This ritual was inspired by a friend's experience just prior to her mother's death. My friend and her sister were sitting with their mother as she lay close to death on a palliative care unit. The mother's nurse asked the daughters if they would like to bathe their mother. The daughters found great meaning in this simple act because it was something the mother had done for them when they were children and now this simple act of bathing was a gift from them to her. I was inspired by this beautiful story to write the following ritual. It is intended to be performed close to the time of death. It is a ritual of gratitude for the gift of life of the dying person.
A candle is lit and an opening prayer is recited. This is followed by the bathing ritual. Each part of the body is bathed, gently and lovingly, starting from the head down to the feet. As each body part is washed, specific prayers are recited. One person bathes while another person recites the prayers. The ritual ends with the placement of a fresh, clean garment (a hospital gown or the person's own night clothes) on the person's body. A tallit may be added. The ritual is written specifically for a mother and her daughters, but may be modified accordingly for other situations.
The human soul is the candle of God. May this candle be a symbol of the life and the soul of our mother (name).
Water is a gift. The Torah tells us that all creation began with water. We begin and end our lives in water. Before birth, we are encased in the waters of the womb. We are birthed through water. Water is essential to our lives and without it we could not survive. And when our physical lives come to an end, we are cleansed in the waters of tahara. Today, we are with our mother (name) whose life is drawing to a close. Let us honor her with a ritual of bathing, a gift from us to her, as we thank God for the gift of her life.
Prayers Recited While Bathing
1) Nevarech et Ruach Ha'Olam, we give thanks for the gift of the life of our mother (name), for the manner in which she lived her life, for the gift of her body, for the gift of her soul.
2) Nevarech et Ruach Ha'Olam, as we bathe our mother's head and face, we give thanks for the gift of her mind, for the gift of her insight and wisdom, for the gift of the light within which shone through the radiance and beauty of her smile, which shone through the loving and caring she gave to us all of her life and through all of her actions in the world.
3) Nevarech et Ruach Ha'Olam, as we bathe our mother's neck and throat, we give thanks for the Divine breath which you breathed into her, for the gift of her voice, for the song of the soul which she sang so eloquently throughout her life.
4) Nevarech et Ruach Ha'Olam, as we bathe our mother's shoulders, arms, and hands, we give thanks for the gift of her work in the world, for everything that she created with her hands and her mind, for the love she gave so willingly to us, and for the special way she connected with people – leaving fingerprints of Divinity on everything she touched.
5) Nevarech et Ruach Ha'Olam, as we bathe our mother's chest and abdomen, we give thanks for the gift of her heart and soul. We give thanks for the lifeblood flowing through her veins and arteries, flowing like sap from the Tree of Life.
6) Nevarech et Ruach Ha'Olam, as we bathe our mother's lower limbs, we give thanks for the journey of her life, for the paths she chose to walk – leaving footprints of Divinity everywhere she went.
The fresh, clean garment is then placed on the person's body. If a tallit is placed over the garment, the following prayer is recited: We place this sacred garment on our mother's body. May she be wrapped in a tallit of Your Light as she completes the journey of her life.