My wife, Tamie, has battled illness for about a year and a half. She hasn’t felt much like going to the movies. But my other sweetheart — my 12-year-old daughter, Kendall — joined me on a pre-Valentine’s Day date to see “The Vow.”
We shared a large popcorn and enjoyed the true story of “a newlywed couple recovering from an accident that puts the wife in a coma. She wakes up with severe memory loss and can’t remember any of her life with her new husband … so he has to fight to win her heart all over again.”
The theater where we saw the film was packed as “The Vow” opened as the weekend’s No. 1 box office draw.
The movie itself has no religious content, as far as I can recall. The wedding does not even occur in a house of worship. Yet the film raises intriguing questions about the institution of marriage.
Kudos to Religion News Service, which recognized a peg for a timely trend story tied to the opening of “The Vow” and other recent examples of “the complexities of love in medically challenging situations.”
Philip Weeks fondly remembers the days when his wife of 56 years, June, was a nurse and an artist whose paintings were compared to Rembrandt’s.
Her paintings still hang in their home in Lynchburg, Va., but almost everything else has changed for the couple after she was diagnosed with possible Alzheimer’s and then an abrupt form of dementia.
In one moment, the retired Charismatic Episcopal bishop said, she would lean over to kiss him. “An hour later, she looked at me and said, ‘Who are you?’” he recalled.
When the person you married goes through a dramatic change, what’s a spouse to do? As Valentine’s Day approaches, clergy, ethicists and brain injury experts agree: There are no easy answers.
The examples cited by RNS (including a recent mainstream news story that drew fierce debate here at GetReligion):
— Last summer, religious broadcaster Pat Robertson initially suggested on his “700 Club” program that a man divorce his wife who had Alzheimer’s and “start all over again” with dating. Alzheimer’s, he said, was “like a walking death.” He later said he was “misunderstood.” (See Mollie’s GetReligion post on media coverage of Robertson’s comments.)
— In early January, The Washington Post Magazine ran a story about a woman whose husband suffered a traumatic brain injury after a heart attack. She eventually decided to divorce him but continue caring for him with her second husband.
— On Friday (Feb. 10), “The Vow” hits movie screens, an adaptation of a rereleased book about a young married couple whose serious car accident left the wife unable to recognize her husband. In fact, she thought she was not married.
The RNS story hints at the role of faith in such decisions. For example, this section of the story provides opposing viewpoints:
Page Melton Ivie, the subject of The Washington Post story, said faith played a role in her decisions on how to best care for her first husband, Robert Melton.
“In the context of my faith, I am standing by him and with him,” she wrote during an online chat after the story was published. “I am fortunate to have found someone who will share this with me.”
Others didn’t look at it that way.
“Some day she will have to stand before God and explain why she put herself before her vows to God and to Robert,” wrote Dennis Babish, a blogger for Prison Fellowship’s Breakpoint Blog.
The original Post story, of course, did not offer any kind of depth on the faith angle of the decision. Sadly, readers of the new RNS report are likely to left wanting more, as well. Part of that undoubtedly has to do with the fact that this is a wire service story of less than 1,000 words. Also, it certainly seems that the principle players in the story are not anxious to discuss the faith details. I couldn’t help but wish for more insight on how faith influenced Ivie.
Similarly, NBC’s TODAY.com brushes over the faith angle of the real-life couple on whom “The Vow” movie is based:
In a family built on determination and faith, Kim and Krickitt Carpenter have learned that love not only conquers all, it also fills seats in movie theaters.
Yet the NBC report — like the movie — offers no elaboration on that reported “faith.”
The RNS story ends with a nod to the faith of the bishop quoted in the lede:
Weeks, who has self-published a book called “A Long Dark Night: A Caregiver’s Journey with Dementia,” said he came close to losing his faith, but not his love. Eventually, he said, he stopped doubting God.
“He was giving me a quality of love for her that I did not have before,” the bishop said of his wife. “I think I’m a better husband now because I’ve learned how to deal with this.”
For those looking for deeper meaning, one of the more thought-provoking scenes in “The Vow” concerns not the young couple but the woman’s mother. The young wife learns that her father had an affair with her young friend and confronts her mother about why she stayed with him. The mother responds:
I chose to stay with him for all the things he’s done right; not the one thing he’s done wrong. I chose to forgive him.
Back to the original theme — the question of what exactly “till death us do part” means — it seems that an enterprising religion writer might tackle issues related to how specific faith groups would handle such a traumatic situation. For example, under what circumstances, if any, would a pastor, priest, rabbi or imam advise a spouse to untie the knot?