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Focus on the Family Broadcast

Love in the Midst of Alzheimer’s

Love in the Midst of Alzheimer’s

Muriel began repeating her stories without realizing it. Alzheimer’s disease had begun its insidious attack and would ultimately take over her mind. Her husband left his prestigious career behind to care for her full-time. It was a decision that had been made in his heart, years earlier, when he vowed “in sickness or in health.” Hear the lessons Robertson McQuilkin learned about true love as he provided full-time care for Muriel for over a decade.
Original Air Date: September 13, 2010

Young Girl: Love never gives up, love cares more for others and for self. Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have. Love trusts God always, always looks for the best, never looks back but keeps going to the end.

John Fuller: That’s a paraphrase of a well-known Bible verse that is so straightforward, even a child can understand the truth there. And love is our focus on today’s episode of Focus on the Family with our president Jim Daly. And I’m John Fuller.

Jim Daly: Well, John, biblical love is selfless, just like that paraphrase of 1 Corinthians 13 describes, and even though it’s simple enough for a child to understand, it can be difficult to live out on a day to day basis, especially in challenging circumstances. And today we want to feature a story about selfless love, the kind of love that we see in Jesus Christ and how he loves each one of us. Today’s speaker is a great example of that selfless love. His name is Robertson McQuilkin. He served for 22 years as President of Columbia International University before leaving that position to care for his wife, Muriel, but I’ll let him tell you how that came about. This is an amazing story of loyalty and devotion. And you know, we just don’t hear enough stories like this one. So I’m, uh, looking forward to today’s message.

John: As am I Jim. And with that, let’s go ahead and hear now from Dr. Robertson McQuilkin on Focus on the Family.

Dr. Robertson McQuilkin: I once knew a girl. She didn’t try to draw me to her, she just did. And not only me, but to many other males. First thing that caught my eye about her was her pretty face. But soon I discovered that, uh, she had a personality to go with it, vivacious, full of laughter, talented in art and music, smart but the best of all, she has… Was an exuberant lover of God. I loved that woman. But I wasn’t too good at expressing it. So she taught me, in fact she taught me many things about love. And that’s what I want to tell you about. Six things Muriel taught me about love. My parents were the old school. They didn’t believe in expressing affection, especially in public. I never saw my parents embrace for example, I’m pretty sure they did. Here I am.

Audience: (laughing).

Dr. McQuilkin: But when I brought Muriel home to visit, mother ridiculed her mushy ways, forever hugging and saying she loved me right in front of the family yet. So the first thing Muriel taught me about love was that it needs to be expressed passionately, frequently, like King Solomon, and the bred, sun browned Shulamite forever talking love. And the Holy Spirit thought so much of their love talk that he put it in a book of the Bible. He must have approved of that love talk, we call it the Song of Songs. That is the best of all songs. Muriel spent 35 years demonstrating her love for me by her actions. In fact she seemed to live for me. Certainly not for herself.

She was oblivious to her own rights or desires or even our own welfare. She taught me that love, to be genuine must be acted out 24/7. Her creative mind the most creative I ever knew, you know I’m prejudiced, was constantly bursting with new ways to set all the wrongs in this world right. But above all, she seemed to live to bring my goals to fruition. Paul instructed us in how to love our mate. “Husbands,” he said, “love your wives,” how? “As Christ loved the church.” That’s you and how did Christ loves the church? And gave himself up for it in Ephesians 5. Jesus himself put it this way. Greater love has no one than this, than one lay down his life for a friend, in John 15. The love then is to lay down life, dreams, ambitions, rights, pleasures, if need be, for the best interest of one’s or one’s loved one.

And sometimes it would seem easier to lay down life in one heroic blaze of martyrdom than to lay it down daily in small increments. How do you measure love? What thermometer do you use to measure the heat of it? What sonar to plumb the depths of it? What scales to find the weight of it? You say you can’t measure love, but Jesus gives us a way to measure love. Love is proved by the sacrifice that it makes. You may have genuine love without sacrifice. But there’s no proof of it because you might be acting lovingly, for all the benefits accruing to me. But sacrifice ah, when it cost, there’s the proof. I’ve discovered that happy homes are those where each lives for the welfare of the other.

So Muriel taught me that love must be expressed and it must be demonstrated. One without the other is not genuine love. Now, the thing Muriel taught me about love, about married love is that it partners, she was always a full partner. And we were in church planting in Japan, she just knocked herself out in the… Doing, uh, teaching and evangelism as a full partner. So when we came back from me to lead what is now Columbia International University, she assumed she’d do the same, but I said, “I don’t think that’s gonna work.” And the other faculty wives told her the same thing. On day she came home crestfallen, because when she asked them, “What am I supposed to do?” They reply, “Well, honey, you don’t have to do anything.” That’s just what she didn’t want to hear. So she pitched in to make my work prosper. As the first lady on campus, he was a great entertainer. Students were drawn to her for counsel, and she taught women’s classes. And she provided for the married students, something that we had neglected up until then.

She had a daily talk show on the radio, she created a segment for a popular children’s program on TV. And when the board wanted to reimburse her for some of her activities, she said, “No, no, no, no. We’re already paid.” She felt with a partnership. Now, I don’t tell that to you as a model for anybody, no other marriage is gonna work that way. But every marriage needs to be a partnership. Just as she mobilized her brains and energy to make my work succeed. She taught me to do the same thing for her dreams. And that will tighten any marriage. And then love is companionship. I remember, one day when, uh, my secretary came in in tears, I don’t know how to handle women crying., Uh, but she was in tears. I said, “Debbie, what’s wrong?” She said, “I never knew you to lie before.” And I said, “Oh, dear, have I lied?” And she said, “Yes. You just dictated a letter to that man who gave you an invitation to speak in Spain. And you said that you had an engagement that week. And you don’t have an engagement.”

Well, I had an engagement the week before in Italy. And we had planned Muriel would go with me and we’d take a week vacation together. I learned early on in marriage that I had… In a busy ministry I had to put my wife and my children in my calendar or they didn’t get any of me. So, uh, she was in the calendar. And I explained to Debbie, “No, no. That’s a more firm commitment than any of the rest of the commitments that I have.” Well, you can tell that I loved her. When young men would come to me and, eh, ask how they could have a good marriage, what they really want to know is how they can have a perfect marriage. And I would say, “I don’t know. There’s only one way I know to have a perfect marriage. And that’s to marry Muriel and you can’t do that, because I’ve already got it.”

Audience: (laughing).

Dr. McQuilkin: But in 1978, 25 years ago, that bright light in my life began to dim. We were in Florida with friends and she told a story, long story, five minutes maybe. And then a few minutes later, she started on the same story. And I said, “Honey, you already told us that.” She laughed and went ahead with it. I thought that’s never happened before, what’s going on? But it happened again and again. They call… She was 55 years old. They call that kind of Alzheimer’s early onset. Now over 80, 1 out of 4 Americans falls Alzheimer’s but 55… So first loss was the ability to host us, so we catered the meals for guests. Her artistic ability failed. They canceled her radio show. But still Muriel taught me about love. She wanted to be with me. And, uh, the board wanted me to stay on forever. I mean, things were going great, booming right at the peak of well, and so they employed a living companion from Muriel. And the purpose was to keep her because she wouldn’t stay at home. She was half a mile up the road on campus. She wanted to be with me. So she’d come down and the secretary would say, “I’m sorry, but there’s someone in the office.”

And she’d go home, and then she come back again. So this living companion was supposed to be with her and Muriel called her, her jailer. And she would escape. One day, she made the round trip, she speed walked, made the round trip 10 times. That’s 10 miles. That night, when I took off her shoes, I found bloody feet. So next time I went to see my doctor for my annual I told him this story, and he choked up. And he said, “What love.” Content, totally content, when with me, totally uncontent when I’m away. Well, in 1990 in February, I realized that I couldn’t do what the school needed and what Muriel needed.

Somebody else could do the school. Nobody else could do, Muriel, she had to have me. So that night, in the middle of the night before our annual board meeting, I made the decision, uh, to leave the dreams and the work just at its peak to care for Muriel. The next morning I told the students and the faculty, already had told the board that this was probably the easiest big decision I’d ever made. And the reason it was so easy was it had been made 45 years before, 40 years before. When I promised I will, still death do us part. As a man of integrity, I keep my word. And then I said it’s not just that though, it’s fairness. She’s cared for me unstintingly all these years. If I should care for her another 30 years, I’d still be in her debt. But I said integrity and, and fairness could be so stoic and so dry. And it’s not that way. Actually, I love her.

I don’t have to take care of her I, I get to take care of her. And so I told them and we began a new chapter in our lives. Love is companionship. And the fifth thing Muriel taught me about love is that it is enduring. David asked the question about who is God’s companion? Who is acceptable to him? And his answer, those who keep their promises, even when it hurts, Psalm 15 or another translation, those who keep their promises, no matter how much it may cost. So it’s a matter of integrity of commitment, commitment to God, and to one another. Love feelings may blaze up and die down. But commitment is the bond that holds, commitment without the warm feelings however, isn’t much fun. A biblical model Muriel taught me is that true love endures.

John: This is Focus on the Family and we’re listening to Robertson McQuilkin, and, uh, you can get his book, A Promise Kept, with more lessons that he and Muriel learned while coping with Alzheimer’s. We have that here. We’ll send it out to you when you make a generous gift of any amount to the Ministry of Focus on the Family. We’ll also include a free audio download of the entire presentation. So donate and request those that or call 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY. 800-232-6459. Let’s return now to more from Robertson McQuilkin.

Dr. McQuilkin: After Muriel was abed, she’d lost all her abilities to speak, hadn’t spoken in a year. And she couldn’t feed herself, she couldn’t stand, she couldn’t walk. And, uh, it was Valentine’s Eve and I was on my exercycle, the foot of her bed. And I said, “Honey, I just read that you and I are victims. We don’t feel like victims, do we?” And she didn’t talk but I talked to her, still do. So, then, the next morning, I was again, w- while she was waking up, I was on the exercycle. And I said… I said, you know, I told her I loved her. And I said, “You love me, don’t you?” And all of a sudden, she opened her eyes and smiled. And for the first time in a year she spoke, and she said, “Love, love, love.” I jumped off the cycle and ran around and embraced her. And I said, “You really do love me, don’t you?” Well, she didn’t know what to do to answer that, but she wanted to respond. So she said, “I’m nice.” Last words that she spoke.

Fast forward for 10 years. Last week I was, had someone come in to stay with her while I went to a committee meeting and, and this was a new sitter, she was a missionary on furlough. And I was changing and fixing Muriel and I, and I explained to her how Muriel was so healthy. I said, “You know, look at her skin and her… she never gets sick ever. Never had a b- bedsore, and she’s just in wonderful health. My big prayer is that I outlive her.” I told this lady. And so then I went over to Muriel and I said, “Am I going to outlive you, honey?” Here’s somebody who hasn’t talked for 10 years. And she didn’t speak. But she grunts a lot, you know, if I clean her teeth or do something she doesn’t like, you know, that kind of complaint. But when I asked her, am I gonna out live you? Just as clear as day she said, Uh-uh. (laughs).

Audience: (laughs).

Dr. McQuilkin: I hope it’s not prophetic.

Audience: (laughs).

Dr. McQuilkin: But that’s it. Till death do us part. That’s the deal. Soon after I resigned, about two years after I resigned. Some new students took a liking to Muriel and I wanted to sit with her. And they’re a couple. We were sitting out in the garden and the young, the husband said, “Do you miss being president?” And I said, “You know, I never thought about it. But the answer is no, I don’t miss being president.” Uh, I like my assignment. I like to learn how to cook. She wouldn’t eat it if it wasn’t very tasty, so I had to learn how to cook and keep house and garden, so I like it. It was an honest answer. I went to bed and I got to thinking Lord, now You don’t have to explain to me why that’s your business, your no obligation, so I don’t ask you, I live in a fallen world and suffering is part of our…

But I said if the coach puts the player on the bench, it’s obvious he doesn’t need him in the game. So if sometime you want to tell me why I’m not in the game, I’d be much obliged. I went on to sleep. The next day, at that time we were still walking, she could still walk sort of and I’d hold her hand to keep her balanced so we walk around the block. We were coming down the block that has a steep embankment on one side and a curb and a very busy street on the other side. And we never met anybody there. I was very grateful because we couldn’t pass and I couldn’t let go of her hand. But this day, I heard some shuffling by me, I looked around, here was the local derelict, three sheets to the wind weaving down the street and I said, “Well, he’ll never catch up.” But he did. And he weaved right out onto the traffic and back in front of us and he turned around and he said, looks us up and down, he says, “I like that. I really like that. That’s good.”

And then he turned around and weaved off down the street mumbling to himself. “That’s good. I like that. That’s real good.” And I chuckle, you like affirmation from whatever the source.

Audience: (laughs).

Dr. McQuilkin: And, uh, went back to the garden, sat down there. And then I said, “Lord, was that you speaking through the lips of a half, inebriated old drunk?” It was and if you say it’s good, that’s all I need to know. And so it is with you. Whatever your assignment, if you’re in God’s place of assignment, that’s good. That’s real good. And the day it’s a love story, married love, so when he looks at your love affair, and hears your incessant love talk, he says, “That’s good.” When he sees you acting out that love and living for the other, sacrificing self-interest if need be, he says, “That’s real good.” When he sees you partnering, each working hard to advance the goals of the other, he says, “I like that.” When he sees your constant intentional companionship, I believe he says, that’s good. But when he sees it holding tight in the tough times, he says, that’s real good. So that’s the end of the story of what Muriel has taught me about love. How could you teach me anything now? She lives a bit unaware of anything.

Yes, she could. May I tell you? I’ve been setting you up. A couple of years ago, when I was looking at her lying quietly and sleep, that’s when she’s most like earlier days. And I was thinking of how lovable she is and how I love her now, perhaps more than ever, and the heartache is, she can’t love me back. And I thought, Lord, is that the way it is between you and me? You pouring out your love on me by day and by night, caring for me, protecting me, providing for me, longing for my constant companionship? And all you get in return are a few grunts when things don’t please me. How sad for him.

Sad because love for him is the ultimate purpose of life. In John chapter 17, we have recorded a conversation between the Father and the Son. Now there’s unity, my friend, there’s love, there’s intimacy, and the Son is speaking to the Father. Listen to it with fresh ears. There’s a Son speaking now to the Father. My prayer for all of them, that’s you, all of them, is that they will be one how just as you and I are one father. That just as you are in me and I am in you. So they will be in us so that they may be one as we are. I in them and you in me all being perfected into one. Oh, my friend. That’s his purpose. He created us in love, out of love for love.

John: What a touching story of faithfulness and devotion and unconditional love. That’s Robertson McQuilkin on Focus on the Family.

Jim: Uh, you know, Jean and I will be celebrating 37 years of marriage in August and we’ve been through some ups and downs. But I’d like to think we have another 20 or 30 years ahead of us, even if it means caring for one another through crippling illness of some sort like we’ve heard today. I can tell you after having Jean take care of me with a broken ankle a few years ago, I can see just a glimmer of how difficult that can be for the caregiver. And yet Dr. McQuilkin, counted it all joy like the Apostle Paul. Of course, uh, he was blessed to be in a position to be able to retire early. And not everybody has that luxury and I get that. Muriel passed away in September 2003, five months after Dr. McQuilkin gave this very speech.

In a letter to their friends and supporters, he wrote, “For 55 years, she was flesh of my flesh and bone of my bone. So it’s like a, a ripping of my flesh and deeper my very bones. Some may think I feel relief from the burden. After all, it was 10 years of total caregiving. But it doesn’t work like that. There’s a bonding with the one who is totally dependent on you and takes love to a deeper level. The pain is greater, not less.”

John: Hmm, that is really touching.

Jim: Yeah, it really is, John. And I should note that Dr. McQuilkin did find love again in 2005. He married Deborah Jones and they had 11 years of happiness together until he died in 2016 at the age of 88. And you know, a strong and enduring love is what we want for everyone who is married. And that’s why Focus on the Family is working hard to provide the resources that you need. Just one example is our free online marriage assessment to help you identify the strengths and weaknesses of your relationship. You take a quiz and then you’ll be guided to articles that will help you in those areas of weakness that it will identify.

John: Mm-hmm.

Jim: Here’s a note we received from Kristin a few weeks after she and her husband took the assessment. She said, “The discussions we’ve had since completing the marriage assessment have been a bit emotional. But we’ve had some revelations that caused a major breakthrough. We are experiencing what I’d call a second honeymoon. Thanks, Focus on the Family for all you do.”

John: That is (laughing), how about that one? I don’t know that anybody thought a 5 or 10 minute quiz would bring a second honeymoon.

Jim: (laughs).

John: But what a great outcome. And Jim, over a million couples now have completed that assessment. So I can only imagine how many others are experiencing, well, breakthroughs like that.

Jim: Wow, it’s amazing. But we can’t do this work alone. We need your financial partnership and your prayers for this ministry as well. The best way to help is to become a true sustainer of this ministry by making a monthly pledge. It doesn’t have to be a large amount. It’s the consistency that really helps us even out the budget, month to month and year to year. And when you make a pledge of any amount, we’ll send you Robertson McQuilkin’s book called A Promise Kept. It’s a much deeper look at his marriage to Muriel and how they walked through so many difficult years together. And that’ll be our way of saying thank you for partnering with us. And if you can’t make that monthly commitment right now, we understand that. We can send the book to you for a one time donation of any amount as well. And when you get the book from us, we’ll include a free audio download of Dr. McQuilkin’s complete presentation. So get in touch with us today.

John: You can get your copy of this beautiful little gift book, A Promise Kept, when you make a donation by calling 800 the letter A and the word FAMILY. 800-232-6459, or you can donate and request the book online and get a free audio download as well at When you’re online, look for the Free Marriage Assessment Tool that helped Kristen and her husband and look for a link to our Focus on the Family Marriage podcast, another great resource that comes out twice weekly, uh, to encourage you as a married couple. Next time, Greg Smalley and Bob Paul will help shine some light on the myths of marriage.

Dr. Greg Smalley: The worst question you can ever ask is, how do I have a better marriage? Because it takes two. The best question is, God, how can I be a better husband? How can I be a better wife? What is within my control?

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A Promise Kept

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