A Jewish Approach to Conscious Living and Conscious Dying

Earlier today, I had the privilege of participating in a workshop entitled “A Jewish Approach to Conscious Living and Conscious Dying,” sponsored by the Deutch Family Shalom Center of Temple Chai in Phoenix Arizona and the Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Phoenix.  More than 130 people gave up a beautiful Sunday to come together and explore what it means to  journey toward a meaningful elderhood in a Jewish context. 

The Speakers included Rabbi Richard Address, who serves as the Union for Reform Judaism’s Specialist  for Caring Community and Family Concerns, Dr. Lawrence Ettkin, a licensed psychologist who presently works as a life coach to help adults with the difficult transitions they are facing, and Dr. Howard Silverman, a Clinical Professor of Family and Community Medicine (among other things) at the University of Arizona School of Medicine. 

After a day of considering such topics as  Tools and Traditions for Meaningful Aging, and Seeking Guidance from Jewish Tradition in making sacred end-of-life decisions, I was honored to have the opportunity to speak to those who attending my breakout session on the practical foundations of life care planning.    Once we have made our decisions about how we want to live the last chapter of our lives, it is important that we document it.  For example, if we have made it clear in an ethical will that we want our children to work together after we are gone, we would not want to  create the opportunity for family confusion and strife by not properly documenting how we want our property distributed.   Similarly, we will not benefit from the thoughtful preparation of a Living Will that describes the end-of-life treatment we do – and do not – want, if we have not appointed someone as our Medical Power of Attorney to implement those intentions in a properly executed document. 

Many of us are familiar with the joke about the man on his roof after a serious flood.   He refuses the help of people coming by in a boat, and then a helicopter, because, he says, “God will provide.”  When the man drowns, he agrily accuses God of abandoning him, to which God replies – “what do you mean? I sent the boat and the helicopter!” The moral of this story, of course, is that we work in partnership with God to implement his plan.  Once we have done the hard work of thinking through how we want to live our last chapter and what sort of legacy we want to leave behind, it is just as important to do the human work of memorializing it in properly executed, legally enforceable documents.

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