Wanting a Do-Over

Today I’m thinking about the time I visited my great aunt Yetta, who was near the end of her life. I was 18, and no one close to me had died yet. I worried about what to say, how to act. Even navigating the hospital was daunting. When I got to her ward, the nurses directed me to her room, but only one of the several beds in there was occupied, and the woman in that bed wasn’t Aunt Yetta. I didn’t say hello to the patient or even apologize for intruding. I just turned and left. As I headed back to the nursing station, a voice called out, “Marsha, come back. Marsha, Marsha, it’s me! Come back!”

My aunt had been so changed by her illness—a buxom woman reduced to twigs—I hadn’t recognized her. I was mortified, devastated, wanted to run away, but I went back to her room. She wasn’t insulted. She knew why I’d walked out. She was happy to see me. That was more than forty years ago, and I still feel terrible about my mistake.

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