Robertson McQuilkin was president of Columbia Bible College and Seminary in Columbia, South Carolina. His wife, Muriel, was not only a devoted wife and mother, but also a painter, speaker, hostess for the college, fabulous cook, and host of her own radio program. Then Muriel was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Initially the college board arranged for a companion to stay with her so that McQuilkin could go to the office each day. As her condition deteriorated, McQuilkin was faced with a choice between taking early retirement to care for his wife or putting her in an institution for the rest of her life.
In McQuilkin’s own words:
When the time came, the decision was firm and it didn’t take any heavy-duty calculation…The decision was made, in a way, 42 years ago when I promised to care for Muriel “in sickness and in health till death do us part.” So, as I told the students and faculty, as a man of my word, integrity has something to do with it. But so does fairness. She has cared for me fully and sacrificially all these years; if I cared for her the next 40 years I would not be out of her debt…She is a delight to me…I don’t have to care for her…I get to! It is a high honor to care for so wonderful a person…It’s more than keeping promises and being fair, however. As I watch her brave descent into oblivion, Muriel is the joy of my life. Daily I discern new manifestations of the kind of person she is, the wife I always loved…I also see fresh manifestations of God’s love—the God I long to love more fully.
In spite of her deterioration, McQuilkin stood by her and continued to love her deeply. Eventually she rarely did more than mumble “nonwords.” He wondered if he would ever hear her sweet voice again.
Then came February 14, 1995. McQuilkin writes: Valentine’s Day was always special at our house because that was the day in 1948 that Muriel accepted my marriage proposal. On the eve of Valentine’s Day in 1995…I bathed Muriel on her bed, kissed her good night…and whispered a prayer over her, “Dear Jesus, you love sweet Muriel more than I, so please keep my beloved through the night; may she hear the angel choirs…"
The next morning I was peddling on my Exercycle at the foot of her bed and, while Muriel slowly emerged from sleep, I dipped into memories of some of the happy Lover’s Days long gone. Finally she popped awake and, and as she often did, smiled at me. Then, for the first time in months, she spoke, calling out in a voice clear as a crystal chime, “Love…love…love…” I jumped from my cycle and ran to embrace her. “Honey, you really do love me, don’t you?” Holding me with her eyes and patting my back, she responded with the only words she could find to express agreement. “I’m nice,” she said.
You husbands must love your wives with the same love Christ showed the church (Ephesians 5:25).
(Excerpted from The One Year Book of Christian History; E. Michael and Sharon Rusten. Pages 90-91)