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Jewish Death Practices:
Learning & Resources:
Last Moments of Life
When death is imminent, the rabbi or other clergy should be notified. They will be available to give moral support to the family and to the dying person by praying with them and offering practical counsel and assistance.
You may also wish to prepare a list of persons to be notified after death occurs. You may wish to ask a friend or non-immediate family member to handle this notification task.
A person in his or her final moments of life is known as a goses, which means "dying", or "moribund." This word is derived from the sound heard coming from the throat as the chest cavity narrows. The Talmud teaches that the Shechinah (Divine Presence) stands at the head of the goses. This special status means that the dying individual should be treated as a living person in all respects and not as an object or as one to be avoided. Everything possible to save a person's life is pursued even if it means transgressing Shabbat or a Yom Tov. In the same vein, we do not take any action that would hasten a person's death.
The presence of loved ones brings necessary and important psychological comfort to the goses, as well as meeting the emotional needs of those who love him/her. This final demonstration of love and concern provides all involved the assurance that they did all they could up to the very end. It also allows one to deal with grief directly and without the sense of guilt of not having done enough for the one who died.
If at all possible, the one who is dying should not be left alone. Try to limit conversations to those that meet the needs of the dying person. One should leave the room to eat, drink, or discuss extraneous matters with another visitor. Psalms and prayers may be recited to ease the loved-one's passing. Psalms 23, 91, 103, 121,130 and 139 are particularly appropriate. Singing, telling stories, background music are all comforting.
The dying person traditionally recites the Vidui, a confessional prayer. The prayer includes regret for all sins committed during one's lifetime and is recognition of the fact that one is passing from this world to the next. Care should be taken that this does not distress the dying person. It should be explained that saying the Vidui does not mean that death is imminent. In fact, it may happen that a person says the Vidui and then recovers. The Vidui, followed by the recitation of the Sh'ma, in the last moments before death, help to affirm one's faith in God precisely when it is most challenged. If the dying person is unable to recite this confessional, a person in attendance may recite the Vidui on that person's behalf.
Death at home can be a blessing for the deceased, and in many ways, a comfort for family and friends. But the work of caregiving at home can also be very stressful. This stress can be mitigated somewhat if hospice is involved during the last weeks (or months) of life. (Although the term "hospice" often refers to a physical location where end-of-life care is offered, hospice services are available in the home in many communities.) Hospice services can include management of medical care as well as emotional counseling for the dying and the family.
When death occurs in a home, the same procedures listed under Immediate Steps After Death are applicable. Take the time you need to say goodbye. Once you are ready, arrange to have the body transported to the funeral home. (You may wish to have clergy make arrangements for removal of the body so the family does not have to.)
After the body is removed, the family living in the same home where the death occurred may wish to light a shiva candle (week-long burnng candle; see shiva) and have a friend clean up the room where the deceased died, restoring it to its normal appearance as much as possible. Mirrors should be covered and remain so through the end of shiva.