I've just subscribed to a fine blog by the Daily Undertaker which is well worthy of your perusal for the insights of a funeral director and some fine photographs.
I quite liked "I wish I'd spoken at my father's funeral", the undertaker who tries to save a young man from a life of violence, Irish wakes online, and Behind the Collar, Funerals from the Vicar's perspective
Take some time and look around. You'll be glad you did.
The encounter with a chaplain can be profound and spiritual, and sometimes religious in a traditional way. More and more, though, ministering to the terminally ill in hospice care is likely to be nonsectarian, or even secular.
In the quarter-century since Medicare and some private insurers began picking up the bill for hospice care, it has become a common recourse for the terminally ill. With doctors, nurses, social workers and ample supplies of pain medication dispatched to their homes or nursing facilities in the final weeks and months, about 1.3 million Americans died last year in hospice care.
Spiritual counseling has always been an optional part of the service. But recently, the proportion of patients choosing to receive it, and the number of new chaplains entering the field to meet the need, have risen sharply.
In the hospice idiom, the job of the chaplain is to make dying easier. In a way that perhaps only Americans would understand, some chaplains refer to what they do as fostering a more “successful” experience — by whatever definition of success can be negotiated in the final hours between a dying person and a compassionate stranger.
Health care and religion experts cite several reasons for the new pastoral model: a growing consensus in the medical world that spiritual care comforts terminal patients; the shortage of clergy, especially priests; a decline in traditional worship; and the apparently unchanged need most people have near the end of life to make sense of existence.
Scientific American on the death of Robert Furman, atom bomb spy leader, at 93
Robert Furman, a civil engineer who helped round up German scientists suspected of building the atomic bomb for the Nazis during World War II, has died. He was 93.
As chief of foreign intelligence for the U.S. bomb project in the last two years of the war, Furman coordinated the kidnapping of German scientists, including physicist Werner Heisenberg. Eventually, Heisenberg and nine other scientists were spirited out of Soviet reach and into a detention center in France called the Dustbin, according to the Times.
Under German sniper fire, Furman and his team also seized 31 tons of uranium ore in Belgium that was eventually shipped to the U.S.
Furman worked closely with Nobel Prize-winning physicist Luis Alvarez to track down German nuclear activity. They searched for “heavy water” – water containing a heavy isotope of hydrogen used in the making of bombs – in the Upper Rhine and Lake Constance between Germany, Switzerland and Austria, Los Alamos lab historian emeritus Roger Meade told the Times.
Furman’s spy team, code-named Alsos, ultimately found that Germany’s bomb project wasn’t as advanced as the U.S. had believed. “Instead of being two years ahead, they were two years behind,” historian Robert S. Norris wrote in Racing for the Bomb, according to the Times.
New York Times obituary
Robert R. Furman, a former Army major who as chief of foreign intelligence for the American atomic bomb project in World War II coordinated and often joined harrowing espionage missions to kidnap German scientists, seize uranium ore in Europe and determine the extent of Nazi efforts to build the bomb, died Oct. 14 at his home in Adamstown, Md. He was 93.
Kelly Gillespie is the undertaker and licensed funeral director at Need Ideas for a Funeral and boy does she have a lot.
If you're curious about alternative funeral or burial arrangements, you may want to check out what she has to say about a traditional service done your way pagan rites, a Buddhist ceremony or a Japanese Odon Festival
If you want a savvy death care consultant to help you plan a memorable funeral, call Kelly.
Dean Barnett, a well-known conservative columnist and blogger, died too young at 41 but lived longer than he expected since he was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis.
Living with a fatal disease can embitter one or make one more joyful for the life still left to live. Tributes around the blogosphere attest to Dean's joy and high spirits, great wit and good humor.
Boston Globe obit
"All his life he's been aware that he had this terminal disease but it never stopped him from doing everything and enjoying life to the fullest," his brother said. "Whether it was writing about politics, or working on his golf game, or spending time with friends and family."
"He very much enjoyed that he touched people, inspired people, provoked thoughts. It was perhaps the most fulfilling thing he did professionally," Keith Barnett said. "Although he didn't set out to do this, he was an example to the entire cystic fibrosis community that one could still build a life with meaning and I think he took pride in that."
From his book, The Plucky Smart Kid with the Fatal Disease comes these wise words
As I grew sicker, I had what for me was an extremely comforting insight. I came to view serious and progressive illness as an ever constricting circle with oneself at the center. The interior of the circle represents the contents of one’s life. As the circle gets smaller, things that were inside get forced out. Some of these things are dearly missed; others that were once thought precious get forced to the exterior and turn out to go surprisingly unlamented.
At the innermost point of the circle are the things that really matter: family, faith, love. These things stay with you until the day you die. At the very end, because the circle has shrunk down to its center, they’re all you have left. But as we approach that end, we finally realize that all along, they were what mattered most. As a consequence, life often remains beautiful and worthwhile right up until the end.
Here a column about Heroes Among Us
At one point during my interview, the questioner asked me if I expected to see a cure to CF in my lifetime. I answered no, but that it doesn’t really matter. When you see death up close, a couple of things become clear. One is that we all die, and that death is just part of the deal. The other is that life is such a blessing, that’s it just so great, even though you know the inevitable might be near you still want as many bites of the apple as possible.
When I was at the Department of the Interior, I was fortunate to spend some time with Tony Hillerman, a lovely man who was simply delighted to receive a special departmental award for his novel, "A Thief of Time) and the pubic awareness he created about theft of Indian relics from public land.
At that time, he was recovering from a heart attack and still a bit weak. Fortunately, he lived many more years and wrote several more books to the delight of his fans.
Boston Globe obituary
Tony Hillerman, author of the acclaimed Navajo Tribal Police mystery novels and creator of two of the unlikeliest of literary heroes, Navajo police officers Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee, died Sunday of pulmonary failure. He was 83.
His daughter said the Navajo values of family, community, generosity, and enjoying the beauty of the world, resonated with her father's own Catholic values. He felt blessed in his life and saw the needs of the Navajo Nation and responded, she said.
"He was a storyteller at heart, and so when people started buying his books and he didn't have to struggle so hard financially, he felt it was a good way to share the blessings," she said.
"I want Americans to stop thinking of Navajos as primitive persons, to understand that they are sophisticated and complicated," Mr. Hillerman once said.
New York Times obit
In the world of mystery fiction, Mr. Hillerman was that rare figure: a best-selling author who was adored by fans, admired by fellow authors and respected by critics. Though the themes of his books were not overtly political, he wrote with an avowed purpose: to instill in his readers a respect for Native American culture.
“It’s always troubled me that the American people are so ignorant of these rich Indian cultures,” Mr. Hillerman once told Publishers Weekly. “I think it’s important to show that aspects of ancient Indian ways are still very much alive and are highly germane even to our ways.”
Mr. Hillerman wrote with intimate knowledge of the Navajo, Hopi and Zuni tribes; he grew up with people very much like them. “I recognized kindred spirits” in the Navajo, he wrote in an autobiographical essay in 1986. “Country boys. Folks among whom I felt at ease.”
For all the recognition he received, Mr. Hillerman once said, he was most gladdened by the status of Special Friend of the Dineh (the Navajo people) conferred on him in 1987 by the Navajo Nation. He was also proud that his books were taught at reservation schools and colleges.
“Good reviews delight me when I get them,” he said. “But I am far more delighted by being voted the most popular author by the students of St. Catherine Indian school, and even more by middle-aged Navajos who tell me that reading my mysteries revived their children’s interest in the Navajo Way.”
Read the whole obit to learn more about his remarkable life.
May he rest in peace surrounded by beauty.
As four generations of the family say their goodbyes, a woman they have just met sits in a corner, playing her harp. Over the past three years, Jennifer Hollis has been accompanist to hundreds of these intimate gatherings at Lahey Clinic. Hollis, 35, is trained as a music thanatologist and plays her harp and sings to dying patients and their loved ones.
Playing music for the dying is an ancient ritual that Hollis - the only practicing music thanatologist in a Massachusetts hospital, according to Lahey officials - and others are helping to revive. Music thanatologists point to studies suggesting that music can ease pain and breathing difficulties, as well as soothe agitated patients and help them sleep.
As life ebbs, healing music flows.
"Many times families will not expect to have the emotions that they have," said Collins, who encourages patients' relatives to stay in the room when Hollis plays. "They just start to weep. Or people will touch each other. Normally, in the hospital, with the bars up, it's not that easy to make that connection. There's something so healing about it."
"I do see a lot of suffering," Hollis said. "I see people who have to say goodbye to each other, who are coming to terms with what it means to leave this world, or this life that they've known. But what I also get to see is people being incredibly beautiful and loving and tender with each other, patients saying wonderful things to their families, families saying wonderful things to them. For me, it's a real education in what it means to be human."
Marie-Dennett McDill loved the Carlyle Hotel.
So when Mrs. McDill, who grew up in society in Washington and was enjoying an outdoors life in South Woodstock, Vt., learned she had terminal cancer this summer, her family immediately booked her a suite on the eighth floor for an open-ended stay, but one they sadly knew would not be open-ended enough.
It lasted 10 weeks. Mrs. McDill died in her sleep in the Carlyle last Wednesday.
Even as she was dying, she would take walks in Central Park in the daytime, and in the evening sit in a back booth in Bemelmans Bar, looking at the whimsical illustrations of New York City on the wall by the artist Ludwig Bemelmans, best known for the Madeline children’s books, and listening to Mr. Harris play. She loved Cole Porter, and she would pass requests to the waiter.
After gorging on greasy food as fast as he could eat, a 23-year-old died after 'relentless vomiting'.
Sister Emmanuelle, France's "Mother Teresa," dies aged 99.
Sister Emmanuelle, France's answer to Mother Teresa, who has died aged 99 was an unorthodox nun who spent 20 years helping the poor in a Cairo slum before returning to France to defend the homeless.
The diminutive Roman Catholic nun, whose real name was Madeleine Cinquin, was best known in France for her frequent appearances on television to campaign passionately for the poor and homeless.
She came to media attention with her work with some of the world's poorest people, the residents of the Ezbet El-Nakhl slum in Cairo who eke out their living by scavenging in the garbage produced in the giant city.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy said Sister Emmanuelle was a woman who "touched our hearts," a "woman of action for whom charity meant concrete actions of solidarity and fraternity."
The Vatican said her work, like that of Nobel peace laureate Mother Teresa, "showed how Christian charity was able to go beyond differences of nationality, race, religion."
Rocco Palmo writes about her funeral in "Life Does Not End For Those Who Know to Love"
Sent off by her expressed request from the small-town convent where she spent her last years, Paris came to a halt yesterday to commemorate Soeur Emmanuelle -- the "French Mother Teresa" who died Monday at 99.
Following her private funeral liturgy and burial at Callian in the country's southeast, the capital's Cardinal Andre Vingt-Trois celebrated a nationally-televised memorial Mass in Notre-Dame, its high-watt congregation led by President Nicolas Sarkozy, his predecessor Jacques Chirac and -- in a tribute to the two decades the self-described "rag woman with the rag pickers" spent working among the poor in Cairo -- Egyptian First Lady Suzanne Mubarak, as a crowd of thousands packed the square outside.
She left a message with her publishers.
"When you hear this message, I will no longer be there. In telling of my life -- all of my life -- I wanted to bear witness that love is more powerful than death," she said, according to the text.
"I have confessed everything, the good and the less good, and I can tell you about it. Where I am now, life does not end for those who know how to love."...
Gerard Vanderleun on Hitchhiking in the Land of the Dead
It seems strange that a day for the contemplation of mortality has been turned into a carnival of corruption in this country, but perhaps not all that strange. I'd suggest that, as the country becomes more secular; as it ceases to believe in anything other than the here and now, the moment in the meat, it becomes increasingly terrified of the extinction of the self by death. It is one thing to profess a belief in the Great Nothingness, it is quite another to have to face it. The only weak weapon that can be raised up against it is its denial.
What the empty among us are compelled to do when confronted by death is a bit of mass-culture symbolic magic. We dress as what we fear most, and we deck our halls with symbols of death and decay. We pretend that shaking these shibboleths and feathered fetishes against the dark will protect us much as hiding under the covers kept us safe from the monster under the bed. It's a child's response to fear and it is not at all surprising that, as the worship of the Great Nothingness grows and festers among us, the ever escalating morbid gestures of Halloween do nothing to fill the Great Nothingness that roils the souls of many of our fellow citizens. It's a bit like the ceaseless urge to "keep ourselves in shape" that obsesses so many.
Alas, it will not avail us. You can drape yourself with the rubber raiments of Zombies all you want, the world will always, in time, eat your flesh down to dust. And without faith, that's the hard-core horror of existence as mere meat. Without faith, more and more of us find ourselves hitchhiking on the cold plains with no chance of being picked up. Without faith, the vehicles that pass us on the high road just aren't going our way.
Jesse Bering in Scientific American writes Never Say Die. Why We Can't Imagine Death
yet people in every culture believe in an afterlife of some kind or, at the very least, are unsure about what happens to the mind at death. My psychological research has led me to believe that these irrational beliefs, rather than resulting from religion or serving to protect us from the terror of inexistence, are an inevitable by-product of self-consciousness. Because we have never experienced a lack of consciousness, we cannot imagine what it will feel like to be dead.
So why is it so hard to conceptualize inexistence anyway? Part of my own account, which I call the “simulation constraint hypothesis,” is that in attempting to imagine what it’s like to be dead we appeal to our own background of conscious experiences—because that’s how we approach most thought experiments. Death isn’t “like” anything we’ve ever experienced, however. Because we have never consciously been without consciousness, even our best simulations of true nothingness just aren’t good enough.
Yet we can imagine the time before our parents were born. What's the difference?
How did gravestones become a walkway at an Ann Arbor home?
Workers were uncovering a sewer line when they discover that the nine granite paving stones were gravestones.
"I've never seen anything like it," Knight said. "Ever. In 25 years in business." But where could they possibly have come from, and how did they wind up reincarnated as a walkway at a Westfield Avenue colonial?
The brand-new homeowners were dismayed.
But a little publicity solved the mystery. The former homeowners had a relative in the monument business. Every one of the 1x 2 foot granite slabs had typos, misspellings or miscuts. Everyone was a cast off; they were never used as gravestones.
Following the disastrous Gallipoli campaign, in the summer of 1915, Winston Churchill volunteered for the Western front and like other soldiers left a death letter.
He celebrated the love he felt for Clementine, his wife of seven years. He wrote to her: 'You have taught me how noble a woman's heart can be.'
He was also dismissive of his own mortality, imploring Clementine: 'Do not grieve for me too much... death is only an incident, and not the most important...'
And, in a flash of the bullish nature that would see him rally the nation as war leader in 1940, he begged his wife to guard his papers from his 'Admiralty administration'.
'Some day I should like the truth to be known,' he wrote, confident history would vindicate him over Gallipoli, the failed attempt to capture Constantinople to gain a sea route to Russia, which led to huge British and Commonwealth casualties.
Workers renovating a rugby stadium have uncovered a vast complex of tombs beneath Rome that mimic the houses, blocks and streets of a real city, according to officials, who have unveiled a series of new finds.
Culture Ministry officials said Thursday that medieval pottery shards in the city of the dead, or necropolis, show the area may have been inhabited by the living during the Dark Ages after being used for centuries for burials during the Roman period.
It is not yet clear who was buried in the ancient cemetery, but archaeologists at the still partially excavated site believe at least some of the dead were freed slaves of Greek origin.
It's a matter of a few weeks to discover what is down there," said archaeologist Marina Piranomonte. "But it's something big; it looks like a neighborhood."
After handling repeated demands that her dead son appear before local magistrates, Ann Thompson just wanted them to stop.
It was almost a year later when the first letter from the DVLA dropped on the mat at the family home in Salkeld, near Penrith, claiming he had not logged details with them about a vehicle he apparently owned.
'The letter included the registration of the vehicle but there was no indication whether it was a car, a bike or anything else,' said Mrs Strange. 'But Paul did not own any vehicle when he died.
'I rang the DVLA to tell them that and that he was dead. I then wrote to them enclosing a copy of his death certificate. Another letter followed and I rang them. Then another letter came and I rang again. When another letter came I just ignored it.
Finally, feeling she had no alternative, the Grieving mother brought her son's ashes to court after the DVLA insisted on prosecuting him two years after he died
When the usher called for Paul Richard Strange, she stepped forward and said: 'He's here.'
The court fell silent as the 43-year-old housewife, her arms outstretched, asked: 'Do you want to see him?'
To make sure they could still collect Grandma's social security check after she died, this mother and son cremated the 84-year-old grandmother in a backyard barbecue pit they had used weeks earlier to cook the family's Thanksgiving dinner.
A 77 year-old man, visiting the site where his parents were buried was digging a hole around the foundation of a stone when the concrete block fell on his back.
Known best today for his elegant, edgy and often erotic black and white drawings that seem the essence of a decadent age and a new style called Art Nouveau, Aubrey Beardsley began his career as a musical child prodigy only turning to drawing and illustration in the last five years of his young life.
Infected with tuberculosis since he was six, Beardsley became a famous fop, living life hard if languidly.
Beardsley was a public character as well as a private eccentric. He said, "I have one aim—the grotesque. If I am not grotesque I am nothing." Wilde said he had "a face like a silver hatchet, and grass green hair." Beardsley was meticulous about his attire: dove-grey suits, hats, ties; yellow gloves. He would appear at his publisher's in a morning coat and patent leather pumps.
He became part of the
homosexual clique that included Oscar Wilde and the English aesthetes, Beardsley was basically heterosexual--though perhaps his only female partner had been his adored elder sister, Mabel (who may also have borne his miscarried child). Some biographers suggest that Wilde's celebrated downfall and the public revulsion that followed it may have precipitated Beardsley's final illness.
He was only twenty-three when he turned to God
In March, 1897, after converting to Roman Catholicism, he and his mother traveled to Paris. Doctors advised against spending the winter in the city, so in November they went to southern France. There, ravaged by chills and weakness, Beardsley took to bed and never left his room after a bad lung hemorrhage on Jan. 26. Thoughts of religion and guilt about the frank eroticism of his past work haunted him, and he spent hours reading about the lives of Roman Catholic saints
Nine days before his death,
he scribbled a note to his London publisher with the heading "Jesus is our Lord & Judge." The note read: "I implore you to destroy all copies of Lysistrata. . . . By all that is holy--all obscene drawings." ..... Early in the morning on Mar. 16, when his mother and Mabel were out of the room, the artist apparently tried to draw, for when Ellen Beardsley returned, her son was dead and his favorite gold pen--either thrown or dropped on the floor--was standing upright like an arrow
Daniel Mitsui at The Lion and the Cardinal notes that the final request written by Beardsley "in my death agony" was ignored.
But the letter leaves an enduring testimony to the sincerity of its author's conversion. The world of arts and letters has no shortage of insincere converts; men for whom religion is simply another element in the creation of an interesting public personality. But in the dying Aubrey Beardsley is seen the will to mortification and the shame for notoriety that mark a true penitent
More evidence that what you intuited is true.
Researchers led by Dr. Alexi Wright of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute report in the Journal of the American Association on interviews with 332 terminally ill cancer patients recruited at seven outpatient clinics. Patients who said they did not have end-of-life conversations got significantly more aggressive care in their final week of life, which was linked to lower quality of life near death. Their caregivers also suffered, feeling regret, poor quality of life, and a higher risk of developing depression.
Patients who said they did have end-of-life discussions were more likely to have a better quality of life in their last days, less likely to get aggressive care, and more likely to receive hospice services. Their loved ones said they felt less regret, and better quality of life, during their bereavement.
"Our results suggest that end-of-life discussions may have cascading benefits for patients and their caregivers," the authors wrote.
Intrigued he did more research and found this article in the New York Times in 1909 about poor George Millett who was "stabbed to death in an office frolic".
The girls only tried to kiss him for this birthday but George fended the girls, reeled and fell over as he did pierced in the heart by a blade for scraping ink that was in his breast pocket.
A FEARSOME mutant fish has started killing people after feeding on human corpses, scientists fear.
They reckon that a huge type of catfish, called a goonch, may have developed a taste for flesh in an Indian river where bodies are dumped after funerals.
Locals have believed for years that a mysterious monster lurks in the water. But they think it has moved on from scavenging to snatching unwary bathers who venture into the Great Kali, which flows along the India-Nepal border.
The extraordinary creature has been investigated by biologist Jeremy Wade for a TV documentary to be shown on Five.
He said: “The locals have told me of a theory that this monster has grown extra large on a diet of partially burnt corpses. It has perhaps got this taste for flesh by feasting on remains of funeral pyres. There will be a few freak individuals that grow bigger than the other ones and if you throw in extra food, they will grow even bigger.”
He caught one which tipped the scales at 161lb and was nearly 6ft long – a world record weight and far bigger than any landed before.
He said: “If that got hold of you, there’d be no getting away.
An 18-year-old Nepali disappeared in the river last year, dragged down by something described as like an “elongated pig”.
She made memory boxes for her two young sons containing keepsakes like a bottle of her perfume and a recorded song and letters telling them how they should behave like avoiding "negative moaning, consider other people's feeling and not to be afraid to make mistakes.
She was informed the disease had spread to such an extent that it was beyond treatment. But after being told the news, she embarked on a journey to fulfill as many of her lifetime ambitions as possible.
A month after being told her condition was terminal, she married Tom, her partner of four years. She also took part in kayaking, power-boating, quad-biking, hot air ballooning and a holiday to New Zealand.
Her mother, Mavis Wise, said: 'She passed away very peacefully.'
The bones of the Victorian cardinal who is in line to become Britain’s first saint for almost 40 years have disintegrated, hampering plans to turn his final resting place into a centre of Christian pilgrimage.
Church officials exhuming the body of Cardinal John Henry Newman were surprised to discover that his grave was almost empty when it was opened on Thursday. All that remained were a brass plate and handles from Newman’s coffin, along with a few red tassels from his cardinal’s hat.
The discovery will not affect Newman’s case for sainthood. But officials have had to abandon plans to transfer his bones from a rural cemetery in Rednal, Worcestershire, to a marble sarcophagus at Birmingham Oratory, which Newman founded after converting to Catholicism from the Church of England.
“I have been visiting that grave since I was a very young boy,” said Peter Jennings, a spokesman for the Oratory. “I will never forget how I felt, standing there last Thursday, looking at this deep hole which had been dug out. This was the greatest churchman of the 19th century and there was nothing there, only dust.”
There is no conspiracy theory over what has become of Newman’s remains: experts believe that damp conditions led to their complete decomposition.
Dr. Diane Meier, 55, won a genius award from the MacArthur Foundation for her work as a geriatrician improving treatment for critically-ill patients.
Her goal is to make palliative care "part of the genome of American medicine" writes Jane Gross in the New Old Age blog at the New York Times A Time When Listening is 'Sacred"
Dr. Meier, 56, director of the Center to Advance Palliative Care and professor of geriatrics and medical ethics at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, parted ways a decade ago with an outspoken group of physicians nationwide who sought the legalization of assisted suicide.
Her argument then — and even more vociferously now — is that the American health care system reimburses doctors for doing procedures, not spending hours plumbing the souls of their patients. Thus no physician has time for the discussion, reflection and explanation necessary to conclude, knowledgeably and honorably, that helping a patient die is a reasonable and ethical choice
Her research has shown that virtually nobody actually wants to die if given access to adequate pain control, emotional and spiritual support for themselves and their family, and what Dr. Meier calls the “sacred level” of attention necessary to “validate their suffering.” As with hospice care, but without the requirement of a terminal diagnosis, palliative care physicians spend most of their time talking to patients and caregivers.