I vividly remember that September night in 1987. We had left the hospital earlier that evening knowing that the end was near. The hospital called a few hours later to let us know it had arrived. We stood at mom’s bedside holding vigil. Each of us tried to say goodbye in our own way, a stroke of her hair, a whisper into her ear, holding her hand, a prayer in our hearts. The truth is we were only trying to say goodbye; none of us could bear the thought of being without her. And then it was over. Once the monitor was turned off, the silence was intense. And although I was standing before my mom with my father, brother and sister, I felt profoundly alone.
But there was another presence in the room. We had called our close family friend and Rabbi earlier that day, and he came to us in the middle of the night. I honestly cannot remember what he said. But I do remember feeling as though I was standing at the edge of the abyss, staring into blackness. His gentle touch somehow made me feel like I was not completely alone. He could not take away the pain, no one could. But the echoes of the psalm reverberated in my mind; someone was beside me as I began to walk in that very dark valley. Rabbi’s presence helped me to begin the process of grieving her loss, then picking up the pieces and beginning to move forward.
My work as a hospital chaplain and as a rabbi has given me many opportunities to be with people in their time special time of grief, vulnerability or need. I am privileged to offer this wonderful gift to others. But it is not a gift limited only to rabbis. We all have the potential to reach out to others in profound and meaningful ways. We offer ourselves to be present, to listen, to make a meal, to call a couple of weeks later just to check in, these are extraordinary ways that each of us can make an important impact on another’s life. At the time when a person feels most isolated, we can reassure them that they are not alone.