Dying On The Low Road


When I walked into Dad’s room at the nursing home, he was writhing in agony and moaning.  He had succeeded in getting his hospital gown off, and was working on the rest of his attire–his diaper–and had the bedclothes tightly twisted around his legs so they stuck out at an unnatural angle.

I threw off my backpack and ran to him.

“Hi Dad, what’s wrong?”  I unravelled the sheets and put his top back on him.  He grabbed my hand and smiled, kissed my hand over and over, then a pain struck him and he rolled from side to side, moaning.

“Where does it hurt, Dad?”

He managed to get his good hand up to his head.

“You have a headache?”

Nods.  He has a hell of a concussion after his horrid fall a month or so ago.  I can relate, having had several bad concussions.  They give you a headache for a long time.

“OK, let me get the nurse to give you some Tylenol (Acetaminophen, Acamol, Paracetamol, etc.).  That will help your headache.

He looked at me skeptically, but assented with his eyes.

Since his last fall, Dad, who had been having difficulty speaking after a number of small strokes in the speech area of the brain, is now “locked in.”  He can understand a lot of what is said around him, but he is unable to produce meaningful speech.  It’s a horrible state to be in.

The nurse was very busy passing pre-dinner meds, but she knows my dad, and if he says he is in pain, he is.  She crushed up the tablets in applesauce and I fed it to him.  It tasted vile, and he gagged on it.  At least I was able to get some water into him, in the form of big mouthfuls to wash the taste of the nasty medicine out of his mouth.

The Tylenol did take his headache away, but it didn’t fix whatever was causing him to writhe and groan.

I called his nurse, and we made the joint decision to give him his morphine, which he has on order every 4 hours if needed, and it was clearly needed.

Thankfully, the morphine was just a few drops from a tiny syringe.  It seemed to help for half an hour or so, then the writhing and groaning began again.

I searched my mind and looked at the picture with soft vision.  I saw it.  He had to go to the bathroom!

I asked him.  “Maybe,” he says.

I called the Nurse Assistants, and the put him on the commode.  I stepped out for modesty’s sake.  Jewish children are forbidden to look upon their parents’ nudity, as we learn very early in the Torah where Noah gets drunk and takes off all his clothes.  One of his sons looks into his father’s tent, sees him lying there drunk and naked, and laughing, tells his two brothers.  The brothers get a blanket and, throwing it over their shoulders, back into their father’s tent and, not looking at him, drop the blanket on top of him, to cover his nakedness.  So I do not stay in the room whenever the nurses are doing anything that normally we consider private.

Now that we have opened the Jewish Thing, I want to talk about a concept that has been Jewish and Vedic and I don’t know what else, for 5,000 years more or less, that has recently been backed up by medical specialists in the art of assisting dying people.  Yes, there are such physicians.  They minister to hospice patients, for the most part.

The Jewish tradition, backed up by medical observation, is that there are two roads to death: the High Road, or easy death, like people who simply up and die in their sleep, just go to bed like normal and don’t wake up.  We call that “mavet be’neshikah,” or death by a kiss.  Whose kiss?  The kiss of the Master of the Universe, who says, “it’s time to come home now,” and that’s that.  Aharon ha’Kohen and Moshe Rabbeinu both went that way.  I pray that all of us go that way.

People who die like that have finished their soul’s purpose on Earth and will not reincarnate, usually, unless it is into a body that just needs a bit of  touch-up.  These are the babies who die very young, or in the womb after 4 months gestation.

Death on the low road is another thing entirely.  It is a slow and painful death, one that makes the sufferer long for the relief of suffering that death brings.  It seems as if the soul is having a struggle with the Malach ha’mavet–the Angel of Death.  They beat themselves up dying, like a moth beats itself to death on a lightbulb.  It’s not that they don’t want to die, although some of them struggled against Death out of fear of what awaits them on the Other Side.

My father is one of these.  He is a World War II Veteran, and saw and did some horrific things.  He is terrified that he will be held accountable for these actions, which he deeply regrets and spends each night living them over (he has classic PTSD), such that sometimes my mother would have to go sleep in the guest room in order to avoid being a partner in hand-to-hand combat.

The unfortunates who get Death on the Low Road suffer and suffer, and experience all of the unpleasantness and pain of slow death, even to the end, where they have the agonies of air hunger, hallucinations, thick secretions, and even seizures.

What does this mean?

In the Jewish mystical tradition, Death by the Low Road means that the apparently unfortunate sufferer is actually engaged in a process that completes and cleanses the soul from the difficult life it’s been through, and the suffering atones for misdeeds done in life, even if they had a good outcome.

For instance, my father once walked up a small hillock that happened to be on the battlefield of Alsace-Lorraine, and on reaching the top, found himself looking straight into the eyes of a German SS soldier.  For a brief moment, the two teenagers looked into each other’s eyes and saw…themselves.  They saw normal young men who liked to drink beer and chase skirts.  In other circumstances, they might have been buddies.  Then the German pulled his duty pistol, and my father ran him through with his bayonet before the other teenager could fire a shot.

To this day my father regrets that action.  He really, really regrets it.  And by taking the Low Road out, that necessary transgression will be cleansed and forgiven, so that his next incarnation will not be dealt with as that soldier was dealt.  We are held accountable for our deeds, for better or worse, and the blemishes in our pure original souls that these deeds cause must be repaired in one way or another.  This kind of Death is one way of doing it, and in the end it is a much more pleasant way of repairing one’s Godly soul.

But we can’t know.  Take me, for instance.  I did some pretty unsavory things as a young person, and even as an older person.  None of these were intentional or premeditated, and most of it was due to my undiagnosed, untreated Bipolar Disorder.  Yet according to our tradition, these blemishes must be cleansed in some way.

With the Days of Awe, from Rosh ha’Shanah  (the Jewish New Year, the Day of Judgement) through Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement, almost upon us, I am trying to make a Heshbon Nefesh, a close examination of my character and deeds, so that I may, through the Days of Awe repent of my misdeeds, whether intentional, whether accidental, whether hidden or revealed, please my G-d look into my heart and find it clean.

And please, please, Master of the Universe, grant me a judgement for a Death on the High Road, b’neshikah.

As it turned out, Dad’s pain was indeed caused by stomach cramps.  After relieving his intestines of their burden, he fell into an exhausted sleep.

I took my leave then, fiercely warning all of his nursing staff NOT to wake him for vital signs or anything else until the next time they had to turn him in the bed, another two hours.  Whether they did that is anyone’s guess, because Dad can’t tell me.  God help us all.

Leave a comment


  1. Sweet Laura, I cannot even imagine what this is for you or for him. Is it better for him in the nursing home (better of course being relative)? I just know how hard it was to care for him when he was at home. I think on some level all of us would like to die at home, certainly when you’re very ill you long to be home in your own bed and not hooked up to IVs and monitors, being stuck like a pincushion for blood draws. . . Although the one time this happened to me, after I got home I longed for the Dilaudid given in my IV and even the shot I would get of Demerol when the pain got too intense (the latter made me throw up every time, but I didn’t care because it worked).

    I’m sorry, I’m wandering. In any case, I don’t know if the presence of more, hopefully better care is making his “Death By The Low Road” a little easier for him. I completely understand the concept of atonement, but at the same time I hate to think of his suffering.

    Incidentally, is their any kind of “Middle Road” in Jewish tradition? My grandfather’s death was not so overlong, protracted, and painful, but neither was it quick and easy and quiet. It makes me think of a middle road — but then again, we’re Catholic (I include myself in there loosely), and when he was “on the cross,” as it is sometimes called in the Catholic tradition, he had the Last Rites and had made peace with God and within himself.

    Maybe I’m misunderstanding something, and I know this comment is overlong already. . . It just seems there must be something more than what I’m reading, something in between the High and Low Roads, and you know me, I’m always curious.

    Sending so much love to you.

    • Well, there is in fact a whole process of cleansing that isn’t really as binary as I have presented it here, but it is beyond the scope of this post. Actually, sweet Ruby, he’s much safer in the nursing home. I have not posted about the horrendous trauma that put him there, but let me say that it was not quite unintentional. He’s not connected to tubes or anything, only comfort care, as per his Advance Directive (BTW, if anyone reading this has not made an Advance Directive (“Living Will), do it immediately, unless you want to end up hooked up to tubes and machines.) Comfort care can include anything from oxygen to ease air hunger, to laxatives to prevent/treat the sluggish bowels of the dying, which as we have seen can cause much suffering, to morphine, which he’s now given for pain every 12 hours with a standing order for every 4 hours as needed. He will be back on Hospice tomorrow or the next day, long story there, and as soon as he is, the Hospice nurses come back to us with their incredible warmth and loving care. Dad loves them. They are the Bright Angels of Death. I feel confident that they will make his passing as easy as possible, as difficult as it might be. Home is too dangerous for him. We had a team meeting with the Hospice and nursing home social workers, my mother, and myself, and they showed my mother how many falls, head injuries, hospitalizations, and the four admissions to the same nursing home to recover from these injuries…I have talked to both social workers about getting Social Services involved if she tried to take him out again, as she has done three times before…it turns out that that might not be in Dad’s best interest…Sigh. It is so complex, and I am so exhausted. I’m going to bed. Thanks so much for your love and support xxxx

  2. The Grundlands

     /  September 17, 2014

    Awesomely insightful and inspiring as usual. What a blessing and a burden to be there with and for him through the end of his journey. I love you and am sending big virtual hugs. Shana Tova u’metuka. xo, sr On Sep 17, 2014 9:13 PM, “Bipolar For Life” wrote:

    > Laura P. Schulman, MD, MA posted: “bs”d When I walked into Dad’s room > at the nursing home, he was writhing in agony and moaning. He had > succeeded in getting his hospital gown off, and was working on the rest of > his attire–his diaper–and had the bedclothes tightly twisted around his > l”

    • So nice to see you, metukah. Yes, it is an awe-inspiring privilege to be here for him and for me at the end of this earth-life. But it is, I admit, exhausting. And not always totally li’shma, either, which puts the Yetzer in a perfect position to pounce at any moment. And what moment!!! Love you, …..Liebe

  3. Oh sweet Laura, this made me so sad. It is a tremendous relief I am sure for your dad, to have you caring for him like you have been. I am sure he really appreciates that. I hope you managed to get some well earned sleep. You take good care. Sending love and hugs <3, Carol anne

    • Hi Carol Anne, thank you so much for your sweet comment! I need lots of love and hugs right now, although I would definitely start bawling if someone were to hug me. I did get some chemically induced sleep, and later today I am (hopefully) getting a massage. I will warn the massage therapist that I am likely to cry the whole time! Love back to you!

  4. savemefrombpd

     /  September 18, 2014

    Amen ve’amen ve’amen… For all of your blessings, for everyone. May we all be judged accordingly and be listened to and receive back in accordance to our deeds. And may your father have a peaceful and pain-free release with his soul from his body when the time comes.

    I am sending you my thought and love especially at this time, but, always.

    • Gam ani, amen v’amen. May we b’ezrat H” be forgiven completely for all of our transgressions, and may we not have to pay for them through suffering, and may our sufferings not be for naught. Thank you so much for your beautiful thoughts and for being YOU. Love to you…….

  5. so glad he is in a safe place, where he will not be hurt physically any longer. so glad he has you to be there for him, to help him with the daily struggles left and know that he is loved as he prepares to his soul.

  6. savemefrombpd

     /  September 18, 2014

    Replied to wrong comment, sorry… But the question still stands Laura.

  7. Midwestern Plant Girl

     /  September 18, 2014

    I send warm wishes your way. Very hard to see your loved one in such a condition.
    Thank you for the look into the Jewish religion. I enjoy learning.

    • Thanks, dear. I very much appreciate you. Glad you enjoy the Jewish mysticism.
      I was going to ask you–there is an invasion of kudzu that is slowly making its way toward my property–what to do???? I feel like I’m in a zombie movie, watching in horror as the invasion moves toward me! I have read the book “1,000 things to do with kudzu,” but I want none of it. Advice?

      • Midwestern Plant Girl

         /  September 18, 2014

        Ouch, Kudzu sucks. It is one hellava grower.
        I’ve only seen it once near me, and only because someone bought plants from southern Illinois and brought them up here with it growing on it. Generally, it is a southern weed, not making it into zone 5 (or lower) areas.
        I’ve seen worse weeds… This one has a shallow root system and who knew… you can eat it!
        Here’s what I found about ridding yourself of it:
        For successful long-term control of kudzu, it is not necessary to destroy the underground system, which can be extremely large and deep. It is only necessary to use some method to kill or remove the kudzu root crown and all rooting runners. The root crown is a fibrous knob of tissue that sits on top of the roots. Crowns form from multiple vine nodes that root to the ground, and range from pea- to basketball-size. The older the crowns, the deeper they tend to be found in the ground. Nodes and crowns are the source of all kudzu vines, and roots cannot produce vines. If any portion of a root crown remains after attempted removal, the kudzu plant may grow back.

        • Wow, thank you for this! The problem is, the dern stuff growers and spreads so fast that it would take a large team of determined teenagers to root the stuff out. It takes over acres and acres while you are asleep, and next thing you know it’s covered and shaded out everything in sight. It’s an interesting picture to see undulating blankets of green covering a forest….one owner of a nice wooded piece of bottom land took and sprayed acres of it with some horrible thing which looked awful when it browned off but son of a gun, for reasons you have given here, it came right back the next year and since the trees were already dead he just let the kudzu go crazy. Also it’s a legume and the birds love the seeds…so when it appears on my property I guess I’ll be very busy pulling out the root crowns for as long as it takes…

  8. Hi Laura, I know that you must be extremely occupied but I was looking forward to an update from you on your domestic front. Being a HIndu, I totally agree with what you have said, some people for reasons some known and largely unknown suffer horribly in life and deaths too. If we look at what your dad did, it was an objective act, he did in self defense. What about those who torture innocents even animals which makes no sense at all.

    I pondered over many questions which had no clear answers, I found some relief in Sister Shivani ‘s talks , a distinguished person from the Brahmakumari sect.

    I pray for you dad and you.

    Take care

    • Hi Ashu, thanks for being here. Are Sister Shivani’s talks available online? I am very interested to see what she has to say. My Guru, Dr. Sundara Raman, has shed much light on this subject, as has my Jewish Rav (guru) Avraham Sutton, who has extensive material on the Internet, including Youtubes of his classes. I also had a wonderful conversation in the middle of the night in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit when I was crying bitterly over a tiny three-months-premature baby who was constantly being stuck with needles, tubes everywhere, ventilator, suffering terribly. The nurse comforted me (she was Jewish) saying, “You don’t know who this baby was in his past life. He could have been someone incredibly evil. He could have been Hitler! And this is how his soul is being cleansed, so that his next life will be better.” I was shocked by this, but something changed in my heart. Even though I still felt horrible for these poor babies, I understood a little more. Then later, when I became more observant and in fact Orthodox, my teachers showed me what the ancient Hebrew writings said about reincarnation and the Karmic cycle, although it is called by a different name. It is said that about 5,000 years ago there was some kind of kinship between the ancient Hebrews and the people who are now called Hindu. My guru told me the true name of your people, and I wrote it down but have lost that notebook, unfortunately (or fortunately, who knows). Do you know that name? Much love, and prayers are very welcome at this time and always. Be blessed!

  9. I’ve been back three times, and still can’t seem to articulate my thoughts. First, I’m sorry that you are in this place right now with you Dad, and am sending good thoughts your way. Also, I found what you shared about Low Road / High Road very intriguing, in that I wasn’t aware that was part of Jewish tradition or beliefs, although now, in context, it makes sense (based on some conversations I’ve had with a few friends). I’ve been struggling a very long time with how my mother and father’s deaths played out. Won’t go into it here, other than to say that one was Low, and one was High, and it’s always seemed to me that it should have been the other way around, (although I’m the first to recognize that mortals don’t get to choose such things). I would have preferred that neither suffered, but again, it was not mine to choose. Again, I’m sorry things are so difficult right now, and hope you continue to find strength during this emotionally-exhausting time.

    • Thank you so much! The Jewish part is not known by most Jews, because it is part of our mystical tradition. When I was first starting to study in the United States, when I asked about such things, I would be told that people once knew but the knowledge had been forgotten. I was skeptical, so I moved to Israel and started studying with Hebrew mystics. There I was introduced to a rich tradition that treats on every imaginable topic having to do with the human life cycle, and then it goes into the “scenes behind the scenes,” as I like to think of them. I’m intrigued with what you’ve alluded to , your parents’ deaths, and would love to know more, if that were possible.

  10. Hello Laura,

    Was the word, ‘ Arya’ that your Guru told you. You can search Sister Shivani’s English videos on youtube. You can search the specific subject as well.

    You will certainly feel better if you listen to her. I have personally benefited from that.

    Love & Light

    • I think “Arya” refers more to the North Indian people, while Karnatic applies to South Indians, no? I will have to email him and ask him. Where do you live? He has just opened his own Ayurvedic hospital in Coonoor! I can’t wait to go, when that becomes possible! I will certainly view Sister Shivani’s videos when I have a chance. If you would like to, one of my teachers, Avraham Sutton, has lots of videos on Youtube and my other teacher Sarah Yehudit Schneider has a channel with her fabulous animated videos that deal with very deep topics. I think her channel is “A Still Small Voice.”

      Om Shalom,

  11. What an interesting concept, the two roads to Death. But what of those that die tragically and instantly, not in their sleep?

    Also, can one live a life dying by the Low Road?

    I pray that your father’s atonement be enough by now so he can have peace at last

    • Great comment! But of course I’m not surprised:-)

      First: an instant death is a sudden atonement all at once, and a blessing to the deceased although a trauma to those left behind. Conversely, some say that a sudden death is also traumatic to the soul who isn’t sure where it is or what to do. This usually gets resolved within the first 30 days.

      Your second question I don’t think you understand. Can you elaborate?

      Amen to your prayer!

  12. goldenbirdsonthewindowsill

     /  September 22, 2014

    Hi laura, I have been reading you blog for sometime now.
    I just wished to tell you that life is not about those infinite moments of happiness, it’s about that one moment that breaks you and you emerge out of it, stronger than ever before.
    I feel that you deserve much better things from life, but, I sort of envy you too.
    Life gives you so many chances to prove your strength.
    You are actually blessed by God.
    Because while it is the common believe that being blessed by Him means a life free of misery, I believe that, being truly blessed by him means being given endless chances to grow as a person and learn from the hard times.
    Stay blessed.

    • Thanks for reading my blog! You can have my black moments, hours, days, weeks, and years. I give them to you, but not gladly. I don’t think I enjoyed living on the streets, being viciously raped, having a childhood rife with fear, doing stupid things in the grip of mania, being so depressed that all I could think of, and I mean ALL, was how to kill myself more elegantly….I would very gladly give them to you, so that you could have a better life.

      • goldenbirdsonthewindowsill

         /  September 23, 2014

        I think you misinterpreted me a bit.
        What I meant was that I envy you because you got through all of that and you are a fighter.
        I have my fair share of problems in life too.
        But, I’m not as strong as you are, I can’t even handle something minutely wrong with my life, let alone all of that.
        I just wanted to tell you that you are a very strong person.
        I didn’t want to be misinterpreted.
        Sorry if I hurt you.

        • Oh, I am so sorry! I surely did not intend to hurt you. You are a tender person, and I sincerely apologize for being harsh with you. I need to be more sensitive and less defensive. I have a million excuses, but none of them absolve me from hurting someone who comes with good intentions. Please forgive me.

        • Oh my dear, I am so sorry that hurt you. I overreacted. A trigger I didn’t know I had! As for my survival, it is a pure miracle, my son, who has kept me here, with the aid of three Psychiatric Service Dogs, a psychologist, and a psychiatrist. Yay, Team! And occasionally I still lock myself in a hotel room with the Do Not Disturb sign out, for two or three or as many days as it takes to get back. My psychologist suggested that as an alternative to hospitalization, as I am allergic to hospitals and usually come out in worse shape than when I went in. Oh my this can be a mighty tough road, right?

  13. Hi Laura,

    Indian history is rewritten by Britishers so much has been twisted. Aryans were the people who settled in the northern parts of the country and ‘ Dravidians’ are the people who settled in southern part of the country. I will certainly check the videos that you have mentioned as knowledge especially on this topic is fascinating.

    I stay in the center of the country a state called Madhya Pradesh. Connoor is thousands of kilometres away from my place but God willing I will certainly visit the place one day.


    • Oh, right, thank you for jogging my memory! Although I found that in the South, people did not like the term Dravidian because of, as you say, the British nomenclature. They prefer the term “Karnatic.”

      I very much hope to be traveling to India within the next two years, as I want to have time learning with my Guru-ji and getting some healing from all the emotional trauma of my father’s long road to leaving his body (which will be soon, as he has stopped eating and drinking). Maybe I could manage to get to Madhya Pradesh and have a cup of tea with you! I have friends, both virtual and “real,” in India top to bottom! Sikh friends in the North whom I desperately want to visit, friends in Bombay ditto, and others. I don’t know how I would manage to get around unless I could find the funds to hire a driver (!!!!) but who knows what will happen between now and then.

  14. This is a wonderful post…It i also in the Jewish tradition of using pain and sorrow to
    enlighten. The tone reminds me of my favorite film, Jacobs Ladder.

    Everywhere the protagonist goes he sees demons. It isn’t until he accepts
    the fact that he is dying from a mortal wound received in combat that he realizes that the demons are angels who are trying to bring him home….

  15. Laura, when I first met your blog I said I would start at the beginning. (That was when I was cryptic Garland) But it is a daunting task so I am now just visiting on my birthday. I am humbled by the extent to which you go to explain different facets of Judaism. I thought I had, as a Gentile, a better than average appreciation of it but how shallow has been my understanding. I am now a little concerned that my post “The Conflict” is way too flippant and shallow and if you say to I will take it down.
    I am also wish I had been given some information like your Bipolar and Autism posts fifty years ago. I know now how many mistakes I made as a teacher back during my whole career. And in some ways I think I would prefer not to know because it makes me realise how stupid I have been. But I will continue to read although I will not comment on each.
    And I hope that you will forgive any indiscreet comments I make.

    • Oh heavens, everyone has their own take on things. I’m passionate about certain things and as you can see, I make no bones about it. Mental illness and autism, which I don’t believe is a mental illness, are so stigmatized that even in this day it’s difficult to, say, get a job if you’re up front about it. So if you don’t mind my directness, I appreciate your perspective on things.

      Australia seems like a decent place, has its own problems as I understand from my Aussie friends…I wouldn’t want the kinds of snakes and spiders you have, to begin with….


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