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November 28, 2015 / 16 Kislev, 5776
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Some Guidelines for Visitation (Part 4)

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(Names and circumstances changed)


         In the last three articles I have been sharing some ideas for visitation of the sick that were suggested to me by the chronically ill and their spouses. In this article I’d like to discuss the repercussions of the visits on the well spouse and family and how the best of intentions for helping the sick can wreak havoc on the spouse. The family’s needs as a whole must always be considered when trying to help someone who is ill. Illness strikes a family, not just an individual, and everyone needs help.


         Mushka had been to the hospital every day since her husband had been readmitted. She would leave in just enough time to be home for her children when they came home from school. The rest of the day was spent taking her children to the hospital to visit their father for a short time. Then she’d get them home, give them supper, allay their fears about “Totty” and put them to bed. If she could get a baby- sitter she would return to the hospital. She hoped her employer would keep her job open until she could return to it. But she had no idea how long that would be.


         With all this, she had not even thought about preparing for Shabbos. Fortunately she had enough leftovers in the freezer to provide for her family this week. They would just make do with two sheets of matzah instead of her usual, freshly baked challah. She had no choice. On Friday when Mushka came to the hospital, a friend of her husband’s was there. He had brought two beautiful small challot his wife had baked especially for Mushka’s husband.


         She walked into the room just as the friend was saying to her husband, “Are you sure you don’t want them?” Mushka stopped short. The words, “I want them. I need them. Please! See me and my family’s needs!” were on her lips, but for some reason, wouldn’t come out of her mouth. She told me she was mentally gyrating around the room, to be noticed. But, she wasn’t noticed. And the friend packed up the challot and took them home.


         She angrily asked her husband why he didn’t suggest they give the challah to his family. Her husband asked her why she simply hadn’t asked for them. No one had an answer. And the family used matzah that Shabbos.


         Harry lived in an incredible, caring community. After his accident his community made sure he had support every day. People came to learn with him several times daily. They even began a weekly minyan in his home so that he could daven with a minyan. After a while, his community thought it would be great if Harry had a Shabbos minyan in his home, as well.


         They told Sheva, his wife, that the community would take care of everything. Someone would come every Friday to set up the chairs to make the family room into a shul. They would return after Shabbos to take them down and put them over to the side of the room. The women would bring everything needed for Kiddush and put it in Sheva’s refrigerator. They would come into her kitchen and set up Kiddush during davening. Of course, they would stay to clean up as well. Sheva would not have to lift a finger to help. They would take care of everything.


         Sheva wondered how she could make these caring people realize that they had forgotten a very important thing. That was, how she and her family would handle the constant invasion to her home and her privacy. She could no longer have her leisurely Shabbos coffee in her kitchen, or even walk to the bathroom without getting dressed first. She no longer had a single place in her room to which she could escape, to forget even for a moment, the horror that had come to them. Even the family room would now have an Aron Kodesh in it and chairs piled to the side all week, to hamper her children’s play and moments of normalcy.


         She told me she felt guilty complaining, because it was great for her husband. But her privacy was lost not for weeks or even months. We were talking years. For the coming years there was nowhere in her house that was hers.


         “When one is sick, two need help” is the motto of the Well Spouse Association. Just as the needs of the chronically ill have escalated, so have the needs of the family. Sometimes, helping one can cause problems for the other. It is important to always think about the family. How will what you are doing impact on the family? Are you even thinking about what the family needs?


         Discuss your ideas of how to help with the couple as a whole, or both, individually. Does the suggestion work for the family unit? Reevaluate it after a bit of time has passed. What might have been agreed upon as a great idea a month ago, may now be presenting some unanticipated problems. Well spouses sometimes get so wrapped up in making life better for their mates, they forget to think of how it will impinge upon them, until it does. Always remember that whatever you do affects a whole family and not just an individual. Make sure your help does the same.


         You can reach me at annnovick@hotmail.com

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