August 31, 2005

Never will again exist

I'm blogging about the catastrophe in New Orleans and Mississippi over at Business of Life.

It's life that counts now.  It's Search and Rescue Time.  Time to save as many human lives as possible.

Time soon enough to find and bury the dead.

Time soon enough realize that everything has changed and the past will never be again.

Too much of what existed last week never will again.

Here's cobaltgreen,  from katriancane's friends.
It's times like this when you make realize what belongings you really cherish. I'm hoping my footage tapes of the recent interviews for The Documentary can be recovered... they are some of the last recordings of the New Orleans I love. The New Orleans that will never again exist.

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Posted by Jill Fallon at 1:18 AM | Permalink

August 28, 2005

The Namesake

Don't miss this story by Gerard Van der Leun  the namesake of an uncle he never knew.  The Name in the Stone

Cut into the stone amongst a tally of the dead.

If you have an unusual name, there's nothing that prepares you for seeing it in a list of the dead on a summer Sunday afternoon in Battery Park in 1975. I don't really remember the feeling except to know that, for many long moments, I became suddenly chilled.

When that passed, I knew why my name was in the stone. I'd always known why, but I'd never known about the stone or the names cut into it.

"Gerard Van der Leun" was, of course, not me. He was someone else entirely. Someone who had been born, lived, and died before I was even conceived. He was my father's middle brother. He was what my family had given to stop Fascism, Totalitarianism and genocide in the Second World War. He was one of their three sons. He was dead before he was 22 years old. His body never recovered, the exact time and place of his death over the Atlantic, unknown.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 3:02 PM | Permalink

Tap on the shoulder

From Monastic Skete, The Tap on the Shoulder. a moving story by Brother Dan in Tennessee.

It was one of those requests for a 6 a.m. visit before surgery. Some of these can be strange, like the man who didn't want prayer but just a witness as he changed his will and wrote it on a napkin.

This request was a bit unusual. They wanted me to walk with the patient from his room to surgery. After our short conversation and prayer the attendant began moving the bed toward the door. When it was almost to the door I reached out to Maria, the patient Rick's wife, and said, "Here is a prayer by Thomas Merton I often pass out to patients.

She glanced at the prayer, then her husband Rick began to cry. Maria said, "last night before he went to sleep he said I wish I had that prayer by Thomas Merton." Tears came to my eyes then. I knew something special was going on.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 2:56 AM | Permalink

August 27, 2005

Like a shooting star

"I'm not going to die, I'm going home like a shooting star"
                                      Sojourner Truth.
Sojourner Truth, originally a Dutch speaking slave in Hurley, NY, was freed by the NY State Anti-Slavery Act in 1827.  Her children born when she was enslaved were taken from her.  Searching for her son Peter first brought her into contact with anti-slavery abolitionists.

She later  supported herself by preaching against slavery and for women's rights throughout the north.  Born Isabelle Van Wagenen, she took the name Sojourner Truth in 1843.  Here she is with President Lincoln.

 Sojourner Truth And Pres Lincoln

Sojourner Truth Memorial, Florence, Ma
Sojourner Trust Institute
The Narrative of Sojourner Truth
Sojourner Truth reading list for all ages
Her famous "Ain't I A Woman" speech recalled by someone who was there.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 6:41 PM | Permalink

August 26, 2005

Michael Yon's Gates of Fire

What is it like to be facing death in Iraq?  What do the soldiers go through?    What are the stories you're not hearing?

Michael Yon tells us in Gates of Fire.

Reaching around the corner, I fired three shots into the shop. The third bullet pierced a propane canister, which jumped up in the air and began spinning violently. It came straight at my head but somehow missed, flying out of the shop as a high-pressure jet of propane hit me in the face. The goggles saved my eyes. I gulped in deeply.

Gerard Vanderleun says it's one of the greatest pieces of front-line reporting in the past 60 years and without a doubt the single greatest dispatch to come out of the Iraq war.

He's right. 

Michael Yon has found his purpose and is making his legacy alongside American troops stabilizing the situation in Iraq. 

Hats off to Michael and all the soldiers at Deuce Four.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 6:11 AM | Permalink

Grave Robbing by Animal Activists

For six years a family that breeds guinea pigs for medical research  has been under attack by animal extremists. 

Last October, the Animal Rights Militia dug up and took away the remains of an 82 year old woman who had lain in the graveyard at St Peter's Church for eight years.

Yesterday the family, David, John and Chris Hall said they would close their Darley Oaks Farm in the hopes of getting the body of Gladys Hammond back so "so she can lie once again in her rightful resting place."

The family's lawyer said in the London Telegraph, Victory for the Fanatics.

It is an undemocratic day when a campaign of terrorism stops a hard-working, law-abiding family from undertaking an activity that is crucial to research and upon which the lives of many elderly people depend.

A little piece of freedom died today. I don't suppose there is a single day where they don't think about Gladys's remains. They are experiencing emotional, spiritual and traumatic problems."

The statement of the Halls:

"David Hall and Partners' involvement in breeding guinea pigs for biomedical research will cease at the end of 2005.

"The business, which has operated for over three decades, will undergo a phased closure until then to ensure the welfare of animals involved.

"The business has continued during a sustained protest from animal rights extremists for six years, which included the desecration of the grave of Gladys Hammond last October. We now hope that, as a result of this announcement, those responsible for removing Gladys's body will return her so she can lie once again in her rightful resting place."

A sad day indeed when he despicable tactic of grave-robbing for black-mail  succeeds.  Though how animal activists think they will win converts to their cause is beyond me, especially with statements like this spokesman for one of the animal groups, "This is the most fantastic day of my life.".

Posted by Jill Fallon at 5:34 AM | Permalink

August 25, 2005

Angry Widow

One new widow stands up and lets loose at Professor Juan Cole who, on no evidence, makes scurrilous attacks about her husband journalist Steve Vincent who was murdered in Iraq.  It's Called Courage.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:10 PM | Permalink

The First Private Eye

His career as a detective began by chance when he discovered a gang of counterfeiters while he was gathering wood. 

He was Chicago's first full time detective until left to start his own detective agency to capture train robbers and counterfeiters.  His agency's logo, the "all-seeing eye" inspired the phrase "private eye".

He was an ardent abolitionist and his shop functioned as a station for escaped slaves.  He thwarted an assassination plot against President Lincoln in 1861 who later hired him to organize a "secret service."

Detective Allan Pinkerton is pictured below to the left of President Lincoln.

   Lincoln And Pinkerton

All this from Today in History brought to you every day from the American Memory Project at the Library of Congress.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 2:25 PM | Permalink

Sign Here to Prove You Are Dead

Repeated requests to close down her late father's  bank account proved fruitless.  Barclay's Bank was insisting that her father's signature was necessary.

"I was at my wit's end," said Sheila Lane

She took her father's ashes enclosed in a nice red box, to the bank,  slammed them on the counter and said,

"If you think you can get a signature out of him then you are a better person than me."

Posted by Jill Fallon at 1:58 PM | Permalink

Desecration of Civil War Corpse

Neil Goodwin was supposed to be cleaning up a cemetery as part of his court-ordered community work, when he kicked in the thin marble entrance to a tomb, pulled out a 142 year old skeleton, and twisted off the spine, collarbone and skull while posing for pictures.

  Vandalized Crypt

This desecration of civil war corpse in Newburyport, Massachusetts, is part of an increasing trend of crypt vandalism which is prompting historical societies to strengthen laws concerning vandalism of gravesites.

People in Newburyport are outraged.  The city plans to hire a funeral home to piece the skeleton back together so it can be replaced in its casket and reinterred.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:48 PM | Permalink

August 23, 2005

37 Days

Patti watched her stepfather die of lung cancer just 37 days after being diagnosed.   

The timeframe of 37 days made an impression on me. We act as if we have all the time in the world - that's not a new understanding. But the definite-ness of 37 days struck me. So short a time, as if all the regrets of a life would barely have time to register before time was up.

And so, as always when awful things happen, I tried to figure out how to reconcile in my mind the fact that it was happening and the fact that the only thing I could do was try to make some good out of it. What emerged was a renewed commitment to ask myself this question every morning: 'what would I be doing today if I only had 37 days to live?'

It's a hard question some days.

But here's how I answered it: Write like hell, leave as much of myself behind for my two daughters as I could, let them know me and see me as a real person, not just a mother, leave with them for safe-keeping my thoughts and memories, fears and dreams, the histories of what I am and who my people are. Leave behind my thoughts about living the life, that "one wild and precious life" that poet Mary Oliver speaks of. That's what I'd do with my 37 days. So, I'm beginning here.

Her blog 37 days is a fine one.  Patti shows how richly  you can live when you keep the horizon line in sight.  And how much fun you can have.

Every week she writes a new essay with a Do It Now Challenge  Burn those jeans, always rent the red convertible, live an irresistible obituary, know the point of your life, find your own saxophone, and stand on your own rock

She's terrific, smart and wise and funny to boot, all while pondering the big questions.  Don't miss her.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 2:17 PM | Permalink

August 22, 2005

Planet Dad

The son of a spy tries to unravel the puzzle of his paternity.

From His Father's Secrets

Fathers as foreign entities: It's a familiar theme. But in his book, My Father the Spy which is subtitled "An Investigative Memoir," Richardson, now 50, takes us deep into the life of a CIA agent, both professional and personal, noble and tragic.

Others knew his father in ways he could only imagine. They knew a completely different man.
"I was jealous, more than anything else," he says. "I loved that he was like that" -- like the man in the early letters. "I loved that guy. And yet that was not a guy I ever met.
One day, he's sitting on his father's patio, chatting amid the bougainvillea and lemon trees. They're chatting about Vietnam, sort of. And the son decides to ask his father the big question.
"I asked him how he felt about the blood on his hands," Richardson recalls in the interview.
In the book, he writes: "I'm thinking in a general sense about Diem and the war. But he looks hurt and puzzled and doesn't answer. Later, mom gets angry at me. 'He never killed anyone or ordered anyone to be killed. You know that.'
But he didn't know that. Not even at the very end in 1998, when his dad is dying and gasping for breath and the son is sitting on the edge of the bed. So much he would never know.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 1:49 PM | Permalink

Hoping you live forever

From relatives, friends get behind shovels in graveside tribute to John Barrett

Early on a radiant summer day in an old cemetery on a green knoll in rural Le Sueur County, 15 friends and relatives paid John Barnett the ultimate in final respects.

They took up shovels and dug his grave.
The man and life that inspired such devotion were not extraordinary, unless you consider a beloved man and a simple and by all accounts happy life to be extraordinary.

The hand-digging was also a tribute to Barnett's own years of work as a member of the St. Michael's cemetery board. "He was always happy to help dig graves," Jim Gunville said. "He used to say they made a party out of it, sometimes with a bottle at hand, and 'the lower we dug, the higher we got.' "

Saturday's gathering was more sober, but by no means somber. "We were so happy to do this," Jim Gunville said, to honor Barnett's love of life.

He had often offered this toast, Gunville said: "Here's hoping you live forever and I never die."

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:56 AM | Permalink

August 21, 2005

Skinned Cadaver Exhibit

The Florida Anatomical Board, which regulates the distribution of cadavers for research and education,  voted 4-2 against a proposed exhibit at Tampa's Museum of Science and Industry because it was concerned that the exhibit did not show proper respect for dead bodies.

Despite the ban, the Museum opened its cadavar exhibit.

Premier Exhibitions of Atlanta, which organized the show, said it obtained the bodies and organs legally and without payment from a medical university in China. The Chinese government said the cadavers were unclaimed and unidentified bodies.

State Attorney General Charlie Crist on Friday wrote that because the purpose of "BODIES: The Exhibition" is educational, it was his opinion that the approval of the Anatomical Board is required.

So far no one is going to court, I don't know why.

BODIES: The Exhibition" features 20 cadavers and 260 other parts preserved with a process that replaces human tissue with silicone rubber. Skin is removed, exposing muscles, bones, organs, tendons, blood vessels and brains.

Tampa is to be the U.S. debut for the exhibit.

A similar human anatomy exhibit called "Body Worlds" is now showing in the United States and has drawn more than 15 million visitors since its debut in Tokyo in 1996. It has also drawn criticism from medical ethicists, however, and the condemnation of religious groups that claim it violates the sanctity of the human body.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:26 PM | Permalink

Last words of Pancho Villa

"Don't let it end like this.. Tell them I said something"

Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:14 AM | Permalink

August 20, 2005

Do Not Open Until My Death

If you have a deep dark secret that implicates yourself or someone in your family as an accomplice in a murder, a secret that might solve a mystery that has puzzled the nation for years, then writing what you know down and sealing it in an envelope marked Do Not Open Until My Death is the way to go.

After 73 years, the mystery of what happened to Judge Crater, "the most missingest man in America" may be solved because one woman left such a letter in her safety deposit box.

From ABC News

On Aug. 6, 1930, Judge Joseph F. Crater stepped off a midtown Manhattan curb and into a cab after seeing a Broadway play with his showgirl girlfriend. He was never heard from again.
The possible break in the case came after the death a little more than two months ago of an elderly woman, whose name is being withheld by detectives at this time.

The woman's death prompted her family to open a safe-deposit box where they discovered a letter labeled "Do Not Open Until My Death." In the letter, the woman recounted her own father's deathbed statements to her, statements which, if true, could bring to a close one of the oldest enduring mysteries in America. And so far, detectives say, everything the woman wrote has been corroborated.

The letter contained the names of cab driver Frank Burn, and his brother, a police officer named Charles. The letter claimed that Frank Burn had killed Crater and buried the body under the boardwalk at New York's Coney Island. Charles Burn was named as the killer in another notorious homicide.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 5:48 PM | Permalink

The Walt Disney of the Funeral Business.

What do you think of Video playing tombstones?

Thankfully, there are no speakers.  But do you want your tombstone embedded with a flat screen monitor allowing visitors to play a memorial video?

Joe Joachim who wants to be the Walt Disney of the funeral business wants to create the ultimate funeral experience.

Now, I'm all for memorial DVDs, but the funeral is not the right place.  Funerals should be a sad, solemn ritual.  A person has died,  the bell must toll and we  must be sad as we realize once again, that we will die and everyone we know will die. 

DVDs are for the family and for the reception after.  Then we can drink and come back to life again in the company of friends and family and laugh and cry.  That's when we need the catharsis of emotion that a memorial DVD can provide.

I'm not against personalizing funerals or scatterings: 

Home Funerals
Green Burials
Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Mulch
Vertical Cemeteries

In fact, I very much like the idea of bringing art and creativity to honor and celebrate the deceased.

Fantasy Coffins
Creative Cremains
Boomer Burials and Scatterings
Translucent Tombstones
Rest in Space

I don't want to see cemeteries with tombstones with empty TV screens.


Posted by Jill Fallon at 7:27 AM | Permalink

Walking Into Heaven

Walking into Heaven.  John Dwyer on the death of his mother.

In her hospital bed, her family gathered round, Mom would press our hands now and then.  But we noticed that her feet were moving, just a little bit, almost continuously.  And they kept moving as she walked into Heaven. 

Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:54 AM | Permalink

August 19, 2005

Bonded Black and White

When you begin to write the stories of your life and your family, wonderful things can happen.

From the Washington Post, Faded Sketch Propels Families Across a Racial Divide, by Sudarsan Raghavan.

An elderly black woman drove up to the sand-colored mansion of a frail old white man in Prince George's County. She parked and walked slowly to the back entrance, as if by instinct. Under one arm, she carried a framed, faded sketch. Under the other, a roll of genealogy charts.

The sketch was of her great-great-grandparents, Basil and Lizzie Wood. They were long dead when Anna Holmes was born, but she had come to know them like her shadow.

Oden Bowie had met Basil and Lizzie. They worked for his family and may have been his ancestors' slaves. But until that chilly day in February 2002, Holmes had resisted asking for Bowie's help in writing this chapter of her family's history. For much of her life, reaching out to the white world meant crossing into a forbidding realm.

It also unearthed something within her that had been buried by decades of discrimination.

"If you bonded with someone, you're going to be bonded whether they are black or white," she said.

She is writing an autobiography to pass on to her descendants. She wants them "to know where they came from," she said, because "this is who they are." She will proudly tell them how they are now connected to one of Maryland's first families. She will tell them how Eugene Roberts now calls her "extended family."

One day, she sat her grandchildren down and told them about the kind white man whose gift she unravels every day.

"He could have just said, 'Oh, yeah, they are buried over here,' and that's the end of that," she told them. "He could have closed the door.

"But he didn't choose to do that."

Posted by Jill Fallon at 2:12 PM | Permalink

Brother Robert, Prior of Taize

Brother Robert, Prior of Taize, aged 90,  was stabbed three times in the back by a deranged woman from Romania in front of the 2500 visitors attending evening prayers at the community of Taize in the Burgundy area of France.

  Brother Robert

A shocking and violent end to a life of prayer, peace and reconciliation.

His community of Taize, founded after World War II,  became a center of pilgrimage, attracting thousands of young people drawn by the purest  Gregorian chant in the world.

From the International Herald Tribune

Brother Roger, 90, and his fellow monks, including Lutherans, Anglicans, Catholics and Orthodox Christians, built bridges among the various Christian faiths. But he above all sought to awaken spirituality among young people growing up in a secular world.

From the Telegraph, U.K.

Since 1959 thousands of young people have made their way by train, bus, car and on foot to Taizé's plain concrete church on a Burgundian hill, there to camp out in tents at Easter and throughout the summer. Taizé has been visited by three Archbishops of Canterbury, several Orthodox metropolitans, 14 Swedish Lutheran bishops and by Pope John Paul II, who compared it to "a spring of water".

Brother Robert believed in prayer and said, "Prayer is a serene force at work within human beings, stirring them up, transforming them, never allowing them to close their eyes in the face of evil, or wars, or all that threatens the weak of this world."  The Taize form of prayer that evolved consists of music made up of simple melodies repeated several times to allow it to become a prayer of the heart.

The spirituality of the Taize service is deeply moving and  has influenced Christian worship around the world.

From his  obituary in the London Times

The charisma of this frail and sensitive Swiss pastor without oratorical gifts has attracted more young people than any other religious leader in Europe, Catholic or Protestant. He linked prayer and the fight against injustice using the phrase “struggle and contemplation”. Worship three times a day is part of a life which includes a farm co-operative, a printing press and studios for painting and pottery.

A visibly moved  Pope Benedict,

in impromptu remarks during his weekly general audience Aug. 17 at the papal summer villa in Castel Gandolfo, said he had been given the sad and "terrifying" news that morning.

It was all the more shocking, the pope said, because he had received a "very moving and very friendly" letter from Brother Roger the previous day.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:15 AM | Permalink

August 18, 2005

Happy Birthday Millie

  Millie On Her 80Th-1

If you haven't visited My Mom's Blog by Thoroughly Modern Millie, you're missing a treat. 

Bloggers around the country are holding a surprise birthday party for Millie who's turning 80 today.  Why not toddle on over, look around and add your best wishes to this amazing woman.  She's showed everyone that you're never too old to blog and to delight.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 7:23 PM | Permalink

August 15, 2005

Always Go to the Funeral

Dierdre Sullivan says her father's greatest gift to her and her family was how he ushered them through the process of his death.

In a wise and moving piece on NPR she says,

I believe in always going to the funeral. My father taught me that.

The first time he said it directly to me, I was 16 and trying to get out of going to calling hours for Miss Emerson, my old fifth grade math teacher. I did not want to go. My father was unequivocal. "Dee," he said, "you're going. Always go to the funeral. Do it for the family."

Sounds simple -- when someone dies, get in your car and go to calling hours or the funeral. That, I can do. But I think a personal philosophy of going to funerals means more than that.

"Always go to the funeral" means that I have to do the right thing when I really, really don't feel like it. I have to remind myself of it when I could make some small gesture, but I don't really have to and I definitely don't want to. I'm talking about those things that represent only inconvenience to me, but the world to the other guy. You know, the painfully under-attended birthday party. The hospital visit during happy hour. The Shiva call for one of my ex's uncles. In my humdrum life, the daily battle hasn't been good versus evil. It's hardly so epic. Most days, my real battle is doing good versus doing nothing.

In going to funerals, I've come to believe that while I wait to make a grand heroic gesture, I should just stick to the small inconveniences that let me share in life's inevitable, occasional calamity.

On a cold April night three years ago, my father died a quiet death from cancer. His funeral was on a Wednesday, middle of the workweek. I had been numb for days when, for some reason, during the funeral, I turned and looked back at the folks in the church. The memory of it still takes my breath away. The most human, powerful and humbling thing I've ever seen was a church at 3:00 on a Wednesday full of inconvenienced people who believe in going to the funeral.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 2:53 PM | Permalink

August 14, 2005

Rumi's eptitaph

On the tomb of Jalaludin Rumi:

"When we are dead, seek not our tomb in the earth, but find it in the hearts of men."

via Joe Katzman
Sufi wisdom an epitaph

Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:06 PM | Permalink

August 13, 2005

Politically Correct Corpse

The New York Times is cottoning on to the trend of ecological burials in Eco-Friendly Burial Sites that I wrote about a year ago in Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Mulch.

It's Forever Fernwood in Mill Valley, California, where

redwood forests and quivering wildflower meadows replace fountains and manicured lawns, graves are not merely graves. They are ecosystems in which "each person is replanted, becoming a little seed bank," said Tyler Cassity, a 35-year-old entrepreneur who reopened the long-moldering cemetery last fall.

But the NYT examines the politics in burials and in the funeral industry.

In the green scheme of things, death becomes a vehicle for land conservation and saving the planet. "It is not enough to be a corpse anymore," said Thomas Lynch, an author, poet and Michigan funeral director. "Now, you have to be a politically correct corpse."

But just what is a politically correct corpse is an increasingly thorny issue. In recent months, there has been a struggle for the soul of the emerging industry between Mr. Cassity, an enfant terrible of the funeral business, who has made a fortune producing A&E-style digitized biographies of the dead, and Dr. Billy Campbell, who pioneered the movement in the United States and who has the studious intensity of a somewhat nerdy birder.

Dr. Campbell, a small-town physician prone to quoting John Muir and Coleridge, opened the first of the United States' green burial grounds, the 350-acre Ramsey Creek Preserve in Westminster, S.C., in 1998. There, the departed are buried dust-to-dust-style without embalming - a practice called toxic, artificial and bizarre by critics - in biodegradable coffins or cremation urns that make impervious coffins and grave liners obsolete.

Dr. Campbell who fantasizes about being buried in a shroud made up of old T-shirts, has established a consulting firm in Marin Country dedicated to land conservation and 'little boutique cemeteries with a social justice component".   

"There is a huge generation of people entering accelerated mortality who grew up with the first Earth Day," said Dr. Campbell, who started his eco-cemetery after he was left cold by the prepackaged funeral for his father. "People are ready for something more meaningful."

As Forever Hollywood tapped into the zen of Southern California, an oasis for the Rodeo Drive dead, so Mr. Cassity anticipates Fernwood will do for the mountain-biking, Luna bar-eating culture to the north

Cassity who produces commissioned video biographies of the departed called "LifeStories" at Forever Network, has performed an "extreme makeover" of Hollywood Memorial Park with his brother Brent.

Together, they transformed the once-derelict cemetery into Hollywood Forever, a pastoral "Sunday on La Grande Jatte" of death, where weekend screenings of classic films projected onto the side of Rudolph Valentino's mausoleum attract 2,500 picnickers.

Compare that with Fernwood.

The presence of Fernwood, where the official hearse is a black Volvo S.U.V., in the cool verdant shadows of Mount Tamalpais, reflects Northern California's status as the nation's capital of alternative, artisanal death. The area is home to the death-midwifery movement, supporting home funerals, as well as a cottage industry in plain pine boxes and Funeria, a fraternity of funerary artists who have their own Biennale in San Francisco.

From surfing to sushi,  most trends seem to start in California.  Consider this a glimpse of the future of the burial industry that will slowly drift eastward.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:59 PM | Permalink

August 12, 2005

Death Meditation

I write about death so much not just because I think it's one of life's greatest mysteries, but also because keeping the thought of death near the top of your mind is the best way to live your life in the fullest, richest way doing only what you think are the most important things.

I've quoted Steve Jobs earlier in Life's Change Agent.

For the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself:  "If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?" And whenever the answer has been "No" for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.

Evelyn Rodriguez quotes Jobs too and also Geshe Michael Roche who wrote what she thinks may be the best business book ever, "The Diamond Cutter : The Buddha on Managing Your Business and Your Life" which I'm definitely going to read.

If you were really going to die tonight, would you sit and read through the whole Sunday paper, or most of the magazines you subscribe to? Would you really surf around the TV looking desperately for anything of even minor interest? Would you still go out and spend an hour or two at lunch or dinner, gossiping about the other managers. Decide then: If not on the day I die, then not now either. Because, frankly, it may really be today. -

In If Not On The Day I Die, Then Not Today, Evelyn writes about the Death Meditation.

To put it simply, you just wake up in the morning and stay there in bed, lying down, without opening your eyes. And you say to yourself: "I'm going to die tonight. What would be the best thing to do with the rest of my time?"

Posted by Jill Fallon at 3:09 PM | Permalink

August 11, 2005

What's a Good Death - Part 1

Most of us will be old and sick when we die and will have had years to tell our loved ones just what it is about dying that most frightens us and, in broad brush strokes, just how we hope to die.  The trouble is, most of us aren't talking. The silence is another example of our ambivalence about death, our unwillingness to look it straight in the face even as we make noises about accepting it.

According to the National Hospice Foundation, one-quarter of American adults over 45 say they would be unwilling to talk to their parents about their parents' death -- even if their parents had been told they had less than six months to live. Half of all Americans said they were counting on friends and family members to carry out their wishes about how they wanted to die -- but 75 percent of them had never spelled out those wishes to anyone. A significant subset of that 75 percent had probably never even articulated their wishes to themselves.

As J. Donald Schumacher, president of the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, said last April to the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, ''Americans are more likely to talk to their children about safe sex and drugs than to their terminally ill parents about choices in care as they near life's final stages.''

From, Wlll We Ever Arrive at the Good Death? by Robin Henig in the August 7 New York Times Magazine. 

Death has become a great taboo.  As free as we have become in talking about sex -  life's other great mystery - the more constricted we have become in speaking of death.  The inability to talk about death makes a good death far harder to achieve.

While hospice has made great gains in the U.S  - about one third or some 710,000 die in hospice - it comes too late with most patients dying within two or three weeks of entering hospice care.    Even palliative medicine, the prevention and relief of suffering, particularly in terminal stages,  comes too late.  Instead, we expect hospitals to treat old age as a disease using every power, every treatment at their disposal.

Sharon Kaufman, a professor of medical anthropology at the University of California, San Francisco writes in her book, "And a Time to Die : How American Hospitals Shape the End of Life" that over the past 80 years the idea of a good death has morphed from one that gave the dying an opportunity to say farewell and to prepare to cross the threshold to the afterlife to one that is quick, unconscious or at least painless.  More recently, the emphasis is on the individual patient's control of the style of death and 'good' mostly indicates a death that is 'aware, pain-free and in which psychological and worldly business is completed".   

It's quite unlikely that such a death can take place in a hospital.  But dying at home is not easy either.

Dying at home is not easy. Even though surveys indicate that about 70 percent of Americans say they want to die at home, few realize how grueling the work of dying can be. Almost everyone eventually needs care from either a paid assistant or, more often, a relative -- and the toll is enormous.

To be continued

Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:38 PM | Permalink

August 10, 2005

Who is this nut?

Eccentric Multimillionaire Dies.  Abe Hirschfeld will be remembered most for the New York Post headline  - Who is this nut?

From the Associated Press

Eccentric multimillionaire Abe Hirschfeld, an immigrant who lived the American dream until his increasingly bizarre behavior led him into politics, publishing and prison, died Tuesday. He was 85.

The irascible Hirschfeld, who made his fortune building parking lots and health clubs after coming to the United States from Israel, died at Mount Sinai Hospital of cardiac arrest after suffering from cancer, his family said.

The self-made magnate who spent 22 months in prison for plotting to kill a business partner, also amassed a real estate empire, earning a reputation among his colleagues as a bit off-center. Time magazine cited Hirschfeld among the 20th century’s top builders and business titans, beneath the headline “Crazy and in Charge.

His attempt to run the New York Post in 1993, a move that lasted 16 days, led to a full-scale staff revolt, and produced an unforgettable front-page headline that wondered, “WHO IS THIS NUT?” Hirschfeld twice spit on a Miami Herald reporter to protest her paper’s news coverage. And he offered Paula Jones $1 million to drop her sexual harassment suit against President Clinton. She later sued him for the money, but a judge dismissed the case.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 1:00 PM | Permalink

August 8, 2005

Funeral Road Rage

The respect we all pay to funeral processions of cars seems to be dying, the Boston Globe reported Sunday in No Last Respects.

''The disrespect that the drivers pay to the funeral procession is unbelievable," said Alfred DeVito, a 37-year industry veteran and owner of DeVito's Funeral Homes in Arlington and Watertown. ''It's funeral road rage. People yell, scream, they get out of their cars. I've had people try to run me over.

''In the olden days, you'd see a funeral procession and people would stop and bless themselves," he said. ''Now everyone's in a rush; they're so caught up in their own lives."

Funeral processions date to pagan times, when relatives and friends of the deceased sang and danced in celebration of the departed person's life, said Bob Boetticher, president of the National Museum of Funeral History in Houston. Funeral directors say the ritual is continued for one simple reason: It gets a large group of people to the same place at the same time.

Funeral directors say they've noticed the change in road etiquette over the past decade. Citing instances of onlookers yelling, honking their horns, or making obscene gestures, funeral directors point to a general erosion in civility. But they also cite more benign factors, including clogged roads, the spread of daytime running lights on vehicles that make funeral processions less conspicuous, hectic schedules, and preoccupied drivers fiddling with the gadgets in their cars.
While processions usually travel no faster than 20 miles per hour to keep the cars together, most people don't realize even a large procession of 40 cars only takes a few minutes to roll by, said Tyler Douglas, co-owner of Douglas & Johnson Funeral Home in Salem, N.H.

''Maybe five minutes at the most. But, everybody gets impatient," said Douglas. ''You just have to be very careful driving because people are not as courteous as they used to be."

Interrupting or disturbing a funeral procession is illegal and punishable by up to a $50 fine and one month in jail under state law.
Many times I don't believe people are deliberate. Lots of times they are surprised when they cut into a funeral because they didn't expect it," said Abdallah, funeral director at Charles F. Dewhirst Funeral Homes in Methuen, Lawrence, and Andover. ''I think there are always a few bad apples, but most people are kind. At least, that's what I believe, anyway."

if you see a hearse, stop and wait for the cars behind it to pass.  Usually, they will have their headlights on and they may have small flags.

It doesn't take long and you can use that time to relax, take a few deep breaths, and perhaps, think about how short life is.  Surely we all could use a few minutes to reflect on the important things we are not doing that we promised ourselves we would. 

A funeral procession is a modern day momento mori - something to remind us that death is an inevitable part of life and something we should be prepared for at all times.  Momento mori - "Remember thy death."

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:33 AM | Permalink

Peter Jennings dead

Peter Jennings died today at 67, ABC News announced tonight.  Only three months ago, Jennings disclosed he had been diagnosed with lung cancer.

For those of us who grew up with Peter announcing the world news, it's sad news.  For his family, it is heart-breaking.  Condolences to his wife and children in their grief.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 4:01 AM | Permalink

August 7, 2005

Visiting My Grave

  Joi Ito's Grave

After the study group meeting at City Hall, I visited our family grave. I took a look at where my name will at some point be etched as the 19th family head of the Ito family. I took the opportunity to grill my uncle a bit more about the specifics of our history since I'll be the custodian of this information at some point.
As always, staring at the place on the gravestone where my name will be etched along with all of the previous family members makes me feel like a mere blip in history and is humbling and strange.

Joi Ito visits his hometown in Japan and his family grave. 

From Japan, Joi writes today in The New York Times about An Anniversary to Forget

My grandparents' generation remembers the suffering, but tries to forget it. My parents' generation still does not trust the military. The pacifist stance of that generation comes in great part from the mistrust of the Japanese military.
For my generation, the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings and the war in general now represent the equivalent of a cultural "game over" or "reset" button. Through a combination of conscious policy and unconscious culture, the painful memories and images of the war have lost their context, surfacing only as twisted echoes in our subculture. The result, for better and worse, is that, 60 years after Hiroshima, we dwell more on the future than the past.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 4:30 PM | Permalink

August 5, 2005

City of Teresa

Mother Teresa's used Calcutta to build her work. 

Now Calcutta is using Mother Teresa as a tourist attraction in posters that say "Welcome to Calcutta - city of Teresa and with long lines of buses outside Mother Teresa's house.

Debating Teresa's legacy to Caluctta.

"It's really a very moving experience," one visitor from the US told me.

"Not only to see how the sisters care for the children, who have been abandoned, but also how the volunteers come here from all over the world - we've seen people from Japan and Italy and the UK, so many countries.
"It's almost that for each child there's a volunteer. That's very inspiring, that in the modern world people can still be selfless."
This continues the tradition Mother Teresa established herself. She called on anyone with skills in Calcutta to help.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:11 PM | Permalink

No naked burial

I can't think of a single comment to this deliciously written story from the BBC

He came into this world naked, spent much of his time in it nude, but will - against his specific wishes - depart it fully clothed.

Robert Norton, of Pekin, Illinois, was often prosecuted during his lifetime for gardening and wandering outside his house in the nude.

The 82-year-old said he wanted to be buried in his birthday suit - but his family are having none of it.
Brenda Loete said she never spoke to Norton despite living next door to him for more than a decade.

"We didn't really know him. We just had him arrested," she said.

She had spent years taking her daughter to the park rather than letting her play in the garden because of the naked old man next door, she said.

"Normally, if we had him arrested in the spring he'd be gone for the summer and we wouldn't have to worry about him until the next spring."
The cycle of arrest and prosecution lasted over four decades, until the World War II veteran was admitted to a nursing home.

He fought 20 arrests for indecency since his first in 1962, arguing that he had a constitutional right to public nakedness, the Associated Press reported

Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:09 PM | Permalink

Zubaida's transformation

A big round of applause to Dr. Peter Grossman, a plastic and reconstructive surgeon, for what he accomplished with a badly burned Aghani girl named Zubaida.

After the Iranian doctors sent her home to die, her father approached the Americans.

The amazing transformation can be seen in three photos.

Zubaida was featured on ABC's 20:20 and you can see the video here
and learn the whole story, a great legacy in the making.

HT Sigmund, Carl and Alfred

The story isn't really about the miracles of medicine and surgery. It is bigger than that, much bigger. It is the story of the human potential to do good, in all of us. It is the story of how we, using the gifts and capabilities we have, can achieve that potential

Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:52 AM | Permalink

August 4, 2005

Surreal and Illegal

Aborted fetuses in France must be cremated, but that's not always what happens.

Discovery of Stored Fetuses and Stillborns Roils France.

The mayor of Paris, Bertrand Delanoë, described the discovery as being "as surreal as it is illegal."

The government has ordered an investigation into the discovery at St. Vincent de Paul Hospital, said the minister of health, Xavier Bertrand, who described himself as "enormously shocked" by the find.

"I want to share profound emotion and indignation in the face of such a discovery," he told French television Tuesday evening. "The situation demands that we find the truth."

Some of the fetuses had been stored illegally for more than two decades, some in sealed plastic bags, others in jars of formalin.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:41 PM | Permalink

No rest for the dead

Another cemetery ransacked in northern France. 

The headstones of 42 British soldiers killed in combat during World War One were desecrated at the Albuera cemetrey in Bailleul-sir-Berthoult, near Arras in northern France.  The attackers also set fire to a register of war dead and a visitors' book. 

Since at least one Molotov cocktail was used, the desecration doesn't sound like local vandals after a drunken night.

Police consider Muslim link to cemetery attack.

"It is a shocking scene," said Christopher Farrell, of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, who visited the cemetery yesterday. "We will be putting up temporary markers immediately, but some of the headstones will have to be rebuilt and re-engraved.
Michel Dupuis, the mayor of Bailleul-sir-Berthoult, said: "These young men came to fight for our freedom. What has happened is a disgrace. All of us in France are ashamed." Hamlaoui Mekachera, France's minister for war veterans, expressed outrage at the "barbarous and shocking" acts and said he hoped that those responsible would be brought to justice.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 2:57 AM | Permalink

August 3, 2005

Death of a Wahhabi King

  Late Saudi King Fahd-1

Yahoo photo made from Saudi TV

The sons of the late Saudi King Faud carrying his body wrapped in a plain brown cloth on a wooden plank from a mosque in Riyadh after his pre-burial service.  The king, who died at 84 after ruling for almost 25 years,  was buried in an unmarked desert grave.

Non-Muslims were not allowed at the ceremony....The ceremony was not officially a state funeral, because the kingdom's strict version of Islam known as Wahhabism stresses the equality of all people in death.

Wahhabis also discourage visiting graves, as is common in other Muslim cultures, and frown on public displays of grief. The only sign of mourning in the streets of Riyadh were a few small condolence signs put up by foreigners.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 5:44 PM | Permalink

August 2, 2005

Little mercy and a slow death

"The question of dying deserves more attention, " writes Janet Albrecht in the Australian. 

The sad life and slow death of Maria Korp, the mother of two children, who was left for dead in the truck of her car after being strangled by her husband's mistress.  She left no instructions and her legal guardian has decided to remove her feeding tube. 

There's little mercy when the state chooses to inflict a slow death

Society's hypocrisy on this front is even starker when you consider abortion. The law allows for a woman to take the life of a healthy unborn child. But the law does not allow a terminally ill person to decide to bring their own life to an end. That moral inconsistency is explained by nothing more than the power of the lobby. Abortion attracts a loud voice from the living. Euthanasia is an issue for the dying. Count the votes. When was the last time you heard a mainstream politician talk about resolving some of these moral inconsistencies?

Posted by Jill Fallon at 5:11 PM | Permalink

A Christian Pharisee

To understand what a story from your life told honestly and written beautifully can mean to others, read the comments after the story.

And that has made all the difference (seeing Jesus through a porn star).

An extraordinary story by Natala who thought she found God as a Christian only to realize she had become a Pharisee.  It's long and well worth it.

and at the time i had desperately wanted the story to end, in this way:

"and then marie prayed the sinners prayer, and she stopped every thing she was doing, and became a missionary who now helps young girls."

that is what i wanted.

but instead, perhaps the beauty of god is not only found in the neatly packaged salvation stories. perhaps the beauty of god, is instead found in the depth and ugliness of our lives.
god is found in the sadness, the messy parts, the depression the anger, and the hurt.

and in the mess that was marie's life....
seeing jesus in her was not hard.
she was loving, caring, and honest.
she would have done anything for me.
and the truth is that before i was a christian i would have done anything for her.

HT The Anchoress

Posted by Jill Fallon at 2:26 PM | Permalink

Starving the Dying

In England, the terminally ill can be starved to death.  So ruled an appeal court in the U.K.

No longer must doctors follow a patient's wishes, even if clearly stated by a mentally competent patient who is terminally ill. 

Doctors  get the final say once a patient can no longer communicate.  They can withdraw artificial nutrition and hydration (ANH) if they consider it 'overly burdensome'.

I find this a very troubling ruling because it seems to draw the line between those worth feeding and those you can starve solely on their ability to communicate.

It's not our ability to communicate that's distinguishes humans from other species, but our consciousness.

Those who are in a "locked in" state are alert and wakeful even if they are paralyzed and unable to speak.  One of them, Jean-Dominque Bauby, even wrote a book about it .


"The Diving Bell and the Butterfly : A Memoir of Life in Death"

Posted by Jill Fallon at 2:08 PM | Permalink