Out of Their Comfort Zone

Helping Children of All Ages Overcome Reluctance to Visit Sick Relatives

This week’s column is dedicated l’iluy nishmas imi morasi, Sarah Rivka bas Elimelech, whose neshamah left this world two weeks ago, on the 15th of Iyar, at age 96. Her many zechuyos include working with survivors in the displaced persons camps in Germany for two years, when she was in her mid-20s. May she be a melitzas yosher for our family and Klal Yisrael.

At this time, we would like to express much hakaras hatov to all those who helped in her care. Tavo aleichem brachah.

Contemporary society places great stress on the need to be “comfortable.” Whether manifested by a lab technician informing a patient of each anticipated pinch prior to having blood drawn (to prepare the patient for seconds of discomfort), or by the competition between rival restaurants or hotels to garner consumer satisfaction, “comfort” is the currency of this generation. That being said, the idea of mesirus nefesh is quite antithetical to its general philosophy.

Visiting sick relatives (especially critically ill ones) seems to have become a tall order for many of our children to fill. It is true that bikur cholim is a difficult mitzvah for any person to fulfill when the patient is approaching the end of his or her life. For secular individuals, it is even more difficult to see chaim v’maves before their eyes, for if one has no concept of why one is alive, and has no sense of olam haba, this vision of a neshamah preparing to leave the world is frightening and disheartening. As a result of parents attempting to shelter their children from unnecessary pain, these children are often reluctant to get involved with critically ill individuals when called upon. This avoidance may be partially due to the feeling that they cannot really help the situation.

One way to help inspire non-motivated children to get involved with care for a critically ill relative is by helping them view the situation with a different mindset: “Help” does not necessarily mean helping save a life or keeping someone alive, but giving to the needy person in other ways.

Reading Tehillim on behalf of the ill person is always helpful (whatever their physical outcome may be). Playing music that the patient has appreciated adds quality to his or her remaining moments in this world. We do not know what is actually heard or understood by an unresponsive patient, but the sense of hearing is acknowledged to be the last sense to leave a person. Whatever words of kindness and warmth your child expresses to his or her relative can be an eternal gift.

Most adults over the age of 85 are deemed “over the hill” in our society and virtually ignored in many hospitals. If no family members or friends visit and (respectfully) ask about medical procedures and medications, the patient’s care is often minimal. The presence of family members of any age is important, as staff sees concerned and caring relatives who are involved in the patient’s life.

Hakaras hatov is always important, and a child can bring a candy tray to the hospital staff as a gesture of appreciation. If a child has the time and is emotionally capable,
s/he can visit another hospital patient, thereby making a kiddush Hashem.

We, as parents, continue to be role models, no matter the ages of our children. By asking the staff to be “culturally sensitive” to our desire to appreciate all moments of life — even those that hospital staff deem to be “excessive” (i.e., “Your relative seems very uncomfortable. Are you sure that you want to do this?”) is an important lesson for our children to see.

To us, quality of life is a Yiddishe neshamah being alive in this world. This existence itself is a gift to the world. If a child questions the suffering of an extremely ill person, our response must contain proper hashkafah. If end-of-life questions arise, the need to ask daas Torah cannot be underestimated.

If children feel that their participation in visiting the infirm has purpose, their involvement becomes more likely.

May we be zocheh to see Moshiach Tzidkeinu, the era of chaim nitzchiyim, and may Hashem wipe the tears of grief from our faces.