Fear Gets Relegated to a Bit Part

May 25, 2016

This week I came across a patient who feels it is unfair for him to be alive any longer if that means someone else in the world, such as a Syrian orphan, is giving up part of their allotted share of life in order for an old man like him, to continue being here. Using this odd calculus, he is prepared not to be greedy and therefore not bargain with God for more than his allotted share of life. Another person I saw used to talk with me about “getting right with God,” but as he has gotten sicker, these days he just gives me a disgusted look and turns his face away when I draw near to his bed. Yet another feels the world is playing a cruel rotten trick on her, and finally one other is simply sad about his book of life coming to “the end” with no chance to reread it again.

None of these people have expressed the emotion we most associate with and most expect when we think of final days: fear. Even with all my years of encountering those on the edges of their lives, I sometimes forget and think that most commonly, people will feel afraid. What?? Not to exist?? Leave all that is familiar, hasten away from all those we love?  Of course there are those who are at peace with the end, some on account of their belief in a very pleasant afterlife as one to um “die for.” Some are ready because they are tired of battling disease and pain and figure enough already.

Maybe fear is the predominant emotion surrounding death, but not when it is within easy reach. Paradoxically, we fear it when we are feeling fine and it is a long way off. We tend to fear it the most when we are young. I have often heard people say that as they age, and despite death being closer, they fear it less. I must say this is all very good news, especially as we do not have any choice in the matter. As afraid as I may feel at the moment, it is of some comfort to trust in a future when I will be more likely to face my closing pages with less dread and more calm, however tinged with disenchantment it may be.



Rabbi and board certified Chaplain Karen B. Kaplan is author of Encountering the Edge: What People Told Me Before They Died  (Pen-L Publishing, 2014) a series of true anecdotes capped with the deeper reasons she chose her vocation. For more details including reviews, you can go to the publisher’s page or to amazon.com. There is also an audio version of “>Offbeat Compassion.




Now Online: information about the 14th Annual North American Chevrah Kadisha and Jewish Cemetery Conference, to be held in Lexington, MA Sunday to Tuesday, June 5-7, 2016. Register Check online for information on almost anything you might want to know. Click here to ” target=”_blank”>more about the conference and our plenary ” target=”_blank”>options. Look at the direct   


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Fall 2016:

Gamliel Institute Course 5, Chevrah Kadisha Ritual, Practices, & Liturgy (RPL) will be offered from September 6th, 2016 to November 22nd 2016. The focus is on practices and all ritual and liturgy, excluding Taharah & Shmirah (which are covered in Course 2). Please register, note it on your calendar, and plan to attend.

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