Touching moments for my sister and me

It was a harrowing but necessary and worthwhile visit, the days I recently spent with my sister Ruth in New York. I was there to ride with her as she moved from a now-useless rehab facility to the hospice that has become her final home.
Her previous assisted living apartment was a first move from her own apartment in Scarsdale. But now she is in the city proper: in Calvary Hospital’s Palliative Care Institute, the first place people see as they leave Hutchinson Parkway to enter the Bronx.
Yes — Calvary. It sounds very Christian, and it is. Has always been, during a very long history. But that’s the hospital only. All faiths, and none are fully accommodated, are represented in hospice care. As Ruth was being moved into her room, an aide was moving out, carrying the old cross that hangs on a wall in every room until it’s no longer needed or wanted.
To care properly for its Jewish population, there is a kosher kitchen with food available at all times — not just for those living there, but also for their visitors. And among the staff are three rabbis. I met one of them during my visit; my niece Diane, who shares daily visits in rotation with her husband Charles, has met one of the others and is looking forward to talking with the third. They bring their children, ages 14 and 11, with them; Tommy and Laura are used to Grandma as she is, and are glad to see her. And although Ruth doesn’t speak much anymore, she is obviously happy to see them as well.
I myself am having trouble adjusting. Ruth is my only sibling, and is five years younger than I. But because we grew up in the same place, with many of the same experiences, I was able to “tease” some things out of her — some memories that, with prompting, floated briefly to the surface. And although she has virtually stopped talking, there was one incredible exception, so very apropos as Hanukkah approaches this year: When I asked her if she remembered, if she could recall, the years we spent in Sunday School in the little shul that was closest to our Pittsburgh home, she recited this, in toto: “I am the chicken fat — fry in me when hot. Watch the golden latkes dancing in the pot.” This was her line in a kindergarten playlet for the holiday, so many years ago! Then I knew that her brain is still functioning, although not very actively, but can be brought to life — at least briefly — by drawing on the incredible power of memory.
And then, there is this: I did not get to meet her doctor that day, but his name on Ruth’s door was familiar to me: Goldszer. This is very Jewish, but not very common, and I knew a woman with that name long ago; she was one of the folks who played bridge with my mother. So I asked niece Diane to ask him if he might know, or even possibly be related to, Bicky Goldszer. “Not ‘Becky,’ I emphasized. “BICKY.” Diane’s first post to me after I returned home might have been a shock to almost anyone else, but never to a born-and-bred member of Pittsburgh’s tight-knit Jewish community: Bicky Goldszer, now deceased, was the doctor’s mother!
When I next go to New York’s Calvary hospice, I will meet that doctor. When that will be? I don’t yet know. I’ve told Diane I’ll come again whenever she thinks I should, which needn’t wait for any ending, but will be if I can do something for my living sister. I trust my niece’s judgment because it’s based on true love for her mother and constant observation. So now, I just cry quietly while drawing new meaning from an old observation by John Milton, Britain’s great poet of several hundred years ago: “They also serve who only stand and wait.”

This Post Has One Comment

  1. Rebecca Sklaver

    Harriet, i always look forward to reading your wisdom filled columns
    this time i am just extending a hand in friendship since i know well the pain of losing a sibling.

    Bet strong and continue with good memories
    rebecca sklaver

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