Every disease is a social disease. When a person is diagnosed, his or her family, friends and community are involved as well. The shock moves through a widening circle, and the questions are always the same: How do we react; how should we react? Will I say the right thing; is there a right thing to say? Should I call, buy a gift? The questions and uncertainties pile up because every serious disease is a social disease.
When Rabbi John Rosove of Temple Israel of Hollywood was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2009, he was devastated. Given a dire prognosis by his first doctor (who later turned out to have exaggerated the circumstances), he felt the weight of his own mortality for the first time.
I recently visited a hospital patient, an elderly gentleman with a name, a gaze and a life story from the old country. His deterioration had advanced to the stage of inhibiting verbal communication, so he spoke to me instead through gestures, nods and stares. But slowly, we drew closer. We shared sorrow, distress and worry. Eventually, exhausted, he told me he wanted to get some rest. I recited the "Shema" for him, and he closed his eyes in fatigue.
Mitch Albom,highly decorated sportswriter for the Detroit Free Press, has probed every subject from Dennis Rodman to Latrell Sprewell. Yet his best-selling book, "Tuesdays with Morrie: An Old Man, A Young Man,and Life's Great Lessons," finds him tackling an even more demanding subject: death.