Humanistic Judaism journal, “Death and Dying” Summer 1989
Death is something individual. Against the collective stream of life, it seems powerless. Particular flowers fade and die, but every spring repeats them in the cycle of nature. Individual people are brief episodes, but humanity bears the mark of immortality, renewed in every generation by the undying spark of life. We are, each of us, greater than ourselves. We survive in the children we create. We endure in the humanity we serve.
As an individual, separate and distinct, each of us is temporary, an ephemeral chapter in the saga of the universe. As a moment in the never-ending process of life, each of us is immortal, an expression of the persistent thrust of vital energy. The leaves of last year’s summer have died and have vanished into the treasury of mother earth, but each one lives on in the renewal of every spring. Every person dies, but humanity survives. Every living thing perishes, but life persists.
Friendship is possible when we know how to trust, when we know that others can be faithful and honest. In the earliest experiences of our childhood, in the first awakening of our infant minds, we discover the security of love. Families may scold and complain. Parents may lecture and cry. But their deeds are usually sweeter than their words. In the hour of need they do not judge. They help.
When parents die they leave us more than memory. They leave us the well-being of acceptance, the possibility of trust, and the reassurance of unconditional love. Without their gifts we would stand alone in fear. We would not be able to reach out to other people in friendship.
Life offers the gift of many blessings. None is more precious than the love of family and friends. In the strength and compassion of parents, in the mutual devotion of husband and wife, brother and sister, we find the security of love. For the landscape of our years is peopled by the presence of open hearts that exact no price for the gift of themselves.
When an intimate friend dies, sadness and despair are normal responses. Two people cannot share the best and worst of life in mutual experience and find that absence is trivial. The tribute of love is the pain of separation.
Death is not always tragic.
If we have enough years to test our skills, if we can see and enjoy the results of our work, if we can nurture our family and have them near, if we can love our friends and share their pains and pleasures over many seasons, if we have the time to develop our own unique style and know that it will not easily be forgotten, if we can die quickly, without the agonies of prolonged suffering — well, then death is not tragic.
For some people, life scripts are never meaningful unless they last forever. Others derive their grace from the rhythm of growth, fulfillment, and decay. What never ends cannot be very precious. Today cannot be special if there is always a tomorrow.
In the flow of life, exits, like entrances, have their own dignity.
Death needs courage. It is so overwhelmingly final that it fills our lives with dread and anxious fear. When it arrives at the end of a long and happy life it is never welcome, yet not deeply resented. But when it comes too soon, invading young lives, disrupting hopes and dreams, it adds anger to our fear. We cry out at the injustice of destiny and wait for answers that never seem to come.
Courage is the power to confront a world that is not always fair. It is the refusal to beg for what will never be given. It is the willingness to accept what cannot be changed.
Courage is loving life even in the face of death. It is sharing our strength with others even when we feel weak. It is embracing our family and friends even when we fear to lose them. It is opening ourselves to love, even for the last time.
Courage is self-esteem. It prefers quiet determination to whining. It prefers doing to waiting. It affirms that exits, like entrances, have their own dignity.
__________ , whom I loved very much and still do, chose to die with dignity. We shall
never forget his/her courage.
The past is unchangeable. What happened yesterday is beyond our control. We can cry and shout, we can scream and complain, but the events of just a moment ago are as far from our reach as the farthest star. Fools never forgive the past. They devote every present moment to worrying about it, scolding it and wishing it were different. Wise people release the past. They do not need to assault what cannot be taken. They do not need to forgive what cannot be altered. They simply accept what they are not able to change. Since the future is open to human decision, they turn their energies forward and choose to create rather than to regret.
People of self-respect do not dwell on helplessness. They do not assault what cannot be taken. Since death is irreversible, they accept it and turn to the living.
Death is an intrusion.
Sometimes it arrives at the end of a long life when we are waiting for it. But sometimes it comes unexpectedly, interrupting young lives and wasting hopes and dreams. People we love are taken from our midst too soon, and we struggle to deal with their absence.
Destiny is often unkind. Since it is a mindless force, we cannot praise it or blame it. We simply accept what we cannot change.
But people are different from destiny. We have hearts and minds. We have hopes and dreams. We have love and loving attachments. Above all, we have the power of courage — the courage to affirm the value of life in the face of death.
The fates are beyond our control. But our response to the fates is in our hands. We do not know what will happen, but we do know that amid all the uncertainty, we have the courage to love.
Those we remember also had that courage. Love is the power that binds the living and the dead.
(A tribute [or tributes] is now offered by the leader of the service or by family and friends.)
Our families and our friends are so close to us that we often take for granted what they do. What is familiar has a tendency to appear ordinary. We lose our perspective. We imagine that what is far away is superior to what is close at hand. People are only heroic when we cannot experience them.
We need to pay attention. We need to notice the extraordinary in the ordinary. We need to see the special in the familiar. There are parents who give us love. There are children who give us hope. There are friends who give us courage. In their own unique way — without the privilege of spoken philosophy — they make us feel worthwhile.
In this hour of remembering, we offer them our tribute and our recognition.
The glories of our universe are never eternal. They shine for a while and are then consumed by the darkness. All things change. All life yields to death. If the beauties of nature endured forever, they would not be precious. We cannot love what we do not fear to lose.
After every spring comes the fullness of summer. After every summer comes the color of autumn. Beyond every autumn lies the serenity of winter. And beyond every winter appears the freshness of spring.
The circle of human existence reflects this return. It sweetens death with hope. Old people yield to the child. Old life is forever the prelude to the new.
Death is a reminder of human frailty. We are very vulnerable creatures. And we have so many natural enemies. Floods and earthquakes, disease and famine, heat and cold take their toll and thin our ranks. Even in the time of science, the ancient enemies of aging and decay still creep up on us uninvited and make us mortal.
In a world of peace there is still a war to be fought — not a war of people against people — but a war against death and all its friends. If we must fight, let us fight poverty. If we must enter battle, let us battle with disease. If we must assault the enemy, let us assault the poisons of our environment. There are many real foes to face.
Let our tribute to the dead be our struggle against death.
We live through hope. Where there is darkness we wait for the light. Where there is pain we anticipate pleasure. Where there is boredom we yearn for the arrival of new excitement.
Living without hope is living without dignity. It is a denial of everything vital. It is an abject surrender to evil. It is a humiliating affirmation of the darkness, the pain, and the dullness of human experience. If the future holds no promise of better things to come, then the present weighs us down like an intolerable burden.
Persons of self-respect, people who esteem their own power, do not welcome despair. In the darkest hour, they resist the self-pity that paralyzes action. Even when the night seems more than eternal, they plead for the morning.
Loyalty is life. We live through the loyalty of others, not only the devotion of having family and friends but also the loyalty of the past to the future. Our ancestors worked, saved, and gave up their pleasure to provide for generations yet unborn. They pursued distant goals that they knew they would never reach so that their children and their grandchildren could ultimately achieve them. The mountain of human culture is built out of many layers of human achievement, each generation resting on the work of the one before.
We are here today because the people of the past did not forget us. Our ancestors have planted and we have reaped. Like them, we must live for more than the present. Like them, we must work for those who will follow.
Immortality is not an illusion.
The selfish kind of immortality is the vision that imagines that each of us is indestructible, exempt from the laws of nature, immune to personal death.
But there is a natural immortality. It finds its source in the two billion-year-old chain of life, in the experience of parents and children, in the sentimental power of human memory.
Each of us is an extension of the past. Each of us is an intimation of the future.
We are more than individuals. We have connections. That is how we are born. That is why we never completely die. We receive our inheritance, we leave our legacy.
__________ is part of the chain of life. It still continues.
May we regard the life of_____________ as a special link in the chain of vital existence.
May we honor him/her always with the gift of remembrance.
Death is real. In the world of changing nature it is inevitable. It may be postponed, but it cannot be avoided.
Loved ones do not pass away. They die. They do not escape the rhythm of life.
But they leave their gifts. We still bask in their love. We still use their instruction. We are still inspired by their deeds. We still linger on the memories of their style.
Immortality is very intimate. It is part of our mind. It is as close as our power to remember.
In the real world death is part of the drama of life. So is the loving tribute of remembrance.
Autumn leaves are more useful than they seem. Although in final glory they fall to the ground in a wistful descent of death, the fertile earth pays them tribute. She embraces their forms and turns their hidden energies into the evolution of new life. In the drama of human love, a similar pattern prevails. The thoughts and ideals of those we admire survive death. They fall on the fertile earth of our minds and hearts and renew our lives through inspiration.
Winter is a cruel season. It reminds us of how hostile nature can sometimes be.
It also reminds us of the power of human love and human connection.
In the winter, we become aware of how we derive our warmth from one another, of how much we depend on the loving care of parents and children and friends.
When it is cold outside, we must create our own human fires. When one flame is extinguished, we must light another.
May this moment make us sensitive to our need for one another.
May the death of one we love encourage us to foster life.
May we regard the life of_____________ as_ a special link in the chain of vital existence.
May we honor him/her always with the gift of remembrance.
Memory is a precious possession. It captures the past and trains it to our need. The harshness of old events is softened by vagueness and the pleasures of happy moments are sharpened by vivid imagination. Loved ones linger on in the glory of their individual uniqueness. In life they willed to live and hewed the path of their personal difference. In death they transcend decay and find their niche in fond remembrance. No person is defined by the sameness of another. If it were so, memory would die from generalities.
In the particular grace of_____________ lies his/her immortality.
May the memory of___________ , whom we loved in life and still love in death, bless our thoughts and actions. May the special grace of his/her years reach out to touch our hearts and give us hope.
Let us all rise and stand for a moment of silent tribute to the life and memory of
ZAY-KHER TSA-DEEK-KEEM LEE-V-RA-KHA Let the memory of good people bless us.
May the memory of___________ , whom we loved in life and still love in death, continue to bless our thoughts and our actions.
SHEEM’OO SHEEM’OO OHAVAY AHAVA
KEER’OO KEER’OO MOSHEEAY Y’SHOOA
KEE AYN Y’SHOOA B’LEE AHAVA
O AHAVA AHAVA KAY’N T’HEE.
Listen now, you lovers of love.
Hear this, you seekers of happiness.
There is no happiness without love.