November 29, 2005

Ashes on Eagles' Field

If you want to spread some of your mother's ashes on a football field, it's best not to run onto the field during a game with a stadium full of people and dump the fine powder from a plastic bag. Christopher Noteboom of Tempe, Arizona did just that during Sunday's game, Philadelphia Eagles against the Green Bay Packers. When he reached the 30 yard line, he dropped to his knees, made the sign of the cross and laid down on his stomach. He was arrested for defiant trespass and he'll be lucky if that's all.

People, spread the ashes of your loved ones discreetly, especially in public places. Just a little bit is enough. The last thing you want is people panicking because they think you are a terrorist.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:29 PM | Permalink

Kingdom of Memory

When personal memoirs tell the truth and authoritative sources do not.

The most notorious case is that of Walter Duranty, the Moscow correspondent of the New York Times who won a Pulitzer award for his reports that we now know covered up some of the most infamous crimes of the Stalin era.

Here are some choice bits by one of the best known correspondents in the world of one of the best known newspapers in the world collected by Arnold Beichman in the Weekly Standard.

"There is no famine or actual starvation nor is there likely to be." 
--New York Times, Nov. 15, 1931, page 1
"Any report of a famine in Russia is today an exaggeration or malignant propaganda." 
--New York Times, August 23, 1933

At a time when Ukrainian peasants were dying at a rate of 25,000/day, Duranty when asked what he was going to write, remarked.

Nothing. What are a few million dead Russians in a situation like this? Quite unimportant. This is just an incident in the sweeping historical changes here. I think the entire matter is exaggerated.

Contrast that reporting with a Memoir of The Great Famine of 1933 by Maria D who writes at Aussie Girl.

Soon, the terrible, black specter of the Stalin created Famine-Genocide of l932-33 spread throughout the land.  And even though I was still quite young, I remember that frightening apparition of the famine very well.  Images that are seared in my memory forever -- hundreds -- thousands of people, their limbs and bellies grotesquely swollen from starvation -- the walking dead, the half-dead and the dead -- orphaned children wandering homeless and begging for food in the streets -- or simply dying in the gutters.  

In school during class a small boy suddenly pitched forward onto his desk and died -- I shall never forget the sound of his head hitting the desk -- and he wasn't the only one.  And the textbooks, newspapers and so-called "artistic literature" all around us overflowed with the slogan:  "We are grateful to Comrade Stalin for our happy childhood!"  What obscene and monstrous mockery! 

There is no greater authority than personal witness. Such witness is a gift to the world, not just a family. Elie Wiesel, great witness to the Holocaust, said

I decided to devote my life to telling the story because I felt that having survived I owe something to the dead. and anyone who does not remember betrays them again.

"That is my major preoccupation /memory, the kingdom of memory. I want to protect and enrich that kingdom, glorify that kingdom and serve it."

The Legacy Archives you create for yourself, your family and the world is your Kingdom of Memory. Preserve your kingdom.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 2:27 PM | Permalink

November 28, 2005

Made in China Coffins

I didn't know that the Chinese government had banned coffins and burials and required cremation ever since the Communist takeover in 1949 until I read law professor Gerry Beyer's posts on China and Coffins and Made in China Coffins.

However, the coffin-making expertise was not lost. China is making coffins for the US market and about 25% cheaper too. In less than 3 years, they've captured 2% of the market.

They may not take American Express; they certainly won't take Hell Money.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:55 AM | Permalink

November 27, 2005

The Rest I Squandered

George Best, by all accounts one of the most dazzling players in soccer history, died at 59 after decades of alcohol abuse that continued even after a liver transplant.

His obituary is here. His words live on.

"I spent a lot of money on booze, birds and fast cars," he once said. "The rest I just squandered."


From the Irish Times:

George Best was burdened with more talents, and graced with more temptations, than mortal man can bear. All in all, he bore them well, gave great pleasure to millions of fans and hundreds of women, and has finally gone the way of all flesh. No reason to grieve; none at all.

More at Rainy Day, We Come to Bury Best.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 2:04 AM | Permalink

November 25, 2005

The Great Legacy of Peter Drucker

Almost a week later, I still haven't gathered my thoughts about Peter Drucker, a man I admired immensely. Reading more about him in BusinessWeek, a cover story on The Man Who Invented Management, why Peter Drucker's ideas still matter, I realized that I've gotten most of my self-education about business from him.

I went to law school, not business school, but if I had gone to business school, I never would encountered Drucker there. He wasn't and isn't taught in business schools yet Tom Peters says, "He was the creator and inventor of modern management" and Jack Welch says, "He was the greatest management thinker of the last century."

-- It was Drucker who introduced the idea of decentralization -- in the 1940s -- which became a bedrock principle for virtually every large organization in the world.
-- He was the first to assert -- in the 1950s -- that workers should be treated as assets, not as liabilities to be eliminated.
-- He originated the view of the corporation as a human community -- again, in the 1950s -- built on trust and respect for the worker and not just a profit-making machine, a perspective that won Drucker an almost godlike reverence among the Japanese.
-- He first made clear -- still the '50s -- that there is "no business without a customer," a simple notion that ushered in a new marketing mind-set.
-- He argued in the 1960s -- long before others -- for the importance of substance over style, for institutionalized practices over charismatic, cult leaders.
-- And it was Drucker again who wrote about the contribution of knowledge workers -- in the 1970s -- long before anyone knew or understood how knowledge would trump raw material as the essential capital of the New Economy.

He was also a Renaissance Man - journalist, professor, historian, economics commentator, and raconteur,.... a teacher of religion, philosophy, political science, and Asian art, even a novelist.

Like all great thinkers, he observed the material world and found answers in himself which is probably why business schools, leaning heavily on academic and empirical research, ignored him.

Part of Drucker's genius lay in his ability to find patterns among seemingly unconnected disciplines. Warren Bennis, a management guru himself and longtime admirer of Drucker, says he once asked his friend how he came up with so many original insights. Drucker narrowed his eyes thoughtfully. "I learn only through listening," he said, pausing, "to myself."

He emigrated to London when Hitler took power and from there to America.
"America was terribly exciting," remembered Drucker. "In Europe the only hope was to go back to 1913. In this country everyone looked forward."

Drucker was a very wise man and Jim Collins writes about the lessons he learned from this student of life. Drucker focused on his work, declining all requests to contribute articles, take part in panels, join committees, give interviews with a preprinted card; yet, would give freely of his time to a unknown writer and change the trajectory of Collins's life by asking the question, "What do you want to contribute?" It's not what you get or what you achieve but what you contribute that counts in this life.

Collins concludes in a great paean, saying what can only be said about the greatest of men and women.

Drucker's most important lessons cannot be found in any text or lecture but in the example of his life. I made a personal pilgrimage to Claremont, Calif., in 1994 seeking wisdom from the greatest management thinker of our age, and I came away feeling that I'd met a compassionate and generous human being who -- almost as a side benefit -- was a prolific genius.We have lost not a guru on a pedestal but a beloved professor who welcomed students into his modest home for warm and stimulating conversation. Peter F. Drucker was driven not by the desire to say something but by the desire to learn something from every student he met -- and that is why he became one of the most influential teachers most of us have ever known.

For me, reading what Peter Drucker said in 1999 about "Managing Oneself" has inspired my current work.

IN a few hundred years, when the history of our time will be written from a long term perspective, I think it is very probable that the most important event these historians will see is not technology, it is not the Internet, it is not e-commerce. It is an unprecedented change in the human condition. For the first time -- and I mean that literally -- for the first time, substantial and rapidly growing numbers of people have choices. For the first time, they will have to manage themselves. And let me say, we are totally unprepared for it.
We will have to learn where we belong, what our strengths are, what we have to learn so that we get the full benefit from it, where our defects are, what we are not good at, where we belong, what our values are. For the first time in human history, we will have to learn to take responsibility for managing ourselves. And as I said, this is probably a much bigger change than any technology -- a change in the human condition.
Nobody teaches it -- no school, no college -- and [it] probably will be another hundred years before they teach it.

In the meantime, the achievers, and I don't mean millionaires, but rather the ones who want to make a contribution, who want to lead a fulfilling life, and want to feel that there is some purpose in their being on this earth. They will have to learn something which, only a few years ago, a very few super achievers ever knew. They will have to learn to manage themselves, to build on their strengths, to build on their values.

Peter Drucker, a remarkable life, a good man, a Great Legacy.   Peter Drucker Rest in Peace.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 3:07 AM | Permalink

November 22, 2005

With Death Before My Eyes

I am a huge fan of Brother David Steindl-Rast, having listened to his audio tapes of his lectures on Gratefulness, the Heart of Prayer. Still a monk who lives at the Mount Saviour Monastery in New York, he's co-founder of the Network for Grateful Living.

In a very apropos interview this week of Thanksgiving in the San Francisco Chronicle, Brother David shared his story.

Tell me a bit about your personal story. Why did you become a monk? Have you always felt that calling?
When I lived as a teenager in Austria under Nazi occupation, I never expected to reach the age of 20. Friends and schoolmates a few years older were drafted, and a year later they were dead. The draft age was set lower and lower, and I was coming closer and closer to it. But then the war was over, and life stretched out before me like a mountain meadow full of flowers.
Just as I was having a great time with a girlfriend, music, dancing, hiking and even a little more food than is necessary to survive, a realization suddenly hit me. It hinged on a passage from the
Rule of St. Benedict, a sixth century classic. It simply said, "To have death at all times before one's eyes."
I had been living like this for years -- with death before my eyes -- and now, in a flash, I realized that this was the reason why my life had been a happy one in spite of all dangers and hardships: Against the background of death, I had clearly seen life as the gift it was.
It was clear to me now that things could only go downhill from here unless I continued to live with death before my eyes. Since I had come across the idea in a book that inspired 1,500 years of monastic life in the West, I concluded that I would have to become a monk to be truly happy.
After more than half a century as a Benedictine monk, I'm glad to say that I was right. My intuition was also correct: Having death at all times before your eyes is central to the life of monks -- not only in the West but also in the East, as later I found out. Having death before our eyes never allows us to take life for granted. And so you could say that the essence of monastic life, of spiritual life in general, is gratefulness.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 3:21 AM | Permalink

November 21, 2005

Designer Coffins

It was only a matter of time. Designer Coffins from Life Art.

   Designer Coffins

Says Acland Brierty

I love the product because it allows you to celebrate the passing of a loved one in something that reflects how they would want to be remembered. You can even create your own designs, maybe pictures from your loved-one’s life… I’m thinking about a ‘this side up - handle with care’ theme for my coffin. My father wants… ‘I told you I was sick’ on his coffin. They even have blank coffins where you can write a poem or paint your own art. This is an idea whose time has come.
When you think about it, a coffin like this, is the last gift you’ll give to a loved one… that’s why this idea rocks for me.
t doesn’t take much to be remarkable here folks… the coffin is made from recycled and biodegradable products, the artwork is printed on stickers and then applied to the outside… end result, a niche market with no competition. Fantastic.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:41 PM | Permalink

Euthanasia Doctor Commits Suicide

Euthanasia Doctor Commits Suicide after Finding Patient He Killed Was Not Terminally Ill

A doctor acting for the Swiss euthanasia group, Dignitas, has committed suicide after learning that a German woman he euthanized was not terminally ill. Dignitas is under investigation after news of the woman's death.

The 69-year-old woman contacted Dignitas with a medical report stating she had terminal liver cirrhosis; an autopsy conducted later in Germany revealed the woman was in good health other than depression, and that the medical report was falsified. The woman, whose name was withheld, allegedly convinced her German GP to falsify the report so that she could get sick leave from work.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 5:41 PM | Permalink

A Sweet Mystery

Sherry Wright had four children, her Tiffany was severely autistic. Sherry describes one weekend, saying she had no idea what was to come.

That was the most beautiful time we ever had with Tiffany. She never once hit herself--an upsetting symptom of her form of autism--and she just showered love on each and every one of us.

At the end of the tournament, the officials handed out awards on the field. Becky won the MVP trophy. Suddenly Tiffany walked out to the pitcher's mound.

Everyone watched because this was very out of character for her. She lifted her hands above her head and started twirling around in circles, laughing so hard that it became contagious. We were all full of joy. 

The really strange part was that tears were rolling down her face. It was such a beautiful moment, and it touched so many people. It was the first time that we had ever seen her shed a tear out of joy and not out of hurting herself.

She Only Knew How to Love, A sweet mystery.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 2:56 PM | Permalink

Saved by the Tears in her Eyes

It's hard to imagine the desperation of this family. Tears save sick Chinese mother from cremation alive

A Chinese peasant woman who suffered a brain hemorrhage was left at the undertakers alive for cremation because her family could no longer afford hospital treatment, state media said on Friday.

She was only saved by the tears in her eyes.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:00 AM | Permalink

November 19, 2005

Death of a Dad

I've learned that the father of a friend, Jory des Jardins of Pause, co-founder of Blogher, major domo of the Third Age voices blog, has died. Fortunately, she was able to spend some time with him even as he declined rapidly and quickly.

My heart goes out to Jory and her family as they gather together in grief and thanksgiving. Death is a mystery we can never comprehend, we can only grieve and mourn the loss of the people we love and in that grieving come closer together.

"Mourning is not forgetting... It is an undoing. Every minute tie has to be untied and something permanent and valuable recovered and assimilated from the dust." ~Margery Allingham "

No one's death comes to pass without making some impression, and those close to the deceased inherit part of the liberated soul and become richer in their humaneness." ~Hermann Broch

"All that we can know about those we have loved and lost is that they would wish us to remember them with a more intensified realization of their own reality. What is essential does not die but clarifies. The highest tribute to the dead is not grief but gratitude.-Thornton Wilder

By chance, the Anchoress today reflects on the passing of her brother and the mystery of the love surrounding death

I learned these things sitting by my brother as he slowly took his leave. He taught them to me. It was the great gift he gave to me before his passing - that our helping each other to die - on God’s timetable, not ours - is not a burden, or an inconvenience. It is not impractical. It is rather, a chance to learn about all the depths and fullness and riches of love, and therein to find ourselves, and each other, and God. To feel, as one never feels in an ordinary day, to love with an intensity that could never be sustained in an ordinary time. To trust as no one ever can trust on an ordinary journey.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 1:09 PM | Permalink

November 16, 2005

Funeral Blogging

Soldier's Mom blogs the funeral of SPC Tommy Byrd.

we spy Noah "handsome as they come" in his Class A uniform brimming with medals and ribbons and braids. He is standing against one wall with a waif of a young woman; her eyes rimmed red and dressed in a turquoise colored top and dark trousers. Besides being very young, she is diminutive with long hair streaked with the subtle shades of blond that are the fashion. People are greeting her and hugging her and she is dwarfed and smothered by these mourners. I know immediately that this is Mykel, Tommy’s widow.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:07 PM | Permalink

November 15, 2005

High schoolers pay respect

Via Amy Wellborn, a better culture of death. I can only stand and applaud those high school students, volunteers at the Pallbearer Society, who bear the burden of caskets of those elderly who have outlived their friends and family. Student group eases burden at funerals.

"A lot of people just don't have any friends and relatives left," said Charles Walter, the funeral director at Rybicki & Son Funeral Home in Garfield Heights. "I tell them, 'We've used this service many, many times.' I tell them, 'They're young men who consider this an honor.' "

More than 100 students take turns staffing funerals on school days, weekends and through the summer. They call themselves the St. Joseph of Arimathea Pallbearer Society, for the disciple who prepared the tomb of Jesus.

Each has taken a training course at school and pledged to adhere to guidelines that instruct them to button collars, join hymns and express condolences.


Typically, the pallbearers meet the surviving family members at the funeral home, attend the service and deliver the casket to the graveside.

In the course of a burial, they learn a lot about life.

"What I realize from all these trips," Gigliotti said, "is that life's precious. I'm sure all these people we buried had stories to tell."

He said the experience has caused him to consider life's limits, the certainty of death, and his grandparents.

"It made me want to get to know them better," he said.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 6:50 PM | Permalink

November 11, 2005

Veterans Day

I'm pleased that Veteran's Day is always November 11 and not transmuted into a three day weekend like "Presidents Day."

  Veterans Day Poster

For all those who have served, I thank you, all 48 million of you. For those that have died, rest in peace.

But fame is theirs - and future days

On pillar'd brass shall tell their praise;

Shall tell - when cold neglect is dead -

"These for their country fought and bled."
~Philip Freneau

Millions like me enjoy freedom because of the sacrifices of young men and too many of us take freedom for granted.

For those who practice gratitude, we can support those who still serve and those who are crippled with these charities

Helping Our Heroes Foundation support our military injured
Project Valour-IT to supply voice-activated computers for wounded soldiers
Soldiers' Angels started by an ordinary mom so no soldier would go unloved.

The Kurds thank America and you too. You must see the 30 sec ad they have produced for The Other Iraq Campaign,

Posted by Jill Fallon at 5:50 PM | Permalink

Trapped by his own Googling

If you're going to murder someone, it's best not to use Google to search for "neck," "snap," "break," and "hold."

Also, if you plan to dump the body in a lake, using your computer to research lake levels, water currents, boat ramps and access is probably not a good idea.

The trial of Robert Petrick for the murder of his wife Janine Sutphen, is proving that Google may indeed be a force for good.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 2:34 PM | Permalink

Tanzan's Last Day

From Gordon Coales Zen for the Day and one of his favorite books, compiled by Paul Reps."Zen flesh, Zen bones: A collection of Zen & pre-Zen writings "

Tanzan wrote sixty postal cards on the last day of his life, and asked an attendant to mail them. Then he passed away. The cards read:

I am departing from this world.
This is my last announcement
Tanzan. July 27, 1892.

Now that's really putting all your affairs in order. Sang-froid comes to mind. So does fearlessness.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 2:03 AM | Permalink

He Held His Wake Before He Died

Suffering from a muscle-wasting disease and given just months to live, John Noble has decided to celebrate his own life by organizing a final farewell for 120 family and friends.
It was a champagne affair

"If people were going to turn up for a farewell drink after my death, I thought I would rather be there and have a drink with them," he said.

He added: "The disease has had a profound impact on my whole life and those close to me. You become disabled inch by inch."

But despite his condition, Mr Noble, who still works as a print and stationery manager at the University of the West of England in Bristol, managed to party hard into the night.

His family, friends and colleagues toasted a final farewell to Mr Noble at a champagne-fuelled black tie bash at a top hotel in Bristol.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 1:57 AM | Permalink

November 10, 2005

Just by chance?

He changed his mind about going to the market so he could check on his cattle says the AP.

"While I was emptying wtaer, I walked up to check on my hay. Then I saw something red hanging on the fence" said William King, a cattle farmer in Tennessee.

When he walked closer, he saw an unconscious woman covered in blood.

"I hollered at her but she never did move or anything. I thought she had been shot. I thought she was dead"

He called the police and he and the officer cut Shelley Morales, 23, out the barbed wire and she began to regain consciousness telling them she had been there for 2 days.

She's still in intensive care with memories flitting in and out so nobody knows yet how and why she got caught in the fence with a broken leg.

Was it just chance that she was found? What good forces caused William King NOT to go to the market?

Posted by Jill Fallon at 1:32 PM | Permalink

Was the Pope Jewish

Could Pope John Paul II have been Jewish? One Jewish historian is making that claim.

Mr Wise, a researcher in orthodox Jewish history and philosophy, said the late Pope's mother, grandmother and great-grandmother were all probably Jewish and came from a small town not far from Krakow.
Mr Wise said: "According to orthodox Judaism, a person's Jewish identity is passed down through the maternal line. I saw a photograph of the Pope's mother and I showed it to people who didn't know who she was.

"They all said she looked Jewish. So I started doing more investigations about her background."
The Pope's mother married out of the Jewish community to wed a Catholic. Her children were born and raised as Catholics and the Pope was baptised. It would shed light on why the Pope had to go into hiding from the Nazis in November 1940.

"If he had been a pure ethnic Pole this would not have been necessary.

"It would also explain why this Pope in particular felt a strong desire to improve relations between the Church of Rome and the Jewish people."

Posted by Jill Fallon at 1:20 AM | Permalink

November 7, 2005

Accused stepfather fights to keep girl alive.

The stepfather who beat his 11 year old daughter so savagely that he left her in a coma and dependent on life support is now fighting the state of Massachusetts who wants to terminate the life support saying she will never recover. The Israel Antiquities Authority believes

Her stepmother, also accused of beating the girl, was found dead next to her grandmother in what police believe was a murder-suicide though they don't know who shot whom.

Jason Strickland, facing assault charges is now free on bail. He's only fighting to save her life so he won't be charged with murder. This is not another Terry Schiavo case.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 1:53 PM | Permalink

Brooklyn Body Snatching

Michael Mastromarino had a nice little scam going. He harvested hundreds of bodies without permission of the next of kin. He sold the body parts from funeral homes in Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and New York through his firm, Biomedical Tissue Services, Ltd. to tissue-processing companies.

Many patients throughout the US and Canada have received transplants until one doctor in Colorado had a question about the transplant and called the treating physician according to the New York Daily News. Body parts doc smelled trouble.

Every number for physicians and next of kin turned out to be fake for 28 donor corpses when Dr. Michael Bauer called.

Mastromarino is now under investigation by the Brooklyn district attorney.

The FDA has announced a recall and quarantine of all products sold by Mastromarino's firm with a warning they could be tainted with disease including HIV, hepatitis and viral infections.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 1:52 PM | Permalink

Blessing Ahmed

A rose amidst the ashes. A beautiful story of the family of a 13 year old Palestinian boy who had been shot dead by IDF soldiers who mistook his toy gun for a real one.

The parents decided to donate the organs "for the sake of peace between the two people". Ariel Sharon invited the father to meet with him and accept his apology and his gratitude.

Ahmed's heart has been transplanted into the body of a 12 year old girl.
Ahmed's liver was donated to a six month old baby and a 66 year old woman.
Ahmed's lungs will be donated to a 14 year old Cystic Fibrosis patient.
Ahmed's kidneys will be donated to a 5 year old boy and 4 girl.

An exceptional deed indeed and a Great Legacy. Many people are blessing Ahmed and his family today. You too will be blessed if you ...Donate Life. Hat Tip, Charles Johnson at LGF

  Donate Life-2

Posted by Jill Fallon at 2:39 AM | Permalink

November 6, 2005

Oldest Church in World Found Near Armageddon

The image below is a photo of a mosaic with writing in ancient Greek with references to Jesus Christ and images of fish. The mosaic and ruins of a small building were found inside a maximum security prison where new cells were about to be built.

The jail houses prisoners including members of Palestinian militant groups Islamic Jihad and Hamas who are sworn to Israel's destruction.

The site was discovered some months ago, but kept secret until now. The dig took place near the biblical site of Armageddon in northern Israel.

The archaeological digging was done by 60 inmates of the prison who will continue to be involved in the excavation.

"I never dreamed of anything like this. When we found something at the site we just kept on working. It is amazing," prisoner Ramil Raziloub said.

According to the Israeli daily Haaretz, one of the most dramatic finds suggests that, instead of an altar, a simple table stood in the center of the church, at which a sacred meal was held to commemorate the Last Supper. ...

The Israel Antiquities Authority believes it's the oldest church in the world dating back to the time when Christianity could only be practiced in secret.

"This is a once in a lifetime find and the inscriptions are very rare," IAA excavation supervisor, Jotham Tefer said.

Three Greek inscriptions were found on site: the northern one mentions a Roman army officer who donated money to build the mosaic floor. The eastern one commemorates four women, and the western inscription mentions a woman by the name of Ekeptos, who "donated this table to the God Jesus Christ in commemoration."

   Oldest Church-1

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:17 PM | Permalink

Body identified after 5 centuries

Finding a skull and partial remains in Frombork Cathedral in north-eastern Poland, someone had a hunch.

The remains were taken to specialists at the central crime laboratory in Warsaw for computer-generated reconstruction.


Putting together all the clues - age, reconstruction, known portraits and place where found, scientists are convinced they have found the body of Nicolaus Copernicus, father of modern astronomy, who died in 1543 aged 70.

Copernicus found

Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:00 PM | Permalink

The Art of Dying Well

A quite extraordinary article by Elizabeth Lev from Zenit, A Pope and the Art of Dying Well

Shorter, darker days, falling leaves, the end of bird song -- it is easy to understand why during November we remember the dead. Or at least we used to.

In modern times, society prefers to either poke fun at death with macabre humor or simply paper over this unavoidable fact of human existence. For hundreds of generations however, honoring the deceased has held a place of distinction in the calendar year.

Visitors to Rome marvel at families gathering together to make a trip out to the monumental cemeteries of Verano and Prima Porta. Many are taken aback in confession to receive a penance to offer prayers for the souls in purgatory. To our contemporary eyes, it comes as a shock to see skeletons as ornamental motifs or a crypt decorated in bones. We push to the margins of consciousness the thought that these bizarre images could have meaning in our day.

And yet they do. The constant reminder of human mortality in art, culture and prayer was intended to prepare the Christian for the inevitability of death, and promote awareness of the "ars bene moriendi," the art of dying well.

When today's society asks itself about a "good death," the answer usually involves an attempt to control the end of one's life, even through physician-assisted suicide or euthanasia. The Christian notion of a good death bears a fundamental difference -- death not as a good end, but a good transition, a transition that requires proper acceptance and readiness.

Pope John Paul II, who never stopped teaching by example throughout his 26-year pontificate, left us one last great act in the demonstration of the Christian good death. 

In September, the Holy See released the official account of the death and funeral of John Paul II. ....

This short chronicle, while medically exact, does not do justice to the dramatic and heroic nature of those concluding months. Those of us living in Rome will always remember the Pope's urgent hospitalization and the forest of film crews clustered around the clinic. Nor will witnesses ever forget his triumphant ride through the streets of Rome as he returned to the Vatican, seemingly victorious over death itself.

This extraordinary man, who had already defied society's tendency to shun the sick by keeping up a full public schedule despite his increasingly obvious Parkinson's disease, also showed us true dignity in death. 

The Pope's illness took a turn for the worse on Feb. 24, when he was re-hospitalized and the doctors performed a tracheotomy to ease his breathing. Although he again returned from the hospital, John Paul II was not as quick to recover as many had hoped. 

One of the great magisterial moments of this period took place when the Pope was televised in his chapel on Good Friday watching the Via Crucis taking place in the Colosseum. During the last station, the world saw John Paul II embracing the cross with his cheek resting against the wood, and the witness of accepting suffering and death needed no words. 

Those last private days, invisible to the thousands gathered in the square below, are described in the account as a time of prayer. After he was administered the anointing of the sick, the Pope concelebrated Mass every day and was constantly surrounded by people praying for him.

The document reveals that during the Mass for the feast of Divine Mercy "Polish hymns accompanied the celebration and blended with those of the young … gathered in prayer in St. Peter's Square." 

In this setting, as the Mass was offered at the foot of his bed and the faithful sang outside, John Paul II died at 9:37 p.m. on April 2, 2005.

The stories of the saints highlight the moment of death and their certainty that they are going to heaven. John Paul II's last words were "Let me go to the house of the Father." For Christians, the end of temporal life coincides with the commencement of the eternal one.

In his final days, John Paul II taught that although science can ease the physical discomfort of death, palliative care should not be used as a cloak to mask the fact of dying. Modern technology can anesthetize the dying process, but science offers no wisdom regarding how to address the reality of death itself.

Contemporary culture concentrates on the temporal aspect of the process of dying and as a result loses sight of the eternal world that waits beyond. Christians need to remember that acceptance and preparation are the keys to facing this transition. Those skeletons that so amuse tourists serve as a stern warning: "Hodie mihi, cras tibi" -- Today death strikes me, tomorrow it will be you.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:07 AM | Permalink

November 5, 2005

Crowds Cheer Funeral Home Drug Raid

In Gloversville, New York, a funeral home doubled as a crack house. Neighbors complained of finding partially nude corpses in plain view or discovered people sleeping in some of the rooms. Crowds Cheer Funeral Home Drug Raid

Several of those inside the funeral home frantically tossed crack into caskets when officers burst in Thursday night and arrested 16 people, including the owner and his girlfriend, who were suspected of running a drug ring out of the business.

Forty-five city, county and state police officers raided the home, confiscating cocaine, marijuana, cash and knives.

As police led the suspects out, a crowd that had gathered chanted the refrain from the TV show "Cops": "Bad boys, bad boys, whatcha gonna do? Whatcha gonna do when they come for you?" A huge cheer erupted when a bus took the suspects away, Sira said.

Steven E. Blomquist, the 48-year-old owner of the Hollenbeck Funeral Home, was charged with drug possession and other offenses and was jailed on $150,000 bail. 

Posted by Jill Fallon at 3:33 AM | Permalink

November 4, 2005

Citizen Obits

While Poynter online is a site for everything you need to be a better journalist, last week he wrote about the freelance opportunity for "Citizen Obits" to supplement the work of the pros and to give every person who dies a decent write-up.

Today he features Larken Bradley, an obituary writer for the Point Reyes Light in California who has launched to write custom obits for family members who have lost a loved one and for people who want their obituaries written before they die. She charges $75/hour with a typical obit costing between $375 and $750.

Larken says

Obituary writing is an honor, a privilege, and great fun," Larken says. "I can’t think of anything I’d rather be doing.
After she dies she expects her obit headline will read, "Obituary Writer, Six Feet Under."

Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:49 PM | Permalink

Unusual Deaths in Hungary

After being tipped by Hanan Levin, I perused a most interesting list of unusual deaths in Wikipedia, Rulers of Hungary seem to suffer particularly unfortunate deaths throughout the ages.

895: Almos, the top chieftain leading Hungarian tribes towards the Carpathian basin, was executed in a horse sacrifice on the border, not allowed to enter the haven for ritual reasons.

1063: King Béla I of Hungary died when his tall wooden throne collapsed due to sabotage.

1490: Matthias Corvinus the most successful king of Hungary died after eating poisoned figs.

1514 Gyorgy Dozas, leader of the Great Hungarian Peasant Uprising, was roasted alive on a white hot iron chair while his captured companions were forced to eat his meat.

1526: King Louis II of Hungary drowned in a stream under the weight of his own plate armour while fleeing the Ottomans after the lost battle of Mohacs.

1541: George Friar, Governor of Transylvania, was assasinated but his body was not discovered in his room until half a year later, as people thought he simply retracted to some months of hermit-hood.

1973: Péter Vályi finance minister of Hungary fell into a blast furnanceon visit to a steelworks factory at Miskolc.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 5:20 AM | Permalink

The Forgotten of the Dead

I forgot to blog the report in the Boston Globe that abandoned cremains are piling up in funeral homes

''A lot of these people were the forgotten of the living and after they died they became the forgotten of the dead," said Thomas Johnson of Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge. ''If I knew I had clothes at the cleaners, I'd pick them up. If I had a loved one at the cemetery, I'd pick them up."
Some cremains find a permanent resting place. In 1938, an author from Atlanta died while he was in the area promoting his book, a dictionary of facts. The man was cremated and the ashes ended up on a shelf at the Joseph Dee & Son Funeral Home in Concord, where they sat for the next 67 years.

Finally, Charles Dee, the great-great-grandson of the funeral home founder who oversaw the cremation, searched the Internet with his sister to try to find relatives of the deceased. After several months, they gave up. So they bought a plot in a Concord graveyard and they buried the ashes, along with the Atlanta man's book of facts.

''We felt it was time," Dee said. ''After five generations, it was time to let him go."

Posted by Jill Fallon at 3:20 AM | Permalink

November 3, 2005

Marine Corporal Jeffrey Starr

Using the dead to play a political hand or make a political point is not a new tactic. What's particularly disgraceful is when the New York Times selectively quotes from a Marine's last letter, distorting its sense, outraging his family and refusing to correct the record.

Hero's Kin Rip Times.

The Times quoted from a letter to his girlfriend by 22 year old Jeffrey Star who was killed in Ramadi in April during his third tour of Iraq, a letter which was to be read in the event of his death.

"I kind of predicted this . . . A third time just seemed like I'm pushing my chances."

What the Times did not report was the balance of the letter which is how Jeffrey Starr wanted to be remembered.

"I don't regret going, everybody dies, but few get to do it for something as important as freedom. It may seem confusing why we are in Iraq, it's not to me. I'm here helping these people, so that they can live the way we live. Not have to worry about tyrants or vicious dictators. To do what they want with their lives. To me, that is why I died. Others have died for my freedom, now this is my mark."

Whether you are for or against the war in Iraq, we must honor the courage, the willingness to sacrifice one's life so that others may live in freedom and the generosity of heart of Jeffrey Starr who wanted people to know why he died.

More from Michelle Malkin

UPDATE: Jeffrey's girlfriend, Emmylyn Anonical, 22 said that going public with the private letter was one of the hardest decisions of her life.

Seeing it used by The Times to misrepresent her boyfriend's beliefs about the war stung deeply, she said.
"The reason I chose to share that letter was the paragraph about why he was doing this, not the part about him expecting to die. It hurt, it really hurt," she said by phone from Seattle.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:40 PM | Permalink

November 1, 2005

Final Touches

Facing Impermanence is a quite beautiful post by the Velveteen Rabbi about her first taharah, the act of purification to prepare a dead body for burial.

For a woman of thirty, I'm absurdly fortunate. I've lost grandparents, but I've never had to deal directly with death that came as a shock or seemed profoundly unfair. And until last fall, when my husband's grandmother passed away, I had never actually seen a dead body. Jewish tradition teaches that the body of someone who has died must be treated like the sacred vessel that it has been, and pre-funeral practices grow out of the principle of kavod ha-meit, honoring the dead. The neshama, the soul, is believed to linger near the body until interment, and our process of taharah would prepare the body for burial and reassure the soul that its work here is done. Would I be able to face the shell which had once housed a human being?
Death scares me. Not that I will someday die, but that those I love will die, that I will lose access to the people who shape my world. And I will. We all do. And that's okay, it's the rules of the game. Even now people mourn the woman whose body I washed and dressed and blessed last night, and in performing this mitzvah I connected myself with all of her mourners. With everyone doing those tasks all around the world. With the people who washed and shrouded the bodies of my ancestors, and the people who will sanctify the bodies of my children.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 1:02 PM | Permalink