I visit my 92 year old mother every day in her old age home, and every day I look around at the seniors there and ask myself the same question, why does G-d leave these old people to die without dignity? Every one of them needs either a diaper change, someone to feed them, wash them, or do everything for them. I have faith, but this thing really makes me angry. Why can't they die with dignity?
It is so hard to see a loved one fade after living a vibrant and active life. How we approach this painful stage will depend on our perspective. And the Jewish perspective on the end of life differs greatly to modern secular thinking. To approach life and death with faith, we need to make sure we have that perspective very clear.
It often happens that foreign, secular ideas creep into the minds of even those who have faith. Usually, the way these concepts infiltrate is via catch phrases and clichés. First they enter our vocabulary, then they become a part of our mentality.
One example is "dying with dignity."
That phrase is poison. It originates in the movement promoting euthanasia. This is a phrase that deserves to die.
True dignity comes from the soul, from living a life of goodness and holiness and meaning. Our body is a vehicle for that mission to be achieved. But the body is not our real self, and not our source of dignity.
At the end of a good and purposeful life, the body may be frail and weak, but the soul is as bright as ever, having accomplished its mission. If people have to do some unpleasant jobs to bring comfort to that body in its final years, it should be seen as an honour. There is no greater dignity than to serve another.
I am not belittling the pain of seeing a loved one suffer. And I am not saying that the body's deterioration is easy to face. I am saying that a person's dignity comes from their soul and their moral achievements. That is living with dignity. Death is never dignified.
We end our life in the same way we started it, dependent on the love of others. Your mother is blessed to spend her final days in good care, surrounded by those who love her. That is a most dignified departure from this world to the next.
Nefesh will be hosting academic and activist Rabbi Shimon Cowen, son of former Australian Governor General Sir Zelman Cowen. Rabbi Cowen will speak at a Friday night dinner on February 21.
On Sunday February 23 we will show a documentary entitled Viktor and I on the life and work of the father of logotherapy and Holocaust survivor Dr Viktor Frankl. The film will be followed by a discussion led by Rabbi Cowen on the compatibility of Torah and logotherapy.
Bookings for both events will open next week and spaces are limited, so diarise it now!