What Do Jews Do? Reflections on the Strangeness of Death

When it was clear that my father was about to die (we were going to remove life support after he suffered a major heart attack), my mother called her rabbi to tell him that death was near. She wanted the rabbi to have enough time to schedule the funeral, which in Judaism typically occurs as soon as all the relatives are able to arrive. 

The rabbi already knew that my father was seriously ill and probably would not recover or even emerge from a coma. He told us that it is customary to recite one of the psalms just before a person dies. And so my mother, brother, and I went out into the hall at a New York City hospital to say the prayer together. It was no doubt the strangest of the many unfamiliar moments we would experience over the next few weeks.

We are not a particularly religious family. None of us knew the prayers that the rabbi was referring to. We had to Google it.