February 26, 2010

"Society no longer knows how to deal with death"

The head of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales, Archbishop Nichols calls for culture that encourages spiritual preparation for death

Speaking in his homily at a Mass for the Sick at Westminster Cathedral on Saturday, Archbishop Vincent Nichols reflected on death and suffering in health care. He advocated a culture of “true compassion and healing” that does not fear death but prepares for it with prayer, the sacraments, and “daily abandonment to God.”

“A culture of true compassion and healing fosters a deep respect and attentive care of the whole person, it promotes genuine care characterized by a sense of humility, a profound respect for others, and a refusal to see them as no more than a medical or behavioral problem to be tackled and resolved. To care in this way is a gift of oneself to another. And, as with all true giving, the giver also receives.”

Rejoicing in Christian faith, the archbishop said, makes clear the “very fundamental truth” that each person has a God-given dignity and “a quality of life in relationship to God that can never be reduced to its external human behaviors.

“From the outside a life might seem restricted, reduced or burdensome,” the archbishop noted. “But from within, where the love and comfort of God is experienced, that same life might well be rich in both experience and promise.”
We do not know how to deal with death. But fear cannot be our guide,” Archbishop Nichols stated.

He cited the Bishops of England and Wales’ recent document which said that respecting life and accepting death must be priorities in end-of-life care.

“We should never try to bring about death,” they wrote, but accepting death means that we should prepare properly and not “flee from the inevitable.”

“A religious person will see both life and death as coming from God,” the bishops added, describing each human being as “more than a bundle of genes and actions.”

The bishops said a “reductionist” mode of operating health care is a “hidden violence” in the system, stressing that death cannot be reduced to a “clinical event.”

Archbishop Nichols added, the “spiritual being of every person” must be central to health care, especially at the time of death.

“This moment is central to our pilgrim journey. We practice for it, day by day, rehearsing our final act of trust with smaller daily acts of abandonment to God, in prayer, in kindness towards others, and in our sacramental life.”

Posted by Jill Fallon at 2:05 PM | Permalink

February 24, 2010

Death at SeaWorld as Killer Whale Attacks

1 killed in whale attack at SeaWorld’s Shamu Stadium

Park guest Victoria Biniak told Local 6 that the trainer was a veteran of SeaWorld and had just finished explaining to the audience the show they were about to see.

At that point, Biniak said, the whale came up from the water and grabbed the woman.

"He was thrashing her around pretty good. It was violent,'" Biniak told Local 6.

The whale "took off really fast in the tank, and then he came back, shot up in the air, grabbed the trainer by the waist and started thrashing around, and one of her shoes flew off."

She said sirens went off and everyone was forced to leave the stadium.

It happened during a Dine with Shamu event

Posted by Jill Fallon at 3:53 PM | Permalink

The Fields of Less Than Nothing

Just an amazing, horrific, inspiring story by Matt Labash called Love Among the Ruins about the amazing Father Rick Frechette in Haiti.

Every Thursday—since long before the earthquake—Frechette and a band of Haitian volunteers trek to the city morgue and claim the nameless dead, who lie naked in bloated heaps on a blood-streaked concrete floor. “You’ve heard of Tuesdays with Morrie,” Frechette smiles, “this is Thursdays with the Krokmo” (a Creole pejorative term for undertaker. It translates as the “death hook,” meaning the show is over). The place is jammed and the dead often piled seven or eight high. The workers there are so inured to the stench and spectacle, that Frechette has seen a morgue attendant slaloming on roller blades around the bodies and workers eating their lunch while sitting on stacks of cadavers as though on breaktime in the office kitchenette.

 Father Rick Labash.Haiti

In Haiti, even before the quake, dead bodies were nothing more than background music—as commonplace as they are unnoticed. If they didn’t end up in the stark death-cave that is the general hospital morgue, they were burned in the streets on the spot where they died (a pragmatic hygiene concern). The decency and sentimentality that a better-developed society affords are luxuries here. Father Rick and his men gather the bodies themselves, packing them into makeshift coffins fashioned from supermarket cardboard boxes. They then truck them outside the city, up a sun-bleached highway that runs alongside the Caribbean Sea, to the rolling wastelands of Titanyen, which translates from Creole as the “fields of less than nothing.” A New Orleans-style Haitian jazz-funeral band—all horns and drums—plays graveside. Father Rick, an irreverent sort, calls them “The Grateful Dead.” Then he and his men plant the cardboard coffins in large holes dug by their own gravediggers, endowing their cargo in death with a tiny modicum of the dignity that eluded them in life.
He’s been doing the morgue runs for 15 years, but has never gotten used to the smell. It makes him so sick, he brings along rum and cigarettes. “People ask me if I smoke,” he says. “Only on Thursdays.” The Haitians avail themselves of the goods, but for Frechette, they’re not optional. Without the spirit’s fumes and cigarette smoke chasing the smell of the dead out of his nostrils, he vomits, which his Haitian colleagues find amusing.

When he returned to Haiti right after the earthquake, there was an overflow crowd at the morgue, literally thousands of dead laid out in the street in front of it. “They were picking them up with backhoes and bucket-loaders, dumping them into trucks,” says Frechette, adding that the machines crunched the bodies against the walls in order to be able to scoop them. “They were hanging out the sides like crabs in a bucket. Really, really terrible. It was so shocking, so disgusting, I yelled, ‘Give me a cigarette!’

When I ask him how he could head back into the jaws of Haiti just a day after burying his mom, he tells me of her death. She knew it was happening, and she had time to prepare, had the best care, had lived a full life, and died with her family surrounding her. When he asked his mother why she wasn’t afraid, knowing she’d die, she told him that she “believes in God, and if she looks at the whole trajectory of her life, life has been very good, why start mistrusting it?” “I think the fuller your life is, the less death is a threat to you,” says Father Rick. “Empty people are scared to death to die.”

Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:17 PM | Permalink | TrackBack

While watching TV

You would think there is no safer place than your home where ensconced on your couch you watch TV.  Not always.

British couple killed watching TV after Spanish villa's roof collapses on them after 60 days of rain

A British couple were crushed to death when the roof of a farmhouse collapsed on them following a mudslide.

Expats Christopher Martin, 63, and his wife Christine, 64, were visiting friends at the remote country home in southern Spain.

They were buried under 6ft of rubble while sitting on a sofa watching television at the whitewashed farmhouse in the Andalusian village of Rubite.

Is that a good death, no way to go or a fitting death?  I say no way to go.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:34 AM | Permalink

February 22, 2010

"A thumb in the eye of the Nazis"

2000 living descendants

WHEN Yitta Schwartz died last month at 93, she left behind 15 children, more than 200 grandchildren and so many great- and great-great-grandchildren that, by her family’s count, she could claim perhaps 2,000 living descendants.

Mrs. Schwartz was a member of the Satmar Hasidic sect, whose couples have nine children on average and whose ranks of descendants can multiply exponentially. But even among Satmars, the size of Mrs. Schwartz’s family is astonishing. A round-faced woman with a high-voltage smile, she may have generated one of the largest clans of any survivor of the Holocaust — a thumb in the eye of the Nazis.
Mrs. Schwartz had a zest for life and a devotion to Hasidic rituals, faithfully attending the circumcisions, first haircuts, bar mitzvahs, engagements and weddings of her descendants. With 2,000 people in the family, such events occupied much of the year.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 3:57 PM | Permalink

February 16, 2010

Stop stealing cars or you'll get yourself killed

"Stop stealing cars or you'll get yourself killed" said the mother to her son.

He didn't.  He did.  Along with three of his friends in a fireball crash.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 3:47 PM | Permalink

Dick Francis, Jockey and Writer, R.I.P.

One of my very favorite mystery writers, Dick Francis, has died at 89.  If ever I was feeling depressed, I would listen to one of his audiobooks, and feel by the end that some order had been restored to my world.

Telegraph obituary
As a National Hunt jockey, Francis had ridden in 2,305 races and ridden 345 winners. He became part of racing folklore when, in March 1956, he rode the Queen Mother's horse, Devon Loch, in the Grand National.

Francis and Devon Loch had just jumped the last fence, well clear of the rest of the field and set to break the previous record time, when suddenly, 30 yards from the winning post, with the race commentators screaming "Francis wins!", Devon Loch sank on his hindquarters, his front legs sprawling; having pulled a muscle in doing so, he could not recover to win the race.

 Devon Loch Grandnational1956

Whatever the cause, Francis's failure to win the Grand National remained the great sorrow of his life, though it was his determination not to be labelled for all time as "the man who lost the Grand National" that spurred him on to become a writer.

He had more than his fair share of accidents and breakages, which he liked to recount with pride mixed with a certain gory relish. He reckoned to fall off once every 11 or 12 races: "I've had a fractured skull, six broken collar bones, five broken noses, no end of ribs. Well, you simply stop countin'."
This was typical Francis and, like their author, his fictional heroes endure all manner of pain and physical and mental torment with exemplary patience and composure. Thirtyish, usually dark-haired, sallow-skinned, mild-mannered and self-deprecating, the typical Francis hero is as intrepid and resourceful and as vigorously heterosexual as James Bond; but unlike the caddish Bond they are also decent and chivalrous, and the reader knows they will turn into faithful, passionate husbands: "What it comes to," Francis liked to say, "is that I never ask my main character to do anything I wouldn't do myself."

Where other thriller writers probed the darker crannies of the soul, Francis reaffirmed the values of human decency and the struggle between the man of good against the forces of lust for power, dishonesty and greed. Heroes can expect to be chained, beaten, burned or flayed two or three times per book – but good always triumphs in the end.
Like his heroes, Francis was a man of stern self-discipline. From 1962, when his first novel, Dead Cert, was published, he produced a book a year, starting to write on January 1 and delivering the typescript to his publishers by April 8 for publication in September. Only once, when his wife was ill, did he deliver two weeks late.

London Times Obituary

Richard Stanley Francis was born 1920 in the village of Lawrenny on the Cleddau river in Pembrokeshire. His grandfather had been a keen amateur rider. His father was a horse-dealer, steeplechaser and farmer, and became the manager of a hunting stable near Maidenhead. Dick learnt to ride when he was 5 and won his first race at the age of 8.
In 1939 he joined the RAF as a tradesman, but was soon commissioned as a pilot and, during the next five years of war, flew both fighters and bombers operationally. In 1945 he met, at his cousin’s wedding, a university educated and highly literate schoolmistress, Mary Margaret Brenchley, whom he married two years afterwards despite considerable opposition from both families on the ground that they had so little in common.

It was to be an outstandingly happy marriage.

New York Times obituary
Dick Francis, whose notable but blighted career as a champion steeplechase jockey for the British royal family was eclipsed by a second, more brilliant career as a popular thriller writer, died on Sunday in the Cayman Islands, where he had a home. He was 89.


This self-contained world was, of course, a reflection of a broader universe in which themes of winning and losing and courage and integrity have more sweeping meaning. As the critic John Leonard wrote, “Not to read Dick Francis because you don’t like horses is like not reading Dostoyevsky because you don’t like God.”
Typically, the Dick Francis hero is a modest, decent fellow, a model of British valor and integrity, who restores order by asserting his superior moral values — and by going mano a mano with a ruthless villain who subjects him to unspeakable torture.
“Writing a novel proved to be the hardest, most self-analyzing task I had ever attempted,” Mr. Francis said, “far worse than an autobiography.” He went about his unaccustomed chore cautiously and methodically, as he might have approached a skittish horse. Working in pencil in an exercise book, he would labor over one sentence until he was satisfied that he could do no better, then move on to the next sentence.
One of the most honored of genre authors, Mr. Francis was named to the Order of the British Empire and later made a commander. He won the Edgar Allan Poe Award of the Mystery Writers of America three times and was made a grand master, the group’s highest honor, in 1996. He also received the Diamond Dagger award, the highest honor of the Crime Writers Association of Great Britain, in 1990.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:35 AM | Permalink

A Man's Primer on Funeral Etiquette

From the Art of Manliness, A Man's Primer on Funeral Etiquette

“How we treat the dead says an awful lot about how we live. For the strong and able to serve the helpless dead, to honor frail remains, reaches deep inside us to something basic to humanity.” -Paul Gregory Alms

 Funeral Walk

But being a gentleman of tact, respect, and sensitivity is never more important than at the occasion of someone’s death. Instead of adding distractions and stress to the already grievously burdened, be a source of great comfort. People are at their most fragile, and your job as a man of honor is to be supportive and dignified.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:43 AM | Permalink

February 15, 2010

'It's 11 o'clock tomorrow, isn't it?'

Heartbroken widow passes away at exact moment her husband is being laid to rest

A heartbroken widow who survived her husband of 70 years passed away at the exact moment his funeral was taking place.

Grieving Irene Edwards, 88, hardly spoke a word after her beloved husband Fred, 96, died on 1 January.
She had been in hospital for two weeks after breaking a hip and had not spoken of her husband's death until the night before his funeral, when she asked: 'It's 11 o'clock tomorrow, isn't it?'

The following day, at exactly 11 o'clock, while her family laid her husband to rest, Irene passed away from a broken heart in Worcestershire Royal Hospital.

Their son Tony Edwards said: 'It was a major blow to us all. I was at an all-time low and people were beside themselves when the news came through.  It was absolutely awful and for it to happen at that precise moment, at 11 o'clock - it's just odd. You can never imagine two things like that happening at the same time.'

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:11 AM | Permalink

February 12, 2010

Charlie Wilson, R.I.P.

Charlie Wilson, an American original, died Wednesday in Texas; a cardiopulmonary  arrest ended his life at 76.

The thrice-married Congressman from Texas was able to secure covert funding for the Afghan rebels fighting the Soviet invaders in the 1980s and turn back the the Communist invaders

His story is so great , Mike Nichols made a movie of Charlie Wilson's War.


The Wall Street Journal calls him the Democrat who helped win the Cold War.

His greatest work, however, was in collaborating with the Reagan Administration and the CIA to provide arms to the Afghan rebels. These included small arms at first, but the tide of the war turned once the mujahideen received Stinger antiaircraft missiles that compromised Soviet dominance of the skies. The Soviet military left Afghanistan after suffering fearsome casualties, the first time the Communists had been forced to cede territory they had taken in the post-Stalin era.
Defeating the Soviets was not foreordained. It required the conviction of men like Wilson and Reagan.

The New York Times obituary

When the Soviets deliberately killed camels and mules to cripple the Afghan fighters’ supply lines, he flew in Tennessee mules. When the Central Intelligence Agency refused to provide the guerrillas with field radios for fear that mujahedeen transmissions would be picked up by the Soviets, he sent an aide to Virginia to buy $12,000 worth of walkie-talkies from a Radio Shack outlet.

Particularly helpful were Stinger missiles from the United States, which were used to shoot down Russian helicopters and became what many consider a decisive factor in wearing down the Soviets. By February 1989, the Soviets had withdrawn.
In an interview with Washingtonian magazine in 1996, Mr. Wilson said Texas voters put up with his antics in part because of the vicarious thrill they got in watching him. He added that he did not lie or whine when caught.

“I just say, ‘Well, yeah, I guess I goofed again’ and go about my business,” he said. “Those good Christians, you know, believe in the redemption of sin.”

Defense Secretary Gates, a CIA veteran, remembers him well. 

As the world now knows, his efforts and exploits helped repel an invader, liberate a people, and bring the Cold War to a close,” Gates said. “After the Soviets left, Charlie kept fighting for the Afghan people and warned against abandoning that traumatized country to its fate -- a warning we should have heeded then, and should remember today”

The London Telegraph obituary

Wilson's favourite reading was the Flashman series, and with his good looks, bad behaviour and womanising ways, he resembled George MacDonald Fraser's roguish anti-hero in any number of respects.

Like Flashman, Wilson seemed to prove that a winning smile and a taste for the high life could have a unexpectedly significant impact on international affairs. "Good Time Charlie" may have been a lowly Texas congressman, but he was at various times credited with ensuring the defeat of the Red Army in Afghanistan; the subsequent collapse of the Soviet Union; and glorious victory for the West in the Cold War.


The London Times obituary

Charlie Wilson was a handsome 6ft 4in Texan who changed history with his role in Russia’s defeat in Afghanistan — an event which presaged the collapse of the Soviet Union.

 Charlie Wilson (Marcy Nighswander) photo by Marcy Nighswander

Although on his white horse with his Stetson hat and Texas boots he looked the part, he was far removed from the Hollywood image of an all-American hero. The newspapers called the Democrat Congressman “Good-time Charlie” for his outrageous lifestyle, his womanising, his alcoholism and his tendency to share drugs in hot tubs with cover girls and beauty queens.

The New York Times called him “the biggest party animal in Congress”. He seemed to promote his vices and hide his virtues, but there was another side to Wilson: he knew how to work the system on Capitol Hill.
It was typical of Wilson that he should be drawn into the superpower confrontation over Afghanistan through meeting a glamorous Texas socialite. Dubbed “the Queen of Texas”, Joanne Herring gave fabulous parties for kings, sheikhs and politicians and entertained Houston with her own television show.
“If there is a single man who has played a part that shall be recorded in history in golden letters, it is that right honourable Congressman Charles Wilson,” said President Zia. “All I can say is that ‘Charlie did it’.”

Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:13 AM | Permalink

February 11, 2010

Deadly songs

The New York Times reports Sinatra Song Often Strikes Deadly Chord

The authorities do not know exactly how many people have been killed warbling “My Way” in karaoke bars over the years in the Philippines, or how many fatal fights it has fueled. But the news media have recorded at least half a dozen victims in the past decade and includes them in a subcategory of crime dubbed the “My Way Killings.”

The killings have produced urban legends about the song and left Filipinos groping for answers. Are the killings the natural byproduct of the country’s culture of violence, drinking and machismo? Or is there something inherently sinister in the song?

Sinatra My Way

Karaoke-related killings are not limited to the Philippines. In the past two years alone, a Malaysian man was fatally stabbed for hogging the microphone at a bar and a Thai man killed eight of his neighbors in a rage after they sang John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads.” Karaoke-related assaults have also occurred in the United States, including at a Seattle bar where a woman punched a man for singing Coldplay’s “Yellow” after criticizing his version.
Butch Albarracin, the owner of Center for Pop, a Manila-based singing school that has propelled the careers of many famous singers, was partial to what he called the “existential explanation.”

“ ‘I did it my way’ — it’s so arrogant,” Mr. Albarracin said. “The lyrics evoke feelings of pride and arrogance in the singer, as if you’re somebody when you’re really nobody. It covers up your failures. That’s why it leads to fights.”

Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:16 PM | Permalink

February 9, 2010

Wildcat scattering

More on the delicate matter of sprinkling cremated ashes in the Wall St. Journal.

Love, Honor, Cherish and Scatter

More Americans these days are scattering loved ones' ashes widely, with great purpose and often without permission—an act known in the funeral industry as a "wildcat scattering." It's a reflection of both the marked rise in cremation and the growing desire by people to find their own ways to ritualize grief.

Before about 1980, just 4% of families were choosing cremation over burial. Now, 39% select cremation, and in the next 15 years, the percentage is expected to approach 60%, according to the Cremation Association of North America. The increase is being driven in part by cremation's cheaper cost, and in part by the fact that fewer extended families are rooted in one specific place anymore—which means they don't live close enough to visit a loved one's gravesite.
The Cremation Association's surveys indicate that about 135,000 families are now choosing to scatter ashes each year. Since the average body yields five pounds in cremated remains, that means some 338 tons of human ashes are spread around annually.
Scientists agree that there is no health or environmental hazard from the spread of human ashes. "It's mineral-based and typically, with wind and rain, will melt into the soil within days," says John Ross, executive director of the Cremation Association.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:17 PM | Permalink

One murder, two funerals

A funeral home under court order to stage back-to-back graveside services for a Lynnfield mother’s warring families scrambled like Hollywood set designers yesterday to remove all traces of one send-off before relatives showed up for the next one.

Amid suspicions, two families say farewell

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:27 AM | Permalink

February 4, 2010

Evidence of Afterlife

Doctor claims he has evidence of afterlife that may convince skeptics without any active faith

In a new book “Evidence of the Afterlife: The Science of Near-Death Experiences.”  medical doctor Jeffrey Long claims
that accounts of near-death experiences play out remarkably similarly among the people who have had them, crossing age and cultural boundaries to such a degree that they can’t be chalked up simply to everyone having seen the same Hollywood movie.
In his book, Long details nine lines of evidence that he says send a “consistent message of an afterlife.” Among them are crystal-clear recollections, heightened senses, reunions with deceased family members and long-lasting effects after the person is brought back to life.
Long noted that he was especially fascinated that very small children who have near-death experiences almost always recount the same stories as adults, even if the concept of death isn’t fully formed in their minds.
Long, a radiation oncologist, said that writing his book has actually made him a better doctor, as well as a believer in the afterlife.

“[It] profoundly changed me as a physician,” he said. “I could fight cancer more courageously. I found patients who died, it wasn’t the end. It made me more compassionate and more confident.

His interview with Time magazine

Medically speaking, what is a near-death experience?
A near-death experience has two components. The person has to be near death, which means physically compromised so severely that permanent death would occur if they did not improve: they're unconscious, or often clinically dead, with an absence of heartbeat and breathing. The second component [is that] at the time they're having a close brush with death, they have an experience. [It is] generally lucid [and] highly organized.

You say this research has affected you a lot on a personal level. How?
I'm a physician who fights cancer. In spite of our best efforts, not everybody is going to be cured. My absolute understanding that there is an afterlife for all of us — and a wonderful afterlife — helps me face cancer, this terribly frightening and threatening disease, with more courage than I've ever faced it with before. I can be a better physician for my patients.
You raise the idea that your work could have profound implications for religion. But is whether there is life after death really a scientific question, or a theological one?
I think we have an interesting blend. [This research] directly addresses what religions have been telling us for millenniums to accept on faith: that there is an afterlife, that there is some order and purpose to this universe, that there's some reason and purpose for us being here in earthly life. We're finding verification, if you will, for what so many religions have been saying. It's an important step toward bringing science and religion together.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:13 AM | Permalink

February 3, 2010

Last words from family in rented Toyota

"We’re in a Lexus… and we’re going north on 125 and our accelerator is stuck… there’s no brakes… we’re approaching the intersection …. Hold on … hold on and pray … pray.’"

Last words before family died in Lexus crash

A harrowing phone call from a family just seconds before they were killed in a car crash caused when the accelerator pedal in a Toyota vehicle became stuck has been made public.
Mark Saylor, 45, died alongside his wife Cleofe, also 45, their daughter Mahala, 13, and Mrs Saylor’s brother Chris Lastrella when the hired Toyota Lexus they were travelling in accelerated out of control on a highway in San Diego.
In the emergency call, Mr Lastrella is heard saying: ‘We’re in a Lexus… and we’re going north on 125 and our accelerator is stuck… there’s no brakes… we’re approaching the intersection …. Hold on … hold on and pray … pray.’

The recording adds to the public relations disaster that has enveloped the Japanese car maker since it recalled 4.5 million vehicles across the world because of 'sticky accelerator' problems. 

Posted by Jill Fallon at 4:03 PM | Permalink

February 1, 2010

Louis Auchincloss, R.I.P.

I consider Louis Auchincloss one of the finest writers of our times.  He wrote some 50 books over his life while a full time practicing lawyer and I have about 20 of them.  I began reading him while working at a law firm on Wall Street just so I could begin to understand the old line New York WASP.    The insights I gained were invaluable and soon I became hooked on his literary ability to tell revealing stories about a segment  of the population that is otherwise opaque.

Of hIs most famous book, The Rector of Justin,  Jonathan Yardley wrote in the Washington Post
"The Rector of Justin" is a "prep school novel" in the same way that "Moby-Dick" is a "whaling novel." It uses the environment of a fictitious Episcopal school for boys, Justin Martyr -- "named for the early martyr and scholar who tried to reconcile the thinking of the Greek philosophers with the doctrines of Christ" -- to explore grand, universal themes, all of them centered on its protagonist, the school's founding father, Francis Prescott. It is, I now realize, a minor masterpiece of 20th-century literature.

 Louis Auchincloss 2

AP obituary by Hillel Italie

He wrote more than 50 books, averaging about one a year after the end of World War II, and crafted such accomplished works as the novel "The Rector of Justin" and the memoir "A Writer's Capital," not to mention biographies, literary criticism and short stories. He was a four-time fiction finalist for the National Book Award, his nominated novels including "The Embezzler" and "The House of Five Talents."

"I'm rather inclined to be edgy when I'm not writing," Auchincloss said in a 1994 interview with The Associated Press. "In (a) ... book on Jack Kennedy, it says he told (British) Prime Minister (Harold) Macmillan that if he didn't have a girl every three days he'd get headaches. I thought that was rather extreme, but writing is little bit like that for me."

Auchincloss lived up to the old world ideal of being "useful," bearing the various titles of writer, attorney, community leader and family man. He was a partner at the Wall Street firm of Hawkins, Delafield & Wood and the father of three. He served as president of both the Museum of the City of New York and the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

The Last of His Kind by Kevin Mims

In many ways Louis Auchincloss was more like a 19th century man of letters than a 20th century one. He didn’t publish a big self-important mega-tome every ten years that attempted to reinvent the art of fiction a la Pynchon or DeLillo. Instead he reliably produced a new book (sometimes two) in just about every year of his literary career. His first book was published in 1947. His latest was published in 2008. Like Jane Austen he focused on the foibles and frailties of the small segment of society on which he was an expert. He tilled a small patch of literary ground but from it he brought forth nourishing and abundant fruit.

 Last-Of-Old-Guard Auchincloss

New York Times obituary by Holcomb B. Noble,

Chronicler of New York’s Upper Crust, Dies at 92
Like Wharton, Mr. Auchincloss was interested in class and morality and in the corrosive effects of money on both. “Of all our novelists, Auchincloss is the only one who tells us how our rulers behave in their banks and their boardrooms, their law offices and their clubs,” Gore Vidal once wrote. “Not since Dreiser has an American writer had so much to tell us about the role of money in our lives.”

The author Bruce Bawer, writing in The New York Times Book Review, said that Mr. Auchincloss had the bad luck to live “in a time when the protagonists of literary fiction tend to be middle- or lower-class.”

“These days,” he added, “the general public, though fascinated by the superficial trappings of privilege, seems to have little interest in the deeper truths with which Mr. Auchincloss is passionately concerned — with, that is, the beliefs, principles, hypocrisies, prejudices and assorted strengths and defects of character that typify the American WASP civilization that produced what was for a long time the country’s undisputed ruling class.”

“Class prejudice” was Mr. Auchincloss’s response to his critics. “That business of objecting to the subject material or the people that an author writes about is purely class prejudice,” he said in an interview in 1997, “and you will note that it always disappears with an author’s death. Nobody holds it against Henry James or Edith Wharton or Thackeray or Marcel Proust.”
He dropped out of Yale before his senior year and entered the University of Virginia law school.  To his surprise he found he liked the law, particularly estates law, and in 1941, after earning a law degree, he joined the Wall Street firm of Sullivan & Cromwell. When World War II began Mr. Auchincloss enlisted in the Navy. He served in Naval intelligence, then commanded a craft that shuttled troops and the wounded across the English Channel during the Normandy invasion.

He also was the recipient of the 2005 Medal of  Arts.

 Louis Auchincloss With President Bush

Posted by Jill Fallon at 2:35 PM | Permalink

"'If I die tomorrow, I'll know I'll die happy, because my degree's in the works"

That's what New Hampshire resident Harriet Richardson Ames said from the hospice where she was being cared for when told that Keene State was researching her coursework to see whether it could award her the diploma Mrs Ames so    desired.

Her daughter said,  "She had what I call a 'bucket list,' and that was the last thing on it."

  She got her college degree one day before dying, three weeks after turning 100.

 Harriet Richardson Ames

Posted by Jill Fallon at 2:13 PM | Permalink

What lies on the other side

Explaining death

A sick man turned to his doctor as he was preparing to leave the examination room and said, "'Doctor, I am afraid to die. Tell me what lies on the other side."

Very quietly, the doctor said, "I don't know."

"You don't know? You're a Christian man, and don't know what's on the other side?'

The doctor was holding the handle of the door. On the other side came a sound of scratching and whining, and as he opened the door, a dog sprang into the room and leaped on him with an eager show of gladness.

Turning to the patient, the doctor said, "Did you notice my dog? He's never been in this room before. He didn't know what was inside. He knew nothing except that his master was here, and when the door opened, he sprang in without fear. I know little of what is on the other side of death, But I do know one thing... I know my Master is there and that is enough."

Posted by Jill Fallon at 1:21 PM | Permalink

J.D. Salinger. R.I.P.

New York Times obituary by Charles McGrath who calls Salinger the "Garbo of Letters" a wonderful phrase

J. D. Salinger, who was thought at one time to be the most important American writer to emerge since World War II but who then turned his back on success and adulation, becoming the Garbo of letters, famous for not wanting to be famous, died on Wednesday at his home in Cornish, N.H., where he had lived in seclusion for more than 50 years. He was 91.
Mr. Salinger’s literary reputation rests on a slender but enormously influential body of published work: the novel “The Catcher in the Rye,” the collection “Nine Stories” and two compilations, each with two long stories about the fictional Glass family: “Franny and Zooey” and “Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction.


“Catcher” was published in 1951, and its very first sentence, distantly echoing Mark Twain, struck a brash new note in American literature: “If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.”
In 1974 when, trying to fend off the unauthorized publication of his uncollected stories, he told a reporter from The Times: “
There is a marvelous peace in not publishing. It’s peaceful. Still. Publishing is a terrible invasion of my privacy. I like to write. I love to write. But I write just for myself and my own pleasure.”
Depending on one’s point of view, he was either a crackpot or the American Tolstoy, who had turned silence itself into his most eloquent work of art

London Times obituary

After receiving critical acclaim for his short story A Perfect Day for Bananafish, which was published in The New Yorker in 1948, J. D. Salinger shot to worldwide fame with his novel The Catcher in the Rye, which appeared in 1951. With its disenchanted adolescent anti-hero, perpetually at war with adulthood, especially as embodied in his own parents, it seemed to encapsulate the mood of an entire generation. Perhaps more remarkably it simultaneously exercised a considerable effect on that generation’s behaviour.
He attended three universities: New York, Ursinus College (Collegeville, Pennsylvania), and Columbia. The result of this was, he later tersely wrote, “no degrees”.

In the spring of 1942, a few months after America had been drawn into the war by the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Salinger was drafted into the US Army, where he was to serve until demobilisation in 1946. After training he was posted to the 12th Infantry Regiment in the Fourth Infantry Division of the US Army — most of the time as a staff sergeant — through five campaigns. As the build-up of American forces in Britain developed apace with the preparations for the Allied invasion of occupied Europe, he was stationed in England, at Tiverton, Devon, and
he was among those who landed at Utah Beach on D-Day, June 6, 1944.
He saw service throughout the Allied advance through North West Europe, notably during the Battle of the Bulge in the winter of 1944-45. He was assigned to a counter-intelligence unit in which he interrogated German prisoners.
His wartime experiences, which included witnessing the liberation of a Nazi concentration camp, affected him deeply. He later told his daughter: “You never really get the smell of burning flesh out of your nostrils — no matter how long you live.”


AP obituary by Hillel Italie

"The Catcher in the Rye," with its immortal teenage protagonist, the twisted, rebellious Holden Caulfield, came out in 1951, a time of anxious, Cold War conformity and the dawn of modern adolescence. The Book-of-the-Month Club, which made "Catcher" a featured selection, advised that for "anyone who has ever brought up a son" the novel will be "a source of wonder and delight — and concern."

Enraged by all the "phonies" who make "me so depressed I go crazy," Holden soon became American literature's most famous anti-hero since Huckleberry Finn. The novel's sales are astonishing —
more than 60 million copies worldwide — and its impact incalculable. Decades after publication, the book remains a defining expression of that most American of dreams — to never grow up.
Salinger was writing for adults, but teenagers from all over identified with the novel's themes of alienation, innocence and fantasy, not to mention the luck of having the last word. "Catcher" presents the world as an ever-so-unfair struggle between the goodness of young people and the corruption of elders, a message that only intensified with the oncoming generation gap.
The world had come calling for Salinger, but Salinger was bolting the door. ..Meanwhile, he was refusing interviews, instructing his agent to forward no fan mail and reportedly spending much of his time writing in a cement bunker. Sanity, apparently, could only come through seclusion.
"I thought what I'd do was, I'd pretend I was one of those deaf-mutes," Holden says in "Catcher."
"That way I wouldn't have to have any ... stupid useless conversations with anybody. If anybody wanted to tell me something, they'd have to write it on a piece of paper and shove it over to me. I'd build me a little cabin somewhere with the dough I made."

Salinger's alleged adoration of children apparently did not extend to his own. In 2000, daughter Margaret Salinger's "Dreamcatcher" portrayed the writer as an unpleasant recluse who drank his own urine and spoke in tongues.
Ms. Salinger said she wrote the book because she was "absolutely determined not to repeat with my son what had been done with me."

Indeed, Jemima Lewis writes in the Telegraph, The reclusive novelist could hardly have made himself more interesting if he'd tried,

David Warren speaks of the pernicious effects of the perpetual adolescence of Holden Caulfield

The book has had a remarkable and, to my mind, infernal influence on society, owing in part to its author's literary skill in the manipulation of colloquial language, in part to the emotional and even hormonal power in that peculiar explosion of sex and ego that is adolescent narcissism itself. The proof is in the pudding, and the fact that Catcher in the Rye went on to inspire at least three celebrity assassins (Mark David Chapman, John Hinckley Jr., and Robert John Bardo), along with who knows how many "little league" psychos and suicides, speaks to its real power.

Now the question is what will happen to all his unpublished novels and manuscripts?  We'll be hearing about J.D. Salinger for years to come

Posted by Jill Fallon at 1:11 PM | Permalink

Robert Parker, author of Spenser, R.I.P.

While I was away, Robert Parker died, a good death, writing at his desk.

Who among us hasn't spent enjoyable hours with his richly imagined character Spenser?

New York Times obit on the Prolific Author Who Created Spenser

Robert B. Parker, the best-selling mystery writer who created Spenser, a tough, glib Boston private detective who was the hero of nearly 40 novels, died Monday at his home in Cambridge, Mass. He was 77.

The cause was a heart attack, said his agent of 37 years, Helen Brann. She said that Mr. Parker had been thought to be in splendid health, and that he died at his desk, working on a book. He wrote five pages a day, every day but Sunday, she said.

Mr. Parker wrote more than 60 books all told, including westerns and young-adult novels, but he churned out entertaining detective stories with a remarkable alacrity that made him one of the country’s most popular writers.
A conscious throwback to hard-boiled detectives like Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe, but with a sensitivity born of the age of feminism and civil rights, Spenser is a bruiser in body but a softie at heart, someone who never shies from danger or walks away from a threat to the innocent. Mr. Parker gave him many of his own traits. Spenser is an admirer of any kind of expertise. He believes in psychotherapy. He’s a great cook. He’s a boxer, a weightlifter and a jogger, a consumer of doughnuts and coffee, a privately indulgent appreciator (from a distance) of pretty women, a Red Sox fan, a dog lover. (Mr. Parker owned a series of short-haired pointers, all named Pearl, like their fictional incarnation.)

Most crucially, Spenser is faithful in love (to his longtime companion, Susan Silverman, a psychologist) and in friendship (to his frequent partner in anti-crime, a dazzlingly charming, morally idiosyncratic black man named Hawk). And usually with the two of them as seconds, he has remained indomitable, vanquishing crime bosses, drug dealers, sex fiends, cold-blooded killers, corrupt politicians and several other varieties of villain.
Robert Brown Parker was a large man of large appetites that were nonetheless satisfied with relative ease. He was as unpretentious and self-aware as Spenser, his agent, Ms. Brann said.

“All he needed to be happy was his family and writing,” she said. “There were always wonderful things in his refrigerator. People were always after him to do cookbooks.” She paused.

“He loved doughnuts,” she said.

 Robert Parker

Kate Mattes, founder and owner of Kate's Mystery Books, on The humor and generosity of Robert Parker

Before Bob, the hard-boiled private eye was a loner who couldn’t trust anyone, and mainly fought crime and corruption on the West Coast. Bob changed all that. He was the first to tinker with the image of the American hard-boiled detective when, in the 1970s, he created Spenser - a knight-errant with equal parts honor and humor. Bob created a “family’’ for Spenser, which included a monogamous relationship with a feminist, a best friend who was black and a young boy, abandoned by his parents, who Spenser “adopted’’ and supported in his desire to become a ballet dancer. Up until then, private detectives didn’t have anyone they could count on, or who depended on them, especially over time, in one book after another. Today it seems almost passé, but Bob breathed new life into the genre, paving the way for most crime writers today.

Bob did more than open creative doors, though. He wrote blurbs for young writers, helped them find editors and agents, and helped them navigate the tricky worlds of TV and film. As he became more prosperous, he and his wife, Joan, supported local arts and community groups with their many donations. Neither of them looked for attention for their generosity. They did what they could to help.

Boston Globe obit by Gary Goshgarian, A man of virtue and wit.

This week it’s a little dimmer in Boston. A brilliant light is out. A literary light. Robert B. Parker, extraordinarily successful author of dozens of books about Boston sleuth Spenser, as well as other novels and young adult stories, died on Monday at his writing desk. There isn’t a bookstore or airport in the free world that doesn’t have his titles on their shelves. And although he didn’t put Boston on the map, he helped keep it there, making this great city accessible to the reading public - its glory and feisty independence, its rich and varied culture, its history and beloved teams. Collectively, his Spenser books are a symphony to this city by the sea.

But I didn’t know Bob Parker just through his novels. He was my oldest and closest friend
He wrote about the things that were most important to him: love, family, and human decency. Behind the scenes, he lived a quiet, simple, and ordered life, spending most of his days at his writing desk, surrounded by photos of Joan and his sons, his dog Pearl on the couch. It was a life well-composed, just as he had wanted it - and perhaps his most successful creation.

So was his death - in a brilliant flash at his keyboard.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:55 PM | Permalink