Last night, my friend sent me an Instagram story. An Instagram user took pieces from a Washington Post article, pulled different quotes and excerpts from the article and then asked people what they made of all of it.
And let me just tell you there was outrage.
The article was about model, restauranteur and lifestyle guru B. Smith, 69, and her husband Dan Gasby.
As we reported in 2016, Smith was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2013. Since then, Gasby has been her caretaker.
In continuing their advocacy around the disease (The couple also wrote a book Before I Forget and lobbied Congress for more funding for Alzheimer’s research.) Gatsby has kept fans and followers updated about Smith’s condition and the role he plays as her caretaker through Facebook.
And last year, he shared an update that has people in their feelings. Gasby, who has been married to Smith for 27 years, shared that he now has a girlfriend.
Gasby, 64, introduced this new younger, blond-haired, White woman to the couple’s 30,000 followers on Facebook. According to The Post, he wrote: “Hate it or love it. You can debate, but for me, I’m feelin’ great. #whylie.”
It wasn’t the smoothest introduction. In fact, it was pretty tacky. And since we’re not lying, the optics of the situation are jarring. He’s replaced his sick wife with a younger White woman, a 57-year-old named Alex Lerner. Not only are the two dating, but Alex is also often at the house with Smith.
Smith’s fans have not been quiet about their displeasure. Some have even alleged that Smith is the victim of elder abuse.
Dan believes that a lot of his critics are racist and believe he’s somehow flaunting this White woman.
“I have been married to a Black woman for 26 years. I have a Ph.D. in Black love.”
And while I was skeptical, The Post, also included a video of how Smith, Gasby and Lerner all interact with one another. Gasby’s daughter from a previous relationship, who Smith mostly raised, also works as a caregiver for Smith. She approves of the relationship.
When I watched the video, the first thing that struck me was how happy Smith appeared in virtually every frame, smiling, singing, conversing.
I worked at a nursing home for a few years in high school on the floor with patients who had dementia and various stages of Alzheimer’s disease and more often than not, their faces were blank and distant. And while there were occasional outbursts of emotion, rarely was it visible happiness. I couldn’t help but think they were lonely. In the years I worked there, (I was only there during meal times) I can only remember seeing one family visit.
After I watched the video, I responded to my friend, “It seems like he’s taking excellent care of her. Which is more than what a lot of people would do in this situation.”
My friend said considering the empire B. built, her husband “should” take care of her. As someone who has family members who suffer from Alzheimer’s “should” is not always realistic. The physical, emotional and psychological demands of watching someone you know and love deteriorate is not something that can be explained, only lived and experienced.
I told my friend watching the video reminded me of the saying, “Once a man, twice a child.” In an IG message, I wrote, “A lot of men can love a woman but we don’t get to see what it looks like for a man to love what is essentially a woman as a baby.”
It’s extremely rare to see this type of dedication and devotion played out in marriages, mostly because people aren’t in the financial position to offer this type of care to a loved one. And in other cases, they simply don’t want to.
On his Facebook page, Gasby shared that when Smith calls him “Daddy,” he doesn’t take it as a term of endearment. It’s the role he’s come to fill in her life. When we think of marriages, in the context of sickness, we often think of physical ailments. We imagine that maybe sex is off the table and doing activities isn’t something we can do anymore. But if you love the person, you should be able to stick around, although not completely satisfied, for the companionship.
But in Gasby’s case, while Smith is physically there, mentally, emotionally and psychologically, she’s no longer the person she once was, the person he married. And unlike some other illnesses, she’s not going to recover.
Still, he’s there for her.
I told my friend, that if I could guarantee that I could have this type of care with Alzheimer’s, I don’t think I would care if my husband took a girlfriend. I wouldn’t know to care, honestly.
I think in romantic relationships, we’re under this false notion that we have to be everything to our partner. Best friend, best lover, best provider, best emotional support, best rider. Best everything. The expectation is so strong that even when we know we can’t be everything, there’s still deep resentment and anger when he or she seeks to fill a need through someone else. And I’m not just speaking about sex.
In more ways than one, Gasby is in a perpetual cycle of saying goodbye to his wife, not just sexually but emotionally and psychologically. Personally, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with seeking comfort and companionship from another person while still demonstrating his love through service to B. as she makes this final transition.
But I know I might be in the minority here. What do you think about Smith’s husband having a girlfriend while he takes care of his wife?