Shabbat afternoon I visited an elderly woman near the end of her life. When I arrived she was dozing, so I slipped into a chair by her hospital bed. I watched and prayed, nothing very fancy or formal, just opened my heart to the Divine as I sat next to her.
I was just about to leave a note and tiptoe out when she woke. She and I had visited often before this recent drop in her health, but this time it was a more one-sided conversation. We held hands and she talked to me. It was the conversation that takes place at many such bedsides: memories, regrets, accomplishments, a taking-stock of a life as that life nears its close. It was not a formal Vidui – not time for that yet – but an informal rehearsal, an experimental trip down the checklists of her life.
Despite what one sees at the movies, these are not usually dramatic monologues. We all have similar worries: Did I love enough? Was I loved? Was I good to those who loved me? Is there any unfinished business? Sometimes the conversation is rather like a defense attorney’s closing argument: I WAS good enough. I WAS good to my family. But there always echoes in the wake of those statements the question softly added, “Wasn’t I?”
I am a witness, and I hope to be a comfort. I am aware in those moments that someday I will be on the other side of that conversation. We are all here only for a little while.
The visit ended and we said our goodbyes. I may see her again, but nothing is certain. No family was there at the time so I slipped out the door. I walked to the elevator, where the door opened and closed on me and my thoughts.