A Rabbi’s Outlook


I met an incredible gentleman last week who bestowed upon me worthwhile advice about working with dying patients. He is a Chaplain who speaks with people of all faiths and backgrounds combating serious illnesses. Most of the time, he is summoned because these individuals need morale. I am learning over the course of summer the importance of Palliative care. I have new appreciation for the men and women in the field, like this courageous rabbi. Here are some of his words of wisdom that I hope touch you as they have touched me.


  • One must not think “where is God” but “when is God.” It is not a complete picture to say that God is everywhere when He really becomes integral when we need him most in our lives.


  • “You die the way you live.” If people do not take responsibility for their actions, they will continue putting the responsibility onto others (including a higher power) during their final days. “If God wants me to reunite with family members before I die, He will,” instead of, “I will reunite with family members before I die.”


  • Sometimes weakness is strength. When one has fears of not being with family when one dies (family-loss being a source of weakness), one can change their perspective to use their current opportunity for togetherness as a source of strength. Consequently, this will fortify their resolve before they move on.


  • Ask yourself what your life narrative is. Is it a tragedy, an odyssey, maybe, a romance? Understanding your perspective defines the way in which you will maintain or change your circumstances.


  • Do not be afraid of another person’s silence and anxiety. Your duty is to aide and it does not matter what discomfort their own may cause you. Be emotionally and mentally resilient in the manner with which you communicate.


  • Validate the fears of others. Do not say, “Do not worry—it’s going to be okay.” This does the very opposite.


  • If someone is angry with you without reasonable cause, understand it can be a necessary release of anger at their current situation. Let them vent.


  • One need not bring up God or the afterlife if the patient does not address it. Spirituality may not be a critical component to their current needs.


  • Think about your own faith now. No one actively plans for misfortune. Knowing what guides your life will help you in the face of unpredictability long-term.


  • Some people frame their impending death as a failure and this is a fallacy. One may say, for example, “Why would God take me this far to drop the ball on me?” The truth of the matter is, death and life coexist in harmony. Death is as important to life as life is to death. Because one’s path has been cut short by a terminal illness, one has not “lost” a battle. One is simply transitioning to the next stage the same way all who are brought into the world leave it. This misconception of failure of this natural course also exists among doctors. Once medical students, these professionals spent years measuring their success by passing marks. When all possible treatments they conjure up do not work, they have not failed. It is now when they are tested to accept the situation and be a supportive force.


  • Learn how to stop saying “I’m sorry” (common among millennials). Unless there is something you are truly apologizing for, banish this phrase altogether.


  • Millennials take pride in their ability to “multitask,” yet they simply lose the ability to be in the now. When you are with any patient, it is just you and them and nothing else matters. The quality time needed to understand their concerns is not possible with an efficiency-centered mindset.

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