In the October 23 edition of The Forward, Michael Millenson writes of the need to create new rituals to respond to the new stages in dying. The piece, “We Need a New Jewish Ritual for the Terminally Ill”, makes the case that the act of dying in our culture can take on many different stages and that our community needs to look at this and perhpas revisit traditional rituals. Amen.
The followers of Jewish Sacred Aging® know that we have been advocating for this for years. Not only do we need to examine this ritual aspect of this, but, we also need to examine the creation or re-interpretation of traditional vocabulary. Traditional terms such as “goses” and “t’refah” may need to be re-defined in light of medical technology. I made this argument in a chapter in the book “Broken Fragments” edited by Rabbi Doug Kohn (URJ Press).
In the workshop of New Rituals for New Life Stages that we do as part of our Jewish Sacred Aging® work, this issue arises regularly. We find that people do wish to have transitonal moments in life recognized through some sort of ritual and/or prayer. One of the new prayers that we will soon publish is one that is designed to be said as one signs his/her advance directive and health care proxy. This is usually done in the privacy of your lawyer’s office. yet, it is a very powerful moment as you, in a way, formalize wishes for moments that surround your own death.
There is no shortage in the creation of new rituals for Jewish life. Sparked by Boomers who wish new life stages recognized, and Millennials who are also searching for personal expressions of faith and community, Jewish life is now rich in creativity. This dialogue needs to continue and be allowed to get increased traction in our community. We have published rituals for the celebration of aging, older adult co-habitation, the removal of a wedding ring after the year of mourning and the welcoming of a person into assisted living. We have also looked at the possibility of creating a ritual or document that would give permission to teh spouse of a person with Alzheimer’s to seek other types of companionship (“Till Death Us Do Part? A Look at Marriage Rituals When a Partner Has Alzheimer’s Disease”; Generations. American Society on Aging. Fall 2011. p. 52)
We at Jewish Sacred Aging® would welcome your ideas and, if you have created rituals that speak to these new life stages, welcome you sending us a sample. Thank you
Rabbi Richard F Address