The movie started out as an endearing story of a man who was deeply in love with his wife of 44 years. He was so in love with her that he could not imagine being “away from her.” Even though his wife’s Alzheimer’s had taken away her memory of their 44-year marriage and she fell for another man with the same illness, the husband was intent on not being “away from her,” or so it seemed. Sadly, by the end of the movie she was not only away from him, he was away from her in both body and in soul.

Well into the first half it seemed as though the movie was trying to draw me in to sympathize more with him than with that insidious disease Alzheimer’s. Naturally, we can and should sympathize with the psychologically complex issues surrounding Alzheimer’s and the grief felt by those whose loved ones are stricken with this illness. But I found myself less enlightened about the disease and more perplexed over the real meaning of unconditional love and life-long commitment to a spouse.

At one point in the movie I was hopeful when a frustrated, young punked out girl visiting her relative in the Alzheimer’s ward found herself sitting next to the husband who had been abandoned. In response to the teenager’s inquiry as to why he was there, he mentioned that he was merely watching his wife because he wanted to be with her. The young girl said, surprisingly, that she “should be so lucky as to have someone who could not stand being away from her.” I really was expecting the storyline would continue offering the husband’s character as faithful and persistent in loving his wife unconditionally. Without question, this kind of fortitude in our oaths of marriage is what God requires for everyone and what each human soul longs to experience; unconditional love and commitment.

At another turn in the movie, the husband suspected that his wife was feigning her disease as a kind of punishment for his infidelity decades earlier. This makes sense given the remorse he felt and the guilt and shame for past moral failure. But, even though his wife had lost all remembrance of their marriage and had fallen for another patient, the husband was seemingly intent on being with her through her illness and willing to work through his shame and the supposed punishment he felt. Unfortunately, “Away from Her” did not portray unconditional love nor honor the moral progression that could have taken place through his repentance from his past. Instead, it took a turn in the wrong direction.

When he showed up at the door of another woman (herself stricken with grief over her husband’s Alzheimer’s illness), took her out on a date, then wound up in bed with her, I was heartbroken (showing up at the door was the beginning of the end). Abandoning unconditional love and “til death do us part”, my sympathies for him turned from sadness to despair, and even anger, thinking “It really does not need to go in this direction!”

After the movie was over, I asked myself: What is the extent of my love for my wife? Would I abandon her under the same/similar conditions? What if she was stricken by Alzheimer’s and fell for another? Could I forsake her under these conditions?

I can honestly say with complete transparency that, by God’s amazing power and presence in my life, I have never been “away from her” either in body or in soul, nor will I ever in this life. “Til death do us part” means something to me. I’ve loved her at all times and in all places, whether physically present with me or spiritually present to me. Granted, I cannot imagine what it would be like to see her suffer such a fate as Alzheimer’s. But even more so, I cannot imagine me being “away from her” should such a thing occur. “I am hers and she is mine”…forever in this life!” (Song of Songs 2:16). We belong to each other, not only for some 35+ years thus far, but for now and forever. Unless and until death does part us, nothing in heaven or earth whether physically, emotionally, psychologically, or otherwise can and will separate us from being together in body and in soul.

Indeed, I have the perfect model and template for this unconditional love. God promises “never will I leave you nor forsake you” (Heb. 13:5). The extent of God’s commitment went the full distance as it was realized in death — the death of his one and only Begotten. Because of his supreme sacrifice of love shown to me in Christ at the cross, I can say without reservation that I would never abandon my devotion to my wife. To do so in matrimony is adultery just as to do so spiritually is idolatry. Thankfully, as Emmanuel – God with us, Jesus personifies God’s presence and he promises to be with us to the end of the age (Matthew 28:20). He is never away from us and I could never be “away from” my wife. If Christ was dedicated to me in body and soul unto death, how can I do any less for my one and only!?

As for the movie, I believe the wife’s affliction might have excused her breach in the marriage (I’m ambivalent here), but his was inexcusable. Though he was afflicted by grief, there is no excuse for moral failure after 44 years of marriage; or even 44 days! And by God’s grace we can all experience what I hoped the movie would portray; unconditional love and commitment. The human soul longs for lifetime commitment and dedication of another. I praise God that he is unconditionally committed to me and to us because of Christ. With his stalwart example and guide, I’ve every reason to believe my faithfulness will remain steady “til death do us part” and “away from her” will never be my plight.

Soli Deo gloria!

2 Comments

  1. Paul, what a clear statement! Let me add to that, if I may, having gone through some tough times, such as June’s chemo for breast cancer, by pointing out that truly loving your spouse and being with him or her, is not even a burden. Apparently the movie, (which I haven’t seen and won’t) complicates matters with the artificial device of her affair. If she had genuine Alzheimer’s to the point that her husband were utterly erased from her memory, how is it that she consistently remembers the other man? Clinically, she could have such a condition, I guess, but I do not believe it would be Alzheimer’s. In any event, God would not have given us the obligation to stay by our spouses, if he had not also given us the facility to do so. To paraphrase the song, “She’s not heavy, she’s my wife!” Win

  2. I could not agree more, Win. If our spouse becomes a perceived burden due to illness, then clearly we have something to fix on our end. Thanks for your add’l insights here and thanks for reading!

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