Wednesday, August 12th, 2009
When a friend or loved one is seriously ill, perhaps you’ve heard someone say they choose not to visit because “I don’t want to remember [him or her] that way.”
While there is a trace of nobility in that concept — a choice to remember sick people at their prime, when they were able to be in a mutually beneficial rather than dependent relationship — beneath the surface it is an utterly selfish statement. Those who say it are automatically making the visit about themselves, rather than place the focus where it ought to be — on the needs of the sick person.
I write these words as my mother lies in a hospital bed in the latest setback of her long battle with Parkinson’s disease. After suffering a stroke last week she now faces an indefinite stay in nursing care. Although her body is increasingly failing, her faculties are fully present, and she is able to appreciate both the expression of caring that a visit brings and the relief from long boredom and loneliness of confinement.
It is indeed difficult to see my once-beautiful mother in her current condition, less than 90 pounds, looking far older than her 71 years and connected to all kinds of equipment. But what matters is that she can see me and my brother and feel satisfaction that the boys she raised into men are safe, healthy and successfully raising our own families, her legacies. As pleasant a diversion as there is. When friends or other relatives visit, there is the reassuring sense of still being connected to, and needed in, this world.
The mitzvah of bikur cholim, visiting the sick is so central to the core of Jewish ethics and the essence of Torah that there are numerous organizations devoted to facilitating it, catering to the needs of both the visitors and the hospitalized. My family has benefited from their services on numerous occasions.
I pray that the relative who cited the memory excuse will reconsider, and of course that my mother, Zissel bas Devorah, will merit a refuah shelayma and be able to come home soon. After reading this, kindly consider if there is someone you know — homebound or confined to a hospital, nursing home or hospice — who can benefit from an hour of your company. If you’re fortunate enough that no one in your life falls in that category, please consider a donation to a bikur cholim committee or organization.
There is no more noble cause.