Going beyond the cause of death


Rabbi Elizabeth Hersh received a B.A. from Skidmore College and was ordained as a Rabbi from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. She is fortunate to be involved in so many facets of the community including serving as the chaplain for JF&CS and an instructor for CAJE. This will be her fifth year serving as the visiting Rabbi in Decatur, Ill. She has also served congregations in both Sydney and Perth, Australia. When not writing her weekly BLOGS, she can be found running marathons.

By Rabbi Elizabeth Hersh

I was with a resident the other day who told me she always reads the obituaries to make sure she doesn’t see her name! Seriously, the first section of the newspaper I turn to is the obituary pages. I would love to be an obituary writer for the New York Times.

I want to know where the individual was born, what made him/her famous, what were his/her achievements, and who are the family members. I find myself learning about art and architecture, science and medicine and a whole host of subjects that I may otherwise read about in other sections of the paper.

So, I am curious as to why when there is not much written about a person, the cause of death is almost always stated. We seem to have a need to share or know what caused his or her death. Not me. I want to know when and where the individual was born. Was it pre-WWII in Europe? What languages did s(he) speak? What were the notable achievements in his/her life? Was she an author or an artist, an activist or in business? Tell me how s(he) affected history or cast his/her influence into the future.

Often when meeting with a family before a loved one’s funeral, after a respectful time, I steer the discussion away from the final days or weeks of suffering. We tend to focus on the most recent, forgetting that our parents were once playful youths or young adults courting the love of their life. We forget their hobbies or for what issues they shared a passion. I want to learn about the entire life. The deadly diseases that steal away our lives are often fought valiantly. I want to learn the story behind the warrior.