Visiting The Ill: Engagement
The Rabbis taught: If one took ill and is leaning toward death, they should say to him, “Confess your sins, for it is the practice of all who are condemned to die to confess.” (Shabbat 32a)
We add, “Many have confessed and lived,” so as not to depress the person who is ill. (Shulchan Aruch)
I can share one experience with you: I would have preferred someone reminding me to confess than to hearing, as I often did, “How much longer do you have to live?”
It is also important to be careful to not imply that we are reminding him to confess because his sins are the cause of his illness. (I heard that a few times as well. It was not a pleasant experience.)
One of the basic concepts of Bikkur Cholim – Visiting the Ill – is engagement and conversation. (The Visit Part One & Conversation) The mention of confession to someone ‘leaning toward death’ can engage him in a conversation about his life. The mention of confession will direct the discussion toward regrets, but will also open the door for the astute and sensitive visitor to connect to positive memories and blessings in the sick person’s life. Such positive focus can do more for the person suffering and scared than most medications.