August 31, 2007

"His friends thought he was doing an art piece"

Hanging from the inside of a two-story high tent, I assume with a rope around his neck, yet it was two hours before anyone in the large tent thought to take him down.

"His friends thought he was doing an art piece," reports the special agent in charge for the Bureau of Land Management.

I guess they counted too much  on radical self reliance.

The first suicide in the 21 year history of the Burning Man festival

Playa Suicide

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:18 AM | Permalink

August 30, 2007

Obit for a Suicide

One growing trend that I approve is that of paid obits where families or the deceased ahead of time can write what they want without the filter of a copy editor.

Occasionally, there's something amazing as Sam Pollak found out when Jeffrey Dun wrote an obit in the Indianapolis Star about his son Nicholas who committed suicide.

"Yesterday my son took his own life. He did not intend to. He did something thousands of people have and are doing, using drugs. Drugs they know nothing about. Drugs recommended and provided by friends or strangers that are not chemists that know what’s in them or doctors that knew how much his body could take.

"My son Nick has devastated us," it continued before listing survivors "who have also been left behind in pain."

This was an extraordinary obituary that no reporter would dare write as the last written remembrance of a person’s life.

The young man’s father, Jeffrey Dunn, however, wanted to spare others the pain he and his family were feeling.

"Realize you have no more idea of what or how much you’re putting in your body than those selling it to you," continued the obit. "Those drugs do not discriminate by race, income, the status of you or of your family. These are those that care about you and those you care about. Consider them please! The pleasure is not worth the risks!

"Goodbye Nick, we love you and will miss you."

Paid obits best feature

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:08 AM | Permalink

August 28, 2007

Killed by Wallpaper

At Slate, Daniel Kevles gives us a history of poison.  Favored more by women, trusted with food preparation and administration of medicine, as an undetectable way to get rid of  husbands, cover up theft, and gain inheritances, arsenic became know as poudre de succession, "inheritance powder."

Poisoning was also relatively easy to get away with for centuries because possession of the murder weapon was by no means a clear indicator of guilt. Would-be poisoners could easily obtain the requisite materials from the shops of apothecaries or chemists, under the guise of using them in small doses for a cosmetic or medical purpose.
Emsley, an accomplished science writer based at Cambridge University, dons his own detective's hat. He deploys recent scientific analyses of hair and exhumed bone, matches them against historical reports of victims' symptoms, and offers plausible explanations of the victims' bizarre behavior and mysterious or disputed deaths.

Mozart probably died of antimony poisoning, King Charles II of Britain, likely died from inhalation of intense mercury vapors while The Madness of King George was a textbook case of acute lead poisoning.

Most interesting is the case of Napoleon Bonaparte who was exhumed from his grave on St Helena to be reburied in Paris at Les Invalides twenty years after his death.  His body was chemically tested and found to contain high levels of arsenic.

Who poisoned him?  Was if the British?  A jealous husband? Emsley argues that Napoleon was killed by his wallpaper.

or more precisely, drawing on the work of an Italian scientist named Bartolomeo Gosio, by the green, arsenic-rich pigment in the wallpaper's star pattern.
At the end of the 19th century, Gosio was prompted to investigate why so many Italian children were inexplicably sickening and dying. Physicians suspected arsenic poisoning. Gosio demonstrated that a microorganism that grew on the flour-paste backing of the wallpaper could turn the arsenic in it into a gas that was powerful enough to make people ill and even kill them. If Napoleon chose the colors of his wallpaper to commemorate his imperial colors, Emsley writes, "[H]e did himself no favours … though they reminded him of his glorious past."

UPDATE:  A new report from Vienna claims that Beethoven was done in by his physician who overdosed him with lead in a case of a cure gone wrong.

UPDATE 2:  How could I have forgotten Oscar Wilde's last words, "Either that wallpaper goes, or I do."

Posted by Jill Fallon at 6:42 PM | Permalink

Church bells pealed for Oriana Fallaci

All from a deathbed friendship between a bishop and an atheist.

Fallaci returned to Italy in her final days because, she said, she didn't want to die in exile. She asked Fisichella to help arrange a room for her in Florence where she could look out at the famous dome of Brunelleschi atop the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore. She also requested a CD with the sound of church bells to play softly in the background.

It was Fallaci's desire, Fisichella said, that on the day of her funeral, the bells of the cathedral would ring out. It wasn't easy to arrange, Fisichella said. Though he didn't elaborate, it's well known that some Catholics objected to bestowing such an honor upon a professed atheist, while others argued that it would be seen as an endorsement of her stridently anti-Islamic views. Nonetheless, Fisichella said, he managed to pull it off.

"With a great deal of difficulty, due to various polemics, it happened that when her coffin left the clinic to go to the cemetery, the bells of the Cathedral of Florence pealed for Oriana Fallaci," he said, to thunderous applause from the crowd in Rimini.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:14 AM | Permalink

August 21, 2007

Leona Helmsley

If you read the AP obituary on Leona Helmsley, it seems she truly earned her title, the Queen of Mean 

Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:52 PM | Permalink

Grave Injury

She took a few too many before she left for the cemetery to pay respects to a dead relative.  When she got to the cemetery, she veered off the road, careened into one tombstone after another and eventually got stuck in a grave until the police pulled her out.

Grave Injury for Drunk Driver

Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:51 PM | Permalink

August 16, 2007

The Angst of Limbo

"We're prolonging life, but we're also prolonging dying," says Mercedes Bern-Klug, an end-of-life researcher at the University of Iowa, who studies what she terms "ambiguous dying syndrome." Hundreds of thousands of people are surviving longer with advanced dementia or traumatic brain injuries, or in coma states. For their loved ones, "coping with the ambiguity creates a unique type of stress," says Dr. Bern-Klug. "It's a form of angst we don't even have a name for in our culture."

Jeff Zaslow  in the Wall St. Journal on Waiting for the End: When Loved Ones Are Lost in Limbo. 

As medical advances continue to "deform the dying process," Dr. Bern-Klug predicts, families will have to deal with variations of limbo that are now unimaginable. It's territory that must be charted carefully, she says, as more of us share that experience of standing on a riverbank, waiting.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:31 AM | Permalink

August 13, 2007

Merv Griffin, R.I.P.

He started out as a game show host, first Jeopardy, then Wheel of Fortune, sold them while retained part of the profits, when on the become even richer through his h shrewd investing and by all accounts and was an all-around great guy.

 Merv Griffin And Arthur Treacher

Pat Sajak on Merv Griffin

No one could make you feel more alive than Merv Griffin.

Tom Shales, TV critic for the Washington Post calls him The Host Who Was Everyone's Guest.

He was fun to have around, and so the news of his death yesterday, at 82, was poignantly dispiriting. Especially considering he was that form of celebrity unique to television: a professional personality, someone whose singing (despite a big-band career in the '40s) was unexceptional, whose dancing was limited to ballrooms at haute blowouts, and whose major talent may have been his prowess at dealmaking behind the scenes.

AP Obituary by Bob Thomas

From his beginning as a $100-a-week San Francisco radio singer, Griffin moved on as vocalist for Freddy Martin's band, sometime film actor in films and TV game and talk show host. His "The Merv Griffin Show" lasted more than 20 years, and Griffin's said his capacity to listen contributed to his success.
He made Forbes' list of richest Americans several times and started putting money in treasury bonds, stocks and other investments. But he went into real estate and other ventures because "I was never so bored in my life."

"I said, `I'm not going to sit around and clip coupons for the rest of my life,' " he recalled in 1989. "That's when Barron Hilton said, `Merv, do you want to buy the Beverly Hilton?' I couldn't believe it.

New York Times obit by Richard Severo and Edward Wyatt.

With his easy smile and low-key manner, he seemed the eternally jovial Irishman; few of those around him, much less his fans, thought of him as the entrepreneur he was. “I was buying things and nobody knew,” he said. “I never told anybody, because I noticed that when you walk down the street and everybody knows you’re rich, they don’t talk to you.”
When he was creating “Jeopardy!,” he realized the show needed some music to fill the time while contestants were puzzling out a question. Sitting at a piano, he plunked out a few notes, then a repetitive melody, and within about a half-hour had the show’s familiar theme music. He retained the rights to the song even after selling the shows, and royalties from the ditty “made me a fortune, millions,” he said in 2005.

How much? he was asked. “Probably close to $70-80 million.”

Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:00 AM | Permalink

August 12, 2007

Kaddish read at Jewish Cardinal's Funeral in Paris

Before the doors of Notre Dame in Paris, the funeral for the man who described himself as a Jew, a Cardinal and the son of immigrants was begun with the reading of the Kaddish, the Jewish prayer for the dead said in Aramaic, the language of Jesus.

Jewish World reports

Another family relation, Jonas Moses-Lustiger, read Psalm 113 in Hebrew and French, a psalm of special significance to both Jews and Catholics. 

For the full flavor of the funeral, read Rocco Palma at Whispers in the Loggia who posts You Were a Manner of Miracle

Recalling the Jewish origins of Jean-Marie Lustiger, convert to Catholicism, Maurice Druon addressed himself to his fellow "immortal": "you were, Jean-Marie, for a quarter century, a manner of miracle: incredible to behold, the inconceivable expressed, the impossible existent; you were the Jewish cardinal". "In a world in crisis, you took up, renewed and reconciled in yourself the bases of our civilization and helped it to withstand the blows not of modernism but of religion", insisted Maurice Druon at the solemn funeral.

Lustiqer was buried in the crypt of Notre Dame Cathedral.  A commerorative plaque will be installed, a message from Lustiger

I was born Jewish.
I received  the name
Of my paternal grandfather, Aaron

Having become Christian
By faith and by Baptism,
I have remained Jewish
As did the Apostles.

I have as my patron saints
Aaron the High Priest,
Saint John the Apostle,
Holy Mary full of grace.

Named 139th archbishop of Paris
by His Holiness Pope John-Paul II,
I was enthroned in this Cathedral
on 27 February 1981,
And here I exercised my entire ministry.

Passers by, pray for me.
† Aaron Jean-Marie Cardinal Lustiger
Archevêque de Paris

Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:32 PM | Permalink | TrackBack

August 10, 2007

A Good Man

Fling, helper of poor, sick and blind dies at 86

John Fling, who ran a one-man ministry out of a Chevy truck with a cell phone, would deliver hearty meals to others and then fold bologna inside a slice of bread for himself.

His mission — helping the poor, the sick and the blind — carried him from luckless S.C. streets to lavish awards banquets in the nation’s capital.

Through it all, friends said, the son of Georgia sharecroppers gave away what he didn’t need
“This guy went from early in the morning to late in the evening, seven days a week, for 45 years,” said David Houck, executive director of the Federation Center of the Blind. “When he had to slow down, it was probably the hardest thing he ever had to do.”
Having lost the sight in one eye during a childhood hunting accident, Fling gave special care to blind people, running errands for them or shuttling them to appointments.
“He was a very, very simple man,” said company president Michael Love. “The most unselfish man I’ve ever met.”

What a good man.  May he rest in peace.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 3:49 PM | Permalink

August 9, 2007

The Last Days of Ruth Graham

A tender story in Time,  Ruth and Billy Graham's Final Farewell.

"No matter how prepared you think you are for the death of a loved one, it still comes as a shock," Billy Graham observes, "and it still hurts very deeply." Ruth and Billy would have been married 64 years this month.
so he has a new tenderness for all those who mourn, that they will be comforted.

Grief is a demanding guest in an old man's house. Let sorrow settle in, and in time it no longer feels like home. His daughters had the hospital bed removed and restored Ruth's room as it used to be, warm and inviting, not sad, so it looks as if she's just away on a long trip. It was Billy's habit, through all their decades of work and travel, to call her every evening at about 5. These days, as twilight rolls around, he finds himself wanting to pick up the phone and call her and then remembering that he can't. "Sometimes I'll be preoccupied with something, and suddenly I'll be reminded of her for some reason," he says, "and I'll find myself almost overwhelmed." One way he copes, he says, is by thanking God for the years they had together. "They are over now — but God was good in giving us to each other, and I want to be grateful for those memories and not suppress them." He has pulled out some of his favorite pictures of Ruth and put them on his desk to remind himself.

We asked him whether, with all our advanced medical technology, we perhaps fear death and fight it too much. "I think we often do," he said. "I'm convinced that in some cases we aren't so much prolonging life but prolonging death." ... But death is a reality common to us all, and for me as a Christian it isn't something to be feared, because I know what lies ahead for me beyond the grave."

Posted by Jill Fallon at 1:17 PM | Permalink

The Desire to Confess

As a long-time mystery fan, I've been enthralled from time to time  with the idea of the perfect murder.

Not that I have any plans or anyone in mind, I assure you.  Seems like the best place for a perfect crime is aboard the high seas as Congressman Christopher Shays warns us in Missing on Cruises.

Disposal of the body is the difficult part so the prospect of being able to toss the body overboard is inviting.

The other big problem is keeping the secret and not telling anyone how brilliant you were.

Some murderers keep the body in a freezer sealed with duct tape until they confess on their deathbed.

A perfect murder is just too delicious not to share especially if it's about "the most missingist man in America", Judge Crater.  An old woman who left a letter "Do Not Open Until My Death" in her safety deposit box broke open that case 73 years after Judge Crater stepped into a cab never to be seen again.

The desire to confess may prove irresistible.

And so, we come to the crime of the decade in Poland.

Crime author charged with murder after police read his perfect plot.

An author leafing through a newspaper comes across tantalising details of a murder so grisly that he becomes obsessed, and imagines the events into a novel. Or a murderer, so self-satisfied with the brilliance of his perfect crime, pens an account to pass off as fiction and enshrine it in literary history....

Four years after he published his bloody bestseller, Krystian Bala has found himself on trial for the same torture and murder that he detailed in his novel.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:51 AM | Permalink

Mourners Crash Like Dominos

He's "bloody furious" with the police

"Here we are taking dad to the cemetery and we are all pulled over and there are accidents behind us. It was just like dominoes."

Mourners crash like "dominos" after cop stops hearse.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:44 AM | Permalink

August 8, 2007

Thirty years of lawyers

Prolonged litigation can split marriages, estrange families and deform lives.    So I was delighted to read  Pearl Buck heirs reach accord

The long-squabbling heirs of Pearl S. Buck's legacy have discovered a way to resolve their complex litigation: Banish the lawyers.

The Nobel laureate's children and Pearl S. Buck International, the charity in Bucks County the writer established before her death in Vermont in 1973, announced an amicable settlement yesterday of their dispute over who owns the recently recovered manuscript of The Good Earth, Buck's masterwork.

They sat down in the kitchen and locked out the lawyers.

"I don't think it was Pearl Buck's intent to have everybody at each other's throats over this," Long said. "This is the first time in 30-some years that everyone is talking nice, and that's important."

Buck, who spent her later years promoting international harmony and racial understanding, left a legacy of disharmony among her closest survivors.

In her final years, the widowed writer took up with a dance instructor half her age, disinherited her children, and bequeathed her belongings to various competing interests. It took her heirs seven years in Vermont probate court to sort out ownership, though some issues were unresolved until yesterday.

The agreement also calls for all litigation to cease.

"Abe Lincoln had useful advice - avoid litigation at all costs," Walsh said. "I wished we had been able to, but we couldn't. But now we have."

Posted by Jill Fallon at 6:22 PM | Permalink | TrackBack

August 7, 2007

Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger, R.I.P.

Born to Polish Jews (his mother died in the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz), converted to Roman Catholicism as a boy, Lustiger became a leader of the French church, the archbishop of Paris for 24 years  and an advisor to Pope John Paul II,  died at age 80.

 Cardinal Jean Marie Lustiger

After the German occupation of France, he was sent with his sister to live with a Catholic woman in Orleans. Born Aaron, he changed his name to Jean Marie after converting to Catholicism at age 13, against the wishes of his parents.    He always insisted he remained a Jew.

“To say that I am no longer a Jew is like denying my father and mother, my grandfathers and grandmothers. I am as Jewish as all the other members of my family who were butchered in Auschwitz or in the other camps.”

"Christianity is the fruit of Judaism," he once said.

New York Times obituary
The pope appointed him archbishop of Paris in January 1981, and if the French clergy were surprised, the appointee felt burdened. “For me,” he told an interviewer, “this nomination was as if, all of a sudden, the crucifix began to wear a yellow star.”

In an early interview as archbishop, he said: “I was born Jewish, and so I remain, even if that is unacceptable for many. For me, the vocation of Israel is bringing light to the goyim. That is my hope, and I believe that Christianity is the means for achieving it.”

French President Nicholas Sarkozy said France had "lost a great figure of spiritual, moral, intellectual, and naturally religious life."

Associated Press obituary by Elaine Ganley

Andre Vingt-Trois, archbishop of Paris, said Cardinal Lustiger's "reflections, and his personal history, led him to play an important role in the evolution of relations between Jews and Christians."

A confidante of the late Pope John Paul II, Cardinal Lustiger represented the pontiff at January 2005 commemorations of the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, where his mother died.

"I don't want to return because it is a place of death and destruction," said Cardinal Lustiger, who had previously visited the camp in 1983. "If I am going, it is because the pope asked me."

Cardinal Lustiger never publicly addressed the tragedy of his mother, Gisele. But during France's National Day of Remembrance to commemorate the deportation and death of French Jews during World War II, Cardinal Lustiger, taking part in the reading of names in 1999, came to his mother's.

''Gisele Lustiger,'' he intoned, then added, ''ma maman'' (my mama), before continuing, Catholic World News reported.

''The strength of evil can only be answered with an even greater strength of love,'' Cardinal Lustiger said at a 2005 mass in Lodz, Poland, in memory of the more than 200,000 Jews deported from there to Nazi death camps.

In an appreciation George Wiegel compares two students in the same Poly Sci course at the Sorbonne, one Listiger, the other Pol Pot and wonders how different the world would be if Pol Pot had taken Pascal's Wager.

He continues
To meet Jean-Marie Lustiger was to meet a man of God: He was a wonderful human being—intelligent, caring, funny in a wry way—because he had been transformed by the power of God, in Christ, through the Holy Spirit. His great desire was that others might share in the gift that he had been given, the gift of faith. That gift led him to read situations in their true depth, often against the grain of the conventional wisdom. And this was another quality he shared with the late John Paul II—the quality of reading the dynamics of history in depth. Like the man who took a great risk in appointing him archbishop of Paris, Lustiger (who took no less a risk in accepting John Paul’s appointment) understood that the most dynamic force in history over time is neither politics nor economics but rather culture: what men and women honor, cherish, and worship; what men and women are willing to stake their lives on.

And at the heart of culture, Lustiger knew, is cult: the act of worship. Everyone worships; the only question is whether the object of our worship is worthy. Jean-Marie Lustiger lived, led, and died in the conviction that the worship of the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Jesus is true worship, worship that can shape a truly liberating humanism. That is why everyone whose life he touched was the richer for the encounter.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:54 AM | Permalink

Watch out at yard sales

The downside of too cute urns.

Woman sells ceramic turtle with ashes of husband's previous wife at yard sale

She didn't mean too.  Now she's desperately searching for the woman who said she planned to use the urn as a cookie jar.

Her husband's previous wife collected turtles.

UPDATE:  The new wife found the ceramic turtle at a nearby Salvation Army Thrift Shop.  Her husband only told her about the ashes after she sold the container.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 6:10 AM | Permalink

August 6, 2007

No Foul Play

In New York, a 2000-year-old Egyptian mummy was scanned by a "64 slice" CT scanner while curators, conservators and medical specialists looked on, "riveted by the macabre spectacle."

 2000 Mummy Scan     

Mummy's Log: Visited Scan God in Land of the Dead

Demetrios died in his 50s, a quiet, natural death it seems.  There was no indication of foul play though  his heart was missing and a scarab was found in its place.

From the shape his bones were in,  Demetrios enjoyed a high-status life in ancient Egypt.
“Either he had an easy life or was carried around a lot,” Dr. Boxt said. “He certainly didn’t do much heavy lifting during his lifetime.”

Now his portrait will join his mummy, along with 122 other objects for a traveling exhibition by the Brooklyn Museum to tell the story of Egyptian funerary practices. 


Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:42 AM | Permalink

Death and Chocolate

Chocolate, the all-purpose mental health food, eases the dying of a difficult mother who reconciles with her daughters.

Death and Chocolate: A Sampler for the Psyche.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 7:55 AM | Permalink

August 3, 2007

No Room for the Dead in Hong Kong

Hong Kong, one of the most crowded cities on the planet, is running out of space for the dead and causing all sorts of problems for those who want to follow the Chinese tradition of visiting ancestors' graves.

The Dead, Too, Find Hong Kong Really Overcrowded

 Chinese Double Burial

Even the Southern Chinese custom of a double burial in which the remains are dug up after 7 to 10 years, then cleaned of all hair and skin, reassembled in an urn and buried in a horseshoe-shaped grave, takes up too much room.

A permanent  burial can cost as much as $36,000, so more and more, the dead are cremated and the ashes tucked into a niche in multi-story columbaria, where incense can be burned in a trough at the base of the wall.

  Columbaria Hong Kong

But the columbaria are running out of room as well.  Some families must wait 2 years for a niche.  People object to building new columbaria because they don't want the ghosts of the dead near their neighborhoods.

By 2012 half of the people who die each year may not get a final resting place.    So now, the government is subsidizing scatterings at sea for about  $40.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:28 AM | Permalink

August 1, 2007

Golden Couple with a Shared Psychosis

They shared a paranoid view of the world and gradually slipped into a shared psychosis.

The Puzzling, Tragic End of a Golden Couple

They were one of those New York couples: good-looking and ridiculously gifted. She had a voracious mind that intimidated nearly everyone, and blond hair she kept in braids. He was a certified art star, with appearances at the Whitney Museum and a CD cover for Beck among his lengthy list of credits.

Theresa Duncan and Jeremy Blake were a formidable pair, and by all accounts, soul mates for the last 12 years. So a few weeks ago, when Duncan committed suicide at the age of 40, friends and family knew that Blake, 35, was devastated. No one, though, knew how devastated -- not his mother in Takoma Park, where he grew up, nor the curator putting together an upcoming solo show in Washington at the Corcoran.

A week later, on July 17, witnesses on Rockaway Beach in New York saw a man take off his clothes and walk into the ocean. On Monday, police confirmed that Blake had taken his own life, leaving behind a note that authorities would describe but not quote. "It was basically about wanting to be reunited with Theresa Duncan," said Paul Browne, a spokesman for the New York Police Department. "It referenced her suicide and said that he hoped to rejoin her."

Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:59 AM | Permalink