This past week I spent nearly six hours with my sister, visiting her at a renowned cancer hospital. After many years of not speaking, only exchanging a few cursory emails a year, we had our reunion in a hospital room. For the past few years we had, in fact, a fragile connection based on our shared interest in her two daughters. I made a point to see them when they were visiting the city. Once or twice I had even caught a glance of my sister.
I said some Jewish prayers, as I walked to the hospital for the first visit this week. This is a mitzvah, I told myself, to visit a sick person. I am doing Jewish, being righteous. I would not judge, I would not blame, I would start anew. After all this was teshuvah time. Baruch ata Adonai…
She smiled ever so slightly when she saw me for the first time this week. She was lying in her bed; her two doting daughters beside her. She asked me a lot of questions, as I took off my heavy backpack filled with my graduate notebooks, food, water, internship materials. What was my new internship? What were my clients like, at the community mental health center? Did I always carry a backpack? How was my hip? Did I still play tennis?
Her gray/black hair was very short, and I thought it was a cool look for her, although it made her face look more full. Or was it all the medicines she was taking, since her surgery? She was on powerful pain medication, and although her speech was clear, she was more mellow than I had remembered her. Her company was almost pleasant. But on my second visit this week, when she was feeling stronger, her real personality emerged. She was finding fault with her hospital roommate, she was even demeaning her two grown unmarried daughters, and she answered my questions with a cross look.
She insisted on sharing her hospital food with me, as it was early evening and her daughters had left for their hotel and a well-deserved rest. No, I protested, I can go down to the cafeteria and get something. She wouldn’t have it. She produced a menu from her cluttered bedside table and told me to choose a main dish and a side. Back in college, when we were attending nearby institutions, she would make delicious meals for me in her university suite. She had so many talents, which I lacked. She could sew like a professional. She was small-boned, super smart, and she had been Grandma’s favorite.
I’m going to leave now, I told her after dinner, so you can take a nap. Just remember that you are not alone. I spoke slowly and deliberately. You have your daughters, and you have me.
Thanks for the flowers, she said.