Love and Alzheimer's

Robertson and Muriel McQuilkin's unintended testimony

A talented and creative artist, an enthusiastic radio-show host; a happy mother and wife — no one would doubt the preciousness of Muriel McQuilkin's life — until her decline into the darkness of Alzheimer's disease.

Muriel spent the last decade of her life battling Alzheimer's, while her husband, Robertson, battled critics of his decision to stay home with her. Robertson's decision became controversial when he resigned as president of Columbia Bible College to care for Muriel full time. With his 22-year career at a peak, many urged him to put Muriel in a nursing home and continue with "God's work."

Many urged him to put Muriel in a nursing home and continue with "God's work."

God's work, Robertson concluded, was taking care of his wife. "There are others who can lead the Bible college," he said, "but I am the only one who can care for Muriel."

He didn't debate the ethical value of her life. The McQuilkins' story is about abiding love.

"I wrote a book on ethics; I even researched euthanasia," Robertson said. "I know the issues. I am keeping a promise: 'til death do us part. I made my decision because I love her. I thought, Here's my lover; what can I do to make her life easier?"

"When will you put her in a home?"
"When someone else can take better care of her than I can."

To the oft-asked question, "When will you put her in a home?" Robertson always answered, "When someone else can take better care of her than I can."

That never happened. Robertson kept his promise right up until Muriel's death in September 2003, feeding her, bathing her, loving her even when she could only respond with grunts and groans. "Love takes the sting out of duty," he says.

All of us who peek into the McQuilkins' story receive lessons in love. Robertson painted the portrait of Christian marriage as that of Christ and the church. He loves His bride even when she doesn't show love in return.

"Of course, love is designed to be reciprocated," Robertson says, "but true love is not about how lovable the object is but rather the heart of the one loving."

Robertson notes that the decision to stay home with an ailing loved one is not for everyone. "My story doesn't always help people struggling with this issue," he says. Some people may not be old enough to retire from their jobs; some might not be physically strong enough to lift a sick person; some might not be emotionally strong enough to handle it. "I was fortunate to be in a position that I could do what I did," he says.

In Muriel's case, perhaps God used her most profoundly in her mental darkness. Their story has been published many times and has spurred countless marriages to deeper commitment. One afternoon Robertson received a foreign magazine with their story in another language. "See there, honey, you're preaching all over the world!" he told Muriel.

Since Muriel's death, Robertson speaks at churches, conferences and universities on the topic of love and marriage, most often sharing his lecture "Six Things Muriel Taught Me About Love." Through it all, their journey of love lives on and encourages many.

Article copyright © 2005, by Focus on the Family.
All rights reserved. International copyright secured.
Used by permission.

Focus on the Family radio aired Robertson McQuilkin's story as the broadcast, "Love in the Midst of Alzheimer's."

He was also a guest on the Pastor to Pastor edition, "Choose Life!"