Commentary: Guess Pat Robertson forgot that 'in sickness and health' vow

The (Raleigh) News & ObserverSeptember 19, 2011 

You know that "slippery slope" everyone's always talking about going down?

This is it. TV preacher Pat Robertson told a viewer of his show that it's OK to divorce his wife and remarry if she has Alzheimer's disease.

If it's cool to split when your spouse is stricken with Alzheimer's, what's next? The flu? Restless Leg Syndrome? An ingrown toenail? "Sorry, your honor, but that is not the foot I married."

You just know that Robertson's advice, if followed, could open the floodgates of people looking for a marriage mulligan.

The first time a wife asks an antsy hubby, "Honey, have you seen my car keys?" or puts too much paprika in the linguine, he is going to view that as the onset of dementia and a loophole allowing him to finally hook up - guilt-free - with that 22-year-old Pilates instructor who smiled at him once.

Colleen Grady, director of chapter relations for the Alzheimer's Association, doesn't think Robertson's comments will inspire a mass march down to divorce court. Indeed, when I talked to her Saturday at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park, there was a mass march in support of people with the degenerative, incurable disease.

Hundreds gathered at the ballpark on a prematurely raw, rainy day for this region's annual fundraiser and an "End Alzheimer's" walk. After belly dancing - don't ask - and walking, people went to a grassy knoll beside the stadium to plant flowers in honor of someone with the disease.

Living with someone with Alzheimer's is challenging, Grady acknowledged.

"There's no therapy or cure," she said. "A big problem with Alzheimer's is 'wandering' because people don't remember where they are or where they're going. One of the things we do is provide safety services to help keep track of your loved ones to make sure they are safe."

Among other things, she said, the association provides bracelets with GPS technology to help find people who are lost.

Of Robertson's comments, Grady said: "We certainly understand how someone can get frustrated (living with an afflicted spouse)." That's why the Association provides a 24-hour helpline staffed by trained professionals. That toll-free number is (800) 272-3900.

Unlike me, though, she didn't call him a heartless buffoon.

Instead, she said, "We're never going to advise someone on what life decisions they need to make. That's not our role. We want to be in the role of providing resources, services, helping them create their own individualized plans for caring for their loved ones. We haven't seen a trend of divorces among the people who reach out to us.

"This is a really insidious disease," she said, "and what we see typically is people rallying around their loved ones the way you would rally around a loved one with any kind of fatal disease, figuring out how to provide the best care."

As Marvin Gaye said, "That's the way love is." Or, as it says in First Corinthians, "There is nothing love cannot face."

So take that, Pat.

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