December 30, 2004

Most Inspiring

For his bravery, his humility, and his principles, Beliefnet named Pat Tillman, the most inspiring person of 2004.  I agree.

Tillman, who walked away from a multimillion dollar NFL career to volunteer for service after 9/11, was deployed in Afghanistan, where American soldiers successfully overthrew a tyrannical regime that was subjugating its population and harboring Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda. Tillman was killed there in April.

We chose Tillman because he stands not only for bravery but much more. He put the nation's pervasive celebrity culture in its proper context. Our culture glorifies fame and wealth and talent. While fans may have idolized Pat Tillman for those qualities, he understood that other characteristics were more important. He sacrificed it all to fight for what he considered a just cause.

This isn't just about manly virtues. It is also about humility. Tillman was almost defiant in his desire to join the Army Rangers quietly. He didn't give interviews or expect plaudits for his decision....

We honor him not for the way he died but for his transcendent determination to keep the important things in life in perspective.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:08 PM | Permalink

Jillian's Choice

We will be hearing many more amazing stories like this one.  Via The Command Post doing its usual wonderful job as a newsblog collective with this post by Alan Brain.

From The Australian: Woman releases son in tsunami

An Australian woman was forced to let go of one of her children to save another when a wall of water struck their Thai holiday destination.  Jillian Searle, of Perth, was near her Phuket hotel pool with sons Lachie, five, and Blake, two, when the tsunami hit on Sunday.  Her husband Brad watched the calamity unfold from the vantage point of his first-floor room.    Ms Searle was faced with a terrible choice as she fought to stay alive amid the raging waters.  "I knew I had to let go of one of them and I just thought I'd better let go of the one that's the oldest," she told Sky News.  "A lady grabbed hold of him for a moment but she had to let him go because she was going under. "And I was screaming, trying to find him, and we thought he was dead."  Sky News said Lachie was found safe two hours later after surviving the raging torrent by clinging to a door.

How lucky she was.  Consider the parents looking for their children in the make-shift morgues.  This photograph by Jason Smith on assignment from The Sydney Morning Herald via Tim Blair doing his usual splendid job in Australia.

Dead Baby

Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:26 AM | Permalink

December 29, 2004

No Time for Funerals

Heartbreak on heartbreak.  The survivors can't find their relatives and dead bodies pile up.  Along the beach at Khao Lak north of Phuket, more than 770 bodies are lined up on silt-covered grass, ready for collection.

Everywhere you stop on this stretch of coast, 90 minutes north of Phuket, there are bodies lined up, most uncovered, many bloated and bruised in the sun.  Here an overweight Western tourist in swimmers, there a one-year-old child, outstretched hand fixed in death. Locals say the death toll in the villages around Khao Lak alone will be greater than the Government's current count of 980 for Thailand.

Everywhere a small glimpse into huge personal tragedies:

At the Ban Khao Lak Hotel, Bejkhajorn Saithong, 39, who was searching for the body of his wife, thought he had located her. "My son is crying for his mother," he said. "I think this is her. I recognise her hand, but I'm not sure."

Evelyn Rodriguez at Crossroads Dispatches  was there and writes how she is humbled by stories of the survivors as she herself struggles on crutches in Bangkok to get home.

There is horror yet to come because there are not enough people to clear dead bodies.  This photo from the AP shows pyres of victims that burn on the beach at Alappad, Kerala, India.    There is no time for funerals.

Pyres 2

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:18 PM | Permalink

Called Back to Life by Boss

Bill DiPasquale locked himself into his apartment and drank himself into a coma after losing his job as waiter.  After his family pulled the plug on life support, a friend whispered a message from his boss in his ear,

"Get your ass back to work"

Five minutes later, in a whisper that hit a Massachusetts General Hospital room like a thunderbolt, DiPasquale awoke saying, "I've got to get to work.''    His would-be mourners were stunned. The coma had broken. They were his first words in weeks.
Read the full story in the Boston Herald  Wake-up call stops waiter at death's door.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 4:34 AM | Permalink

December 28, 2004

The Lives They Lived

The New York Times magazine in what has become an annual tradition, presents a public reckoning on the lives of 33 men and women.  "The lives they lived were triumphant, tragic, flawed, miraculous and occasionally ludicrous,"  and 33 writers show how and why.  Here are some teasers.

Elizabeth Kubler Ross in later life had second thoughts about the reality of death.
Brian Maxwell invented the power bar and sold the company for $375 million became a world-class runner after being told he had a congenital heart disorder.
Joseph Zimmerman Jr invented the electronic secretary ushering in the "technology of avoidance."
Katherine Dalton named the affliction we all know as PMS and proved it was caused by an hormonal imbalance while raising 4 children, working full time and doing her research entirely unpaid.
Sidney Morgenbesser, teacher of philosophy at Columbia University could talk wonderfully but never wrote it down is remembered for his New York wit.  During a talk on the philosophy of language at Columbia, the Oxford professor J.L. Austin noted that while a double negative amounts to a positive, never does a double positive amount to a negative.  From the back of the audience, Morgenbesser muttered a dismissive, "Yeah, Yeah."

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:42 PM | Permalink

December 24, 2004

Your Life in T-shirts

Are you one of those people whose life story could be told through your T-shirts?  Where you've been, the concerts you attended, the schools you went to, the slogans you live by, or used to?

Michael Prager in the Boston Globe today has found a company - that will make

quilts and duvet covers from used T-shirts, honoring a venerable craft while serving a modern impulse: to use what exists instead of throwing away and using more. Each shirt is screened for holes and blemishes and laundered before assemblage on a backing of cotton gray sweatshirt material (new!) or cotton gray fabric. They'll make a quilt out of your shirts, or you can buy one they've already assembled; each is one of a kind. Prices range from $300 to $450

For a twin-size, you need 18 t-shirts, for a full or queen 25 t-shirts will do.  Don't have enough?  Let the company hand pick from their resources, theme-related t-shirts to meet the requirement.  A wonderful take on two American classics.

T-Shirt Quilt

Posted by Jill Fallon at 7:55 AM | Permalink

December 22, 2004

Rest in Space

Marilyn Monroe once said, "Everyone's a star and deserves the right to twinkle." That said, for Christmas one year I bought a star for my mother. Well, the naming rights for a star from the International Star Registry who recorded the name and filed it with the Registry's vault in Switzerland. Actually, I'm quite pleased that when I look up into the night sky, the "HiDoll" star is twinkling back at me.

For those who want more, than a star in the night sky, you can now launch cremated remains into space, attend the launch and get a video of the blast-off.

For $5,300, Space Services will fill a capsule the size of a lipstick tube with about seven grams of cremated ash, pack it into a small canister and arrange to have it flown into space. Relatives are invited to attend the launch and participate in a group memorial service after their loved ones have been laid to rest, so to speak. The company even will provide a keepsake video of the launch preparations and blastoff.

Space Services also offers to entomb a gram of cremated remains in a container the size of a watch battery and fly it for $995. "We've try to keep our services right at or less than the cost of the average funeral in the United States," Chafer said.

Charlie Chafer has decided on this new market to give new lift to his company. "Everybody dies," said Chafer who has spent his entire professional career trying to open the space frontier.

So far, the orbitally entombed include "Star Trek" creator Gene Roddenberry, LSD explorer Timothy Leary and space colony designer Gerard K. O'Neill. Others have made it into space through the kindness of friends: An ounce of the cremated remains of comet-hunter Eugene Shoemaker was packed aboard the Lunar Prospector spacecraft before it lifted off for a moon-mapping mission this month. Roddenberry's ashes actually traveled into the final frontier once before, when an astronaut pal quietly carried a bit of cremated ash into space during a 1992 shuttle mission.

The "HiDoll" star is in the Andromeda constellation (RA 23h 11.07s 49º56' 09.996 -Star # 6 3644 1491)

Posted by Jill Fallon at 1:57 AM | Permalink

December 20, 2004

More last words

From the Yankee almanac

Waiting, are they? Waiting, are they? Well - let them wait.

    (In response to an attending doctor who attempted to comfort him by saying, "General, I fear the angels are waiting for you.") - Ethan Allen, American Revolutionary general.

Moose...Indian .........
    Henry David Thoreau, American writer

Go on, get out - last words are for fools who haven't said enough.
    (To his housekeeper who urged him to tell her his last words so she could write them down for posterity) Karl Marx, German political philosopher

How were the receipts today at Madison Square Garden
    P.T. Barnum, American entrepreneur

Turn up the lights. I don't want to go home in the dark
    O. Henry, American writer

Get my swan costume ready
    Anna Pavlova, Russian ballerina

I should never have switched from Scotch to martinis.
    Humphrey Bogart, American actor

Is it the Fourth?
    Thomas Jefferson, US President who died July 4, 1826

Thomas Jefferson - still survives
    (Actually Jefferson had died earlier that day) John Adams, 2nd US President who also died July 4, 1826

Posted by Jill Fallon at 6:04 PM | Permalink

December 17, 2004

Little Girl with Teddy Bear Saves Lives

I've often thought that all of us pay too little attention to the goodness of people around us. Not surprisingly, William Wordsworth said it a lot better, "The best portion of a good man’s life: his little, nameless unremembered acts of kindness and love."

Consider the large ripple effects of two good men. Spirit of America was founded by Chief Wiggles and now run by Jim Hake with a mission is to extend the goodwill of the American people to assist those advancing freedom and peace broad. You choose the project you want to support from providing sewing machines to carpentry tools to library books and you can rest assured that 100% of your donation goes to the project you want.

We live in a world that is more interconnected than we can ever imagine. A quick check in the mail that someone sent to Spirit of America for toys to Iraqi children just may have saved the lives of many soldiers. This story about a brave little girl with a teddy bear comes from BlackFive, the paratrooper of love and is called The Heart of America.

    Via Seamus, this email is a thank you from a Marine Gunnery Sergeant in Iraq.  It was sent two days ago:
    Just wanted to write to you and tell you another story about an experience we had over here.
    As you know, I asked for toys for the Iraqi children over here and several people (Americans that support us) sent them over by the box. On each patrol we take through the city, we take as many toys as will fit in our pockets and hand them out as we can.  The kids take the toys and run to show them off as if they were worth a million bucks.  We are as friendly as we can be to everyone we see, but especially so with the kids.  Most of them don't have any idea what is going on and are completely innocent in all of this.
    On one such patrol, our lead security vehicle stopped in the middle of the street.  This is not normal and is very unsafe, so the following vehicles began to inquire over the radio.  The lead vehicle reported a little girl sitting in the road and said she just would not budge.  The command vehicle told the lead to simply go around her and to be kind as they did. The street was wide enough to allow this maneuver and so they waved to her as they drove around.
    As the vehicles went around her, I soon saw her sitting there and in her arms she was clutching a little bear that we had handed her a few patrols back.  Feeling an immediate connection to the girl, I radioed that we were going to stop.  The rest of the convoy paused and I got out the make sure she was OK.  The little girl looked scared and concerned, but there was a warmth in her eyes toward me. As I knelt down to talk to her, she moved over and pointed to a mine in the road.
    Immediately a cordon was set as the Marine convoy assumed a defensive posture around the site. The mine was destroyed in place.
    It was the heart of an American that sent that toy.  It was the heart of an American that gave that toy to that little girl.  It was the heart of an American that protected that convoy from that mine. Sure, she was a little Iraqi girl and she had no knowledge of purple mountain's majesty or fruited plains.  It was a heart of acceptance, of tolerance, of peace and grace, even through the inconveniences of conflict that saved that convoy from hitting that mine.  Those attributes are what keep Americans hearts beating. She may have no affiliation at all with the United States, but she knows what it is to be brave and if we can continue to support her and her new government, she will know what it is to be free.  Isn't that what Americans are, the free and the brave?
    If you sent over a toy or a Marine (US Service member) you took part in this. You are a reason that Iraq has to believe in a better future. Thank you so much for supporting us and for supporting our cause over here.
    Semper Fi,
    GySgt / USMC

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:40 PM | Permalink

Unclaimed Money

First cash, then claims come out of the wall. $210,000 find leads to ownership dispute with no end in sight

This is what happens when you don't let your heirs know where everything is. You want to let someone know you've hidden more than $200,000 in the wall. Otherwise it just becomes part of the 400 billion dollars in unclaimed money in the United States.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:41 AM | Permalink

December 16, 2004

A Cloud of Souls

Have you ever taken a photograph and had a mysterious orb appear when you printed it?

Catherine and Jerome King, artists in Phoenix, have had that unnerving experience many times. Catherine has begun creating art from her "Ghost Photo Reality Gallery". If you visit her blog The Tears of Things you can see the photographs she took that show orbs and read how it all started. As she began taking more orb photos, she had a metaphysical crisis that she writes about. Were they ghosts? Spirits? They appeared to have personality -like behavior being attracted to creative works - art on the walls, projects on the table, her computer keyboard.

    Suddenly I was confronting a profound terror inside myself. I felt an alienating fear of my most familiar and intimate surroundings. I scared myself when I was alone at home, picturing spectral spheres all around me. I didn’t want to walk through a spot where an orb had been, even though I’d captured them pretty much all over our apartment. I couldn’t function if I was afraid to move about my own home. I had to come to terms with this new reality.

    Truly, the unknown is all around us, all the time. This is reality. For days I struggled with my new realization. I looked back at myself, before I knew about the orbs, almost as if I had been another person. Pragmatically and reverently, I came to accept that we the living are surrounded by those who are not. Again I picked up the camera, empowered by having overcome my fears and accepting the mystery that has always been. Now I was ready to document this cosmic phenomenon. ... It appears we are living elbow to elbow with spherical spirits. By extension then, could it be that THE ENTIRE PLANET IS COVERED WITH A CLOUD OF SOULS?

Orbs 3

Wouldn't it be delicious if those old ghost and haunting stories had some basis in reality? There are those who say these orbs are nothing but pictures of dust motes. But what if they ARE something more? After all, we are surrounded by the cloud of the Internet and television shows. Until we link on a site or choose a channel, we don't manifest in physical reality that which exists in some form of possibility and potential all around us. Where does "Law and Order" exist before we switch it on and hook to a certain beam of electrons?

If there are, as the quantum physicists tell us, parallel universes all around us, some of which may not be bounded by time as we understand it, could there be a cloud of souls out there? Or over here? I am one who does not discount stories of the spirit world that exist in every culture I can think of, as "superstitious." I believe many of them are imperfect descriptions of a reality we no longer know how to describe without sounding like a nut of some sort. For many, even the thought of such a reality is terrifying. Others find it comforting.

Ronnie Bennett describes Yahrzeit, a Jewish tradition of burning a candle for 24 hours on the anniversary of the death of a loved one. Her post is Remembrance of Those Past

    Through some quirk of mind for which I have no explanation, thinking about someone dead is, for me, like being with them. They aren’t really gone; we just haven’t visited for awhile. I recall times spent together and the feelings of those moments return as strongly as when the party, dinner or conversation took place. Sometimes I shuffle through old letters and postcards they sent and in their written words, their voices come back to me as true as when they lived. We are together again.....

    The yahrzeit is supposed to be a solemn anniversary, but I repeat this ritual for each loved one each year with cheerfulness and joy in our renewed closeness that day.

    It is for us, the living, to bear witness for the dead, that they lived as we still do and walked among us until called to the unknowable, as we too shall one day be called.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 6:12 PM | Permalink

December 15, 2004

105 Year Old Smoker Gets Floral Cigarette Wreath

From London, Reuters

    Nursing home staff paid tribute to a 105-year old British woman who had smoked since the age of 15 by cremating her with a packet of cigarettes and laying a large floral cigarette on her coffin. Marie Ellis died -- of natural causes -- at the Eaton Lodge Nursing Home in Kent, southeast England, in early December and was cremated on Tuesday, clutching a packet of her favorite Benson and Hedges cigarettes.

    "We will always remember her for her smoking because the first thing she asked when she got up was 'Can I have a cigarette,'" said matron Maria Kallis, who commissioned a large wreath in the shape of a cigarette, made with white and yellow chrysanthemums, for the spinster's coffin.

    The enigmatic Ellis, an ex-typist, arrived at the nursing home 15 years ago.

    Apart from her 15-a-day habit, she was also notorious among staff for her unhealthy eating habits, often asking for sugar in her soup and always demanding three sugars in her coffee.

    Staff played the song Smoke Gets in Your Eyes at Ellis' funeral and are planning a memorial concrete ashtray for her in the nursing home garden, where her ashes will also be buried.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 3:30 PM | Permalink

December 14, 2004

How to leave a Great Legacy

"Do all you can, with what you have, in the time you have, in the place you are."
Nkosi Johnson, a 12 year old AIDS activist who died in 2001 in South Africa.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:26 PM | Permalink

Grave Affairs

    "Here lies the remains of Thomas Nichols, who died in Philadelphia, March, 1753. Had he lived he would have been buried here." - epitaph on a memorial in Kilkell, Ireland.

    President Harry Truman said that when he died, he wanted to be buried in a casket of mulberry wood because, "I want to go through hell a 'crackin and a poppin'."

These tidbits come from "Solitude in Stone" a quarterly newsletter I just received from Clyde Chamberlain who took the Expired photo and who apparently spends some time perusing old copies of American Cemetery Magazine, a magazine for the trade.

Still, the International Cemetery and Funeral Association does have "straight answers to real questions" in its Consumer Resource Guide.

A Grave Affair offers "A selection of books and related materials illustrating how Society and individuals have dealt with and memorialized Mortality and Death through the Ages.

There is even an Association for Gravestone Studies to foster appreciation of the cultural significance of gravestones adn burial grounds through their study and preservation.

Family Tree Magazine tells you not only how to do a tombstone rubbing but provides a useful list of cemetery-related resources.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:37 PM | Permalink

December 11, 2004

Seminars that manipulate seniors into buying annuities

Carolyn Said, a reporter for the San Francisco Chronicleexamines the history behind a California class-action suit against those insurance companies who use estate-planning sessions to sell annuities to seniors.

    Charlotte Cook found out something startling after her East Sacramento neighbor of 20 years, Leo Travis, died. She discovered that her friend, a frail, almost-blind man with severe emphysema, had cashed in his life savings in his final months to purchase annuities that wouldn't mature until he was 98.

    Cook was furious. "He would have had to pay major fines to get his money back out should he have needed hospitalization or to go into a skilled nursing facility. He had no liquid capital left," she said.

    That's why Cook, as the executor of Travis' estate, joined with two seniors who were sold similar products and two advocacy organizations for seniors in a class-action lawsuit against insurance companies and living-trust companies that market to elderly people. It is the largest case of its kind in California......

    The lawsuit, filed late last month in San Francisco Superior Court, charges that the companies sponsor free estate-planning seminars for seniors as a way "to learn about the senior's assets and manipulate them into purchasing manifestly inappropriate financial investments for seniors, namely annuities."

    Two companies named as defendants in the suit -- Estate Preservation Inc. of El Segundo (Los Angeles County) and Ameri-Estate Legal Plan Inc. of Irvine (Orange County) -- said they had done nothing illegal or unethical.

    Two other defendants, American Investors Life Insurance Co. in Topeka, Kan., and American Equity Investment Life Insurance Co. in Des Moines, Iowa, said they had no comment. Another defendant, Gentry Group of Dallas, did not return phone calls.

    "There's nothing wrong with a living trust," said Louise Renne, former San Francisco city attorney and now a partner with Renne Sloan Holtzman & Sakai, representing the plaintiffs in the case. "But there certainly is something wrong when a living-trust seminar or mill is used as a way to gather information about a senior's assets and then sell them an annuity."

    Financial planners say annuities are a poor investment choice for people over 65 because they generally have long maturation periods and severe penalties for early withdrawal. Sometimes they even have substantial surrender charges if the owner dies before a certain age.

    But they are lucrative for the insurance agents who sell them. According to, typical annuity commissions are from 5 to 5.5 percent of the money invested, with some agents collecting commissions of up to 14 percent.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 2:50 PM | Permalink

December 10, 2004

Final Salute

A man of exceptional bravery and courage, Chris Engeldrum was laid to rest yesterday in a Bronx church. A firefighter with Ladder Co. 61, he searched for survivors at Ground Zero. A Gulf War vet, he went to Iraq as an Army National Guard sergeant where he was killed on November 29 when a bomb exploded under his Humvee as he rode in a convoy near Baghdad.
Firefighter Engeldrum had completed his service with the National Guard, but re-enlisted. He did so, his colleagues said, in outrage at the Sept. 11 attack. "It had an effect on him," said Lt. Brian Horton of Ladder Company 61. "His country was attacked, he was a soldier, and he wanted to defend it." Only 39, Engeldrum left behind a pregnant wife, Sharon and Sean, 18 and Royce 16.

    Sean delivered the second eulogy, a loving tribute to his father that received thunderous applause. "My dad was the greatest man I will ever know, and I hope to be like him," the heartsick son said.
All 2500 seats in St. Benedict's Church were filled and thousands lined the street to give him a final salute.Final Salute
Steve Dunleavy, the NY Post columnist wrote,
    We were all there yesterday, 10,000 of us, on a chilly Bronx day to give up our love — and try to understand how sometimes ordinary human beings can be so extraordinary.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 5:36 AM | Permalink

December 9, 2004


The Web never fails to delight. Just how I came across Morbid Curiosities I don't know, but this story and photo are too good not to share. Knowing that he dying from liver disease, Archie Arnold, decided on his final practical joke. While in Hixville, Ohio, Archie backed over two parking meters. After paying for their replacements, he asked,

    "Well, since I've paid for them, can I take them home?" to which the sheriff replied, "Sure, they're no good to us now." He took them home, put new pipes on for the stands, painted them black, welded the coin slot so it couldn't be changed, and modified his will. He stated that upon his death, one was to be placed on each end of his monument and they were to read "EXPIRED."
" Expired
After appearing on Tampa television, Clyde Chamberlain who took the photo, heard the whole story from Archie's cousin. Clyde has sold this photo to over 60 newspapers and magazines. .In retirement, he writes a quarterly newsletter, "Solitude in Stone" - all about cemeteries and tombstones and word is he's about to publish a book with this photo on the cover

Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:37 AM | Permalink

December 8, 2004

Urned Ruins

A reprise from Florence King's, Urned Ruins, "Happy Entrails to You"

    The Duchesse de Montpensier was the daughter of Louis XIII's younger brother, and thus first cousin to Louis XIV. As the oldest female of royal blood at court, she was called "Grande Mademoiselle." According to the custom of the time, when she died her heart was entombed in a chapel, while her entrails went into a sealed urn that was placed on a sideboard in the mourning room at Versailles, where pairs of noblewomen chosen by the king took turns watching over it round the clock. It was all done with exquisite taste; from the solemn major domo to the susurrating murmur of the nuns at prayer, the occasion exemplified punctilious court etiquette and stoic neoclassical grief.

    Malheureusement, Grande Mademoiselle's badly embalmed entrails had fermented, producing enough gases to turn the sealed urn into a bomb. Suddenly there was a deafening explosion, followed by a hideous stench. Pandemonium erupted; ladies screamed, chevaliers fought each other to reach the doors, fleeing priests trampled doddering old marquises as, gasping for air, the mourners poured onto the lawns in abject panic.

    When they found out what had happened they reverted to type. "All was perfumed and restored," writes Saint-Simon, "and the commotion was made light of."

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:10 AM | Permalink

December 7, 2004

We live this day, this hour, this moment

An anonymous six page diary written by a young girl contemporaneously with the Warsaw uprising becomes a great legacy to the generations who follow. It is the only account written during the uprising that survived the battle. Its significance was recognized only recently when researchers were organizing the Berman archives. It rests now at the Ghetto Fighters House at Kibbutz Lochamei Haghettaot, a communal village in northern Israel. The young woman who lived on a bowl of soup and a cup of coffee a day wrote:

    The only thing we are left with is our hiding place. Of course this will not be a safe place for very long.
    We live this day, this hour, this moment.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 2:02 PM | Permalink

The Beauty of Ordinary Moments Captured

Gilead is the long awaited second novel by Marilynne Robinson who wrote the modern classic "Housekeeping" in 1981. It's a work of solemn beauty and dry humor.

Gilead is in the form of a letter from an ailing Ames, a third generation pastor in a small Iowa town to his young son and a remarkable example of a what a personal legacy archive can be. Yes, it's fiction and by one of our most celebrated writers, but she tells stories of fathers and sons, of visions and intensely charged moments of love and life that we all experience from time to time. What a treasure to be able to pass on even some of them.
Here's an ordinary moment captured.

    I saw a bubble float past my window, fat and wobbly and ripening toward that dragonfly blue they turn just before they burst. So I looked down at the yard and there you were, you and your mother, blowing bubbles at the cat, such a barrage of them that the poor beast was beside herself at the glut of opportunity. She was actually leaping in the air, our insouciant Soapy! Some of the bubbles drifted up through the branches, even above the trees. You two were too intent on the cat to see the celestial consequences of your worldly endeavors. They were very lovely. Your mother is wearing her blue dress and you are wearing your red shirt and you were kneeling on the ground together with Soapy between and that effulgence of bubbles rising, and so much laughter. Ah, this life, this world.

In later years, can this boy ever doubt the love of his father and the beauty he saw in his son's very being.

How many of us can remember a certain moment with vivid recall and never really understand why.

    My point here is that you never do know the actual nature even of your own experience. Or perhaps it has no fixed and certain nature. I remember my father down on his heels in the rain, water dripping from his hat, feeding me biscuit from his scorched hand, with that old blackened wreck of a church behind him and steam rising where the rain fell on embers, the rain falling in gusts and the women singing "The Old Rugged Cross" while they saw to things, moving so gently, as if they were dancing to the hymn, almost. In those days no grown woman ever let herself be seen with her hair undone, but that day even the grand old women had their hair falling down their backs like schoolgirls. It was so joyful and sad. I mention it again because it seems to me much of my life was comprehended in that moment. Grief itself has often returned to me that morning, when I took communion from my father's hand. I remember it as communion, and I believe that's what it was.

    I can't tell you what that day in the rain has meant to me. I can't tell myself what it has meant to me. But I know how many things it put together beyond question, for me. Now all the old woemn have their hair cut short and colored blue, which is fine, I suppose.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:58 AM | Permalink

December 6, 2004

Another Sophie's Choice

Melanie Campbell has two 14 year old sons, each with the same hereditary fatal kidney disease. Only an organ donation can save their lives. Melanie is a perfect donor match for each of them; however, she needs one of her kidneys to stay alive. In Mother's dilemma: which son should I save , Melanie is quoted as saying,

    I think about it all the time. I would give up my life for my children but there’s only one of me and two of them. I couldn’t give a kidney to one and leave the other"

Another reason to make sure you have arranged to donate your organs.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 3:50 PM | Permalink

A most gorgeous scent

The Anchoress writes about the imminent death of her brother. She calls it "A Moment of Grace". I too have been privileged to be present when a good man died and I too can recall how awesome an experience it was.

    It's a genuinely painful, but also rather good experience, to watch someone taking their leisurely leave of this world. I might not have written those words a few days ago, but things are happening, and changing.

    As my brother S makes what appears to be a final lap around the days and seasons of his own life, some beautiful mystery is being played out before our eyes. I think we might be witnessing grace.

    We have been watching S make his unhurried exit for a few months, but these last few days have been a compelling mix of lunacy and sorrow. The thin line that separates our laughter from our tears has seemed to been completely erased, and in its place there is this wonder as we witness an ongoing dialogue between S and various people – unseen by any of us – who are gathering in his room and leading him through something that is perhaps full of glory.

    Last night, the room became filled with a most gorgeous scent, it seemed to me to be roses and frankincense – the odor reminded me of the oil of chrism you can smell on your child’s hair after baptism, but more intense. It filled the room. I asked a nurse if she could smell it and she smiled and said, “yes, of course. You know what it is.”

    I dare not say what I suspect it is, but I wonder. A breath of heaven? It would not surprise me. S actually looks better than he has in weeks. His skin has a glow to it, and he seems comfortable. I was reminded of Corrie Ten Boom’s book, The Hiding Place wherein she discusses the death of her beloved sister, Betsy, and how Betsy’s features, even in a terrible death, became lovely and glowing. It is much the same, here.

We live and die in a mystery.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 3:22 PM | Permalink

December 2, 2004

On A Red Velvet Cushion

I've just returned from Chicago where I visited my long-time dear friend Paula Duffy, now director of the University of Chicago Press. She treated me to some of the best of Chicago including Second City and Late Nite Catechism, the Field Museum for two big exhibits Machu Picchu and Jackie Kennedy , the very modern Millennium Park and the very traditional Walnut Room at Marshall Field's to kickoff the Christmas Season.

Now as director of the Press that publishes over 200 books a year, she talked most about two. She's very proud of The Encyclopedia of Chicago over 10 years in the making which was published to plaudits from reviewers and just in time for Christmas giving.
A great legacy for a great city. The other book is Doing Honest Work in College by Charles Lipson, a professor of political science at the University and co-director of PIPES (Program on International Politics, Economics and Security.

I was fortunate to meet the charming Charles Lipson who proudly showed me his awesome home page which features breaking news, many links to audio newscasts in English from around the world as well as old-time radio shows and links to other audio features. I knew about Storycorps but not about Sound Portraits or the wealth of old time radio available for download or streaming.

From him I learned Chicago has another unique legacy.

    At the Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn St., a human skull sits in a place of honor. When the legendary Chicago improv guru Del Close died in 1999, he willed his cranium to the Goodman for use as a prop -- Close had poor Yorick specifically in mind. Seated on a red velvet cushion in a plastic box, Close's skull resides in the office of Robert Falls, the Goodman's artistic director.
A last and lasting joke by someone who never wanted to leave the theater.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:21 PM | Permalink

Fallen Heroes

When someone dies, nothing pleases family members more than then hearing about the positive impact the deceased had on someone's life. Please take the time to write a note. The stories and appreciation you can express are enormously healing for their families. Whether hand-written or e-mail, grieving family members can read and re-read notes in their home time and feel the support of all those who knew and loved the deceased. Think of such a community as many invisible bonds forming a life-raft of love keeping the widow and children safe as they pass through the rapids and whirlpools of grief.

There is an online Fallen Heroes Memorial for all of the fallen service members of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. If you wanted to know what you could do to support our troops, here's what you can. Send an expression of support, appreciation and gratitude to a family in your state.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:14 PM | Permalink

Mercy Killing of Newborns

As the future arrives faster and faster, we - as a society, as individuals and as families - will face more difficult ethical and moral decisions when it comes to medical care for ourselves and our loved ones. One such in the news today is the Groningen Protocol , one Dutch hospital's guidelines for the mercy killing of newborns deemed to be suffering from an incurable disease or extreme deformities. Holland is the first country that I know of that allows the "mercy killing" of newborns, a practice that may be more hidden and widespread than you'd think.

Experts acknowledge that doctors euthanize routinely in the United States and elsewhere, but that the practice is hidden.

    "Measures that might marginally extend a child's life by minutes or hours or days or weeks are stopped. This happens routinely, namely, every day," said Lance Stell, professor of medical ethics at Davidson College in Davidson, N.C., and staff ethicist at Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte, N.C. "Everybody knows that it happens, but there's a lot of hypocrisy. Instead, people talk about things they're not going to do."
What will happen when a hospital or government committee disagrees with the parents about what should be done? The financial pressure on hospitals to cease expensive care will become greater, even as the family wants such care until death comes naturally. These are hugely charged questions. Sometimes what seems a tragedy turns out to a blessing, as is often the case in Down's syndrome babies. That effect is best seen on the family members who become more loving, compassionate and tolerant.
    The thought of euthanizing infants for any reason, including handicaps is repulsive to me.This is especially because my baby sister is profoundly retarded. Despite the hardship of that situation, I cannot think of anything else in my life that has more positively formed my character. To me, she is an angel sent by God to make me a better, more compassionate person.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 7:41 PM | Permalink

December 1, 2004

Look for more boutique estate planning firms

It seems as if estate planning simply doesn't fit the large-firm business model. Deborah Jacobs explores why in "Scaling Down" in Bloomberg's Wealth Manager, the June 04 issue which unfortunately is not online. As top lawyers leave mammoth firms to open their own estate-planning boutiques, they not only find a better lifestyle and more flexibility, they no longer have to compete for partnership shares with high-flying litigators.

Boutique firms offer several advantages. They are more welcoming of smaller estates, they often have a sharper focus and a lower overhead. Since they are not looking for business other than estate planning, they are more open to strategic alliances with other professionals: teams of professionals each with unique areas of expertise who work together on a particular project for their mutual client.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 4:09 PM | Permalink