A Caring Presence
Bringing the Gift of Hope, Comfort and Courage
By Rabbi Simeon Schreiber
Gefen Publishing House, 2011, 109 pages
Reviewed by Israel Drazin - October 10, 2011
Rabbi Simeon Schreiber, the senior staff chaplain in Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami Beach, has assembled in this short book a wealth of advice on how to behave when visiting sick people, both at home and in hospitals, and bereaved families. He spices his guide with stories, both personal and others, that help make his guidance clear. While directed at a Jewish audience, the book's recommendations will help people of all faiths.
He points out, for example, that simply visiting the sick or bereaved is not sufficient, for it doesn't meet the person's needs. What is necessary is a "caring presence," a selfless expression of compassion by one individual for another. The caring person doesn't need to visit to show compassion. Even people fearful of hospitals or uncomfortable with grieving relatives can show their feelings by other means, such as sending a card or letter that expresses hope or prayer for a speedy recovery, or telephone calls.
Schreiber offers a step by step guide such as calling before visiting, not bringing food to hospital patients without authorization, avoid wearing perfume or cologne, wash before and after entering a patient's room, knock on the door and ask permission to enter, introduce yourself fully, ask if this is a good time to visit, speak softly and gently, determine where the person is emotionally, allow the person to talk, and consider praying with the person.
Schreiber lists acts that should be avoided. When making telephone calls don't suggest that the person return your call; he or she and their family are frequently unable to do so. Don't discuss your own illness; understand that the person visited needs to talk, not listen. Don't try to make them happy or tell them jokes; this wont help, or discuss a patient's medical condition with others while in the patient's room, or stand too close to the patient, or claim that you know how the patient feels, or offer medical advice, and keep your visit to fifteen minutes.
Schreiber also gives keen advice on visiting children who are hospitalized, adults visiting the elderly, and children visiting the elderly. He also has a section on visiting mourners and speaks, among other things, about the purpose of such visits, bringing food or other gifts, knocking on doors before entering, waiting for the mourner to speak first and to set the tone. He concludes his book with "a response to those who feel abandoned by God."