Friday, July 1, 2011

Jan's Story by Journalist Barry Petersen

Recently a caregiver gave me Jan's Story by CBS foreign correspondent Barry Petersen. Sally read the book first and clued me in that it ended differently than she expected. I wondered why she said the ending was different.

In reading Jan's Story I discovered it is really BARRY'S STORY of how he copes with his wife Jan's Early Onset Alzheimer's. Jan becomes angry, confused and has friends who aren't there. She hardly recognizes Barry at the end of the story while Barry becomes lonely and overburdened with her care.

What did I as a caregiver learn from this caregiver/correspondent? Barry chronicles the stages of Alzheimer's as Jan goes through them. He writes to family and friends in the summer of 2007:
I am taken aback at how fast Jan's short term memory seemed to evaporate . . . it robs us of sharing daily experiences, and robs her of savoring the good things that are a part of all of our daily lives . . . I am losing more than a friend . . . also slipping away is the one person who was my confidante, with whom I could and did share everything. I feel like I'm trapped in a movie, watching it unfold and already know the ending . . . but with no way to rewind back to the good parts. (pp. 53, 54)
I can identify. I noticed that when my husband prayed before we went to sleep last night that he did not pray in specifics, but he did thank the Lord for the good day we had yesterday and the good day we would have tomorrow. But the Lord is the third party in our marriage and He takes us through each day. My husband's daily humor and my daily Scripture reading such as Psalm 23 takes me through the day.

Even when I walk
through the darkest valley,
I will not be afraid,
for you are close beside me . . .
Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me
all the days of my life,
and I will live in the house of the Lord forever.

So much is familiar in Jan and Barry's story--having to order for my husband in restaurants, his misplacing things, his compensating for memory loss, sundowner's problems. Barry talked about Jan's coping experiences--ANGER, PRETENDING, SILENCE.  But my husband hasn't deteriorated as much as Jan has by the end of the book. 

While I respect Mr. Petersen and his riveting journey as a caregiver, his values do not represent my Christian values.  I did not see Mr. Petersen looking to the Lord for strength and guidance in his caregiver's story. He brings a third party (not the Lord), a new woman into the story for his loneliness. Barry seemed to find people to support his new woman while his wife is in assisted living. Even Jan's mother suggested Barry needed a side romance!

I am a caregiver who takes a different path. I have a different view of fidelity and an awesome God who is with me in this journey. Life doesn't owe me a husband. I married for the first time when I was 40 and when that husband died I was a widow for eight years. I love being married to my husband and we have so much joy in our marriage. Life doesn't guarantee a husband not get Alzheimer's. But I do have this chance to be faithful to my husband and be the best wife I can be while the Lord takes me through this.

One of my colleagues in Toastmasters cared for his wife for twenty years--so inspiring. He was the gentleman who recommended the book that I reviewed here, No Act of Love Is Ever Wasted. Mr. Petersen and I run in different circles, and I sure wish he had waited and found the strength of the Lord Jesus Christ.

When I got to the end of the book, I realized a blogger I follow had actually reviewed this book and had seen Petersen interviewed one Sunday morning. Barry's new lady is mentioned in this blog. See Early On-Set Blog Spot in January of this year which I did read. Here is how I responded:

I married for better, for worse, in sickness and in health, until death us do part.

Then the blogger herself responded with:
In his heart your husband knows he is lucky in love.
I found a Huffington Post article by Barry Petersen where he talks about guilt as he does in the book. See
Can a Marriage Die When the Wife is Alive. Here Peterson writes:
I have no answers for others, offering only what I have done and learned and chosen, knowing that it was right -- for me. I wish them luck. Like me, they will need it.
There is more than luck, Mr. Petersen. And there is God's help, grace and forgiveness for you.

 The name of the LORD is a strong fortress; the godly run to him and are safe.  Proverbs 18:10   


  1. Thank you for this. Our pastor recently preached about honoring marriage before the Lord. It is so important because marriage reflects Christ and the church. So glad you have the Lord and His grace in this situation!

  2. I loved your perspective on this book. I was greatly encouraged as you pointed your hope being found only in God. Wonderful!

  3. I appreciated your post. I saw a tv segment, I believe on the Sunday Morning CBS program about Jan's Story and Barry Petersen. More than half way through they introduced Petersen's new love interest.
    Later, I believe it was on Linked In, they were discussing it and I carefully commented about that part. I was living in SC when Robert McQuilken quit his job as president of Columbia International University to care for his wife. He later write a short book about it. It was a beautiful testimony.
    I said something about being disappointed and people jumped on it. It was sad, but so try of this age. Not willing to stick to vows of 'through sickness and health, til death do us part.'
    Thanks for you well written post.
    I am the caregiver for my 83 year old mother who has Alzheimer's

  4. Jaimar, may the Lord richly bless you as you care for your mother.

    What is the name of Robert McQuilken's book? I did find a YouTube where he talks about not "having to" stay home to take care of his wife but "getting to" stay home to take care of his wife as he resigns his college presidency. Inspiring in contrast to Barry Petersen!

  5. The book is called A Promise Kept and his name is actually Robertson McQuilkin. Amazon sells it and here is a link.

  6. What a book and great post. I am with you . If it was not for the lord mom and I sure would be in a mess. I can't comment on the love and marrage thing. I have been divorced longer than I was married and have never been in love again. I do pray that the lord will show me who I am to love for better and worse someday.

  7. Another thought provoking and good post, thank you, Carol!!!
    For better or for worse..... one day at a time..... that's our motto!

  8. I so agree with your biblical view of marriage! My husband's early-onset Alzheimer's has no bearing whatsoever on our marriage vows. I know that years of lack of intimacy are headed our way, but for now and however long the Lord chooses to bless our marriage, we are having some of the best times of our 30 year mariage-we get better and better, just as the Lord promised to the faithful! Dana Kruckenberg

  9. This was such a well written excellent book review. May God continue to bless your writing as you encourage others in their daily walk with their loved ones with dementia/Alzheimers as well as encouraging others to walk with the Lord who is our strength every moment of every day. I wish my mother had this kind of support when caregiving for my father.