Q: 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 someone to feed them, wash them, even take them to the bathroom. I have faith, but this thing really makes me angry. Why can’t they die with dignity?
A. 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 much of mainstream thinking today. To approach life and death the Jewish way, we need to make sure we have that perspective very clear.
It often happens that immoral ideas creep into the minds of even those who have otherwise good values. 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. The good deeds we do in our lifetime, the meaning we bring to our days, the beauty and joy we bring to those around us all come from the soul.
Our body is the vehicle for our soul. It is through the body that our soul achieves goodness in this world. And this goes both ways. We do good for others with our body, and others can do good for us. We give and we receive.
Towards the end of life, as the body’s strength wanes, we become more dependent on the care of others. There may be some rather unpleasant tasks required in order to bring comfort to the body. Those who are charged with these tasks should view them as an honor. There is no greater dignity than to serve another human being in need.
This is not to belittle the pain of seeing a loved one suffer. The body’s deterioration can be extremely hard to witness. But some of the most awe-inspiring displays of selfless and unconditional love happen in these final stages of life. These acts of pure giving are among the highest examples of the goodness of the human spirit. That is living with dignity. That is making the world a better place.
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. (Rabbi Aron Moss)