The first two suggestions I received from people who were chronically ill, hospitalized, in nursing homes or just out of the hospital, were to keep your visits short and not ask questions or make comments that were invasive about the illness. The third item that came up repeatedly was not to come in large groups to visit. Two people at a time seemed to be fine. Most people told me that once the group got to be three or more it was tiring and difficult to handle.
The added problem was that if there were four or more people, the visit seemed to develop a “party flavor.” Friends talked to each other with the volume of their voices rising to be heard over the other conversations. This exhausted the person they were visiting. At times it left them completely ignored, without the intended company, as every one chatted with the other visitors, often excluding the very person who prompted their visit.
Since many woman as well as men work these days, the only time that a visit is easily made may be on Shabbos. As a result, a person just home from the hospital may find that they were greeted on their first Shabbos home with a crowd of visitors. One person told me that as many as 15 people showed up. Many of these visitors hadn’t seen each other for a while, so they chatted with each other for an excessively long time. This did not allow the very person they came to see and comfort a chance to get the rest she so desperately needed. Instead of being a choleh – a sick person in a bikur cholim setting, she became the hostess of an “Oneg Shabbat.”
When Shulamit was hospitalized and had surgery, all she wanted was to wash her hair and have a shower. When permission was finally given for her to take a shower, she had a room full of visitors. They easily offered to wait outside her room until she was finished. The nurse helped Shulamit get ready for the shower, but once the water started washing over her, all she could think of was her family waiting for her to finish so they could re-enter the room. Instead of the leisurely shower she had so looked forward to, she rushed through the process, not taking adequate care of herself emotionally or physically.
She told me that if everyone had just gone for coffee, she would have taken her time, with the knowledge that her parents were sitting down and chatting. Picturing her elderly parents standing just outside the door waiting for her to finish, so they could come back in and sit down, greatly disturbed her and did not allow her to properly care for herself.
When Peninah came home from the hospital, she was looking forward to have visitors break up the boring recuperation time. She understood that people would probably not come on Monday, her first day home, but by Thursday her anticipation turned into depression, when not a single person had dropped in to see how she was. She had lived in this community for many, many years. Where, she wondered were her friends and acquaintances?
She was in no condition to prepare for Shabbos, and her mother and mother-in- law had sent over the meals. But because she was feeling so poorly and depressed, she hadn’t had the where-with-all to set the table for Shabbos. There was no cloth on the table. Dishes where piled in the sink. Laundry lay in piles on the floor near the washer waiting to be done. Her house looked like a normal weekday instead of Shabbos. But, it was just that Friday night when her friends had decided to visit.
Peninah was overwhelmed and terribly embarrassed. When her friends offered to help set her table for the Shabbos meal, she felt worse. Not only was she overwhelmed by the many visitors, but their offers of help now, though well meant, just made her feel inadequate. After her friends left, she pushed herself far beyond what she was supposed to do and put herself at risk, to clean her house just in case others showed up Shabbos afternoon.
When you visit a person who is sick, and a new group of people arrives, take that as your cue to leave. In this way, the person who is ill will not be overloaded, or worse still, ignored. If a health care professional shows up during your visit and needs time with your friend or relative, and you are asked to leave for a while, go to the hospital or nursing home cafeteria or cut your visit short. Tell them where you are going so they don’t feel they have to rush through their shower or bandage change, etc., because you’re just standing and waiting just outside the door.
Even though weekends are easier, try to visit during the week, especially if you are not working outside the home. Try staggering your Shabbos visits with friends so that they are not overwhelming, and everyone will not show up at the same time. If you think they need help to prepare for Shabbos, offer it beforehand. That way, even if you come just at candle-lighting to help set the table, etc., they will take it as a kindness and not a reflection of their inadequate housekeeping. And the healing, which we all want to see, will take place more easily and perhaps even faster.
You can contact me at email@example.comAnn Novick