The Comfort of Strangers
- Ellen Rand
I’m sitting in a small, narrow waiting room reserved for families of people in intensive care, while my husband and my brother are in search of news about whether my mother is in recovery after her lung cancer surgery. I’m sitting next to a woman who is talking with a couple sitting opposite her on a settee. She is clearly upset, angry at herself for being angry at her husband earlier. She’d made him soup and a sandwich for lunch and he didn’t eat much, went upstairs because he said he wasn’t feeling well. And had a massive heart attack. Now he’s in intensive care, and they’re keeping him on life support long enough so certain family members can get to the hospital to say goodbye.
It’s hard not to eavesdrop, of course. Harder still not to feel her pain, maybe because I’m still raw from my father’s death, four weeks earlier, followed by my mother’s unexpected diagnosis. I feel a need to say something, but what?
As my husband and my brother approach the room, I stand up, and so does the woman, who thanks me tearfully and hugs me tightly.
“Who was that?” my brother asks, as we head down the hall to see my mother.
“I don’t know,” I reply. Someone I connected with, maybe comforted, however briefly.
Years later I became a hospice volunteer, and now I often think about that waiting room. How could I have said those words? And the answer that still makes the most sense is, how could I not have?
Teaneck, New Jersey