The Invalid Wife
Timothy Shay Arthur, 1851
"Always sick," from month to month, and year to year, friends become accustomed to her pale face and long bony fingers, her slow step and short quick breath; and weary of that faint smile, and inattention to dress, and reluctance to going out; and they say impatiently, "All she needs is fresh air, exercise, and cheerfulness; what a drone she has become! I pity her husband!"
The doctor looks at her with a meaning smile, saying, "You are too sedentary in your habits, madam — your temperament is nervous, little troubles destroy your equanimity. You have no organic disease, madam, no liver affection, no consumption; it is all nervous — all mental. Good day, madam." He then thinks to himself, "I pity her husband!"
"All nervous! this dreadful headache, this knife-like pain in my side, this loss of appetite? But it must be so, the doctor ought to know; and I will try to believe him, and forget my cares;" and she leans back in her chair with a new resolution to be cheerful.
"Johnny" comes in, screaming at the top of his lungs, with his new pantaloons slit from top to bottom; the cook makes the pie crust of bread dough, and dresses the steak with the ends of tallow candles, because the butter is down cellar; and a friend comes home with her husband to dinner, and he looks thunderbolts, and the friend looks consternation — but never mind. Forget death, and it will forget you — either be well, or die, quickly, for friends are all "sorry for" your husband.
"Complaining women never die," is an old saying, handed down to us from the lips of some rough country quack, who deserved to have had his teeth extracted for his lack of sympathy with suffering; and the same unkind thought is written on the sarcastic mouth of many a modern M.D. to whom the poor invalid appeals for help, as she drags her weary limbs over the rough path of life without hearing one word of sympathy, or seeing a single finger raised to help her. None realize that her life-strings are snapping asunder so slowly and so noiselessly; and when the last gives way, and she sinks into the friendly grave — friends hardly miss her, because they have learned so gradually to do without her labors of love.
She is gone! the world feels not the shock of her departure, as when some great human light fades from the firmament of mind; and social institutions are not saddened by her loss, for her pale face was almost a stranger in their halls.
But there are little loving hearts which miss her gentle tone, earnest kiss, and loving blue eyes. And her husband misses for a little time, her sweet, mournful smile, which seemed to say, "I would do more to promote your happiness — but I am so feeble." And then he forgets her, and another more beautiful wife is taken to his heart and home; and with dewy eyes and quivering lips those babes pronounce again the name of "Mother!"
But not to her bosom, do they confide all their little griefs and wrongs — not there, do they sob themselves to sleep. She is long an object of doubt and dread; and angel although she may be, it is long, very long, before she will win their confidence and love. Every dying mother thinks of this, and every stepmother should realize it, and have patience and piety to begin her work.
Husbands of invalid wives, (in nine cases out of ten,) we do not pity you — you who go in and out so carelessly, asking no questions, and never saying, in a soft, earnest tone, "Would to God that I could help you, dear wife!" You who do not try to realize the capriciousness of the appetite which longs for everything beyond its reach; who have no sympathy with morbid fears, and no true-hearted mother's apprehensions, lest your babes may be prematurely cast upon the sympathy of the world — that sympathy which freezes by the coldness of its healing hand.
Sympathy for you? What do you suffer aside from inconvenience? Think, impatient men, as you look upon that faded form, of what she was, remember her, as you took her, a beautiful bride, away from the bosom of her mother, and her father's strong, protecting arm — did she make no sacrifice for you? Know that for your love she fettered herself with those cares which have racked her brain until they undermined her slender constitution; and do not cause her now to say in her heart's deep agony, "I have become an encumbrance, and he will not miss me when I am gone."
Pity the invalid. Part the damp locks upon her forehead, and kiss it tenderly; leave her not long alone; love her, and cherish her as you did when the white bridal rose lingered in her sunny tresses, and the carnation of health was upon her rounded cheek; for surely, though slowly, she is dying. And when she is gone and gone up to Heaven before you to plead for you at the eternal bar, saying, Father, remember him in mercy, as he remembered me, after all others forsook me, and life was one long agony.