Q. In response to the column where you told a woman whose husband has advanced Alzheimer’s that she could have a romantic life with a widower, I ask you: What happened to honoring the wedding vows of “in sickness and in health, till death do us part”? I have not heard any vows that state “until I don’t remember you or you don’t remember me.”
I’m sympathetic to this woman, as my dad died of Alzheimer’s, and it was very draining and even potentially dangerous for my mom. But even when he needed to be in a care center, neither she nor his children abandoned him. He may not have known us, but we knew him and our commitment to him. Your response is essentially shallow and perpetuates laziness of character and the decay of altruistic values. As someone once wrote, “A good life happens to be a fair amount of work. It’s not for the lazy.”
A. I am respectful of your stance and of the people who choose this path, but I am not changing my position. Some moral choices are not clear-cut. Just ask any ethicist. And you have made a false and erroneous assumption that I am sanctioning abandonment. I know more than one woman with an Alzheimer’s-stricken mate who is in a romantic relationship but visits her husband every day — though he does not know who is visiting.
I would be in agreement with you for any disease other than Alzheimer’s. I would think it shameful for a man or woman whose spouse had, say, ALS to “date.” The wild card here is sentience. When the mind is totally gone, it is indeed a living death, and I have never seen the virtue of one person sacrificing his or her life as a gesture.
Q. I am writing in regard to your advice to the woman who wondered whether she could date with a husband deep into Alzheimer’s disease. How sad that this woman sees her husband as “no longer here.” The last time I heard marriage vows, they were “till death do us part,” not “till Alzheimer’s, cancer, diabetes, stroke, etc. do us part.” I think of my precious brother-in-law, who stood by my sister for seven years, treating her like a queen, while she battled breast cancer. Your advice, at best, is unfortunate.
A. There is a serious flaw in your objection. Your sister had breast cancer. Her brain was working; her illness was malignant cells. You mention diabetes, stroke, etc., all of which leave the mind intact. Most diseases are very different in affect from Alzheimer’s or a vegetative state. One could recover from the illnesses you mention — or not. A person with Alzheimer’s, however, who does not recognize anyone, is essentially no longer here — no quotation marks required. A person with any other illness, I believe, is owed fidelity.
Q. Regarding the letter from the woman whose in-laws obnoxiously force others to join in their pre-meal prayers no matter where they are dining, I too had similar problems with my overbearing family of religious zealots. They would actually take it further by standing up at the table in the middle of the restaurant, joining hands, and ending the prayer with “And, Lord, please bless all these heathens that didn’t bless their own food.” Seriously.