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A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Words (Part 5)

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.


Many wanted to show the cartoons to others, in hopes it would help gain more understanding from family and friends. Some felt it was too personal and they would be condemned by those closest to them for feeling this way. They all agreed, however, to allow me to use them in my articles. They hoped it would help give people more insight into what they have to deal with and how they deal with their lives. I thank them for allowing me to share it with you. They insisted on staying anonymous.

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When one is blind one learns to use Braille to read. When one cannot walk, a wheelchair gives mobility. Sign language allows a mute person to speak and ocular implants assist in hearing when one is deaf. These are all compensatory strategies that help a person function despite his disability. But compensatory strategies are not just for physical problems. Understanding our psychological weaknesses and setting up our lives to ensure that we are not tempted to repeat our past mistakes, is as necessary as any aid to the disabled.

Well spouses have often discovered that their friends and relatives, despite their closeness to the situation, often don’t realize the tremendous emotional impact living with chronic illness has on the family. With the best intentions, suggestions, ideas and criticism are offered, based on the non-experience of those with healthy families. Even when the good intentioned get a taste of the difficulties, it is sometimes not enough for them to then identify and understand what the family of the chronically ill must face on a constant basis.

Over the past two weeks I have shared letters from a therapist and a well spouse. Both of the letters gave personal insights into the process of losing hope, how we react when that happens and some ways of coping when test scores, diagnosis and just simple repetitive behavior indicate that change for the better is impossible.

Dear Ann,

I’ve read your last few articles on psycho-neurological testing (Oct.8-22) with interest. As a therapist who has counseled couples dealing with chronic illness, I’d like to give you another perspective.

Dear Ann,

Your articles on the Neuro-Psychological Testing were right on (October 8-22). My husband underwent testing twice and your articles explained it things exactly the way they were. Besides the test, we also tried therapy.

Very often when we can’t face our big hurts or big loses we focus on the little ones. We can discuss those. We can cry over the small loses, be angry at the smaller hurts even though it may look trite and sound ridiculous to others.

Over the last two weeks we have been discussing one way in which well spouses can determine whether behavior displayed by their ill partners is caused by their illness or is a way they have chosen to act. We have focused on Psycho-Neurological testing, what it can tell us, as well as its pros and cons.

Last week I discussed a question that haunts many well spouses: not knowing if the difficult and often inappropriate behavior frequently displayed by their partners are caused by the disease and therefore not-controllable, or if the behavior is a choice the spouse makes and can therefore be changed. This doubt can be the source of much frustration and many marital disagreements. One way of alleviating this doubt is by having a psycho- neurological work up done. But that path is not so simple.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/magazine/a-picture-is-worth-a-thousand-words-part-5/2006/05/03/

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