December 29, 2009

There's a Novel in Your Living Room

That's what Hugh Hewitt says "Be sure to read it while you still have it."

Much as any columnist hates to say it, for most of you there is a better use of your time. If you have an aging mom or dad, or an elderly relative of any sort under the roof, you've got a novel in your living room, and I hope you take some time to at least skim its table of contents today.

Time is marching on, and with it all the familiar stories. But chances are you haven't really heard them in a long time, if ever. Chances are your Rose Marie is honored and served, but rarely listened to at length, much less made the focus of a family conversation.

My suggestion is that you give it a try, but do so with a purpose. See if you can't keep Aunt Joan or Gramps focused on the story of their lives, so that at the end of an hour, you know the outline of their life --where they were born, where they lived, the names of their school and favorite teachers, and whether they had a pet and where they had their first kiss.

Here's Rose Marie's call.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:53 AM | Permalink

Slipped on ice

What a sad story, his poor family.

Man dies after slipping on ice while visiting his mother's grave on Christmas Day

A builder has died after slipping on an icy path while visiting his mother's grave on Christmas Day.

Jimmy Halpin, 54, suffered head and neck injuries after the fall at Urmston and was pronounced dead on arrival at Trafford General Hospital

His death comes just weeks after his wife Ann, 55, died of stomach cancer, and has left his children without parents.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:43 AM | Permalink

December 27, 2009

The Lives They Lived

If you enjoy obituaries, you won't want to miss the annual compilation by The New York Times of The Lives They LIved 2009.

Each year newspapers and magazines document the lives and deaths of hundreds of notable people. And each year we put together a special issue that peeks into some of those lives — an admittedly eclectic, idiosyncratic project, one driven by the passions, quirks and curiosities of our writers and editors. This year those interests led us to some very well known names but also to many lesser-known ones, each worthy, in one way or another, of exploration and appreciation.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:42 AM | Permalink

Tripping over his own pants, gangster dies

The fatal cost of gangster fashion

A murderous New York gangster tripped over his own baggy trousers last week and fell to his death. Hector Quinones, 44, was in the middle of an apparently drugs-related killing spree when his low-slung trousers fell down and tripped him up. One of his would-be victims fled on to the fire escape of her apartment block; Quinones yanked up his trousers and struggled after her, but no sooner had he reached the fire escape than they fell down again, and he toppled overboard.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:26 AM | Permalink

December 24, 2009

Family Christmas Tales

One Advent and two Christmas tales to pass along.

The Advent of the Three Miracles

You will understand why I felt a glowing sense of almost giddy joy and exultation that Christmas. Nothing comes closer to expressing how I felt on that Advent Sunday 20 years ago than the inspired scene from the 1951 Alastair Sims Christmas Carol when Ebenezer Scrooge wakes up on Christmas morning. "

I'm as light as a feather, I'm as happy as an angel, I'm as merry as a school boy, I'm as giddy as a drunken man."

A tiny foretaste of the happiness for we have all been created.

Hans A. von Spakovsky recalls the brutal Christmases in Germany during and at the end of WW2, in a family story that will be handed down for generations, A Christmas Tale - 1944

My grandmother always enjoyed Christmas -- not because of the gifts, but because her family was together and safe. She had learned to enjoy the time you have with the people you love. She also knew that no matter what the future brings, you can find your way out of almost anything if you don’t give up hope. And she was confident that her grandchildren would never experience in America what her family had endured in Nazi Germany.

My grandmother taught me by her example that determination and optimism can take you almost anywhere, no matter what obstacles you face. Even what appears to be a terrible blow can sometimes turn out for the best. As we celebrate a holiday that is about the birth of hope and salvation, I remember that lesson and am thankful that my family came to America, a nation of new beginnings. It has been a refuge for more than 200 years for immigrants fleeing the tyranny and darkness that pervades so many other places around the world. Merry Christmas!

Tony Woodlief On the narrow path out with his children takes a risk with his son and a young aimless girl and others follow.

I am proud of my son and I want to be like him and I am afraid one day he will be like me, all of these thoughts in me at once, and so what I say is that I love him. Do you see, I ask, how people came to help her after they saw you helping her? He smiles. He is learning to think like an adult, but on this day he didn’t know any better than to give a girl with downturned face money and a smile, which is nothing but everything.
And if you are like me and you look back on the year and think about how once again you have done a poor job of it, of teaching them anything at all that is lasting, take comfort in this: that it is Christmas, that the cycle begins again, that there is still time while they breathe and you breathe. Teach them to watch the star that leads to the baby to the boy to the man to the grave to the life beyond death. Teach them about the joy that has come into a world of downturned, hopeless faces.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 5:16 PM | Permalink

December 21, 2009

Dying to Look Good

Dying to look good: French king's mistress killed by drinking gold elixir of youth

Miracle beauty products may be a staple on women's dressing tables today, but they're not a recent invention.

The mistress of the 16th-century French king, Henry II, drank gold in an effort to preserve her youth, according to a study published in the British medical journal.

Unfortunately the remedy eventually killed her.


When French experts dug up the remains of Diane de Poitiers last year, they found high levels of gold in her hair.

Since she was not a queen and did not wear a crown, scientists said it was hard to see how jewellery could have contaminated her hair and body.

Experts now say she probably consumed drinkable gold, believed at the time to preserve youth and treat a host of other ailments.

The French court believed gold harnessed the power of the Sun, which would be transferred to the drinker. Alchemists often acted as apothecaries and prescribed solutions made up of gold chloride and diethyl ether. These were popular at the French Court.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:59 PM | Permalink

More gruesome deaths from England

I don't know why the British papers are so much better about gruesome death, but they are.

On vacation in Spain, two sisters went missing and couldn't be found anywhere around their resort in Benidorm.
They should have looked under the bed.

Elderly holiday sisters killed after being entombed under collapsed bed for FOUR days

Back at home, a fifty-five-year grandfather going home from a Christmas party had a heart attack.  He was found
frozen to death, trapped under the ice of the city center fountain after falling in.

And one poor innocent teaching assistant was stabbed to death by a chef  'because he was in a bad mood'.

They don't let up on the National Health Service either.

80-year old man dying of PSP (progressive supranuclear palsy) is denied care at home as health chiefs say he's not ill enough to qualify.  They'll leave it to his frail 77-year-old wife is frail on crutches to provide complete care.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:57 PM | Permalink | TrackBack

December 17, 2009

Interpenetration of worlds

So long as people are grading themselves, Gagdad Bob jumps in to grade himself on his spiritual progress and gives himself a B+  and muses on near-death experiences and the real afterlife.

Back to the seeming closeness of heaven and earth in these troubled times. Father Rose writes that "never before has mankind been given such striking and clear proofs -- or at least 'hints' -- that there is another world, that life does not end with the death of the body, that there is a soul that survives death and is indeed more conscious and alive after death." But what do people do with it? Most seem to simply become more confused. It reminds me of the gift of literacy. What do most people do with it? Basically just waste it on garbage and trivia.

Now some intriguing details. Father Rose says that "the dying person's spiritual vision often begins even before death," apparently because the two worlds are drawing closer together, so to speak. It is as if the other world penetrates and infuses this one with a peculiar but distinct energy, something most people can experience when in the presence of the dying loved one.

Since premature death was so much more commonplace in the past, I wonder if people were much more aware of this space, or even lived in it most of the time? For them, the security we take for granted was an extreme rarity, if it occurred at all. People were not secure in their person, their health, their food supply, nothing. Thus, perhaps it was much easier for them to acknowledge the one true source of security in the Absolute.

This again speaks to the historical irony of contemporary man, whose increased security causes him to hold on that much more tightly to those very things that moth and rust doth corrupt, except a bit more slowly. Again, for this reason, spiritual progress is simultaneously easier and more difficult than ever before. Nevertheless, I give myself a B+.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 7:55 PM | Permalink

December 12, 2009

100-year-old woman murdered by roommate, 98

A grand jury has indicted a 98-year-old woman on a second-degree-murder charge for allegedly killing her 100-year-old roommate in a dispute over the room they shared at a nursing home in Dartmouth.
The motion filed in Superior Court details the relationship between the two elderly women and describes, how just a short distance from a nurses' station, Lundquist was allegedly able to strangle and suffocate Barrow that morning within a window of 20 minutes. Staff found her body at 6:20 a.m. under a bed sheet with a plastic bag tied loosely around her head.

"The defendant made statements prior to the victim's death that she would get the victim's bed by the window because she was going to outlive her," the motion said.

The night before staff found Barrow dead, she complained that Lundquist has placed a table at the foot of her bed that blocked her path to the bathroom, according to joint motion. A nurse's aide moved the table and Lundquist punched her. When staff discovered Barrow's body, the table had been moved back to the foot of her bed.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:10 AM | Permalink

"There's little grace in email"

Through Letters, a Family History Unveiled

A reporter's seven-year correspondence with his 93-year-old cousin, illustrator Sam Fink, reveals a family's past and the beauty in old-fashioned letter writing

"There's little grace in email," Sam tells me when I stop by to visit in November. "Part of grace occurs when a letter drops through the slot in the door and you decide how to open it." He says he plans what he'll write in his letters when he goes to bed, then starts typing in the morning. "I love the sound of the clackety clack of a typewriter."
Sam wanted me to know about our family. His mother Tillie, who died in 1989 at age 97, was one of six siblings born before 1900. In his retelling, the clan became fantastical characters. Tillie was so determined to keep her ailing mother Betsey from committing suicide that she'd tie a string around her and her mother's arms when they went to bed, so Tillie would know if the old woman stirred. Two of Tillie's brothers were so clueless about their tea-totaling mother's anguish that they'd bring her brandy, which she'd rub into her knees to try to relieve arthritic pain.

What most amazed me about Sam Fink is his creative spurt at age 89.

While Ms. Tabori wasn't interested in an illustrated alphabet he had been pushing, she looked over Sam's other works and says she was knocked out by his earlier volume on the Constitution. She wanted to republish it, this time richly colored. The assignment, at age 89, led to a remarkable burst of creativity, in which Sam published four illustrated books over the following three years on the Constitution, the Gettysburg Address, Exodus and a passage from an Annie Dillard book.

"The Constitution of the United States of America" features a whimsical sketch of a human spine to represent the country's backbone. To tie the Gettysburg Address to the aspirations of the founders, he drew tiny figures of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence and had them stand on a quill held by Lincoln. He says the famous documents embody freedom to him, the kind of freedom that let his illiterate grandmother immigrate to the U.S., and helped his family prosper.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:46 AM | Permalink

December 9, 2009

Irish folk singer Clancy dead at 74

Liam Clancy, who died on December 4 aged 74, was the last surviving member of the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem, the first and arguably the most authentic of the Irish folk groups to make an impact far beyond their homeland over the last half-century; rated by Bob Dylan "the best ballad singer I ever heard in my life", he was also a fine guitarist.

Times Online
Liam Clancy was one of the great ambassadors of Irish music, popularising its rich seam of traditional folk songs around the world. He spent much of his career in America, where he was a strong influence on the folk revival of the early 1960s centred on Greenwich Village, New York, and on the young Bob Dylan in particular.

“Liam was it for me,” Dylan once declared. “I never heard a singer as good as Liam, ever. He was just the best ballad singer I’d ever heard in my life. Still is, probably.”
His early success came singing in the Irish folk group the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem, who in their trademark cable-knitted Aran sweaters delivered a slick repertoire of classic Irish ballads and rebel songs to become Ireland’s first pop stars, paving the way for the likes of the Dubliners and the Chieftains. Every inch the lovable Irish rogue with a roving eye, in the 1960s he suffered his fair share of problems with women, alcohol abuse and the American tax authorities, and lost most of his money. He later chronicled these difficulties in an extremely frank autobiography
A proud and sometimes sentimental patriot, he once claimed that there were only two kinds of singers in the world — the Irish and those who wished they were.

An appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1961 catapulted them to national fame and a contract with Columbia Records, for which they recorded prolifically throughout the rest of the decade. By 1962 they were selling out the Carnegie Hall and performing for President Kennedy at the White House. On a triumphant visit back home in 1963, they were greeted as conquering heroes who had turned old Irish songs into a new form of polished popular entertainment without compromising their spirit, and in Dublin they sang out of a theatre window for the crowds in the street, who were unable to get a ticket for the sold-out concert.


Here he is telling stories and talking about Greenwich Village and Bob Dylan as a young man

Posted by Jill Fallon at 1:07 PM | Permalink

December 3, 2009

Dying the last great act

A quite remarkable article by a very wise woman.

Dying the last great act of living by Margaret Somerville

Jean Vanier is the founder of L'Arche, a world-wide organization that provides a refuge and life-long home for intellectually disabled people. In their latest exchange of letters Brown asked Vanier, "Are you fearful of death?" Vanier replied, "No, I cannot say I am".
Traditionally, as Jean Vanier's writings show is still true for him, we have dealt with the mystery of death, through religion or spirituality. But, now, many of us are not religious.

Mystery always involves uncertainty, which makes us feel we don't have control and, in the case of death, that causes intense fear and free floating anxiety. One way to deal with that fear is to try to take control by converting the mystery of death to the problem of death and seeking a technological solution. Euthanasia can be seen as such a response: death is viewed as a problem, not a mystery, and the proposed solution to that problem is a lethal injection.
We must accept old or dying people's gifts, especially those gifts that are of the essence of themselves, recognizing that they and the person who gives them are unique and precious, as are their lives or last days on earth. In confirming the worth of these gifts we confirm the worth of the giver, and the old or dying person needs that confirmation. But often we refuse and for same reason that we reject disabled persons' gifts. We are frightened: This person is not me and could not be me -- that is, dis-identification is the way we deal with our fear. It seems that all of us have a deep fear of dying alone. Might that be, in part, because, then, there is no one to receive our gifts and affirm the worth of our contribution to life?

And might we be able to deal with old age and death with greater equanimity, if we can experience a sense of gratitude for life and might the gifts we can leave help us to feel that? Another way to experience such gratitude is captured by one of my close friends, who talks about "saving up beautiful memories for when you are dying". I think that's a "gratitude in practice" response.
The challenge is to maintain death as the last great act of human life, a final human act through which we can still find meaning and, I suggest most importantly, pass meaning on to others.

In other words, in our dying, we need to be given the opportunity to leave a legacy of meaning. We are meaning seeking beings -- that seeking is of the essence of our humanness. Euthanasia is a predictable response to a loss of meaning in relation to death and its practice would augment that loss. Even if we believe that doesn't matter, we should be concerned, because our capacity to find meaning in life may well depend on our being able to find meaning in death.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:29 PM | Permalink

December 2, 2009

The Old Man

My father, William James Fallon, died 17 years ago today and every time I think of him, I am grateful that he was my father.  "I never will forget him for he made me what I am"

The tears have all been shed now
We’ve said our last goodbyes
His souls been blessed
He’s laid to rest
And it’s now I feel alone
He was more than just a father
A teacher my best friend
And He’ll still be heard
In the tunes we shared
When I play them on my own

I never will forget him
For he made me what I am
Though he may be gone
Memories linger on
And I miss him, the old man

As a boy he’d take me walkin’
By mountain field and stream
And he showed me things
Not known to kings
And secret between him and me
Like the colours on the pheasant
As he rises in the dawn
Or how to fish and make a wish
Beside a fairy tree

I never will forget him
For he made me what I am
Though he may be gone
Memories linger on
And I miss him, the old man

I thought he’d live forever
He seemed so big and strong
But the minutes fly
And the years roll by
For a father and a son
And suddenly when it happened
There was so much left unsaid
No second chance
To tell him thanks

For everything he’s done

Oh, I never will forget him
For he made me what I am
Though he may be gone
Memories linger on
God I miss him, the old man

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:15 AM | Permalink

December 1, 2009

Awkward family photos

I love this new blog Awkward family photos.  Some make you wince; others are flat out hilarious.

If you have a photo  like the one below submitted by Clare, it deserves inclusion in your personal legacy archives.

Otherwise, you'd better better off leaving out the awkward ones.  Personal legacy archives are for the photos you love, not the ones that make you cringe.

 Awkward Family Photo

“This is my mom, dad and brother in Sydney.
Posing on a bridge, my brother set the camera on timer, and ran back to join my parents.
However, he had too much momentum and fell back into the pond.”

Posted by Jill Fallon at 6:28 PM | Permalink

"She is dead because she wanted a slightly firmer behind"

Solange Magano, a former Miss Argentina, left her twin eight-year-old girls at home in Cordoba when she traveled to Buenos Aires for buttock implants. 

After the routine surgery called a gluteoplasty, she began having severe breathing problems and was rushed to the hospital where she died from a blocked lung artery after spending three days in intensive care.

Her close friend and fashion designer Roberto Piazza said the brunette had become obsessed with her looks as her successful modelling career approached its end.

He said: 'Solange was a girl who had everything. She lived the life of a  goddess, she was the envy of everybody.

'Now she is dead because she wanted a slightly firmer behind.

'She died because of her obsession with beauty.'

Posted by Jill Fallon at 5:45 PM | Permalink