Over the years I’ve seen some wonderful demonstrations of husbands and wives caring for their spouses as their bodies failed them, or they were afflicted with a life-threatening disease. I think of a man in our church who cared for his wife through a long battle with breast cancer, another whose wife became a quadriplegic after a fall, and more recently my Dad’s wife who cared so well for him for the last several years of his life as he dealt with heart disease. I’m sure you can add your own stories of a faithful husband or wife who loved their spouse well during difficult times.
Some of you know Barb and Neil. Neil was an incredibly gifted teacher. He earned his PhD from a prestigious university and served as an Economics professor at a local university, my ala mater, for thirty-two years. He even co-authored an Economics textbook.
He used his calling as a teacher in the church as well, as he wrote and taught Bible studies in churches he and Barb attended. Neil was a big St. Louis Cardinals baseball fan, as am I. Each season, I would enjoy his periodic and detailed updates about prospects in the different levels of the Cardinals minor league system. But all of that changed about fifteen years ago, when they began noticing something was wrong.
It would take another five years for the dreadful diagnosis – a rare form of Alzheimer’s disease. The visual and memory problems forced Neil to have to leave his chosen profession at only 57 years of age. As the disease progressed, Neil would have to relinquish his leadership of the church small group that he and Barb hosted at their home. Sometime later, my wife Tammy and I would join that group, and we continue to enjoy fellowship with them today.
Barb and Neil are faithful Christians who trust God with all of their hearts. They have four daughters and eight grandchildren that they love to spend time with. Both of them are now retired. This is not how they envisioned their retirement years to be. They loved to travel overseas to places like Austria, often with friends, exploring God’s incredible creation. There were, and are, many questions about what God’s purpose is in Neil’s illness and suffering. What I can share however, is an incredible demonstration of a wife loving her husband well during times of suffering.
Here are a few things that Barb has done in the midst of these trials:
- Educated herself so as to provide the best care for Neil. Once the disease was diagnosed, Barb connected with others who were walking the same road that she was, caring for a spouse with this rare form of Alzheimer’s disease. This included travelling to meet a few of them over the years. Barb, who had a career in education, learned all she could about what to expect as the disease progressed. As a result, nothing surprises her so she is better able to care for Neil.
- Reached out to friends and medical providers to come alongside her in caring for Neil. Barb reached out to friends and built a group that she could text when she needed assistance – for when she had appointments, or just needed a break. These people would spend time with Neil, taking him to lunch, going for a walk, or just sitting with him and watching TV or listening to music. In addition, as the disease progressed, Barb secured nursing assistance to help care for Neil.
- Tirelessly cared for Neil so as to keep him at home as long as possible. Barb’s desire is to keep Neil at home as long as possible. Although she is emotionally and physically exhausted, she continues to love Neil well. I’m humbled and awed by her love and care for Neil 7 X 24. If or when Neil would have to go to a memory care facility, her lovingkindness will continue for him.
- Respects Neil as a man created in God’s image. As the disease has progressed, I have seen Barb, with tenderness, continue to respect Neil as a man that was created in God’s image (Genesis 1:27). Although the situation is incredibly sad, it is a privilege to see this Christ-like love in action.
You may well have other examples of love and devotion in times of suffering that you have seen demonstrated. Love is not just a feeling, but an act of the will. Barb is a living example of one who has truly held to her marriage vows to love and cherish her husband for better or worse, in sickness and in health, till death do they part.