MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
Health care insurance is designed to pay the bills but when we're faced with a life-threatening illness, what really sustains us? Writer Nancy Slonim Aronie was loathe to turn to religion, so she was surprised by what she found next door.
NANCY SLONIM ARONIE, BYLINE: On my way into visit my son in the hospital, I always felt compelled to look into the room right before his. Maybe it was because the boy inside was young like my boy. Maybe it was that he had a mass of dark hair just like Dan's. But I think it was because there was a beautiful woman - his mother, I later found out - sitting, reading a book - the Bible, I later found out - lips moving, head down, blond hair falling across her impeccable Talbots dresses, her high heels, her stillness. When we first met she said, God knows every hair on Dan's head, every cell in his body, every thought in his mind.
I remember thinking, uh-oh, religious nutcase. I tried to put on a pleasant, I-am-not-a-judgmental-person face. Do you believe in the gospel of Jesus Christ, she asked one day when we both had to vacate our sons' rooms while the aids with DayGlo yellow hazmat suits went in to administer the drugs that they told us were keeping our boys alive. I said, actually, Jesus is one of our guys. I believe in everything, Jane. I believe in Buddha and Moses and Ram Dass and The Tin Man and Judy Blume and Oprah and crop circles.
One day I suggest we go down to the cafeteria for coffee. No, Jane says, she can't leave her son. He might wake up. It had been three months since his stroke at 24, a graduate in film from Emerson College. The day we sat by the plastic holiday decorations near the nurses' station, I told her of my Jewish Christmas envy, and she told me about her sweet, new husband. She told me how being born again was sustaining her and how she was sure Charlie would get better.
She gave me copies of his films he made in college and I gave her stories Dan wrote while he was at Bard. Jane says, Charlie prays with me. I say, don't mention God to Dan. And Jane says, Romans 10:9, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is lord, that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. And I inwardly roll my eyes.
When your loved ones are in the hospital for weeks and weeks and weeks, intimacy can reign, secrets spill and friendships form. I begin to see her passion and her devotion as powerful and beautiful. And I appreciate that she doesn't preach, she just quotes. One night she summons me out of Dan's room and tells me they've decided to pull the plug. I hold her in my arms and we sob like the sisters we have become.
The next morning, I arrive at the hospital before sunrise. The room next door is dark. On my way home that night, I say, OK, God, you let Charlie die, so now you have to let Dan live. Whoa. Have I always talked to God? Yep, I have always talked to God. I just never thought of myself as a religious nutcase. And you know what? Turns out, Jane isn't one either.
BLOCK: That's Nancy Slonim Aronie. She's the author of "Writing from the Heart: Tapping the Power of your Inner Voice." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.