Unholy Silence: Don’t Tell Bubbe (grandma)
“Rabbi,” someone says to me, “we’d like you to visit our mother as long as you promise not to tell her or let on to the fact that she’s dying.”
Their mother was 95 years old. There mother had been battling cancer for years. There mother was in hospice, yet I was supposed to tip-toe around the subject of her death.
“What shall I speak to her about,” I asked?
“Whatever you want,” they responded graciously,” just not death.”
If this attitude weren’t so prevalent, it would be laughable.
Of course everyone has the right to decide what is best for themselves or their family members who are unable to make such decisions. However, as I explained to the family, discomfort with death is hardly an excuse not to confront death.
This woman was lucid. This woman was strong. This woman knew she was dying. This wasn’t about the woman but about her children and their fear of death. As I said to the family, “Every person has a right to a dignified life. Everyone has a right to a dignified death, too.” Except for exceptional reasons—Alzheimer's, for instance—there is no dignity in thinking you are just tired when, in fact, you are dying.
Speaking the truth is part of the process of moving forward to accepting the truth and working with it in a way that serves both the dying and their loved ones.
The only way we’ll ever learn to carry the fire is if we first learn how to shatter the silence, particularly the unholy silence that still enshrouds mortality, dying and death.
There is something more frightening than dying and death and that is being frozen in silent fear - unwilling, unable or uninvited to speak about matters surrounding death.