There are times when you are reminded of the intense power of human life. I recently had the occasion to be part of two end of life journeys, radically different, yet each infused with a quiet sense of dignity. Each, in their own way, was a reminder of the dignity and sanctity of life and the power of choice that is so meaningful to our tradition. Each also underscored the love, support and caring that a family can provide in what is the final chapter of a life’s journey.
The first example involved a young woman whose cancer returned and who fought the good fight for several years, only to realize that life was ebbing. While she still had control over her decisions, she gathered her family to discuss what her wishes were for her final moments. She, and her family, were made aware of the law in her state regarding Medical Aid in Dying (MAID) and connected with a doctor who would work with her and the family. After some discussion, they opted for this procedure. As the end of her life neared, she gathered friends and family and made sure that all knew that this was a family decision, made with total awareness and conviction that this is what her choice was. Until the end of her life, this woman lived. Her end washer choice given the context of her condition. Her funeral was a celebration of her life in the fullest sense.
The second such example was the death of a family matriarch at well over 100 years of age. The final years of this woman’s life was spent in a care facility, but not in isolation. Her family honored and lived the Fifth Commandment, despite distances. She lived to see and enjoy grandchildren and great grandchildren. Her natural causes were the result of living life, raising a family, activity in community and being the center of her family. To some, this could be seen as nothing so out of the ordinary. Yet, it was heroic. Her choices in life, given the context of life and times, reflected some of the highest of our values: family, community, devotion, and love. Her memorial service was filled with gratitude by the three generations who spoke, of how much they learned from just being with her and how she chose to “live” and not just “exist”, even until the end.
Two people. Two distinct journeys. Two avenues of choice reflecting the uniqueness of each of our lives. In the grand scheme of things what does this mean? Let me suggest that there is dignity in each of us as we navigate this life. As we get older, the choices become more challenging, the consequences, perhaps, dearer. But in the midst of the chaos and uncertainty of the world, it is good to be reminded that we can find lessons in life from the choices that people make as their own life ends.
May we be blessed by the choices we make and the life we live.
Rabbi Richard F Address
Rabbi Richard F. Address, D.Min, is the Founder and Director of www.jewishsacredaging.com. Rabbi Address served for over three decades on staff of the Union for Reform Judaism; first as a Regional Director and then, beginning in 1997, as Founder and Director of the URJ’s Department of Jewish Family Concerns and served as a specialist and consultant for the North American Reform Movement in the areas of family related programming. Rabbi Address was ordained from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1972 and began his rabbinic career in Los Angeles congregations. He also served as a part time rabbi for Beth Hillel in Carmel, NJ while regional director and, after his URJ tenure, served as senior rabbi of Congregation M’kor Shalom in Cherry Hill, NJ from 2011-2014.