Rosh Hashanah is a time of celebration with family and friends. Our rich tradition and liturgy prompt us as individuals and as a community to pause and reflect about who we are and what our lives represent.
The Torah describes Rosh Hashanah as a day of remembrance and the day when we blow the shofar. As a memorial day with a wake-up call attached to it, we make “New Year’s resolutions.” We review what we have done so far and commit to doing better as we go forward. We are encouraged to consider how fragile our existence is at this sacred moment in time.
And while this can take shape as thinking about the rich complexities of everyday life, human nature often dictates that we avoid contemplating more difficult topics, such as our deaths or the deaths of our loved ones. Yet, by accepting and reflecting on the fragility of life and not ignoring it, we can begin to see the end of life as part of the life cycle and a meaningful part of our human and Jewish journey. By truly accepting our mortality, we can grow in strength and wisdom and learn from the perspective that Rosh Hashanah brings to us: We could be gone in a blink of an eye and yet we are enjoined to plan to improve. This requires deep thought and contemplation, less fear.
In a moment when, for most of us, the end-of-life crisis is not a present concern, we need to plan for a future day when we may be in turmoil. We develop financial strategies, estate plans, and wills. Our spiritual and emotional legacy deserves equal care and consideration. Let’s take that same energy and focus and invest it in end-of-life planning for ourselves and for our loved ones.
Some questions to contemplate:
· As the end of life approaches, what songs will I sing? Whose hand will I hold?
· If my parent enters hospice, what pictures will we look at together, what stories will we record? What will I say when they can no longer speak?
· Where can I get information on advanced directives? And how do I begin the conversation with my family on this topic?
· How will my life be remembered when I am gone? How will I remember the lives of those I love?
· How can I connect with others who are bereaved?
On Rosh Hashanah, we reflect on the months ahead and the years to come. Let’s begin to imagine and document our wishes for the last leg of the journey — a life chapter filled with meaning and purpose. If we do plan now, we will be giving a priceless gift to our loved ones and to ourselves.
Miryam Rabner is Outreach Coordinator, MJHS Hospice & Palliative Care For the Center for Jewish End of Life Care. The Center for Jewish End of Life Care is a collaboration between MJHS and UJA-Federation of New York, dedicated to facilitating conversations about the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of Jewish people affected by life-limiting conditions. This column and other resources are available through the Center website at www.centerforjewishendoflifecare.org.