69-year-old Barbara Smith (B. Smith) once had an awe-inspiring career as a model, TV host, celebrity chef, magazine publisher and restaurateur. Her husband whom she married in 1992, Dan Gasby, also enjoyed success as a TV exec, executive producing the Essence Awards.

Theirs was an admirable love story, which Dan now declares earned him a "PhD in black love."

However, 18 years into their marriage, B. Smith got sick and was soon diagnosed with Alzheimers. In 2015, this couple then co-wrote a book with Vanity Fair contributing editor Michael Schnayerson titled Before I Forget: Love, Hope, Help, and Acceptance in Our Fight Against Alzheimer's.

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The book's Amazon review highlights how the book "interweaves their narrative with practical and helpful advice, readers learn about dealing with Alzheimer's day-to-day challenges: the family realities and tensions, ways of coping, coming research that may tip the scale, as well as lessons learned along the way." 

Living with an Alzheimer's patient

While some of us may only understand Alzheimers and Dementia through Shonda Rhimes' Grey's Anatomy and How to Get Away With Murder lenses, several partners and families of Alzheimer's sufferers face the difficult reality every day. 

According to Alzheimer’s South Africa, approximately 750 000 South Africans live with the disease, meaning there are at least 750 000 other people who are taking care of loved ones who suffer from Alzheimer's and as such, are constantly confused, aggressive, distressed and even unable to recognise them at times.

Dan is quite vocal about this particular experience on Facebook:

And when Alex Lerner met Dan, she saw the toll losing B. Smith to Alzheimers was taking on him emotionally. 

When Alex met Dan

Washington Post's timeline of this unique love story shares details from the day Alex and Dan met right up to the point where they state that "at 64, [Dan] had a wife, and he had a girlfriend named Alex Lerner. He was happy and in love."

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Washington post also further divulges that "it’s almost impossible to know what B. would have to say about it. Dan has told her that Alex is his girlfriend, and he said it doesn’t seem to register."

Despite the cyber community's disdain and outrage over this arrangement, there was nothing sinister about the inception of this relationship - Alex and Dan even got Dana's (Dan's 32-year old daughter) blessing. 

There's a Xhosa saying that goes "into yabantu ababini ayingenwa," which basically translates to "what happens between two (in this case, three) people is nobody else's business." 

The co-author of the couple's book's remarks regarding the relationship further supports this, as he says “anybody that would judge Dan knows nothing about the disease and the toll it takes. If you can find a companion who can help you get through that, all power to you.”

But is there a certain level to which B. Smith supporters' criticism of Dan and his girlfriend is valid, given that it comes from a place of concern? 

"You don’t bring your mistress in the house where your WIFE lives. She’s not dead," one user commented on Dan Gasby's post.

But given the circumstances, one can hardly call Alex Lerner a "mistress."

Modern marriages

So in another one of Dan's heated Facebook posts in response to hate mail similar to the above - which his daughter Dana is not particularly encouraging of - he writes the following of these supporters;

"They invoke ancient interpretations of vows in a modern day environment and their ego sensitive notions till death do you part doesn’t even consider what happens when your body is there but all history and commitment to the past are gone forever. They worry about B’s money as if they were a relative who bequeathed all their hard earned cash to her."

READ MORE: "I started dating a married man after my husband died"

"We talked about this many years ago and as recently as when B was diagnosed and we wrote the New York Times Bestseller BEFORE I FORGET!The funny thing is we talked about this possibility when we made out our wills," he adds. 

This Modern Family meets This is Us setup, as Dan jokingly referred to it in an interview with Washington Post, is a fully transparent relationship, where even Alex is involved in looking after B. 

"If I can do anything for her, it makes me feel good. If it is giving her something to drink, or making her something to eat — she loves to eat — I feel good," she told Washington Post.

B. and her husband of 26 years may be sexagenarians, but their marriage is modern and as millennial as its age. With divorce, consensual polygamy and polyamory, blended families and open marriages in general becoming less taboo, the police of morality are slowly going out of business. 

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Furthermore, the intricacies of a marriage differ from couple to couple and sometimes not even the most well-meaning of interventions can deter them from staying for worse, poorer or in sickness - granted that the "for worse" does not entail abuse of any form.

Do you agree? Take the poll below and tell us what you think.

For more info on dementia and Alzheimer's, visit the following:

DementiaSA

Alzheimer’s South Africa

Alzheimer’s in Action

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