November 16, 2018

The Pressure Is On

Did I up and go from that visit with Frank too hastily? Did I linger too long with Sarah? As I visit with a sick or bereaved person, I try not to wear out my welcome by taxing their attention, nor run the risk of cutting them off with a premature goodbye. If in the person’s mind I provide the reader’s digest version of a visit, they may think one of these: “She doesn’t care about me.” “She’s uncomfortable with what I am telling her or she disapproves of it.” “She is more concerned with tallying the number of clients she has seen today than anything else; it’s just a job to her.” If I overstay, they may think, “Doesn’t she realize how worn out I am?” “I need some privacy to sort out my thoughts.” Or of course, “I don’t really feel like seeing you for more than a moment; I was just being polite.” Ouch.

When members of a chevra kadisha (Jewish burial society) and other caregivers find themselves comforting the bereaved, we should keep in mind that it is a supercharged time: every sentence can bear extra weight, like those in the closing paragraphs of a novel. Thus we may more easily err on the side of offering “too much of a good thing” especially because we are so eager (overly eager?) to help. But we serve people better by getting at the heart of the matter as quickly as possible. Don’t squander the few moments allotted to us with niceties; people in crisis have a short attention span and short fuses and they are letting us in on their lives at a critical juncture. If a bereaved spouse looks like they are on the verge of tears, let those two cups runneth over by affirming what a sad and poignant moment they are in and then quietly be a partner to their grief. If a bereaved parent is angry, echo their distress by exclaiming what a rotten and unfair deal they got. If a brother or sister or cousin wants a hug and silent reflection while holding hands, don’t waste time with preliminary words. Match intensity with intensity. Enter the center.

[For a related article about length of visits, please see my post on offbeatcompassion, “I was stumped” at Rabbi and board certified Chaplain Karen B. Kaplan is author of Encountering the Edge: What People Told Me Before They Died (Pen-L Publishing, 2014) a series of true anecdotes capped with the deeper reasons she chose her vocation. For more details including reviews, you can go to the publisher’s page or to amazon.com. There is also an audio version of “>Offbeat Compassion.

 

  

 

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          Fall 2016:

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Gamliel Institute Course 5, Chevrah Kadisha Ritual, Practices, & Liturgy (RPL) will be offered over twelve weeks from September 6th, 2016 to November 22nd 2016 online.

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If you have an idea for an entry you would like to submit to this blog, please be in touch. Email J.blair@jewish-funerals.org. We are always interested in original materials that would be of interest to our readers, relating to the broad topics surrounding the continuum of Jewish preparation, planning, rituals, rites, customs, practices, activities, and celebrations approaching the end of life, at the time of death, during the funeral, in the grief and mourning process, and in comforting those dying and those mourning, as well as the actions and work of those who address those needs, including those serving as Bikkur Cholim, Caring Committees, the Chevrah Kadisha, Shomrim, funeral providers, funeral homes and mortuaries, and operators and maintainers of cemeteries.