Divorce, Alzheimer’s and Pat Robertson

So why is anything Pat Robertson says worth listening to? He has been spouting hateful nonsense for years– reliably blaming the latest natural disaster on the gays, the feminists, the pagans. He makes wack predictions about who is on God’s hit list, and the Lord continually fails to come through with tsunamis on the West Coast or nukes in Jerusalem. He has a worse track record than the Reverend Tillman Gandy Jr., who accurately predicted that we would all eventually die.

But unlike Rev.Gandy, who dressed to the nines as he exhorted on Westminster Mall in all seasons, Pat Robertson is a rich man and a political player. I regularly see his evil leprechaun face on the tube as I visit the elderly. His 700 Club mimics network news so closely that it is often indistinguishable from Fox– which is a paragon of journalistic excellence in comparison.

Robertson’s international meddling would be called out for what it is– pulling an end run around US diplomacy and playing with fire– except for one thing. He delivers the votes. He has a following.

Life is hard, unfair and complicated. You can deal with it in one of two ways. You can accept that we are all in the same boat and invested in bailing– or look for someone to blame until the Heavenly Coast Guard appears to rescue the worthy and drop a nuke on the floating sinners Left Behind. From my vantage point, as a provider of services to the disabled and elderly, Robertson’s simple narrative looks like a seductive con.

My clients and patients are those who are dealing with the very issues Robertson raised when he said that divorce would be an option for a man whose wife had Alzheimer’s disease. And my clients have shown me why Robertson is wrong on two counts. 1. Dementia is not death. 2. Divorce is not the answer.

I once worked in a nursing home where I cared for a woman who was unable to pick up a spoon to feed herself. I noticed her clear complexion and unlined face, the look of top-shelf plastic surgery. Someone told me she had been a Rockette. If not for dementia she would have been beautiful.

Every day her husband came in to feed her lunch. One day I heard him ask, “Do you know who I am?”
She struggled to remember.
“The handsome guy.”, she said.

Alzheimer’s is nothing to snark about– there’s no easy answers and we boomers are in the middle of this horrible epidemic. Some of us are seeing our parents fade away, others are suffering themselves, or watching their life partners lose their independence and abilities. William Saletan, at Slate.Com has a compassionate take on what Robertson really said, and meant, in his advice to the man whose wife was far advanced in dementia. I see Saletan’s point, but I don’t agree with Robertson’s advice.

Robertson, quoted by Saletan, says this–

I know it sounds cruel, but if he’s going to do something, he should divorce her and start all over again. But to make sure she has custodial care and somebody looking after her—

There’s the catch. Unless you are on a level with Robertson and his high-rollers you do not reach retirement age with the resources to support long-term care for a disabled spouse while starting a new marriage. You and your spouse are tied legally and financially, this illness is a financial disaster. Good traditional wives who stayed at home with their families depend on their husband’s Social Security and Medicare, or Medicaide if they are low-income. Divorce is not just cutting loose from a conjugal relationship, it’s cutting off financial support.

Another catch is that Alzheimers is a cruel and unpredictable disease. While it may be true, as Robertson says, that the affected spouse has suffered a kind of death, they are very much alive. They can suffer. They can have moments of happiness. They can unexpectedly clear and be whole for a time. They are still human.

I have seen many spouses, partners, relatives and friends faithfully visit their loved ones in nursing homes and I want to say this–it really matters. Sick is not dead. Even if it seems the visit is forgotten in minutes it was the bright spot in a day of confusion and lostness. Love is never wasted.

If everyone who had a spouse with dementia took Pat Robertson’s advice, it would be a lonelier world for people adrift in illness. It would also be a financial mess for our health care system. Who would pick up the slack if healthy people decided to separate their affairs from their disabled spouses? The government, of course. The couple are probably already on Medicare, but this would add to the burden on state Medicaide, and raise questions as to who would be the power of attorney for health decisions. The kids, if there are kids, will not take this well. They are trying to get their own children through young adulthood and are not looking to take responsibility for their sick Mom so that Dad can marry his girlfriend.

I have a reality-based alternative to Robertson’s advice to seek a divorce and re-marriage.

Stay married. You vowed to stay faithful through sickness and in health. There’s reasons for this and it’s not about romance. It’s about survival. As our gay friends have been trying to explain for the last few years, marriage is a legal contract that gives recognition and protection to the couple who take those vows. In the course of life, the best we can hope for is to survive our parents. Marriage is our way of making a family for the rest of our lives. For better or for worse, in sickness and in health. We need that commitment.

Secondly, a pagan word of advice. Commit adultery.

I have seen husbands and wives visit their spouse daily, sometimes several times a day, when the loved one was unable to converse, or to do anything except appreciate that they were in the presence of someone who cared about them. There was no hope of recovery, this was devotion in the long haul. The able partner faithfully gave what was needed.

I don’t think a person in a nursing home with Alzheimer’s needs their spouse to sit alone at night. They need them to visit during the day. That’s no small thing.

Robertson’s idea that it satisfies morality to cut loose from a disabled spouse so you can marry someone else doesn’t match up with reality. A disabled person in the medical system needs an advocate and defender. They need someone who has the authority to speak up for their interests. Again, this is one of the reasons gay people want the right to full legal marriage. Children, friends and social workers might care, but no one else has the power that a marriage partner has. Keeping faith may not be about sex anymore, but that connection is a lifeline, sometimes literally.

I don’t think that ‘handsome guy’, who was not young himself, was spending his evenings cruising for chicks. I hope he had old friends, family and companions to help him through the loss of his wife. It’s cruel when the loss is by inches. He probably needed some care, himself.

The forecast is that a silver tsunami is approaching, and these troubles will get worse. Retirement expectations have diminished with this bad economy, maintaining one household is going to be a challenge, never mind two. It’s a good idea to withhold judgement on how couples manage their changing relationships, and focus on the essentials. How they keep faith is an individual thing. But that they must keep faith is clear. There’s no one else to pick up the slack.

Five Makes You an Ace

That’s what my husband said when I told him that Rush Limbaugh is getting married for the fourth time. It’s not to Ann Coulter, though you’d think they would have been made for each other. Maybe next time around.

Mr. Limbaugh somehow finds time to smirk at Al and Tipper Gore, who announced their separation this week. Obviously the Gores don’t respect marriage. They only managed to get married once in forty years. It’s like they’re not even trying.

Elizabeth Taylor, of course, is in a class by herself, with eight marriages to seven men. She’s very experienced, but still hopeful.

Love is a mysterious thing. If you get marriage right the first time, it’s as much due to luck as to virtue. It’s not really safe to brag about your marriage or snip at others because the gods will hear you and soon you’ll be fighting about cat hair on the couch or who forgot to change the oil in the car. So to Rush Limbaugh I will only wish felicitations. To the Gores, I wish a good life and no regrets.

Blue-State Family Values

I thought that same-sex marriage had the power to make loving heterosexual marriages explode.

Like– You visit Massachusetts and see Ralph in the cold light of secular humanism.

‘Alice’ you say to yourself, ‘you can do better. It’s time to take a walk on the wild side.’

Incredibly, studies show this is not the case.

Blue states have lower divorce rates. They’re probably up to something, but that’s difficult to prove. They look so happy, sipping their Chardonnay and holding hands. Drat.

Can This Marriage be Saved?

It’s time for all good people who believe in the truth of the Bible and the sacredness of marriage to stand up and stop Karl Rove from making a terrible mistake…

Karl Rove, former senior adviser to President George W. Bush, has been granted a divorce in Texas after 24 years of marriage, family spokeswoman Dana Perino said.

“Karl Rove and his wife, Darby, were granted a divorce last week,” said Perino. “The couple came to the decision mutually and amicably, and they maintain a close relationship and a strong friendship. There will be no further comment, and the family requests that its privacy be respected.”

The heck with privacy, and the heck with the godless secular Texas divorce court. If the Roves have family values now is the time to prove it.

The news report, from Politico, goes on and on about what great friends the Roves are, and how much they love their son. It brought tears to my eyes. These people are obviously crying out for an intervention. They don’t know how to run their own lives as well as the concerned Christians who are ready and willing to set them straight. They only need to believe, and surrender, and God can heal their marriage.

According to the Bible, what they are trying to do is a grave sin, and as far as God is concerned, they are married for life. It’s actually more biblical for a man to have two wives than to casually divorce the mother of his son. So Karl Rove will have to work it out somehow with his first wife and undivorce wife number two as soon as possible.

Maybe he thinks he can be like Newt Gingrich — three’s the charm.

Maybe all these people think they can clobber non-believers with the Bible while picking and choosing which parts of it they will apply to themselves. Maybe they want the freedom of a secular society while wooing the Americans who would be happier with a theocracy. Maybe they practice a modern conception of marriage but preach tradition when same-sex couples try to marry on an equal basis of rights and responsibility.

It’s sad when long-term couples break up, especially when there are children. It happens all the time. It’s sad when long-term couples are denied the right to marry in the first place.

I don’t expect Karl Rove to show a new humility, or open-mindedness. It would be more true to the pattern for him to show up at a function with a younger woman on his arm. That’s the way of the world.

Glenn Greenwald on Salon
has more background on the liberal Texas divorce laws and Karl Rove’s crusade against same-sex marriage on the grounds of biblical tradition.

Preserving Marriage

You mean it’s not the gays that are breaking them up?

Divorce is as common in the Florida Keys as fresh grouper and cold beer. Census statistics released this week show that Monroe County — which includes the cluster of 1,700 islands floating off South Florida — has the second-highest proportion of divorced residents. A little more than 18 percent of the people living in Monroe County are divorced, second only to Indiana’s Wayne County, which had 19 percent. Nationwide, 10.7 percent of people over 15 are divorced.

Well, we associate the Keys with parties and Hemmingway and snowbirds running from their past and all, and there could be some gay guys painting their houses aqua, but is Indiana a haven of hedonism? What’s up there?

Divorce counselors say the economy could be partly to blame for adding more stress to marriages. Indiana has been hit hard by the collapse of the auto and manufacturing industries. Wayne County had an average annual unemployment rate of 6.8 percent in 2008 — when the census data was collected — a rate above the state average at the time but still below many other areas of the state and country.

Where in our great nation can couples respect their sacred vows? Omigod! It’s the blue state with all those Unitarians, and gays, and gay Unitarians!

Provisional 2008 data from the CDC’s National Vital Statistics Report show that after over four years of legal same-sex marriage, the divorce rate in Massachusetts has actually dropped, from 2.3 per thousand residents in 2007 to about 2.0 per thousand in 2008, the lowest rate in the nation—and one that hasn’t been seen since the 1940’s.


Well okay, actually it doesn’t prove anything regarding same-sex marriage. But the stats do not support the hypothesis that same-sex marriage has the power to explode all nearby opposite-sex marriages.

This does suggest a modest proposal. Our Governor is deeply concerned about the sacredness of marriage, and we have a dire problem with unemployment. How about he stops running around to conferences and puts in some overtime getting Rhode Islanders back to work? I know it’s boring, and difficult, and he doesn’t get to make victory signs to a cheering crowd like Richard Nixon, or go to one of those nice dinners in a function room but these are hard times, and as he says, we have to make tough choices.