They have how-to literature on just about every subject and fortunately one has come out on visiting people who need to recover from an illness. Entitled, Good Company – Facts and Fictions About Bikur Cholim, the publication is from the Rabbi Isaac N. Trainin Bikur Cholim Coordinating Council, a program of the Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services (JBFCS).
Utilizing a comic book format, Good Company dispenses practical information on how to make a Bikur Cholim visit effective and compassionate. Rather than just walking into a hospital room and not knowing what to say or saying too much, this publication offers the wish that “we fulfill this mitzvah with thoughtful consideration, and therefore bring light and healing to the world.”
When I read the section that calls on visitors to “respect the dignity of the person who is ill” and to “knock before entering” and to ask permission if they want a visit, I am reminded of a time when I did none of the above. I was working in a nursing home and a colleague and I were going from room to room doing comedy routines in an attempt to cheer up the residents. We had a modicum of success doing slapstick including my colleague taking a 6-foot piece of wood and pretending to use it as a toothpick to get some salami out from between his teeth.
One room we walked into (without a knock and without asking if our comedy was welcome) had four men lying on their respective beds. We got into our performance without much of a response from the first three patients in the room. We moved to the last bed to try and entertain the fourth man who had his back to us. Perhaps because we were being ignored, we raised our volume. I’ll never forget how the man calmly turned around and I saw an unshaven face with a look of incredulity as he squinted his eyes and tried to make some sense of what he was seeing. He said in an annoyed tone, “Do I come into your house and do this!” And then he turned his back to us again and tried to go back to sleep. Bravo to him for saying the absolute right thing.
“Good Company” offers a lot of seemingly small, but very important practical tips. For example, it notes, “Be respectful of your body language. For example, sit at eye level if possible.”
A few months ago I was visiting a man who cannot get out of bed. I was telling him a D’var Torah, standing over him at bedside. A friend who went with me on the visit pulled a chair over and motioned for me to sit down, indicating that the man in bed was having difficulty focusing on me in a standing position.
There are many other food-for-thought guidelines for visiting in the publication including to “look around the room for clues for conversation,” “bring news from the outside to lessen feelings of isolation,” “send a letter, card or call if you can’t visit in person,” “show up when you say you will” and to “thank the person for letting you visit.”
When you can express genuine gratitude at the end of the visit, it tells the other person that being there was not a burden and was, in fact, a positive experience.
The publication, in comic book style, insightfully describes a number of “fiction” and “fact” issues about bikur cholim visits. For example, one “fiction” listed is “Bikur cholim is only for outgoing people,” followed by the “fact” that “sometimes it’s your presence more than your words that makes you good company.”
The Rabbi Isaac N. Trainin Bikur Cholim Coordinating Council is a year-round organization that offers an educational annual conference every November. Also offered: a short documentary film, “Turn to Me,” on bikur cholim; an interactive training video with the booklet, “The Act of Visiting;” a website with tools and tips on visiting, and on-site training workshops in the community.
I led a workshop at the most recent November 9 Bikur Cholim annual conference on the topic of having meaningful interactions with people with Alzheimer’s, dementia and age-related memory loss.
For more information on the Rabbi Isaac N. Trainin Bikur Cholim Coordinating Council, including information on the “Good Company” comic book, contact Robin Schoenfeld, LMSW, 212/399-2685, ext. 212 or e-mail at email@example.com.
There is a bed-bound man who is not very verbal, but enjoys visitors on Shabbos and other days. He enjoys hearing a D’var Torah and visitors can read to him from seforim at his home. He is very bright and has one of the most sincere smiles of gratitude I have ever seen. He lives in Midwood, Brooklyn. If anyone wants more information on how to visit him, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A Daf Yomi shiur open to the community is given at Scharf’s Ateret Avot Senior Residence, 1410 E. 10th Street, Midwood, Brooklyn. It meets at 2:30 p.m. from Sunday to Thursday and 11:15 a.m. on Friday. Call 718/998-5400 for more information.
There is a Mah-jongg class that meets at the Jewish Community House of Bensonhurst, 78-02 Bay Parkway, on Thursdays from Noon to 2:45 p.m. For more information on this free group for people 60 or over, call Diane or Lisa at 718/943-6311.
Concluding thought: On days of inclement weather, before going to a food store, it’s an act of chesed to ask neighbors that have difficulty in getting out in such weather if they need juice, milk or other items.