Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Giver of Life

The first thing I noticed was her French manicure.

And then I saw her arm.

I've seen a lot in my work with the chevrah kaddisha, but this unnerved me, and I had to look away.

At the age of 69, she decided that life wasn't worth living, and she jumped to her death. Out of her third floor apartment's window.

And I, together with 3 other women, were left to clean up the mess and prepare her for burial.

I was shaken up after I was done with that tahara. It wasn't about death. I've seen enough of that. And it wasn't even about the condition of her body. It wasn't the worst I've seen. It was about how her body came to be in this condition. About what she did.

Taharas don't scare me. Death doesn't scare me. It's the way of the world. We are born, we grow old and we die.

But this....this is not the way of the world.

Life has its ups and downs. And I've had my fair share of them. I know pain. But I don't know the feeling that life is not worth living. 

How much pain does it take to make someone want to just end it all? How much suffering must one go through to make them decide to end their life? What does it take to make one feel that their life is not worthwhile?

The Gemara says that Hashem never challenges us with more than He has empowered us to handle. So how can we explain a pain so unbearable that it causes one to take her own life in such a violent way?

Honestly...sometimes we do get more than we can handle. It happens. Sometimes it's just...too...much.

Sometimes, for some people, the pain is so sharp and overwhelming that people suffering from an onslaught of it are hardly in control of themselves. They just want the pain to stop.

According to Judaism, we do not own our soul or body, and we are not free to end life when we want. Life belongs to the Giver of Life. And the consequences for taking one's life are severe.

But there are those who commit suicide out of extreme distress and emotional agony. We leave it up to the Giver of Life to know whether this person really had any free choice left in his soul. It is not our job to judge.

So she received a Jewish burial and we performed the tahara. The most unsettling and heartbreaking tahara I ever did.

May we always remember how precious and valuable life is.