If Jesus didn’t want us to make ANY judgements as regards evil acts then his command to the woman to go forth and sin no more would be meaningless.



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the stupid Chris

posted June 30, 2010 at 2:36 pm


If Jesus didn’t want us to make ANY judgements as regards evil acts then his command to the woman to go forth and sin no more would be meaningless.
True, but the prohibition is about judging others, not acts. The ideal condition is known, and this falls short in many ways. The question is now whether-or-not this is a violation of the ideal, as the ideal ceased to exist with this illness, but whether-or-not the violation of the ideal is “wrong.”
Well, I’m sure glad I’m not held to the standards so many here are offering. I strive for them, of course, but understanding that there’s nothing good about this situation it’s very hard to judge this man for failing to achieve the ideal.



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Matushka Anna

posted June 30, 2010 at 3:29 pm


Just because we decide not to hold someone to a standard, or hope we won’t be held to a standard, doesn’t mean there is no standard.



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Cheeky Lawyer

posted June 30, 2010 at 3:40 pm


I think the answer is simple (which mind you is different from easy — some of the simplest things can be the most difficult to do). The execution not. The simple answer is that he should remain faithful to his wife. No one is saying that is easy. I am with Rod and others who say they’d pray for the grace to persevere through such difficult circumstances. As Christians, this is right where the Church must step in, to provide support, comfort, and aid to the spouse.
Is “the Stupid Chris” really right that the Orthodox Church would allow a divorce and remarriage in a case such as this? Why? That really seems funky.
And Erin and the other person who chimed in on the mind-body dualism, the Gnostic world we live in, are spot on.



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BobSF

posted June 30, 2010 at 4:00 pm


Uh… the command wasn’t “Go and don’t do anything your neighbors and folks down the road think is sin.” The command to sin no more requires introspection and self-correction.
Anyway…
I’m struck by two things:
1) Boy, it sure helps to have excellent health care plans.
2) No one seems to think that Jan had any role in deciding how this would play out. What if she released him husband from his vow? Maybe it’s in the book.
3) OK, three things. All these “till death do us part” comments from people who have openly stated that it’s really “till death or adultery or physical abuse do us part” strike me as convenient. If the rational is that “the church” (whichever church that might be) makes allowances for adultery and physical abuse and allows annulment, are you sure you can’t get an annulment for this? Do some research before you say “absolutely not!”.
I suppose this man could have gone the “moral” route and divorced his wife. Heck, they could have jointly decided years ago to do that. Would that have been better?
As for his voice, a lot of TV people actually talk that way. Some go into reporter-mode, but for some, it’s their natural voice. If it creeps you out, imagine how much it surprises waiters!



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deb

posted June 30, 2010 at 4:28 pm


“Is ‘the Stupid Chris’ really right that the Orthodox Church would allow a divorce and remarriage in a case such as this? Why? That really seems funky.”
It is funky. “the Stupid Chris” was just guessing, and I’m sure he guessed wrong. By a long shot. I can’t imagine the Orthodox Church blessing that arrangement.
What I’d like to see is some response to Anita Ashland’s questions.



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Max Schadenfreude

posted June 30, 2010 at 4:50 pm


“Well, I’m sure glad I’m not held to the standards so many here are offering. I strive for them, of course, but understanding that there’s nothing good about this situation it’s very hard to judge this man for failing to achieve the ideal.”
But we can at least judge correctly that he did indeed fail to achieve an ideal.
Additionally, he failed to uphold his marriage vow, unless he and his wife vowed something like…
“…to forsake all others…in sickness and in health till death do you part, or until one of you is mentally incapable of knowing that the other is shacked up.”



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Erin Manning

posted June 30, 2010 at 5:03 pm


BobSF, speaking as a Catholic, it’s not “until death or adultery or physical abuse do us part,” in terms of being *released* from one’s marriage vows. The Church has permitted some couples to live apart from each other in some of these kinds of circumstances. The Church has not forbidden a civil divorce when it is necessary to protect the innocent spouse. However, neither of these permissions means that the marriage is over or the person may contract a new marriage relationship (and sexual relationships outside of marriage are always forbidden).
An annulment is different; it is a declaration by the Church, after an examination of the situation at the time the couple married, that no marriage ever existed. The things which invalidate a marriage are very specific to the ability of the partners to form a valid marriage bond in the first place. To take one very obvious example, when a couple marries in the Church, they both state that they are free to marry in the Church. If, ten years after the wedding, evidence surfaces which says that the husband, for example, lied, was married before, that his prior marriage was putatively valid, and that he had never sought an annulment from his prior marriage, then he’s not validly married to wife #2, even if she had no idea that he was already married. In other words, the annulment declares that the promise “till death do us part” was made invalidly and was not really a promise at all.
So, in the case of a woman developing early-onset Alzheimer’s, the only way the marriage might putatively be invalid were if the marriage were contracted after the woman had already begun to suffer from the disease, and was thus not able to give valid consent to the marriage bond–which is not the case in this story. (My youngest daughter and I were having an interesting discussion of this very concept, though, as she’s been reading “Jane Eyre,”–the question of whether Mr. Rochester’s first marriage would have been valid at all if Mr. Rochester had been a Catholic came up; recall that his first wife’s family knew quite well that insanity was in the family and that the woman in question had begun exhibiting certain definite signs of it prior to the marriage, but that they had carefully concealed the truth from Mr. R. and even from the poor woman herself who might have nonetheless realized that she was going mad, and thus been a party, though a much less culpable one, to the deception. It’s an interesting question, from the Catholic viewpoint–but recall that the Protestant Mr. Rochester was definitely bound to his insane wife, and was not, at the time, allowed by English law to divorce her.)
Back to the point, though: if by “parting” you merely mean “living apart,” there are all kinds of circumstances in which validly married couples might live apart for a time, or even for the duration of the marriage. Illness, such as Alzheimer’s, requiring the ill partner to live in a care facility is just one such “parting,” but the vow “till death do us part” refers to the fact of the ongoing marriage, not merely the couple’s address.



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Peter

posted June 30, 2010 at 6:11 pm


Just because we decide not to hold someone to a standard, or hope we won’t be held to a standard, doesn’t mean there is no standard.
Or, more specifically, various standards. If he’s not Catholic or Orthodox, then those standards don’t really apply to him since those rules are not “Christian” as much as sectarian. The fact that there are multiple standards is what makes this such an interesting question.



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Max Schadenfreude

posted June 30, 2010 at 7:03 pm


“Or, more specifically, various standards. If he’s not Catholic or Orthodox, then those standards don’t really apply to him since those rules are not “Christian” as much as sectarian. The fact that there are multiple standards is what makes this such an interesting question.”
Why must the standard be viewed strictly through a secterian lens?
What about the standard of a this guys wedding vow, even a strictly civil/secular wedding vow? Don’t those include “forsake all others” and “till death do us part”?
Is it so bad to think that a person should be true to such a vow even when it’s not convienent? After all, the whole point of much of that vow is that the follow through is not going to be easy.
captch = services covetous



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the stupid Chris

posted June 30, 2010 at 7:30 pm


Just because we decide not to hold someone to a standard, or hope we won’t be held to a standard, doesn’t mean there is no standard.
As I said, we can strive for the ideal and recognize a failure to achieve it, but passing judgement upon an individual for such a failure is something else entirely. Economia is not an excuse, but an acknowledgement that our fallen world often leaves us with less-than-ideal options.
It is funky. “the Stupid Chris” was just guessing, and I’m sure he guessed wrong.
Forgive the length of this, but it informs this discussion:
http://www.orthodoxresearchinstitute.org/articles/liturgics/athenagoras_remarriage.htm
6. DIVORCE
The problem of divorce is a very delicate question as it often touches on a painful human reality.
The tradition of the Church of the first centuries – which continues to have authority for the Orthodox Church – put the emphasis very strongly on two related points:
the “uniqueness” of the authentic Christian marriage,
the permanence of married conjugal life.
We may recall here the analogy that Paul makes between the unity of Christ and his Church and that of the bride and bridegroom. This analogy that is as it were at the root of the mystery assumes the real and continuing unity of the married couple, which therefore totally excludes a simultaneous polygamy and views one single marriage as the ideal.
Divorce does not heal the diseased marriage but kills it. It is not a positive action or intervention. It is about dissolving the “mini-Church” that has been formed through the marriage relationship.[18] The Holy Scripture attributes divorce to the callousness of man.[19] This is seen as a fall and sin. And yet the Orthodox Church can however permit divorce and remarriage on the grounds of interpretation of what the Lord says in Matt. 19, 9: “I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery.” According to Bishop Kallistos Ware divorce is an action of “economia” and “expression of compassion” of the Church toward sinful man. “Since Christ, according to the Matthaean account, allowed an exception to His general ruling about the indissolubility of marriage, the Orthodox Church also is willing to allow an exception”.[20]
A question we can ask ourselves is whether Christ considered marriage as being indissoluble? We need to be very clear in this as when Christ teaches that marriage may not be dissolved that does not mean that He is stating that it cannot occur. The completeness of the marriage relationship can be tainted by erroneous behaviour. In other words, it is the offence that breaks the bond. The divorce is ultimately a result of this break. This is also the teaching of the Eastern Church fathers. A quotation from the testimony of Cyril of Alexandria will be sufficient to make our point here: “It is not the letters of divorce that dissolve the marriage in relation God but the errant behaviour”.[21]
The violation of a marriage relationship is divided into two groups:
those resulting from adultery (unfaithfulness and immoral behaviour)
those proceeding from the absence of one of the partners (this absence must however have certain distinctives).
According to the spirit of Orthodoxy the unity of the married couple cannot be maintained through the virtue of juridical obligation alone; the formal unity must be consistent with an internal symphony.[22] The problem arises when it is no longer possible to salvage anything of this symphony, for “then the bond that was originally considered indissoluble is already dissolved and the law can offer nothing to replace grace and can neither heal nor resurrect, nor say: ‘Stand up and go’”.[23]
The Church recognizes that there are cases in which marriage life has no content or may even lead to loss of the soul. The Holy John Chrysostom says in this regard that: “better to break the covenant than to lose one’s soul”.[24] Nevertheless, the Orthodox Church sees divorce as a tragedy due to human weakness and sin.



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Josh

posted June 30, 2010 at 7:35 pm


God bless your wife, Rod.



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the stupid Chris

posted June 30, 2010 at 7:52 pm


Divorce is a tragedy due to human weakness and sin. In the Orthodox teaching sin can be (paraphrasing St. John Chrysostom) voluntary or involuntary, of word or of deed, of knowledge or of ignorance.
Alzheimer’s is a tragedy. It leaves its victim involuntarily ignorant of their own identity, much less their relationship to others or the vows they took when they were healthy. While we would all like to believe that we would remain faithful for a decade or more to a relationship in which the other member were unable to participate, I would that we thank God we don’t all have to pass that test.
And judging those who fail according to ideal standards to remain ideal in totally compromised conditions is precisely what Jesus was talking about when he advised “Judge ye not…” We can and should uphold ideals while having compassion for those who find themselves involuntarily in the least ideal of conditions, and who therefore fail to live ideally.



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Josh

posted June 30, 2010 at 8:05 pm


You may have seen this before, but it’s worth a watch for comparison.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f6pX1phIqug



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Max Schadenfreude

posted June 30, 2010 at 8:23 pm


“We can and should uphold ideals while having compassion for those who find themselves involuntarily in the least ideal of conditions, and who therefore fail to live ideally.”
Yeah, except he’s not involuntarily shacking up. The problem is he sees that particular condition at least close to an ideal or he would not choose it.
Okay, s**t happens to us all, and few of us react well when the s**t gets really deep. This guy has been dealt a load of s**t. And we’re all sinners. I get that.
But all the tenderness and compassion in the world doesn’t change the fact that this guy is violating his marriage vows.
I may have been commanded to judge not lest I be judged. Well guess what? I plan to be judged. We are also told you could judge a tree by its fruit. And by the fruit of this guy’s self-reporting we know that his word is only good to a point.
When I have to engage in business or some other dealings with people, such that I need to trust their word, I’m going to make a note if I know this person to be unfaithful to his wife, or married 2, 3, or 4 times.
Things like vows, words, trust, loyalty, and trust are very important. And it is EXACTLY in these hard cases where they are important. No one needs to worry much about most people doing the EASY things. Character comes from doing the hard things.
Honoring you vow to your wife even when she doesn’t even know who you are is one of the hard things. My compassion for the guy doesn’t change the fact that he should do the hard thing. Nor does compassion require that we not mention that someone is failing to do the right thing because it is hard (though I’m not too sure how much harder his life would be if he weren’t shacked up; or conversely, I’m not too sure his life is any easier having a sex partner).
Rather he’s doing the wrong thing, and the easy thing, because it feels good.
It is totally irrelevant that I could prove just as weak and choose the same path in the same circumstances. Big deal. It would still be the wrong choice. It would still be a violation.
However, if I did failing my self, my wife, my word, and my vows in the same way, you can rest assured I wouldn’t make a 10 minute documentary of it for CBS.
Now THAT’S creepy.



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Jon

posted June 30, 2010 at 9:14 pm


As Chris has exdplained the Orthodox Church has a more nuanced view of divorce than the West does– and this goes back to the Byzantine era when leniency about divorce was one of the charges the Pope complained of in the East.
That said, and as much as I am in agreement with the general theory of ekonomia, I do think the modern Church is a bit too lax on the matter, and too willing to rubber stamp remarriages. At least where the failed marriage was a true sacramental one, the Church ought be taking divorce as a very grave matter and require more from penitent ex-spouses that some sweet-talking of the local bishop.



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Max Schadenfreude

posted June 30, 2010 at 9:22 pm


Even if I agreed that divorce should be allowed, this reporter dude ain’t divorced.



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Karen

posted June 30, 2010 at 9:31 pm


Somehow I don’t get the impression that Barry went out actively seeking Mary Nell. You make it sound like he’s a monster – I think he is a hero for caring for Jan, hiring a live in care taker and when things got really bad, finding her a decent assisted living home. To further his commitment to her he wrote her life story. She gave him something he might not have had before their marriage – respect and zest for life.
As I posted on another site – God created us to love, equipped us to love and commands us to love – sometimes love looks different through different eyes – holding the line on “vows” sounds a bit like the Pharisee’s to me in this situation. Does Christ expect Barry to be a martyr? Would you be more satisfied with Barry’s story had he strapped that cross on his back and carried it the rest of his life? What happens to his love for Jan at that point? Resentment, bitterness?
Mary Nell seems like and extraordinary woman to me. She has embraced this walk with Barry and says of Jan “when you meet her, you cannot not love her”. Grace visited upon us – a woman who understands and respects Barry’s love and commitment to Jan and is willing to walk that road with him. This is how I imagine Christ invites us to love. With our whole hearts, with courage and with brutal honesty to our humanness.



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Matushka Anna

posted June 30, 2010 at 10:57 pm


Actually, Karen: “Does Christ expect Barry to be a martyr?”
Yes, he does. He expects all of us to be martyrs.
Do you know why the Orthodox marriage service is called a crowning?
“THE CROWNING
The service of the Crowning, which follows, is the climax of the Wedding service. The crowns are signs of the glory and honor with which God crowns them during the Mystery. The groom and the bride are crowned as the king and queen of their own little kingdom, the home – domestic church, which they will rule with fear of God, wisdom, justice and integrity. When the crowning takes place the priest, taking the crowns and holding them above the couple, says: “The servants of God, (names), are crowned in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.” The crowns used in the Orthodox wedding service refer to the crowns of martyrdom since every true marriage involves immeasurable self-sacrifice on both sides.”
[http://www.orthodox.net/articles/matrimony.html]



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Max Schadenfreude

posted June 30, 2010 at 11:10 pm


“As I posted on another site – God created us to love, equipped us to love and commands us to love – sometimes love looks different through different eyes – holding the line on “vows” sounds a bit like the Pharisee’s to me in this situation. Does Christ expect Barry to be a martyr? Would you be more satisfied with Barry’s story had he strapped that cross on his back and carried it the rest of his life? What happens to his love for Jan at that point? Resentment, bitterness?”
I don’t think the guy is a monster, I think he’s a sinner, like the rest of us. However, I don’t expect my views on sin to hold sway in our increasingly secular society that increasingly denies that sin exists.
And I don’t expect him to literally strap a cross to his back, though I do believe we all have many metaphorical crosses to carry.
He’s chosen not to carry one of his metaphorical crosses. He does embrace the cross of caring for his wife. Does that make him a hero? No, it makes him a dutiful husband, at least in that one respect. So our hearts and prayers should go out to him for his suffering and for his efforts for his wife.
Martyr? In fact, Christ does expect us to be martyrs when the occasion presents. But again, I don’t expect that opinion to hold sway either, so it’s irrelevant as well.
“Mary Nell seems like and extraordinary woman to me. She has embraced this walk with Barry and says of Jan “when you meet her, you cannot not love her”. Grace visited upon us – a woman who understands and respects Barry’s love and commitment to Jan and is willing to walk that road with him. This is how I imagine Christ invites us to love. With our whole hearts, with courage and with brutal honesty to our humanness.”
Yes, I agree, but my objection is not that Mary helps him with his wife, or that she loves him and helps him. Those are indeed Christlike. Nor do I object to her “walk” with him.
The problem is not happens when they walk together down the “road”. Presumably they haven’t taken that old Beatles’ song literally and still wait till they’re home to “do it”.
My religious views on this matter, as I’ve already indicated, are in my opinion irrelevant in the public forum. I’ve been schooled on this enough in years past. My approach to this subject is not a theological or religious one.
Rather, my objections which are suitable for a secular or even pluralistic society has to do with people not keeping their word and not living up to their commitments when the going gets rough.
I don’t believe in divorce, but I live in the United States, and in this country, heck, in this world, divorce is a fact of life in the secular world. So be it. But apparently this guy has decided against divorce while choosing to sleep with a woman not his wife.
That’s adultery even by secular standards.
And I figure if the secular/pluralistic culture at large demands of me to honor the secular/pluralistic legal system it hardly makes me a Pharisee to expect the same standard be applied equally to us all.
This guy doesn’t even meet the secular standard.
Worse, he broadcasts his adulterous choice nationally.
He’s chosen to stay married to his wife and to sleep with another woman. Despite what the some long ignored law may say to the contrary, that is apparently his right. But having the right to do something doesn’t make it right to do.
Like I posted earlier, the marriage vows are a vehicle for us to commit to what is hard. This man has broken his vow to do what is hard. This fact is not changed by the fact that he has risen to the occasion to do other things that are hard.



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Matushka Anna

posted June 30, 2010 at 11:16 pm


Just an aside: I’ve looked over the last 67 comments and think it’s worth noting that not once has anyone devolved into name-calling or snarking. Very commendable and possibly a record on this blog (for a hot-button issue).



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Karen

posted June 30, 2010 at 11:17 pm


Anna,
I have never seen that in the bible but it’s a lovely visual, whomever or however that evolved as a ceremony certainly seems to have hit the nail on the head. I have seen martyrdom in the bible and it usually refers to being martyred for our faith not for our own human losses or needs.



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Karen

posted June 30, 2010 at 11:46 pm


Max and Anna,
Good points all – I had not even considered the legality of it – I suppose my heart just wants to see the “easy” side – Our grandmother had Alzheimers and lived with our family 8 years and I know what it’s like to have someone you love literally not recognize you – it’s heartbreaking and unnerving – I had to remind myself constantly that her mind was “gone” and that at the time before her illness, she loved me dearly – having to affirm someone else s love to yourself is not easy.
So perhaps I’ll back off the “hero” status and move Barry instead to “survivor” status. There is so much suffering in the world perhaps I got excited that love found a way to conquer it.
I agree that Barry has failed in his commitment – and we all fail – so with that I’ll say “Thanks be to God”



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the stupid Chris

posted July 1, 2010 at 12:33 am


Jon,
I think you and I agree here, especially about some sweet-talking of the local bishop..
But with due respect I don’t think Alzheimer’s is a matter of “sweet-talking” anyone. It is a tragic condition that leaves those who understand what is happening (which does not include the afflicted) in an equivocal situation.
And I’ve watched as some choose the stoicism of standing by their man while others have simply gone off the rails and sought comfort and support wherever it could be found. In my judgement Chrysostom got it exactly right: “better to break the covenant than to lose one’s soul”.
Here we’re applying that lesson to someone who apparently is not Orthodox and so does not have the benefit of the guidance of an Orthodox Spiritual Father. And while some here wish to judge, and judge harshly, my point would be that in the light of longstanding Orthodox teaching there is good reason not to enter into judgement of this non-Orthodox man. My further point would be that, given the guidance of an Orthodox Spiritual Father, it is quite possible that this man would have been granted a divorce and remarriage rather than having to “shack up” (as Max puts it) at such peril to his soul.
“Economia” sometimes excuses what it should not, but in the case of those married to Alzheimer’s victims I’d like to think that it would serve to save those who otherwise could be lost.



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Another husband

posted July 1, 2010 at 11:15 am


I am living this life. My wife developed Early onset in her early 50’s. We are over 10 years into her decline. She has had the benefit of the latest drug treatments and is in the only successful trial of new treatments of which I am aware. Her decline has been slowed by well over half, yet it progresses slowly.
I am her only care-giver to date, however, it is questionable how long that can continue. While I have disengaged from many activities, I can’t say it has been overwhelming yet to deal with. But because we have pursued treatment so vigorously, I am faced with spending perhaps 30 years of my life with curtailed activities and opportunities while carrying the substantial burden of her illness. To me, it seems one thing to suffer the loss of a loved one, but quite another to do so in some much longer time frame that is created by leading edge modern medicine.
I stuggle with the “ethics” of the situation; where is the balance? Where is the quality of my life reflected in whatever decisions I make? I know that I will not be able to play the ‘martyr role’ — i.e every decision made only with respect to prolonging the quality of life for my wife irrespective of its impact on me — indefinitely.
All of the Christian moralizing is not helpful. First of all, I am not a believer, and resent that viewpoint being applied in what is a secular matter. Second, the ease with which the marriage vows (made in a secular setting or in a church) are set aside in our society makes the self-righteous piety of many of the commenters with respect to this situation a bit hard to take. In the instance of this video, one can argue the marriage vows are being honored in more difficult circumstances than most will ever face.
I will keep my wife at home, in a setting she loves and enjoys, for as long as possible. If and when the day comes that this is no longer possible, I will hope for compassion rather than judgement with whatever decisions I must make … for my wife … and for me. I take seriously my personal vows. Yet I believe it is essential that each care-giver be given the lattitude and support necessary for each to find their own way to maintain their own health and welfare in this awful scenario.
Thank you for making the video, and for sharing your story. I have seen so many cases in my life where people make lifetime commitments or care decisions in the abstract, only to change their behavior when reality strikes. Hopefully, the perspective and decisions of those “walking in our mocassins” will be more fully appreciated.



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Karen

posted July 1, 2010 at 11:56 am


Just discovered that Barry actually went to an on line dating service to find Mary Nell – that’s a game changer for me –



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Max Schadenfreude

posted July 1, 2010 at 11:59 am


“Second, the ease with which the marriage vows (made in a secular setting or in a church) are set aside in our society makes the self-righteous piety of many of the commenters with respect to this situation a bit hard to take.”
Well, I for one have explicitely chosen not to invoke piety in this discussion, so I will assume this comment does not apply to me.
Having said that, what I find hard to take are those who, upon someone else breaking a vow, find greater fault with those who make note that the broken vow is a bad thing.
Additionally, what I find hard to take is my observation that (specifically) in our culture marriage has ceased to be an institution with any meaning, and (generally) that at the slightest sign of trial or difficulty, vows, promises, duty, and honor are shown to be mere words, hollow and desicated; to be avoided and obscured by tender words like love and grace.
To borrow from Flanner O’Connor, in the absence of faith we govern by tenderness. And tenderness leads to the gas chamber.
In the context of this discussion, the faith in question need not be one of a religious nature. It is enough to note the absence of faith that another will honor his word, but it’s okay, he’s a loving and tender guy.
There are those who excuse this man’s adultery with the contention that his vow “till death do us part” no longer binds him because she’s not really “there” anymore, and because he has found love and love is always a good thing.
It bears noting that this thinking argues that obligations to this woman, obligations to her person, have in some degree become void. That as a person she has in some way died already. We can disregard obligations to her as long as we are tender and loving and cause no pain.
The adultery causes her no pain because she cannot recognize it. In this formulation, the breaking of the vow with her is somehow licit because the vow was made, not with a person, but with a person who can remember. It is a formulation too close to denying her as a full person. Thus while still alive physically, she’s not really alive as a full person.
If anyone can’t see how such tenderness leads to the gas chamber, so be it. I can explain it to you, but I can’t comprehend it for you.



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Broken Yogi

posted July 1, 2010 at 12:34 pm


I kind of like the notion that we can’t see what God’s plan for us is. But if that is the case, isn’t it true that God’s plan might involve this fellow doing exactly what he’s doing? Anyone who claims to know the actual specifics of what God’s plan is, is being a bit deluded. And that includes priests and believers in one or another doctrine about God’s plan. My own sense of God’s plans for us is that it always involves increasing the amount of love in our lives. If I were to judge this man, I’d say he’s increasing the amount of love in his life, and doing it with integrity, regradless of whether it contradicts various ideas about marriage. He continues to love and care for his wife, and he’s also genuinely loving the new woman in his life. I think God would approve. If not, what kind of God is that? Others might be able to increase the love in their life in other ways, given the same tragic circumstances, but there’s more than one way to do that, and this way seems to work for him.



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Broken Yogi

posted July 1, 2010 at 12:40 pm


Tenderness leads t the gas chamber? What in heck does that mean? Were the Nazis known for their tenderness?



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Max Schadenfreude

posted July 1, 2010 at 12:44 pm


Yogi,
You actually make my point rather well.



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Broken Yogi

posted July 1, 2010 at 1:07 pm


Then you must not have one.



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Max Schadenfreude

posted July 1, 2010 at 1:41 pm


Yogi,
For the record, I didn’t bring up Nazis, after all, they don’t have a monopoly on euthansia or gas chambers, but you asked if the Nazis were known for their tenderness.
Were they known for tenderness. Yes
They are no longer known for it, but if you examine German history of the 1920s and 1930s you will find that they were very much a party of tenderness. They were socialists after all.
The Nazis campaigned and proselytized for universal health care, economic relief, and all the usual social safety net we assocaite with progressivism in contemporary America.
That pre-war German tenderness included releiving suffering and disease through a health care system that included an enlightened application of eugenics and euthanasia.
It was a tender and loving propaganda that did indeed lead to the gas chambers. The Germans were killing non-Jewish grandmas, crazy aunts, and other individuals of impaired “personhood” long before the implemnetation of the grotesquely euphamistic “Final Solution” that slaughtered millions of Jews, gays, political undesireables, and others.
You wrote:
“If I were to judge this man, I’d say he’s increasing the amount of love in his life, and doing it with integrity, regradless of whether it contradicts various ideas about marriage.”
Integrity? Hardly, But be that as it may, the problem is not with increasing love, but adulterous sexual activity. And the complaint I’ve registered here does not depend on any particular version of the “various ideas about marriage”.
Rather, it address the idea of people saying what they mean, meaning what they say, and keeping their word.
That you miss that point, made numerous times, does not suprise me giving you sloppy use of language to cover up the adultery by obscuring the sex involved by invoking the tender term “love”.
Sexual activity and love are two different things. They go really well together, but they are different things and one is often found in the absence of the other.



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Broken Yogi

posted July 1, 2010 at 2:11 pm


Max,
When people refer to “gas chambers” in ordinary discourse, it’s a clear reference to the Nazis, so yes, you did bring them up first.
Second, the Nazis were certainly not known for their tenderness in relation to the people who ended up in gas chambers. That they strove for a totalitarian, oligarchical, socialized economic system for Aryans did not make them “tender” overall, especially in relation to those who opposed them, nor was it the “tender” aspect of their economic approach that lead to gas chambers or war. European democratic socialism has not led to gas chambers or war, despite these kinds of dogmatic assertions.
Germans, like any other people, can of course be tender, and the Nazi perversion of Germany didn’t entirely wipe out the German people’s tender nature. So pointing out that Germans can be tender is really pointless in this context, in that it was not their tenderness which led to gas chambers, it was their cruelty towards the “other”, which was the hallmark of the Nazi regime.
The eugenics programs of the Nazis were certainly not considered “tenderness”, either then or now.
And the relevance of this to our current discussion is rather pointless as well. The woman in quesiton is not being sent to a gas chamber. She is being well cared for by her husband. The only issue is whether he’s committing some kind of grave sin in taking up a relationship with another woman while his wife is still alive. Clearly, if this were a eugenics issue, the husband would be trying to have his wife killed or have medical care abandoned. Clearly that’s not the case. Pretending that this is a slippery slope to gas chambers is so absurd it shouldn’t require comment. As I’ve already said, your argument has no actual point to it, or any connection to human reality.
As for the problem of “adulterous activity”, I would say that one has to weigh such things not by some abstract absolute, but by the real life issues involved in any particular case. We have incomplete information on this matter, but on the basis of what we do know, I’d say that love would not be best served by this guy martyring himself on his sick wife’s bedside. His solution seems to handle the important matters relatively well, and the abstract issue of adultery is, in this circumstance, rather moot, not just in relativistic human eyes, but in my own religious view, in God’s eyes as well. I have not missed your point on that matter, I have just disagreed with the assumptions and beliefs you use to support it.
captcha: the dictator



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Max Schadenfreude

posted July 1, 2010 at 2:57 pm


Yogi,
You continue to miss many points.
I didn’t bring up Nazis, I brought up O’Connor. It’s an interesting side note that while you champion the idea of relativsim you want to absolutely peg me for a “nazi” comment I didn’t make. Sure, a nazi reference exits in your mind, but you’re not content with that, you must insist dogmatically that it exists absolutely.
In any event, the Nazis work well for this discussion. I have no problem with that.
And you miss the point about tenderness. No one said that tenderness was being extended to those to be slaughtered. Rather, the tenderness is extended toward those for whom the slaughtered were lead to the chambers.
After all, what kind of God would want a fine German citizen in the 1930’s to have to care for 76 year old Uncle Hans suffering from Down Syndrome?
No, typically the tenderness is expressed toward the one’s carrying the burden.
Though it is true that sometimes tenderness is extended to the one to be destroyed as well.
Absurd you say? Tell that to Terri Schiavo’s parents. What kind of God would want Terri to live like that? Forget that she wasn’t on life support. Forget that she had to be starved to death. Forget that not longer after she was killed by starvation and dehydration, a man in a PVS far longer and far deeper than she suddenly regained consciousness and claimed he could hear everything said in his presence for 20 years despite the fact that everyone thought he was “gone”. Forget all of that. Just remember that it was the loving thing to let her go.
Some pro-choice advocates, trying to come to grips with the reality of abortion they can no longer seem to deny (that abortion kills babies), also invoke the language of tenderness. They speak of “letting go” of their babies as if the babies wanted to jump head long into the suction devices.
Adultery is not an abstraction; it is a sexual act.
But apparently, to you, vows, promises, and committments are mere abstractions, and as such should have no place in binding one to that which one committed (that would not be loving; what kind of God would want someone to stand by their word?)
That tells me much about, not the least of which I can depend upon you to be undependable when the going gets tough. I mean really, what kind of God would want you to be dependable at the moment others need you the most?



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Cam

posted July 1, 2010 at 3:52 pm


One other thought on “Til Death do us Part”/”in sickness and in health”/”forsaking all others” is that your spouse is committing to “having your back” in your moments of greatest weakness. So when their time and energy is given to another person, it builds in a certain amount of openness to the idea that they may have to make choices that benefit the well being of the new person that you committed to and the original spouse. It could be financial decisions, time decisions, etc.
So I’m judging this man on two levels. One judgement is that the other woman still isn’t a morally correct decisions. The other judgement is that he’s in a horrible spot, I feel very sorry for him and I sure wouldn’t be heaving stones. But how do you like that, the people who say he’s doing ok and we shouldn’t judge…already have.



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bensmom

posted July 1, 2010 at 4:40 pm


I’ve lost three family members to the Big A. Often an Alzheimer’s patient will have flashes of lucidity. What a joy to witness the rare times my grandfather, aunt, and uncles smiled, called us by name, and chatted. My aunt would hug and thank us for taking care of her while she was “so confused and sad” (her words).
My mother-in-law goes from silence and humming to murmuring in wonder at suddenly finding herself at home, and asks for her darling husband. The guy is wonderful and clearly dotes on her… the feeling is mutual even when she doesn’t remember who that nice man is. Now, had he happened to have been visiting with some girlfriend during that window of lucidity, there’d have been hell to pay.



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Broken Yogi

posted July 1, 2010 at 6:15 pm


Max,
“I didn’t bring up Nazis, I brought up O’Connor.”
You brought up “gas chambers”, which as everyone knows is shorthand for Nazis. If you don’t know this, I’ll excuse you for your ignorance, but I think you do know this and are just playing possum. Pretending that I’m just projecting is not arguing in good faith.
As for your arguments about love and tenderness, lets’ see if I’ve got this right. The Nazis expressed loving tenderness in their social policies, and the Nazis sent people to gas chambers, therefore loving tenderness leads to gas chambers. Let’s apply this logic elsewhere. Jesus expressed loving tenderness in feeding the poor and healing the sick, therefore Jesus was a Nazi who was in favor of sending people to gas chambers. Got it.
“After all, what kind of God would want a fine German citizen in the 1930’s to have to care for 76 year old Uncle Hans suffering from Down Syndrome?”
Since this woman’s husband was happy to care for her even in the midst of her disease, there’s simply no parallel here. You still have no point to make. Missed connections, Max.
“Absurd you say? Tell that to Terri Schiavo’s parents. What kind of God would want Terri to live like that? Forget that she wasn’t on life support. Forget that she had to be starved to death. Forget that not longer after she was killed by starvation and dehydration, a man in a PVS far longer and far deeper than she suddenly regained consciousness and claimed he could hear everything said in his presence for 20 years despite the fact that everyone thought he was “gone”. Forget all of that. Just remember that it was the loving thing to let her go.”
Yes, forget that her brain had shrivelled into a useless artifact that wasn’t much more than a heart-lung regulator. Forget that husbands have the power to turn off life-support, not parents, and the husband was, it appears, merely following what he felt was his wife’s intent. I certainly would want life support turned off in such a circumstance. But that’s because I have faith in God and the afterlife, and no desire to cling unnaturally to this life when there is nothing useful for me to do in it. But this is of course irrevelent to this case, in that the husband isn’t proposing to take her off life support, so where’s the connection to Schiavo?
“Adultery is not an abstraction; it is a sexual act.”
The formality of marriage is an abstraction. The reality of it is the love between man, wife, and their families and children, if any. I love my wife, and she loves me, and that’s what makes our marriage real, not merely a ceremony, no matter how sacred (and I was married in a sacred ceremony). Nonetheless, in circumstances such as these I’d hope my wife would act as her loving happiness led her, and not feel bound by some formal notion of marriage and adultery. She feels the same way. I don’t know that I’d do as this man did, but I wouldn’t consider it a violation of my marriage.
“But apparently, to you, vows, promises, and committments are mere abstractions, and as such should have no place in binding one to that which one committed (that would not be loving; what kind of God would want someone to stand by their word?)”
I take my love and commitment to others very seriously. I don’t believe in adultery, and have never committed such a thing. But I can see how things might change under extraordinary circumstances such as these.
“That tells me much about, not the least of which I can depend upon you to be undependable when the going gets tough. I mean really, what kind of God would want you to be dependable at the moment others need you the most?”
Can I depend on you? Of course not. You don’t give a fig for me personally, so I don’t see what these personal points you are trying to make mean. People who love me, and who I love, can count on me, but that doesn’t apply to guys who haunt internet forums and make creepy comments about gas chambers and loving tenderness. You’ve already told me too much about yourself. But you’ve told me nothing about this topic we are actually talking about.



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Your Name

posted July 7, 2010 at 4:11 pm


Yes, forget that her brain had shrivelled into a useless artifact that wasn’t much more than a heart-lung regulator. Forget that husbands have the power to turn off life-support, not parents, and the husband was, it appears, merely following what he felt was his wife’s intent…
The usual misunderstanding. The husband has no power to turn off life support. A court found, after hearing the evidence, that Theresa herself would have wanted it turned off: this was her decision. Michael Schiavo didn’t just “feel” this, a court found it.
As for myself, if such a thing had happened to me, I’d want my husband to move on and find love, whether at 28 or at 55. If he could. Neither of these unfortunate woman were there any more.



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Max Schadenfreude

posted July 8, 2010 at 2:32 pm


Terri Schiavo was not on life support.
She was starved and dehydrated to death.
If food and water are seen as “life support” in the medical sense of the term, then we are all on life support and the term has no meaning.



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noem ohren

posted July 12, 2010 at 6:55 pm


I would not condemn a spouse who chooses to have a good friendship — including sexual relations — after his/her spouse succombs to alzheimers. on the contrary, having a good friend and sexual partner to whom to turn to in times of despair and loneliness, could actually be benifical to the alzheimer spouse. the spouse might be able to bring greater energy and caring to the alzheimer spouse.



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