Sivanne, the wife of the late Rabbi M. David Weiss, Ph.D. came across an article which David had dictated to her a few years before he died. We bring you this inspiring item below which shows his way of thinking and coping.
My eyesight has been deteriorating slowly but steadily, for over five years. I can no longer read regular print even with magnifiers and view the world as through a thin fog. I can still move about without bumping into anything and can feed and dress myself, but in another year or two I may be functionally blind. What if I can no longer manage my daily needs? How much more can I expect my loving wife to bear the increased burden of helping me? Isn’t she entitled to a little freedom and independence of her own? What if I am forced to leave the familiar embrace of my home for some institutional setting and the care of strangers? What then?
The cause of my affliction is adult-onset diabetes. In the past century this disease has become a scourge in many prosperous societies. Over the course of human evolution our bodies did not accommodate themselves to the modern poison of refined sugar which is found in most processed foods and drinks. My overworked pancreas cannot produce the insulin necessary to neutralize the sugars and fats in my blood stream which slow the flow and cause clogging in my blood vessels. This in turn damages the tiny capillaries in my extremities and the retinas of my eyes. I have had several laser treatments which may have slowed down the deterioration but cannot stop it completely. Despite twice daily self-injections of insulin and a regimen of diet and exercise, the degeneration continues. In addition, I have had a quadruple heart bypass and several operations on my legs to bypass stoppages in my blood vessels. I walk with difficulty and distress.
I am a rabbi and a clinical psychologist. I have counseled many people in times of suffering or facing imminent death. I have tried to give hope to those without hope. In these professional capacities, I have learned and taught that the thought of suicide is religiously proscribed, morally repugnant or emotionally unacceptable. But I can identify with those who feel they can no longer bear continuous pain and would prefer the comfort of endless sleep. I understand others who feel that they can no longer sustain any meaningful activity and do not want to be an intolerable burden on their loved ones. I have thought the unthinkable. I am not afraid of death. I do not believe in any kind of afterlife, resurrection or reincarnation. To me death is the end of all conscious awareness, an entry into nothingness. If I am wrong, so much the better, but I do not believe that we should live in preparation for some kind of continuation of existence.
Life is consciousness. Our real standard of living may be equated with our level of consciousness. The more awareness we have of ourselves, our feelings, emotions and connections with everything outside ourselves, the more we are alive. I am sure that so long as I can continue to enjoy the sweet pleasures of touch and taste, to hear the sounds of harmonious music and familiar voices, to conjure up the mysterious magic of memory, I will want to lengthen my earthly journey. But if my vital organs begin to fail, by no means do I want them to be maintained by artificial supports. Like most people, I suppose, I would like to breathe my last breath in the warmth of my own bed.
I no longer pray. I no longer believe there is some compassionate, divine power that can be cajoled into taking an interest in my health. If there is, why did it curse me with this affliction? I do not believe that I am being punished for some unknown sins for which I need to repent.
But I do acknowledge the human thirst for spirituality, for associating with that which is greater than ourselves. I feel there is an aspect of spirituality in the entire space program which was expressed in the worldwide mourning at the tragic ending of the Columbia mission that had begun so gloriously. I support the perpetuation of rituals of thanksgiving, of festive occasions with family and friends, of celebrations of the life cycle and the natural calendar and of coming together in community through poetry and music, for the strengthening of common values and enhancing the human condition. My father was a devout man who prayed three times a day to the very end. He was a diabetic too and his last few years were also filled with pain and anguish. He was obese and never did a minute of planned exercise. But he lived to seventy-seven; I am seventy-five. Rather than search for the right kind of G-d, we should choose our parents carefully. There is a rabbinic adage: “The reward for a good life is a good life.” I feel I have been worth living. But I would also like to have some control over how it ends.