What do you get when the chairwoman of a Bikur Cholim organization signs up for a chaplaincy training course and becomes a hospital chaplain? You get Rachel Stein at her best, brimming with stories, anecdotes, and inspiration culled from this not-your-ordinary line of work!
Rachel will be the first to tell you what an awesome responsibility it is to be an advocate for the sick, yet with her trademark humor and good cheer, she manages to find the positive in each situation—and to learn and grow from it. In Life Support, we are treated to dozens of terrific stories and vignettes about the colorful characters Rachel met while on call in the hospital and while doing her Bikur Cholim volunteer work.
Click here to purchase online.
Below is an excerpt from this inspiring and uplifting book:
Does She Know I’m Here?
Every Friday my children and I trekked to the nursing home to wish the Jewish residents a good Shabbos. But there were times I wanted to skip Ruth’s room.
Ruth was seemingly paralyzed in body and soul. Every week I found her in the same position, lying sideways on her bed, her face turned to the wall. Sometimes her eyes were closed and she seemed to be sleeping; other times she stared vacantly straight ahead.
“How are you, Ruth?” I would say as I bustled in, putting a wide smile on my face.
“Oh, what beautiful flowers!” I exclaimed one week.
“You have adorable grandchildren,” I told her another time, admiring the pictures on her wall. But where was her family, those smiling, full-of-life faces beaming from those pictures? Were they too busy to come and visit their ailing mother and grandmother?
“How are you feeling, Ruth?” My question would dangle like a spider on a gossamer string. There was never any answer to it.
Sometimes Ruth would emit a low moan, and I wondered if she were in pain. I would take her gnarled hand and stroke it gently. In slow motion, she would occasionally turn her head, focusing her large, liquid brown eyes on me.
“It’s okay,” I would soothe, wanting it to be. “It’s okay.”
Was that a ghost of a smile or a grimace on her face?
“She seems uncomfortable,” I once told a nurse.
“Okay, I’ll be in,” she assured me. And she went right back to eating her lunch.
Does my visit really make a difference? I wondered. Does Ruth even know I’m here? Yet an invisible force prodded me to pop in week after week. Until one week, I peered into her room and her bed was empty. My heart dropped, and I knew.
I stopped a nurse. “Ruth?” I asked, the word quivering with poignancy.
“Expired,” she said. “I’m sorry.”
Yeah, me, too…I’ll miss her. A wave of sadness washed over me. It took me a minute to absorb the nurse’s callous comment, and in a volcanic instant, my lava erupted within me. Expired?! Was that how the nurse saw Ruth? What did she think Ruth was―a bag of lettuce turned brown, past the recommended due date on the package?! But the nurse had already passed me by.
At least your suffering is over, Ruth, I thought with a deep sigh. I won’t forget you.
The wheels of time spun forward, and years passed. Fridays were no longer designated for nursing home visits, as my family was baruch Hashem growing and more needy of my time and attention, especially on Erev Shabbos.
I had one child who struggled with various issues. I davened for him; I hoped; I cried. He so desperately needed his own personal yeshuah.
“Where are you going, sweetie?” I asked one day, noticing that he kept looking out the window.
“Someone’s taking me to the game,” he tossed over his shoulder.
“Who?” I wanted to know.
“Ben,” my son said. “I forgot his last name.”
I know Ben. He goes to our shul. I wondered how he had come to connect with my son.
“So nice!” I replied, grateful and bemused. Distracted, I reached for the ringing phone.
“Mrs. Stein?” a man’s deep voice greeted me.
“Ben Caplan here. Can you tell your son I’ll be there in about five minutes?”
“Sure, thank you.” My heart hammered inside of me. Was it a rush of hope? “This is so nice of you.”
“No problem. He’s a nice kid. And I don’t know if I ever thanked you for visiting my mother all those Fridays.”
“Your mother?” I echoed.
“Yeah. Remember Ruth?”