One of the greatest blessings in this life is that of marriage, and the promises that define marriage are given from the very start—during the wedding ceremony.
One of those promises is for a man to cleave to his wife until death. A Biblical marriage is both a physical and spiritual union intended to last a lifetime—a lifetime of resolving differences and growing together in a loving relationship, whether in sickness or in health. As the man and woman grow into old age, they can face certain diseases and disabilities that test the vow to cleave unto death.
Among diseases, the cruelest of them take the various forms of dementia, and in particular Alzheimer’s—a condition wherein the brain is actually dying. This disease primarily affects the elderly. However, some people can suffer onset as early as their forties. Former President Ronald Reagan died of Alzheimer’s, and it was said that in the later stages he did not remember being president. His wife, Nancy, called it “the long good-bye.”
The phrase “the long good-bye” describes the last stages of Alzheimer’s, wherein one cannot communicate with his or her spouse. After a lifetime of discussing so many experiences together, the conversation is now only one way. Of course, while there is still life, there is the hope of divine healing. Even in death, we have the assurance of the resurrection. Paul stated in 1 Thessalonians 4:13: we don’t “sorrow as others” do, because we have real hope and faith in God.
I myself am a husband living through the experience of taking care of his wife “in sickness and in health.” I’ve learned that God requires me to act, as a man, out of chivalry, as well as loyalty and love.
First, just what is “chivalry?” The tenth edition of Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary defines them: chivalry is “honor, generosity, and courtesy; marked by gracious courtesy and high minded consideration especially to women.”
Loyalty is described as: “unswerving in allegiance: faithful to a private person to whom fidelity is due.”
And finally, love: “strong affection for another arising out of kinship or personalities: affection and tenderness felt by lovers; unselfish loyal and benevolent concern for the good of another.”
As far as this modern and crass society is concerned, chivalry seems to have taken its last bow long ago. There was time not too long ago when men respected women, and it was customary for men to rise from the table when a woman sat down or got up, or to tip their hats when meeting a lady. How times have changed!
And yet, the need is greater than ever for the qualities of Christian manhood, like strength and courage, dominance and leadership, wholeheartedness and total sincerity, wisdom and the bigness of mind, love, compassion and right emotion.
These qualities are exactly what are needed in times of sickness and in health.
Husbands are commanded to love their wives just as Christ also love the Church and gave Himself for Her (Ephesians 5:25). The Apostle Paul states: “so husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself.” Jesus Christ also said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you (Hebrews 13:5; Deuteronomy 31:6, 8; Joshua 1:5).
It is a husband’s responsibility to be by his wife’s side, loving and encouraging her as best he can in these situations. His chivalry, loyalty and love is to her, not thinking of another woman or making plans in the event she was to die! It is the glory and honor of a husband to stay with his wife during the “long good-bye.”
Wives, too, have a great lifelong responsibility before God and their mate, to remain loyal and true. But, especially in times when marriage, though still valued, faces challenges and “changes” from all directions, isn’t it all the more important—for the sake of husbands, wives and family—for men to “step up” and be leaders, loyal, loving and true, to the very end, as God intended?