Friday, September 16, 2011

a toast to empathy, and to Pat Robertson

It appears Pat Robertson's gotten himself in quite a bit of hot water with both his ideological enemies and his fellow travelers in the Christian Right.

The question he was asked:
I have a friend whose wife suffers from Alzheimer's. She doesn't even recognize him anymore, and, as you can imagine, the marriage has been rough. My friend has gotten bitter at God for allowing his wife to be in that condition, and now he's started seeing another woman. He says that he should be allowed to see other people because his wife as he knows her is gone … I'm not quite sure what to tell him.

Robertson's response:
"That is a terribly hard thing. I hate Alzheimer's. It is one of the most awful things, because here's the loved one—this is the woman or man that you have loved for 20, 30, 40 years, and suddenly that person is gone. They're gone. They are gone. So what he says basically is correct, but—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—"

Meeuwsen interjected: "But isn't that the vow that we take when we marry someone, that it's for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer?" To this, Robertson replied,

"Yeah, I know, if you respect that vow, but you say "till death do us part," this is a kind of death. So that's what he's saying, is that she's like—but this is an ethical question that is beyond my ken to tell you. But I certainly wouldn't put a guilt trip on you if you decided that you had to have companionship. You're lonely, and you're asking for some companionship, as opposed to—but what a grief. I know one man who went to see his wife every single day, and she didn't recognize him one single day, and she would complain that he never came to see her. And it's really hurtful, because they say crazy things. … It is a terribly difficult thing for somebody, and I can't fault them for wanting some kind of companionship. And if he says in a sense she is gone, he's right. It's like a walking death. But get some ethicist besides me to give you the answer, because I recognize the dilemma and the last thing I'd do is condemn you for taking that kind of action."

I can't believe I'm defending Will Saletan and Pat Robertson, but Robertson has a point.

Alzheimer's is a horror lacking any adjective to sufficiently describe it, a disease that erases the love of your life's personality right in front of you. I watched my grandmother succumb to it, and my grandfather endure it, ever frustrated in his attempts to help her remember their lives together, or even remember herself.

He would have held up better if he had a woman to get him through the night. Grandma was gone years before her body finally died.

Robertson had a moment of humanity and went off script. Everyone else will tee off on him, as is expected, but for a moment Pat Robertson felt someone else's pain and misfortune, and refrained from piling on.

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