With their mouths the godless destroy their neighbors, but through knowledge the righteous escape.—PROVERBS 11:9 (NIV)
The theater lights came up and my husband smiled as the credits rolled. Even though he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s years earlier, we still made a point of getting out and doing things we enjoyed.
I noticed a former work colleague in the theater aisle. He looked at us astonished. Even while he remarked it was good to see us, his eyes told a different story. I got the strong impression he felt my husband shouldn’t be seen in public.
It wasn’t an overt comment, so I didn’t confront him, but why did our outing now seem somehow tainted? Then it hit me. Our society values youth, beauty, strength and outward intelligence so highly that the perceived lack of any of these qualities in a person often automatically signals that they are somehow less than. Alzheimer’s can be seen as a fate worse than death. Not only terminal, it will seemingly rob you of both identity and dignity. You are perceived very differently. I was learning that we made others uncomfortable. Averted eyes. Pitying glances. And those reactions then made us feel like outcasts.
But there should be no stigma in disease. And one way to fight stigma is to educate ourselves and those around us. The next time I meet someone in the aisle, I think we’ll talk a bit more along the way.