January 30, 2012

"Who are those people over there, laughing?” "Ah, that’s the obits desk.”

Visitors to newspaper offices have been known to inquire: “Who are those people over there, laughing?” only to receive the answer, “Ah, that’s the obits desk.”

The obituaries editor for the London Telegraph, Harry de Questteville writes about The Art of the Obituary .

We do laugh. And it is precisely because obituaries are about the juicy stuff of life that we do not usually mention the dry details about causes of death, unless they are strictly pertinent. When subjects have made a shockingly youthful departure, we will include a brief note to illuminate readers, who are naturally curious to learn what it was that killed a brilliant cellist, for example, just as she was reaching her prime.
Similarly, it is rare for us to reflect on funeral arrangements, although there are exceptions. It may be fitting to note that a Spitfire will fly over the church where a Battle of Britain fighter pilot is being buried, or that the proprietor of a famous haunt for sozzled actors has asked for mourners to come to his funeral in costume and make up. Rob Buckman, the doctor who died last October after a career which was devoted to improving the way medics counsel the terminally ill, left instructions for a recording to be played at his own interment. It was to run: “Thank you so much for coming. Unlike the rest of you, I don’t have to get up in the morning.”

It is a measure of his achievement that the obituaries page has become such a central feature of so many newspapers around the world. It may be immodest to say it, but I still think that those in the Telegraph are the best. That is because we cherish above all the Massingberd mantra: that in each life, no matter how it’s lived, there is cause for fascination and – often – delight. And that is not depressing, but supremely cheering.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:58 AM | Permalink

Time's almost up to clean up your Facebook page

You WILL reveal your past! Facebook's timeline feature becomes mandatory for all users - with just 7 days to 'clean up'

Facebook's Timeline - a new look for people's Profile pages which exposes their entire history on the site - will become mandatory for all users.

The 'new look' has been voluntary up until now.

From now, users will simply be notified that they are being 'updated' via an announcement at the top of their home page, which users click on to activate Timeline.

As with voluntary switches to Timeline, those who are 'updated' will have just seven days to select which photos, posts and life events they want to advertise to the world.

Via the official Facebook blog, the site announced, 'Last year we introduced timeline, a new kind of profile that lets you highlight the photos, posts and life events that help you tell your story.'

'Over the next few weeks, everyone will get timeline. When you get timeline, you'll have 7 days to preview what's there now.
'This gives you a chance to add or hide whatever you want before anyone else sees it.'

Timeline has been criticised for showing off pictures and posts that people might have wanted to forget.

Facebook's controversial 'timeline' feature is supported by just one in ten users

Survey reveals huge lack of support for changes to profile pages

51 per cent admit to being worried about the new feature

One commenter :

I shut my account yesterday.... Having read an awful lot of information in relation to Facebook and the way our data is used to gather knowledge about all of us and who is actually using it. I decided enough was enough.... My daughter has been told not to post any of her art work on her page by her lecturers, as once you do you no longer own it, they do .... the same goes for all our photos, videos, and comments.... We should be in control of our personal lives and ourselves as beings not them.... I was never a big user, and I am very glad now. Finally I also worked out that a conversation between friends should be just that, face to face not just typed on a page for all the world to see, how is that real.... its not !
Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:09 AM | Permalink

The coroner who used to be an air stewardess

'One poor chap fell from the undercarriage of a plane... he still had his packed lunch'

‘If someone dies in unknown  circumstances, if that death is  suspicious, unexpected or simply unexplained, then it is our job to find out who died, when, where  and how.

‘That is a safeguard for society – people can be reassured that we will always hold a full, frank, fearless investigation that wouldn’t otherwise take place. I don’t think it’s enough to have a trial system because that only answers whether or not there’s been an offence. We’ve got to take it further.

‘They say how we treat the dead is a mark of a civilised society and what we do in terms of investigating how we lost them is part of that.’

 Alison Thompson Coroner

The coroner holds one of the oldest legal offices in England and Wales. Alison, 60, says: ‘It’s a distinctly British phenomenon. Europe, for instance, doesn’t have coroners’ courts. It has come through the English legal system and was introduced by Richard I in 1194. That’s when we used to gallop on horseback to see the bodies.’

Alison is passionate about her work but it inevitably exacts a heavy personal toll. She says: ‘I used to be quite adventurous and hang-glide and such like, but after I started this job I became neurotic about doing anything remotely unsafe. I’ve developed a fear about most things now. You can’t help but see everything in terms of what could go wrong.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:58 AM | Permalink

Killed in avalanche

Experienced snowboarder, 24, triggers deadly avalanche and falls 2,400 feet to his death after ignoring snowstorm warnings

A 24-year-old snowboarder has been killed after triggering an avalanche in back country which officials had warned the public against using after a bout of violent snowstorms.

Alecsander Barton, originally from Michigan, was boarding from the peak of Big Cottonwood Canyon, Utah with two friends when he triggered an avalanche that measured 700 feet wide.

It occurred at a time when avalanche danger had been classified as 'high' due to heavy snowfall and loose, powdery snow.

Barton's two friends - a snowboarder and a skier - were not caught in the snow. They called 911 and, using beacons, found his body had been carried 2,400 feet by the snow.
Barton, who was two days from his 25th birthday, was already dead.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:14 AM | Permalink

January 22, 2012

"The death of a spouse rewrites the rules of a family in ways I never could have imagined"

Watching Them Watching Me

You see, as hard as it has been for my three sons to lose their mother — she died rather suddenly two months shy of our 25th — I learned that anniversary night that it has also been hard for them to watch me lose the love of my life.

As alone as I feel, I am not actually alone. I have three sons who can pinpoint with laserlike precision the gaping hole in my heart. It is an odd feeling as a father to be so transparent, so naked, in front of the children you still provide for. But the death of a spouse rewrites the rules of a family in ways I never could have imagined. Some decisions in life, it turns out, are made for you, leaving you an unwitting accomplice and spectator at once.
When I look back to the morning my wife died, it is now clear to me that my sons were well down this road even then — that they recognized our family’s changed order and its consequences. As we were driving home from the hospice in exhausted silence, my oldest son, in the passenger seat where his mom had always sat, turned to me and then to his brothers.

“It is just the four of us now,” he said. “We’ll need to be here for each other.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:33 AM | Permalink

January 19, 2012

Funeral Industry in Transition

What Remains: Conversations With America's Funeral Directors

The funeral industry is in the midst of a transition of titanic proportions. America is secularizing at a rapid pace, with almost 25% of the country describing itself as un-church. Americans, embracing a less religious view of the afterlife, are now asking for a "spiritual" funeral instead of a religious one.
And so in the past twenty years, funeral directors have had to transform from presenters of a failed organism, where the sensation of closure is manifest in the presence of the deceased body, to the arbitrators of the meaning of a secular life that has just been reduced to ash.
The industry is scrambling to find a way to add value-added cremation services to remain solvent.
Cremation has been touted as the “green” way to depart this coil, and several biodegradable urn choices have become available, their sides ornamented with images of fire, water and earth. To compensate for the relative cheapness of cremation, funeral directors have begun adding a series of value-added services, from a string orchestra, to webcasting for distant family and friends, to a remembrance “rose-petal” ceremony for young attendees.
The message attached to all these services seems to be: cremation is green, and if you choose something else, you're a polluter, even in death.
There are also options for our furry loved ones. As it happened, just as I approached the pet-urn section, my sister texted me to let me know her boyfriend’s cat had just died. I resisted asking what her plans for the ashes were, but was just then passing the eco-friendly cat urns, made to look like a ball of yarn. There were dog-bone urns, too. The young couple that was selling the pet-urns looked like they might have just as easily been peddling artisanal cupcakes. They told me they were sorry about the cat.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 6:02 PM | Permalink

Marrying a dead bride

This is the most bizarre, macabre wedding I've ever seen

Died and groom: Grief-stricken bridegroom marries DEAD girlfriend in grim Thai ceremony

Clad in what can only be described as a 'mourning' suit, a grief-stricken boyfriend married his dead girlfriend at her funeral and then posted their wedding snaps on his Facebook page.

TV producer Chadil Deffy (also known as Deff Yingyuen) wore a top hat and tuxedo as he slid the wedding ring onto 'bride' Ann Kamsuk's finger at the grim ceremony in Surin, Thailand.

 Macabre Wedding

The couple, who met as students at Eastern Asia university, had been together for ten years and had talked of marriage, according to Pattaya Daily News.  Tragically, Ann, 29, was killed in a car accident on January 3.

Chadil said they had postponed their wedding due to his studies and their busy schedules.

At the funeral-cum-wedding ceremony, wreaths were laid by friends and relatives, as well as by actors and singers.

The TV producer later told well-wishers on his Facebook account: 'In your eyes, our action might seem as a great love.
'But for us, it is the mistake which we could not go back in time to correct. Remember, life is short.

'Do what you desire, and take good care of the people you love, be they your parents, your siblings. You might never get that chance again.'
Posted by Jill Fallon at 3:01 PM | Permalink

Kodak moments

Yesterday, a sad day because Kodak declared bankruptcy.  Gus Lubin at Business Insider explains how Kodak made photography popular.

Eastman Kodak sold more than a product. It sold a way of life.

Life was a series of Kodak Moments. According to one turn of the century ad: "Pictures are everywhere. Anybody can make them and everybody enjoys them. And the travel pictures are by no means the only ones that are worth while. There is a wealth of photographic subjects in and about every home."

He's posted some gorgeous vintage Kodak ads you've never seen before.

 Kodak Vintagead

Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:25 PM | Permalink

Mass burial of paupers in Chicago

 Massburial Paupers

Third world America: Workers stack caskets in pauper's grave outside of Chicago as tough economic times lead to more mass burial sites

It's a practice more closely associated with third world countries, but in bleak times in a Chicago-area suburb, 30 people were buried in a mass grave on Wednesday.

The pauper's burial section at Homewood Memorial Gardens was established for those who could not afford to pay for a burial plot.

And it is a problem that's sweeping America as tough economic times have led to an increase in the number of indigent burials the morgue must perform.
Tony Cox, the legislative chairman and former president of the Illinois Coroners and Medical Examiners Association, earlier told the Chicago Sun Times other cities, including New York, follow similar mass burial procedures for those with limited options.

New York City Department of Corrections spokesman Stephen Morello referred to a burial site in Hart Island, New York, where 800,000 bodies lie.

Officials there, he said, follow the same procedure - stacking coffins with inmates' remains three deep.
Mr Morello said stillborn babies and children are always buried in individual caskets. Those, too, are stacked on top of one another.

Frankly, I don't what else they can do.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:01 PM | Permalink

January 17, 2012

Dead cert

That's what you call a dead cert! Gambler's family place tribute bets on day of his funeral... and they all win

The family of a prolific gambler who loved a flutter on the horses paid tribute to him by placing bets on the day of his funeral - and they ALL won.

Leonard Collacott, 83, made daily trips to his local bookies on his mobility scooter until his death last month.

So five of his closest family members bet on horses on the day of his funeral - and they all came in, including a 25-1 outsider called Divine Rule.

They netted £400 - which they spent on Champagne to toast Leonard’s life with his widow Dorothy, 82.

His funeral cortege was even directed past the bookies where he had spent so much of his time and money as a mark of respect.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:22 AM | Permalink

January 14, 2012

Who's Your Favorite?

See what fun this father had in making a video of his baby girl Maddie.  Not only  a priceless family treasure, it's a worldwide hit on YouTube.

Mike Tippet, dad and interviewer, comments

'I shot this on the eve of my daughter Maddie’s first birthday. My wife had originally asked me to put together a photo montage of baby’s first year (yes, I’m ‘that guy’ in our family) but I settled on doing an interview instead.

'The original idea was to conduct one every birthday as a sort of year in review to have as a digital keepsake.

'I just hope she gets better at taking direction when she’s older.'
Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:54 AM | Permalink

January 13, 2012

"We are much more fastidious, these days"

Bringing Death into the Light was Never Crazy, Elizabeth Scalia in First Things.

Hearing these stories in an age when death had been moved out of the parlor and into the funeral home, it was both spooky and exotic to consider that once upon a time people took care of their own dead; they washed the bodies and made them presentable, and then invited the neighbors in to toast him farewell, “everyone came,” my mother said. “See, they wanted to make sure he was dead, but even the mailman stepped in and tipped his hat and had a healthy dose to his memory.”

Death, for the people of that era, and every era before, was no stranger and brought no squeamishness. There was nothing mysterious about death beyond those questions we still ask—will we see them again in the next life, and why, so often, do the good die young while old bastards hold forth for far too long? A family mourned and drank, and fought and keened and then stumbled into church for the funeral; they buried their beloved and stumbled about some more, and life went on.

We are much more fastidious, these days. Our dead, even when they die at home after a long illness, are collected by authorities who certify them for the bureaucrats and then deliver them to the funeral homes, where trained people work wonders with fillers and cosmetics and open their “presenting room” doors to a family that has been prevented—some might say protected—from so much as straightening a tie knot or fastening a bow for their loved one.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:09 AM | Permalink

“She put herself between the evil coming up the mountain”

A Murder at Paradise

The next time somebody mindlessly bashes a “federal bureaucrat,” as if the term itself were a parasitic disease, remember the bright young woman we said goodbye to here a few days ago: Margaret Anderson, a park ranger in a flag-draped casket.

 Npranger Margaret Anderson

On that first day of this year, an Iraq war veteran named Benjamin C. Barnes was steaming toward Paradise after a night of gunfire and partying. He blew past an initial stop where drivers were told to put chains on their tires. No one knows for sure what his intentions were, but it’s not unreasonable to speculate, as many in law enforcement have, that he might have fired on people enjoying the snow at Paradise.

Anderson was the daughter of a Lutheran minister, 34 years old, a mother of two little girls. She was the kind of park ranger familiar, by necessity, with flora, fauna and firearms. Just below Paradise, Anderson set up a road block.

“She put herself between the evil coming up the mountain,” said her father, the Rev. Paul Kritsch, “and the people at the other end.” The gunman opened fire on the ranger. At least two shots, one to Anderson’s head, the other to her torso, were enough to kill her. Barnes plunged into waist-deep snow. The next day he was found, dead of exposure and drowning, in the icy creek that drops quickly into a waterfall, the subject of countless pictures.
“Margaret Anderson is a hero not because she died,” said Jon Jarvis, director of the Park Service, “but because of why she died.”

You could not help asking that question — the why — as the horse at the center of the funeral procession passed by on a winter day, boots reversed in the stirrups of an empty saddle, in the military tradition. On both sides of the street were cops and park rangers, hundreds of them from all over the West and Canada, uniforms crisp, faces downcast.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:29 AM | Permalink

"'Definitely I’ve found a reconnection with him, it’s just incredible."

Because he was only one when his father was killed in a car crash, Adrian Ludley couldn't remember the sound of his father's voice.

But in 1970 his father had recorded an unknown French song with the lyrics: 'We had joy, we had fun, we had seasons in the sun.' a version that was never released after the car crash.   

so singer Terry Jacks recorded it instead and got a 1974 hit, selling 10 million records.
Now Adrian Ludley, 43, has finally found a copy of his dad’s studio recording, thanks to a local appeal - meaning he can finally hear his dad for the first time.

A BBC Inside Out documentary reveals Adrian's extraordinary search for the song and it’s remarkably poignant lyrics - of a son saying farewell to his father for the last time.

Viewers see Adrian break down in tears as he listened to his late father singing the ominous words 'Goodbye Papa, it’s hard to die'.

He said: 'Nothing could top this in my life, this is just amazing. It’s the best experience ever.

'Definitely I’ve found a reconnection with him, it’s just incredible. The perfect closure for my search.'

'Goodbye Papa, it's hard to die': How original recording of hit song allowed son to hear his father's voice for the first time

The power of voice.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:13 AM | Permalink

January 12, 2012

The proposed deconstruction of President Eishenhower planned for the National Mall

The proposed Eisenhower Memorial is awful.  His grandchildren oppose it.

George Weigel writes about  Gehry's Ghastly Eisenhower Memorial

The present Eisenhower Memorial design, by postmodernist Frank Gehry, has virtually nothing to do with the Dwight David Eisenhower of history. Plans call for Ike to be memorialized in sculpture as a barefoot farmboy on the Great Plains: not the great wartime leader; not the soldier-diplomat; not the chief executive of the United States who presided over eight years of peace and prosperity. The Gehry conceit seems both obvious and entirely in tune with the postmodern deconstruction of history: There are no great men; there are no great virtues; there is no great striving; nor is there great accomplishment or great service to others. No one, visiting the Eisenhower Memorial as designed by Frank Gehry, would have the slightest reason to grasp the truth of the man himself, as Stephen Ambrose once described him:

As a soldier, he was, as George C. Marshall said at the end of the war, everything that the U.S. Army hoped for in its finest products — professionally competent, well versed in the history of war, decisive, well disciplined, courageous, dedicated, and popular with his men, his subordinates, and his superiors. His leadership qualities also included a high degree of intelligence, integrity, commitment to basic principles, dignity, organizational genius, tremendous energy, and diplomatic ability. As a man, he was good-looking, considerate of and concerned about others, loyal to friends and family, given to terrible rages (which he learned to control), ambitious, thin-skinned and sensitive to criticism, stubborn and inflexible about his habits, an avid sportsman and sports fan, modest (but never falsely so), almost embarrassingly unsophisticated in his musical, artistic, and literary tastes, intensely curious about people and places, often refreshingly naïve, fun-loving — in short, a wonderful man to know or be around. Nearly everyone who knew him liked him immensely, many — including some of the most powerful men in the world — to the point of adulation.

None of this is conveyed by the sculpture of a barefoot boy on the plains. None of it is conveyed by the other elements in the Gehry design: 80-foot-tall, nondescript cylindrical posts (they can’t even be properly described as pillars) holding up perforated metal “tapestries,” creating what Gehry himself once called a “theater for cars.” But what does a “theater for cars,” or any other kind of postmodernist knock-off of a Fifties drive-in, have to do with creating a memorial to Dwight D. Eisenhower, the supreme Allied commander who planned the invasion of Normandy, the president who ended the Korean War and who proposed “Open Skies” as a means to lower the temperature of the Cold War?
Posted by Jill Fallon at 4:57 PM | Permalink

Knowing How Long You Will Live

Clues in DNA reveal how long you'll live - and they can be read when you're a baby

Life expectancy is written into our DNA and is there to be seen from the day we are born.

It all depends on the length of the telomeres, which are described as 'acting like the plastic ends on shoelaces' to protect chromosomes from wear and tear.

Telomeres are being studied extensively - and are thought to hold the key to ageing.  Put simply, the longer your telomeres, the longer you will live  - dependent, of course, on not dying accidentally, from disease or from lifestyle factors.
The study – which used zebra finches, one of Australia’s most common bird species – is the first to  measure telomere lengths at regular intervals through an entire life. With people, it is usually only the elderly who are studied because of the timescales involved.  Blood cell samples were taken from 99 finches, starting when they were 25 days old.

The results exceeded even the researchers’ expectations. The birds with the shortest telomeres did tend to die first – from as early as seven months after the start of the trial.  But one bird in the group with the longest telomeres survived to almost nine years old.

Meanwhile in the New York Times, Interactive Tools to Assess the Likelihood of Death

To help prevent overtesting and overtreatment of older patients — or undertreatment for those who remain robust at advanced ages — medical guidelines increasingly call for doctors to consider life expectancy as a factor in their decision-making. But clinicians, research has shown, are notoriously poor at predicting how many years their patients have left.

Now, researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, have identified 16 assessment scales with “moderate” to “very good” abilities to determine the likelihood of death within six months to five years in various older populations. Moreover, the authors have fashioned interactive tools of the most accurate and useful assessments.

On Tuesday, the researchers published a review of these assessments in The Journal of the American Medical Association and posted the interactive versions at a new Web site called ePrognosis.org, the first time such tools have been assembled for physicians in a single online location.
The tools are available to anyone who checks a box saying he or she is a health care professional; there is no verification.

How Long Until the End, The New Old Age

Last spring, I wrote about a group of geriatricians and researchers assembling online a variety of geriatric indexes that do a reasonably good job of predicting mortality for those older than age 60. Since a number of tests and treatments ought to take life expectancy into account, they reasoned, physicians should have these validated tools in one handy online location.

Their question was whether the Web site they were putting together should be accessible to the public as well. Would non-professionals be apt to misinterpret the numbers? Or to decide that if they had plenty of life expectancy remaining, they might as well smoke? While the researchers were debating, I put this question to New Old Age blog readers: Do you want to be able to use the site, too?

The near-unanimity of your responses was startling. Roughly 75 people commented, and roughly 72 of you said (I’m paraphrasing), “Hell, yes.”
Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:38 AM | Permalink

No way to go

Woman killed in stampede as 5,000 students make desperate rush to register at South African university

More than 20 people were seriously injured as well. 

Prof Rensburg identified the dead woman as the mother of a male prospective student who came to the university today to apply for a place to study.

He said: 'The situation was particularly tragic as the young man was inside the registration tent and had no idea that this had happened.

Man drowns himself in a vat of whisky at world famous Scottish distillery

He leapt into a vat of whiskey at  at the Glenfiddich Distillery where he had worked for 23 years, leaving behind a wife and two daughters in their twenties.

'When the doors opened she was blown away': Woman is killed after unwittingly riding the elevator to her death in highrise inferno

Fire Department Chief Joe Roccasalva said the fire started in an apartment and smoke poured out into the building as the front door was left open after the people who lived there escaped.

Roccasalva said firefighters found Miss McCoy on the 12th floor. The elevator doors were open and it appeared as though she was going to her apartment. She had been carrying her purse and take-out food.

He said: 'The door of the apartment that was on fire didn't close when they left and all the heat and gases and smoke poured into the hallway. When the elevator door opened up, she just got blasted.'

Dying woman sees husband shoot dead his son, her two sisters and himself after argument over what to feed her

A convicted murderer gunned down three members of his family before killing himself after an argument about what to feed his terminally-ill wife, police say

Paul Gilkey, 63, snapped while looking after his wife Darlene, 59, who is dying of cancer. Authorities say he wasn't getting along with his son Leroy or wife's two sisters Barbara S. Mohler and Dorothy M. Cherry, who had come over to help Darlene.
An argument broke out in the small Logan, Ohio, home after Darlene's sisters fed her tea and toast after Gilkey had peeled an orange for her.

Three hours after the fight began, Gilkey walked out of the living room, where his wife was staying in a hospital bed, and returned with a 9mm Browning handgun.
All the while, bedridden Darlene Gilkey watched, unable to stop the violence.

Condolences to all their families and friends who must be devastated.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:29 AM | Permalink

January 10, 2012

Main Street was the place to be

Respect for a fallen soldier

Army Private First Class Justin Whitmire, age 20, was laid to rest today. He was killed after only 11 days in Afghanistan, just 2 days after Christmas, as he and other medics were heading out on a volunteer mission. Their jeep ran over an IED. Before he deployed, he told his youth pastor that he wanted to be a soldier because soldiers help and serve.

The Westboro folks promised to come and disrupt the funeral. Within minutes, news sites and Facebook spread the dreaded news. I should thank them. Not for their hate but for the mobilization they caused.

Hundreds of the Patriot Guard rode shotgun. In addition,  the folks in the Upstate of South Carolina volunteered to line the way to the cemetery. This was not a counter protest. It was an honor guard. The crowd was amazing — and American. Dads with sons, senior citizens, families, single adults, moms with babies in strollers, Scout troops, young couples, and veterans.  The wardrobe was either red, white, and blue or black. Flags flew everywhere. Signs thanking Pfc Whitmire for his service and ultimate sacrifice were frequent.

The cars in the procession all had people wiping their eyes. The soldiers looked stunned. As the cars went by, I wondered if they knew we were there — well, until I saw the first 25 phones filming the crowds. We nodded our support to them. They smiled their appreciation to us. Did the soldiers who were driving in the procession know we were standing there for them too?

The nation lost one of its finest. I weep for his parents. I am humbled by the response complete strangers showed to his passing. Today Main Street was the place to be.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:19 AM | Permalink

January 7, 2012

Rick Santorum's baby

For some people, politics trumps all, even something as private as a family grieving the death of a two-hour baby before burying him.  What shriveled hardened hearts. 

Charles Lane on Rick Santorum’s baby--and mine.

The latest intra-pundit flap of Campaign 2012: a couple of my liberal colleagues have called Rick and Karen Santorum “crazy,” or “very weird” for wrapping and caressing the body of their baby, who died only two hours after emerging from 20 weeks in utero -- and taking it home for their children to see. These opinions provoked a conservative backlash.

Maybe it’s not too late for a teachable moment about neonatal death and stillbirth — and the special grief that these not-uncommon, but obviously insufficiently understood, tragedies inflict upon parents.

Nine years ago, my son Jonathan’s heart mysteriously stopped in utero — two hours prior to a scheduled c-section that would have brought him out after 33 weeks. Next came hours of induced labor so that my wife could produce a lifeless child. I cannot describe the anxiety, emotional pain, and physical horror.
I regret that, unlike the Santorums, who presented the body of their child to their children, we did not show Jonathan’s body to our other son, who was six years old at the time. When I told him what had happened, his first question was, “Well, where is the baby?” I tried to explain what a morgue is, and why the baby went there. It was awkward and unsatisfactory -- too abstract. In hindsight, I was not protecting my son from a difficult conversation, I was protecting myself.
Jonathan’s death was probably the hardest moment of my life. But actually touching his body was a source of comfort and the first step in going on with life. Not weird.

Jessica Heslam Our Bereavement is our own

A little while later, a nurse took her away and we never saw her again.

Those precious moments with my daughter — the only time I ever got to see and hold her — are cherished ones. That single memory of holding Grace brings me much peace.

Santorum lost a baby, too. His wife, Karen, went into premature labor when she was 20 weeks pregnant with their son and fourth child, Gabriel, in 1996. He had a fatal birth defect and died two hours after he was born.

The heartbroken couple brought their baby home. According to The Washington Post, the couple and their other children cuddled Gabriel, took pictures and sang him lullabies.

Santorum told CNN’s Piers Morgan in August that his wife, a neonatal intensive care nurse in Pittsburgh, had learned how important it was for siblings to see their lost brother or sister and include them in the family.

The Santorums’ actions are in line with American Pregnancy Association guidelines, which urge grieving parents to talk to and touch their stillborn babies — and for family members to spend time with them as well.

“It was a beautiful thing,” Santorum recalled. “It’s something that the older children do remember, and it did bring closure to them. Gabriel, even to this day, is still very much a part of our family.”

I was sickened this week when liberal pundits mocked Santorum as “weird” and “crazy,” and tried to use the tragedy to highlight his extreme right-wing views.

Some may not agree with Santorum’s ideology, but to ridicule a grief-stricken father for grappling with one of life’s most agonizing tragedies is the dirtiest of politics.

Mark Steyn  Politics trumps Left's empathy

Lest you doubt that we're headed for the most vicious election year in memory, consider the determined effort, within 10 minutes of his triumph in Iowa, to weirdify Rick Santorum. Discussing the surging senator on Fox News, Alan Colmes mused on some of the "crazy things" he's said and done.

Santorum has certainly said and done many crazy things, as have most members of America's political class, but the "crazy thing" Colmes chose to focus on was Santorum's "taking his two-hour-old baby when it died right after childbirth home," whereupon he "played with it." My National Review colleague Rich Lowry rightly slapped down Alan on air, and Colmes subsequently apologized, though not before Mrs. Santorum had been reduced to tears by his remarks. Undeterred, Eugene Robinson, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post columnist, doubled down on stupid and insisted that Deadbabygate demonstrated how Santorum is "not a little weird, he's really weird."
Not many of us will ever know what it's like to have a child who lives only a few hours. That alone should occasion a certain modesty about presuming to know what are "weird" and unweird reactions to such an event.
Santorum's respect for all life, including even the smallest bleakest meanest two-hour life, speaks well for him, especially in comparison with his fellow Pennsylvanian, the accused mass murderer Kermit Gosnell, an industrial-scale abortionist at a Philadelphia charnel house who plunged scissors into the spinal cords of healthy delivered babies. Few of Gosnell's employees seemed to find anything "weird" about that: Indeed, they helped him out by tossing their remains in jars and bags piled up in freezers and cupboards. Much less crazy than taking 'em home and holding a funeral, right?

Posted by Jill Fallon at 1:04 PM | Permalink

Beckham and tattoos

Well, this is one way you can create a Personal Legacy Archive of the best parts of your life.  Only problem is you can't pass it on.

A life in tattoos: David Beckham's strange obsession with exhibitionist body art and the meanings behind each design

Here's just one.

 Beckham Tattoo

Left upper chest, Jesus and cherubs, Harper, 2011: David added a portrait of Jesus - styled to look like Beckham - being lifted from his tomb by cherubs, said to be representations of his three sons. And when daughter Harper Seven arrived, the proud dad had her name etched above it

Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:35 PM | Permalink

Joan of Arc

The Enduring Power of Joan of Arc

JOAN OF ARC was born 600 years ago. Six centuries is a long time to continue to mark the birth of a girl who, according to her family and friends, knew little more than spinning and watching over her father’s flocks. But type her name into Amazon’s search engine and you get more than 6,000 results. France’s national archives include tens of thousands of volumes about her. She has been immortalized by Shakespeare, Voltaire, Twain, Shaw, Brecht, Verdi, Tchaikovsky and Rubens; more recently, her life was fodder for the CBS television series “Joan of Arcadia.”

What is it about Joan of Arc? Why is her story of enduring interest more than a half a millennium after her birth?

Illiterate and uncouth, Joan moved purposefully among nobles, bishops and royalty. So intent on vanquishing the enemy that she threatened her own men with violence, she herself recoiled at the idea of bloodshed. To avoid having to use her sword, she led her army carrying a 12-foot-long banner emblazoned with the words Party of the Kingdom of Heaven. Witnesses said she was luminous in battle, light not glinting off her armor so much as radiating from the girl within. Her enemies spoke of clouds of butterflies following in her wake, a curiously beatific report from men who said she was in league with the devil.

In the aftermath of combat she didn’t celebrate victory but mourned the casualties; her men remembered her on her knees weeping as she held the head of a dying enemy soldier, urging him to confess his sins. Her courage outstripped that of seasoned men at arms; her tears flowed as readily as any other teenage girl’s.

Wikipedia's short bio 

Joan of Arc, nicknamed "The Maid of Orléans" (French: Jeanne d'Arc,[1] IPA: [ʒan daʁk]; ca. 1412[2] – 30 May 1431), is a national heroine of France and a Roman Catholic saint. A peasant girl born in eastern France who claimed divine guidance, she led the French army to several important victories during the Hundred Years' War, which paved the way for the coronation of Charles VII. She was captured by the Burgundians, sold to the English, tried by an ecclesiastical court, and burned at the stake when she was 19 years old.  Twenty-five years after the execution, Pope Callixtus III examined the trial, pronounced her innocent and declared her a martyr.  Joan of Arc was beatified in 1909 and canonized in 1920.[2] She is – along with St. Denis, St. Martin of Tours, St. Louis IX, and St. Theresa of Lisieux – one of the patron saints of France.

Joan asserted that she had visions from God that instructed her to recover her homeland from English domination late in the Hundred Years' War. The uncrowned King Charles VII sent her to the siege of Orléans as part of a relief mission. She gained prominence when she overcame the dismissive attitude of veteran commanders and lifted the siege in only nine days. Several more swift victories led to Charles VII's coronation at Reims and settled the disputed succession to the throne.

One of the great classics of silent film is The Passion of Joan of Arc by Carl Th Dreyer .  Many call it a masterpiece. 
A restored version was released in 1985.  The faces are extraordinary, the editing amazing and Maria Falconetti is luminous as Joan in what some call the "greatest performance in the history of film".

Not many know that Mark Twain was fascinated by Joan of Arc . He wrote, " She is easily and by far the most extraordinary person the human race has ever produced."

Under a pseudonym, he wrote Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc, by the Sieur Louis de Conte,

-Jeanne D' Arc (Eugene Thirion)

Twain  said "I like Joan of Arc best of all my books; and it is the best; I know it perfectly well. And besides, it furnished me seven times the pleasure afforded me by any of the others; twelve years of preparation, and two years of writing. The others need no preparation and got none."  You can read it for free online.

But the character of Joan of Arc is unique. It can be measured by the standards of all times without misgiving or apprehension as to the result. Judged by any of them, judged by all of them, it is still flawless, it is still ideally perfect; it still occupies the loftiest place possible to human attainment, a loftier one than has been reached by any other mere mortal.

When we reflect that her century was the brutallest, the wickedest, the rottenest in history since the darkest ages, we are lost in wonder at the miracle of such a product from such a soil. The contrast between her and her century is the contrast between day and night. She was truthful when lying was the common speech of men; she was honest when honesty was become a lost virtue; she was a keeper of promises when the keeping of a promise was expected of no one; she gave her great mind to great thoughts and great purposes when other great minds wasted themselves upon pretty fancies or upon poor ambitions; she was modest and fine and delicate when to be loud and course might be said to be universal; she was full of pity when a merciless cruelty was the rule; she was steadfast when stability was unknown, and honourable in an age which had forgotten what honour was; she was a rock of convictions in a time when men believed in nothing and scoffed at all things; she was unfailingly true in an age that was false to the core; she maintained her personal dignity unimpaired in an age of fawnings and servilities; she was of a dauntless courage when hope and courage had perished in the hearts of her nation; she was spotlessly pure in mind and body when society in the highest places was foul in both - she was all these things in an age when crime was the common business of lords and princes, and when the highest personages in Christendom were able to astonish even that infamous era and make it stand aghast at the spectacle of their atrocious lives black with unimaginable treacheries, butcheries, and bestialities.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 1:08 AM | Permalink

January 6, 2012

The courage of Chesshire

In a terrific obituary from the Telegraph on the amazing life of John Chesshire who demonstrated courage throughout his life.

In March 1944 Chesshire, a captain in the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC), was serving as Medical Officer to 1st Battalion The South Staffordshire Regiment (1 SSR), part of 77th Indian Infantry Brigade. In the middle of the month the Brigade blocked the railway at Henu, northern Burma. Faced with this threat to their supply lines, the Japanese attacked and, on March 17, the regimental aid post manned by Chesshire and a colleague, Captain Thorne, was overrun.

The two officers continued to operate and tend the wounded until a counter-attack repelled the enemy. Days of heavy shelling followed, but Chesshire carried on with his work even though it meant standing in the open while others were able to take shelter. During the first two weeks of the month-long battle, he was senior MO to the Brigade. OOn at least five occasions shells landed close to his operating theatre.

The citation for his MC estimated that 500 men had passed through his hands during the campaign. It paid tribute to his tireless energy under dreadful conditions, which had saved many lives and provided a great boost to morale.

Chesshire Portrait

handsome devil too

Chesshire subsequently returned to Knighton and became a hill-farmer, rearing Welsh ewes and Hereford cattle. During the lambing season he converted a large wooden crate into a shepherd’s hut, had it taken to the top of Stowe Hill and camped with just a primus stove for warmth.

When the missionary in him emerged once more, he set off for Borneo. On one occasion, on a trip into the jungle to attend someone who was ill, he experienced severe stomach pains. A self-diagnosis confirmed his fears. He had acute appendicitis and he was the only medical practitioner for many miles.

He did, however, have a medical orderly with him whom he instructed to set up a primitive operating table with a mirror over it. Chesshire then gave himself a large dose of local anaesthetic and, with the aid of the mirror, proceeded to guide the orderly through an operation to remove the appendix.

He retired from farming in the late 1970s but continued to practise medicine and enjoyed fishing into old age. An accomplished fly fisherman, when his legs were not strong enough to support him, he would tie himself to a tree to avoid falling into the water. Geology was another absorbing interest and he achieved some striking results using boot polish to make paintings of rock formations.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:15 AM | Permalink