Early Onset Alzheimer's & One Spousal Choice

Have been meaning to embed this all day, a video from CBS Sunday Morning, picked up via Deacon Greg:

This is a stunning, sad, heartbreaking story, with a twist at the end that may surprise some.

Deacon Greg, who in his past employment knew this couple, describes the pain as palpable. That, it undeniably is.

Please watch it and share your thoughts. I have thoughts of my own, but I don’t want to put them out, yet; I want to read your reactions.

Watch CBS News Videos Online

Rod Dreher is also getting comments

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  • Lisa

    Rhinestone Suderman I agree. That’s what disturbs me.

    I’m trying very hard not to be cynical about this video, but I just can’t help myself. Oh, heck! What does it matter if another sin is normalized. We may as well go down the list of 10 and knock them all off now to save ourselves some time.

  • Joe

    These comments are helpful. I agree, the video is too slick and too focused on the husband. I am not that judgmental, he is not a bad or evil man, just a flawed one. Heck, we all are. But I think it would be better had he not done this video to essentially justify his own behavior and choices.

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    I don’t like being cynical either, but, yeah, I’m disturbed by all this.

  • J.

    I have waited to comment becuase I had to think deeply about this story and try to decide why I was so disturbed by it. Then I realized, Barry doesn’t really believe in life after death; because if he did, he could not simply say “life must go on”.

    What will happen when both husband, Barry and wife, Jan meet after death….I am sure she will be forgiving as she will know his pain. But I wonder if he will be able to forgive himself…once he realizes there is an afterlife and consequences beyond “life going on”.

    This is not to say I would be as brave in his situation but I do understanding that I believe in: the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sin, the resurrection of the body and life everlasting…..I think believing that life is everlasting would make it difficult to back away from my mentally or physically challenged spouse.

    When my husband and I met, we were in our 20s and had young and beautiful bodies. It was a given that if we stayed together we were going to watch each other fall apart–so is greeting each other everyday as our mortal bodies deteriorate like attending an never ending funeral? (yes, I know this may not be comparable but it’s no too far fetched to see that the person we love isn’t the shell only in front of us! After all, we are supposed to be Christians and the shell, both mentally and physically isn’t the person, the soul and shell must at some point part after all). Some in people (hopefully, mostly in Hollywood) think that physically beauty is as important as the rest of us my think of our mental abilities, I guess. But remember–we aren’t either mind, nor body alone.

    To me it’s sometimes unnerving to see an old woman in the mirror or glance quickly at my husband and almost see a young man. But this is as it is meant to be; and when our minds begin to go this will be as it should as well.

    I have watched my newest grandchild (now two months old) wobble to sit up and want to make his body parts go the way he would like them to and realize that I will look like that on this other end of life and few will find it as cute and adorable as is in this new child of God. But why do we feel like that? This feebleness, this letting go of control of your life is what old age is about and all of us who have said our marriage vows have agreed that we will help each other through this time too.

    My husband tells of a time that his mother (now long since passed on) took care of him when he was seriously sick as a teen. He had no control of any of his bodily functions and yet she never complained or made him feel anything other than to take courage and try to get stronger to get better. He said that up until that time he had never thought much about whether his mother loved him or not. But that after that time he knew even though she had always been very “careful” in showing what she thought was too much emotion (few hugs and kisses growing up), that he knew she loved him deeply because of her acts of daily care. Later in life when her husband suffered a stroke that finally took his life 5 years later, I also watched her bath, dress and feed this man she had constantly bicker with when his mental sharpness was still there. And after months of rehab, when he was able to respond more in coos then in words to her questions about what his needs, she would also add a little bickering in a good natured way as they once had done as husband and wife (and often I would see my father-in-law get a crooked little smile and a tear in his eye as she did so).

    My mother-in-law had many faults (as she herself would admit) but commitment was not one of these—and it was a happy, unselfish, and uncomplaining commitment at that.

    Love isn’t simply saying you love someone; love is SHOWING you love someone. (Isn’t that why we have a cross or crucifix in our houses? As a demonstrable sign of Love?) And it is in the showing where Barry has failed Jan–6 years is a long time but we all have sworn “til death do us part”. I hope I can keep up my end of this as well as my mother-in-law did as I sincerely don’t want to meet either Christ or my husband “on the other side” with excuse that “life must go on”.

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  • CHS

    Very sad situation, but these types of situations are why we commit to our marriage vows. We all sail through the good times–anyone can do that.

    The defensive tone and challenge of the husband’s “don’t judge me” plea shows that he realizes he is failing his vows and the woman whose love and spirit he enjoyed during the good times. The fact that his wife is unable to be aware that he is breaking his vows is not a defense. That just makes her more vulnerable.

    It sounds to me as if this man is going to have a difficult time reconciling with this failure in his life. But that is one of the most poignant aspects in the life of each of us–the fact that our own choices are often the source for our most profound regrets.

  • http://www.firstthings.com Mary Rose Somarriba

    Here’s a much better story about marriage and Alzheimer’s, and a true one:

    Many years ago, my grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s that ravaged her memory so much she could not recall anything except her childhood. That means that, far sadder than Barry’s wife, she couldn’t remember her husband at all.

    When she was moved to an assisted-living facility, my grandfather sold their house and moved into an apartment on the same property to be near her. He visited her everyday, kept her company, made small talk, treated her as a nice gentleman would treat a lovely lady. . . and even though it was very painful that she didn’t recognize him, nothing–no disease, nothing–could stop him from loving her.

    After she died, it wasn’t long before he followed her. And, I would submit, his walking the difficult and sorrowful path didn’t at all subtract from his quality of life–no, it added to it. My grandfather knew something more profound than men like Barry can hope to know: He knew what it meant to love his wife “in sickness and in health . . . till death do us part.” He knew the true meaning of a promise.

    And more than that. Didn’t someone in the video story mention the value of “walking in another’s shoes”? No doubt it is precisely his taking the long-suffered road that allowed my grandfather to walk in the shoes of Someone indeed. He knew, and he experienced firsthand, true Love.

  • Elaine

    I have worked with people with Alzheimer’s and their families. It is the sharing of staff, family and friends that helped sustain these caregivers and the love we had for all of them. The women I knew had husbands with Alzheimers and their lives were turned upside down for many a time. I will never forget these folks. They are a model of strength for me as my husband and I grow old together and may have to face a serious illness.
    Two of the gals were Catholic and while we never got into theological discussions I knew their marriage vows would never be broken even in extreme sickness. I think that for some one’s marriage vows is so in depth and embedded within that it is beyond mere words. I do not condemn this man at all but taking another woman and putting her in the same capacity as his wife once was is sad to me even though I am sure this lady helps him.

  • http://palepage.com tracey

    I’m late to this discussion, and I’ll confess I didn’t read all of the comments, but a good many of them. Please forgive me if I’m repeating something somebody else has said.

    This falls into a very specific category for me, actually, and that’s this:

    Judging others by standards or beliefs or worldviews that they themselves do not hold to or confess.

    I watched this piece. I didn’t see where this man confessed a belief in Jesus as his savior. Maybe I missed it. But I’m growing weary weary weary of hearing so many Christians in my own life denounce Tiger Woods for his adultery or Christian Bale for his foul mouth or blahdie blah blah, whoever for whatever. I’ve written about this repeatedly on my blog. It’s a huge pet peeve of mine.

    Why do Christians hold non-Christians to Christian standards?

    Why do they judge them publicly for non-compliance and then wonder why there aren’t more Christians or why non-Christians have such hostility towards us?

    For instance, I have many gay friends and I’m just their friend. They know I’m a Christian and I know they’re gay and we’re friends. I pray for openings in conversations to talk about Jesus, but I don’t impose Jesus or my standards into their lives because, well, I just want to be their friend.

    This situation is so tragic, so harrowing, but unless this man is claiming Christ and attempting to live by Christ’s standards, then I don’t feel it’s my job to convict him or hold him to those standards. I’m not the Holy Spirit.

    Were I in this man’s shoes, I hope that I would have the courage of my convictions and continue to honor my vows, but I don’t know what vows he personally took to this woman. Maybe they vowed “as long as our love shall last” or something. Maybe they didn’t vow “til death do us part.” We don’t know.

    Christians view marriage differently than non-Christians, so I don’t think it’s fair to judge him by a Christian view of marriage if he doesn’t personally hold to it. I can’t expect a blind person to live as if he sees and I can’t expect a non-Christian to live as a Christian.

    Why is a rather harsh analogy, I know, but eh. It’s all I got.

    Just my 2 cents.

    [I think perhaps, Tracey, people are trying to process it and only know how to do it through their own perspectives. In my case, I was writing for a Catholic site, and so it seems logical to look at this through a Catholic prism. I've written another piece - not sure if it will be published or not - which acknowledges that Petersen seems not to profess any faith at all except perhaps one "only known to God" as we say. But marriage itself does predate Christianity, and it is generally understood in most cultures (not the polygamous ones, of course) to be a one-couple-lifelong-fidelity thing. Hey, I just thought of something. Can you imagine, if Petersen's pov caught on, we could be debating polygamy, down the road? -admin]

  • http://palepage.com tracey

    That should be “which” — “Which is a rather harsh analogy.”

    Speaking of blind …..

  • Ann Landell

    Throughout the comments there is an underlying (or not so underlying) belief that there is a conflict between judging Barry’s actions and feeling empathy and compassion for him. Some believe that the two — judging and compassion–negate each other. We see this conflict posed all the time in the media and I think it is a false conflict. If we don’t judge we lose our clarity about the good. The Catechism says this about the virtue of prudence:
    1806 Prudence is the virtue that disposes practical reason to discern our true good in every circumstance and to choose the right means of achieving it;… Prudence is “right reason in action,”

    Frankly I can’t discern the good in my complicated, media immersed life unless I discuss and weigh decisions such as Barry’s. I have to make judgments. This also goes to maintaining a healthy conscience. What I can’t understand is why making a judgment and thinking that he has made a wrong decision is seen as a kind of hatred of Barry. This stance raises a real issue on charity. Don’t we all have friends, family members, children, who have made wrong choices? I don’t think that we have to make ourselves morally stupid to continue to love them, help them. and support them. This also goes to my judgment of myself.Do I have to either be blind to my own shortcomings or hate myself?

    I like too that the catechism says that right reason can arrive at the good. If one freely spoke the marriage vow–a promise –simple reason says to keep it. No one has to impose Christianity on the issue.

  • Ann Landell

    I have some other questions about the film:

    1. How was doing the film explained to Jan? Did they get her consent? Who has power of attorney for her, who could speak for her?

    2. Did she get to see the film? How did she respond?

    Jan is different from others affected by Alzheimer’s because she is verbal. My mother-in-law was like that and her personality often came through in her words. One night my 25 year old son was home with Grandma while my husband and I went to dinner. Just as we finished dinner my son called and said come home now. Grandma woke up and she was rummaging all the kitchen cupboards looking for her Metamucil. My son suggested that she wait for us, said we would be there soon. He was aware that Grandma took too much Metamuscil when she got her hands on it and then we had other nasties to deal with. He said, “Grandma, I don’t think you are supposed to take that now.” She turned to him and said, “Young man, what do you know about my bowels?” She didn’t know if it was night or day, she didn’t recognize her grandson but, hearing this, we have to say, “Yep, that’s our grandma.”

    3. Does Barry ever take Jan home for a weekend? Where would she sleep?
    Jan lived many years as a married woman as did our grandma. If Grandma saw a handsome man she would say, “I would like to have him in my bed.” One night she thought “dirty” movies were playing in her room. Hmmm. She lived fifty years with a man and closeness to a man was part of her life. I wonder about Jan. She also lived a long time as a married woman. Does she long sometimes for the closeness of a man, just to be held? How would Barry respond?

  • http://vita-nostra-in-ecclesia.blogspot.com Bender

    Why do Christians hold non-Christians to Christian standards?

    Because they are not “Christian” standards. They are standards of objective moral truth.

    There is not a Christian morality and a Jewish morality and a Muslim morality and an agnostic morality and an atheist morality. There is only moral truth. And truth, not even moral truth, is relative. Ethics are not situational, they do not change according to the person or the time or the culture. Truth is truth.

    Truth is truth, and we are all — ALL — called to act in a manner consistent with truth, especially the truth of the human person, which, among other things, is that we are persons, not things, subjects, not objects of use, and that we are all entitled to simple respect and dignity.

    And when one, whether it is Barry or someone else, treats another person like a disposible thing that can be tossed aside like trash or traded in for another, that is contrary to that moral truth and a gross violation of human dignity, both his own dignity and that of his wife.

    That is not my standard. That is not the “Christian” standard. It is objective moral truth.

  • MR

    tracey: The concept of fidelity in marriage predates Christianity.

    If anyone’s holding Barry to a standard, it’s just as much a civil standard or a human standard. Humanely speaking, could you possibly imagine a worse fate for a wife–it’s truly something no person can bear the thought of it happening to oneself: to lose your memory, have your husband cheat on you, and then have you meet the mistress personally, while he takes advantage of your vulnerable state of memory loss?

  • Ann Landell

    Thank you, Bender