The last cartoon that came out of the discussion with the well spouse group depicted how society sees the well spouse, or should I say doesn’t see him. The cartoonist aptly titled it, “The Insignificant Other.”
The cartoon shows a well spouse wheeling her husband. He appears to be comfortable. He is smiling and clearly enjoying all the attention he is getting. The placement in the cartoon of the other people indicates that he is the center of attention. The faces around him appear concerned, involved, caring and kind. They are men and women, young and old. The wife is depicted set somewhat apart from the group around her husband*, making her seem invisible – insignificant and detached. She neither smiles nor frowns. At her feet is a young child. The child too is invisible – detached from the group. He is holding on to his mother’s leg. But she cannot pick him up and push the chair. No one seems to even notice he is there. *(In the actual drawing that would not have been reproduced clearly in print in this issue, both the wife and the little child were drawn in broken lines, indicating that they are invisible to the group.)
The support group spent a lot of time talking about this cartoon. They felt it showed a unique perspective from both a child and adult’s point of view. They had all experienced being “invisible” – never being noticed enough to be asked how they were or if they needed anything. They particularly zeroed in on the child. As mothers, this group often worried about their children. What would they know of a normal relationship after growing up in a home where illness offset most husband and wife interaction? How would they relate as fathers to their own children, as their experience with an ill father may have been limited? Were they getting enough attention from their mothers, and could the mothers possibly provide more? One woman noted that the child was walking, as you can’t push a wheelchair and stroller or carry a child and push a chair at the same time. And, as for putting them on the lap of the ill person, many of the chronically ill do not have the strength to hold an infant or a wiggly toddler. Placing a child on their lap could be dangerous to them both.
The group was very impressed with the amount of clarity of emotion the cartoonist had picked up from their meeting. He said he gleaned the information from both what they said and what they hadn’t said. His counselling background helped him read the body language, sighs and innuendos. All of the group members felt that the cartoons truly reflected feelings they had had – and many still had. They were amazed at the insight of the artist and how clearly he captured their feelings in what he had drawn.