This section is from "Every Woman's Encyclopaedia". Also available from Amazon: Every Woman's Encyclopaedia.
Nothing in human life appeals more strongly to our sympathies than an invalid - the man, woman, or child who is suffering from prolonged or permanent illness. Whether under such conditions men suffer more or less than women is a matter upon which opinions may well differ. It is probable that we have not sufficient data upon which to differentiate between the sexes with any degree of certainty on this question, and, after all, so much depends upon the individual temperament as also upon the general surroundings of the invalid. On the whole, and speaking quite generally, I am inclined to think that women suffer more than men, and for two reasons, one of which is to be found in the physical constitution of woman, and the other in her moral nature.
In the first place, women, as a rule, are more sensitive to pain than men. Their general structure is built up of finer material. Their nervous system is formed of more d licate texture. It their bodies are not more liable to he inroad of microbes, they are certainly less able to withstand their attack Woman not only naturally suffers more but suffers more acutely. If judged physically, she is unquestionably the weaker vessel. Again, women, as a class, are more sympathetic than men. They are less self-centred and more self-sacrificing. They are more solicitous for the health of others and less concerned with their own ailments. If, therefore, the woman be a wife or mother, the whole household suffers more through her sufferings than if the sufferer be a man. She is naturally anxious for the recovery of health for her own sake, but even more for the sake of her husband and children.
Elliott & Fry
Destined by the Creator to be "a helpmeet," she is never so happy as when she is helping others, and, correspondingly, the loss of power to help is the direct cause of added suffering. Of course, I am assuming in my argument that the woman is reallv and truly good. There are exceptions to this as to every rule, only I am not now thinking of exceptions, which, of course, might easily be given. There are some selfish women, alas! who think so much of themselves and their own ailments that they have no time to think of others and their sufferings. There are some foolish women whose condition is mainly due to delusive id:as of their own
Religion health, and who, for the sake of the pity they covet, either imagine ills which, for them, do not exist, or exaggerate those which do. But the majority of women are neither so selfish nor so foolish. Fortunately for society, such egotists and neurotics are the exception to the rule of their sex.
But, even if my contention that, speaking generally, it is harder for a woman to be an invalid than a man be doubted, everyone will admit that it is hard enough for anyone to be always ill. Let the comparison between the sexes be ignored and my main argument will not be affected. For no one will deny that the greatest sufferings of an invalid woman is the consciousness of her inability to minister to others. It is not the prolonged pain nor the continuous weakness which constitute her deepest sorrow, but the abiding distress that she is not permitted to play a woman's part in the life of the home. To an active mind - and what woman's mind is not active - there is no trouble so great as enforced inactivity. To a loving heart - and what woman's heart is not loving - there is no sorrow so keen as inability to serve.
This is the secret canker which is eating out the sweetness from the heart of many a woman invalid. It is for this reason that she is at times tempted to think her life is a burden instead of being what she would fain make it, and perhaps it already is, a blessing. This is the direct cause of those periods of depression, so hard for her and for others to bear, when she is disposed to feel that, having no mission, and serving no purpose, the sooner she is rid of this frail, suffering body the better.
But believing, as I do, that pain and sorrow, albeit they are related to sin, are permitted by an all-wise and all-merciful providence, and by it are overruled to serve our highest interests, I am convinced that suffering has a purpose, that there is a "needs be" for sorrow, that pain is often a blessing in disguise, and therefore that every invalid has a mission in the world. With this faith, I am further convinced that, without abating any effort to alleviate pain, to arrest disease, and restore health, we ought to lessen in the minds of invalids the thought of invalidism and encourage them to think that, however hard their lot, they are, after all, useful members of society, and, notwithstanding their weakness, they are able to confer many benefits upon others. If we can succeed in any degree by inspiring them with ideas of service, we shall in that proportion bring rest to their troubled minds and joy to their sorrowing hearts.
Let us, then, begin by recognising that there is a ministry in suffering, that suffering is a service. This is true if we pause to think; for everything in this world, even pain, has a purpose, while experience itself confirms our consciousness in this respect.
Suffering not only ministers directly to the sufferer, or, at least, is intended so to do, but also indirectly to others. Like the influence of the furnace on the ore, its purpose is to separate what is of permanent value from its earthly accidents, and so to purify it for its ultimate, if unknown, destiny. That which mingles with the metal and destroys its utility is slowly removed by the fire. Even so, in the furnace of suffering, that which vitiates our best nature and nullifies its serviceableness is gradually eliminated. At least, this is the Divine purpose - a purpose only frustrated when we refuse to co-operate with God in the purifying process.