In August, Boulder JFS received a request for help from a hospice chaplain. The chaplain relayed that a woman he had been visiting, Diane Merrick, told him, “Everything is in order, except I need to see a rabbi.”
At that time, Rachel Amaru had just started as a chaplain intern with Boulder JFS and was asked to visit Diane. “I went to visit her for the first time in September because Diane had requested a rabbi and she agreed to start with a visit from the new chaplain intern from Jewish Family Service,” Rachel explained. “I liked her immediately. She was sitting up in a big leather recliner covered in blankets even though it was quite warm. She wore big round glasses that magnified a pair of beautiful eyes that vividly showed sparks of spunk. That was what struck me almost immediately: this was a spunky woman. I apologized for not being a rabbi, and Diane told me it was okay. She shared that she had not grown up at all religious—no synagogue on Yom Kippur or Rosh Hashanah; her strongest identity with Judaism seemed to be through food.”
Diane, 96 years old, had recently moved to Boulder from Florida to live with her granddaughter, Dana. On their first visit, Rachel spoke with Diane for an hour, sharing stories and getting to know each other. Later, Dana told Rachel that she had not heard her grandma telling stories like that in a long time.
After two more visits with Diane, Rachel arranged for Rabbi Deborah Bronstein to meet with Diane. On that visit, Rabbi Bronstein pulled up a chair beside her, leaned in and said, “So, Diane, why don’t you tell me what you want your funeral to look like.” And, as if it had been the question Diane had been waiting for, she proceeded to tell her, and to answer Rabbi’s questions. As Rabbi Bronstein spoke with Diane, Rachel explained to the granddaughter, Dana, what the “Sacred Society” was, and how they honored the dead. Dana said she wanted the Chevra Kadisha in Boulder to take care of her grandma after she died, and to then have her body sent to Florida for the funeral and burial. After thirty minutes or so, Diane fell asleep with Rabbi Bronstein holding her hand.
The next time Rachel visited, Dana shared that Diane was sleeping more, eating less, and talking with people from her past who were no longer alive. Now that Diane had met with the rabbi, Dana thought her grandmother was waiting for one last visit from her daughter who was expected to arrive around Thanksgiving. Rachel confirmed that the hospice chaplain had told her that some people seem to choose when they die. It turns out that was the case; Diane passed peacefully in her own bed at Dana’s home on the Saturday after Thanksgiving.
Boulder JFS extends our heartfelt gratitude to Rachel Amaru and Rabbi Deborah Bronstein for your loving support of this family. JFS has several wonderful para-chaplain volunteers who make spiritual visits to JFS clients and lead Shabbat and holiday celebrations in senior communities throughout Boulder County. If you are interested in becoming a JFS para-chaplain, please contact Ingrid Swords at firstname.lastname@example.org or 720.749.3403.