As a Hospice chaplain, I often consider the challenging question of when enough is enough. Yet I am also left wondering about the continuous want of living. In a recent post, Paul Griffiths presents a Catholic take on death. Below are my comments just posted on The Book of Doctrines and Opinions.
I think people are ready to hear these thoughts of Paul Griffiths and in the current cultural climate of debating health care spending, perhaps his words are crucial. We need to always remember that it is a tricky balance between embracing life and embracing death. We all want to live as long as possible, but wish and hope that our current physical lives are qualitatively good as well.
In terms of a Jewish art of dying, I think we are challenged to reexplore the texts you make mention of in your post. Most Jewish people are unfamiliar with works like Maavar Yaaboq and of those who are familiar, there is still the challenge of incorporating a 16th century mystical death journey into our 21st century consciousness.
Having said that, working in the field of chaplaincy, it is the works of our mystics that often get lost and when it comes time to people dying, there is little that can be said about the journey of the soul for most were never even brought up to believe in an afterlife. I think we need people to bring to the forefront these issues in the Jewish community for it gives people a hope for something more than life itself. Sure, much of the descriptions of a Jewish afterlife include punishment and suffering along the way, but I think even that people would be willing to hear. I cannot begin to count the number of times I have heard from Jewish people who are dying “do we believe in an afterlife?” My favorite of those was the words of one surviving family member who said, “I envy Catholics for they have an afterlife.” It is very disheartening.