(All names of care recipients are fictitious)

Right before Shavuot, I spent time in the ward with Anna, whose husband was very ill. She told me about their life together, starting in Germany then moving to Israel and then to the U.S. They could not have children, and they were everything to each other. Even though she was not very religious, I followed my intuition and suggested reading some Psalms. She enjoyed it and it really opened her up to another dimension of conversation. She said her husband had been dreaming the past few nights that his father had come to take him home.

Anna’s husband was supposed to go home or to hospice for a few weeks, so when I did not see them after the two day Shavuot break, I assumed that is what had happened. But something made me ask the nurse about them. “No,” she replied, “he died unexpectedly.”

I was very sorry not to have had any closure with Anna or her husband and not to have been able to be with them at the end. I mentioned it to the supervisor, and he encouraged me to find out where the shiva was and to attend. I was very surprised as I had in my mind notions of professionalism and boundaries and assumed that the relationship with a patient was supposed to end once they left the hospital. But my supervisor (a Catholic priest) assured me that in this situation it would be part of the pastoral work, simply in a different venue. Several hours later I exited the rickety elevator in an old-fashioned building on the Upper East side, walked down the skinny hallway and knocked on Anna’s door. She opened it, keys hung around her neck so she would not loose them, looking frail and tired, but with a thin smile. “Miriam!” she exclaimed, sighing and hugging me. I knew I had done the right thing to come.

Miriam Berkowitz, 1997