December 25, 2013

The Cultivation of Christmas Trees

The Cultivation of Christmas Trees

There are several attitudes towards Christmas,
Some of which we may disregard:
The social, the torpid, the patently commercial,
The rowdy (the pubs being open till midnight),
And the childish - which is not that of the child
For whom the candle is a star, and the gilded angel
Spreading its wings at the summit of the tree
Is not only a decoration, but an angel.

The child wonders at the Christmas Tree:
Let him continue in the spirit of wonder
At the Feast as an event not accepted as a pretext;
So that the glittering rapture, the amazement
Of the first-remembered Christmas Tree,
So that the surprises, delight in new possessions
(Each one with its peculiar and exciting smell),
The expectation of the goose or turkey
And the expected awe on its appearance,

So that the reverence and the gaiety
May not be forgotten in later experience,
In the bored habituation, the fatigue, the tedium,
The awareness of death, the consciousness of failure,
Or in the piety of the convert
Which may be tainted with a self-conceit
Displeasing to God and disrespectful to children
(And here I remember also with gratitude
St.Lucy, her carol, and her crown of fire):

So that before the end, the eightieth Christmas
(By "eightieth" meaning whichever is last)
The accumulated memories of annual emotion
May be concentrated into a great joy
Which shall be also a great fear, as on the occasion
When fear came upon every soul:
Because the beginning shall remind us of the end
And the first coming of the second coming.
T.S. Eliot
Posted by Jill Fallon at 7:39 PM | Permalink

December 20, 2013

Telegraph readers' obituaries of the year

A roster of the worthy dead by Harry de Quetteville, The Telegraph's Obituary Editor

Well, as expected, celebs and actors (Michael Winner, Richard Griffiths, Nigel Davenport and Lewis Collins) were strongly represented. But they did not do as well as royals (HRH Princess Lilian of Sweden and HRH Prince Friso of Orange-Nassau). And more popular still were heroes and soldiers like Flight Lieutenant Tony Snell (who achieved the small distinction of escaping a German firing squad) and Mavis Batey.

It was my immense pleasure, however, to discover that our 2013 most-read chart was not exclusively filled by such eminent and worthy figures. For on it also figured Pamela Jennings, “who has died aged 48, and was known in her central London stamping ground as 'Soho Pam'; a professional beggar, she nightly brought her considerable powers of persuasion to the clientele of such establishments as The French House and the Coach & Horses.”

And at the very top of the pile, most popular by click of you, was Peter Scott, who was “a highly accomplished cat burglar, and as Britain’s most prolific plunderer of the great and good took particular pains to select his victims from the ranks of aristocrats, film stars and even royalty”.

Ah well, dear reader. All is forgiven. For this is, frankly, hugely reassuring. My faith is restored. Telegraph obits have always been about celebrating irreverence as much as much as achievement, about toasting idiosyncrasy as much as aristocracy (though it’s true the two do frequently go together). And you seem to agree.

Of course, as Fred Sanger goes to show, such rankings have nothing whatsoever to do with personal merit. But who cares? If you continue to lap up the odd cat burglar I hope you won’t mind if we continue to run the odd double Nobel Prize winner. There really aren’t very many.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:04 PM | Permalink

Walking into a Hidden Time Capsule

A guest host for the radio show Antique Talk tells this story.  Walking into a Hidden Time Capsule

I met Ron, who had nothing for me to appraise but told me about the antebellum house that he was moving from a small town near Birmingham onto a plot of land that his family has owned since before the Civil War. He told me all about the house; large, framed and formerly owned by a pair of spinster sisters. The sisters—there originally had been three but one had died many years ago of tuberculosis—had been prominent Deb’s. Ron also mentioned something about some secret rooms and the sister dying in the house. They had inherited the house from their widowed father and had been left, apparently, comfortably well off, judging by the condition of the house when Ron bought it. The last surviving sister, dying in her 90s, had willed the house to some obscure cousin—we’ll call him Junior—who feigned indifference to the white elephant and put it immediately on the market it after auctioning off the contents for a small fortune,
Weeks later I received a call from Ron on the show. It was one of those “remember me” calls. Well of course I remembered him. I filled in the listening audience with Ron’s story and he began to tell the update. The house had been delivered, secured onto its new foundation, columns put in place and the plumbing and wiring had started to be installed. Apparently, when the electrical contractor was putting in the new wiring they ran into a snag: They had too much new line and nowhere to put it, Ron explained. When running the line on the second floor, they ran into a wall. Based on the square footage, this wall, which terminated at the end of a hallway, should have not existed.
I  was wrapping up the show when Ron called back. “I was knockin’ all over the back hallway wall and you’re right; I went out side and took a long look at the house, came back in, figured where, and hit a hollow sounding spot. I did the most logical thing, I got out the sledgehammer and starting to knock into the wall and you won’t guess what I found.”

I needed no prodding to ask, “What?”

“A doorway. A closed-off, locked doorway. And you’ll never guess, the key was in the lock.”….

“Should I open the door?” Ron asks. Should I open the door! I’m thinking, “No, Ron, don’t open the door leave us all in suspense. Of course open the door!”

“Open the door Ron,” I shout down the line. This is live radio, and dead air is dead in the water. My producer is screaming in my ear through the headphones that she has 70 callers all saying, open the damned door. We all hear more wall being knocked away, the phone being dropped, the sledgehammer bashing through plaster and lathe, then, collectively, we exhale as we hear Ron trying to turn the key in the lock, we hear a snap and hear Ron push open the door.

“Holy expletive! You are not going to believe this.”
Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:12 AM | Permalink

December 18, 2013

"He knew nothing except that his master was here, And when the door opened, he sprang in without fear."

Most Beautiful Explanation of Death One Could Ever Hear

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 8:27 PM | Permalink

December 17, 2013

Death takes no holiday

The Christmas season can be particularly painful for those who have lost a spouse or family member.  If you know someone still grieving, make a special point to reach out and touch them during the holidays.

It's hard to imagine what the families below are suffering during this holiday.  Condolences to them all.

Husband shot dead in front of his wife while being carjacked for his Range Rover at posh New Jersey mall

Dustin Friedland, a 30-year-old from Hoboken, New Jersey, along with his wife Jamie was returning to their Range Rover in the car park at The Mall At Short Hills when he was fatally shot in the head and his assailants made their getaway in the $90,000 vehicle.

Friedland was a patent attorney and had joined the intellectual property law firm Lerner, David, Littenberg, Krumholz & Mentlik in 2009 as an associate.
Prior to that he had attended Syracuse University College of Law and also had a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from Bucknell University. He had married his wife Jamie, also a lawyer, in 2011.

The couple had been out shopping and were returning to their vehicle when they were confronted by two men, according to acting Essex County Prosecutor Carolyn Murray.

She said Friedland had opened the door for his wife and was getting into the driver’s side when he was shot. It is believed that multiple shots were fired.

Groom is run over and killed after pulling over to help stranded female motorist just hours after his wedding

An Indiana newlywed who previously served over a decade as an Army Ranger was killed just hours after his wedding while helping a stranded motorist.  Newlyweds William ‘Riley’ Knight and Nikki Knight were driving to a hotel after their Saturday night reception when the groom insisted he help a motorist stranded on the side of the snowy road.

Mr Knight pulled over and went to help Linda Darlington, 42. They were struck by a car while standing on the side of the road – then two more cars mowed them down.

Both were declared dead at the scene, and Ms Knight went from newlywed to widow in a matter of hours. Their ceremony was at 5pm that night.

Mr Knight, 49, and Ms Knight, both of Crown Point, spotted the woman’s car in a ditch just before midnight.  ‘He said, ‘We’ve got to stop, it’s late and they need help,’ Ms Knight recalled to the Chicago Sun-Times.  The gracious groom parked in a nearby driveway and made his way through the snow to rescue Ms Darlington.
‘I went from a being a newlywed to a widow in less than 48 hours - the highest high to the lowest low,’ the grieving bride told the Sun-Times. ‘It’s a blur.’

New dad slips into coma and dies just hours after holding his newborn son – and his only symptom was a headache

A 24-year-old Utah college student died on Friday after living just long enough to hold his newborn son before slipping into a sudden coma from which he’d never wake up.

Brigham Young University student and Mormon seminary teacher Josh Robison fell ill just hours after holding his son Logan for the first time and then suddenly lost consciousness.

It began with a simple headache and ended with doctors trying desperately, but failing, to keep the young dad from slipping away.
It was an unexpected and heart-wrenching turn in a story that, for a time, was full of hope.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 7:09 PM | Permalink

December 16, 2013

He drove this same car for 82 years and it still looks great

Here's Longevity for You!

 Allen Swift's Rollsroyceroadster

Mr. Allen Swift ( 1908-2010 Springfield, MA ) received this 1928 Rolls-Royce Piccadilly-P1 Roadster from his father - brand new - as a graduation gift in 1928.    He drove it up until his death last year at the age of 102.

He was the oldest, living owner of a car that was purchased new….It was donated to a Springfield museum after his death.

It has 1,070,000 miles on it, still runs like a Swiss watch, dead silent at any speed and is in perfect, cosmetic condition at 82 years of age. That's approximately 13,048 miles per year, 1,087 miles per month.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 5:25 PM | Permalink

Peter O'Toole, Rest in Peace

New York Times obituary by Benedict Nightingale

Peter O’Toole, an Irish bookmaker’s son with a hell-raising streak whose performance in the 1962 epic film “Lawrence of Arabia” earned him overnight fame and established him as one of his generation’s most charismatic actors, died on Saturday in London. He was 81.
Blond, blue-eyed and well over six feet tall, Mr. O’Toole had the dashing good looks and high spirits befitting a leading man — and he did not disappoint in “Lawrence,” David Lean’s wide-screen, almost-four-hour homage to T. E. Lawrence, the daring British soldier and adventurer who led an Arab rebellion against the Turks in the Middle East in World War I.

 Peter O'toole Lawrence-1

The performance brought Mr. O’Toole the first of eight Academy Award nominations, a flood of film offers and a string of artistic successes in the ’60s and early ’70s. In the theater — he was a classically trained actor — he played an anguished, angular tramp in Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot” and a memorably battered title character in Chekhov’s “Uncle Vanya.” In film, he twice played a robust King Henry II: first opposite Richard Burton in “Becket” (1964), then with Katharine Hepburn as his queen in “The Lion in Winter” (1968). Both earned Oscar nominations for best actor, as did his repressed, decaying schoolmaster in “Goodbye, Mr. Chips” in 1970 and the crazed 14th Earl of Gurney in “The Ruling Class” in 1973.
His carousing became legend, particularly in the 1970s. As he himself said, he had long been “happy to grasp the hand of misfortune, dissipation, riotous living and violence,” counting Burton, Richard Harris, Robert Shaw, Francis Bacon, Trevor Howard, Laurence Harvey and Peter Finch among his drinking companions. He lost much of his “Lawrence” earnings in two nights with Omar Sharif at casinos in Beirut and Casablanca.

Though he won many lesser awards during his career, triumph at the Academy Awards eluded him, perhaps in part because he had made no secret of his dislike of Hollywood and naturalistic acting, which he considered drab. He was nothing if not ambitious, but success would come on his own terms, not the movie industry’s.

Mr. O’Toole liked to tell interviewers that his background was “not working class but criminal class.” The father was left with a bad right hand after all its knuckles were systematically broken, presumably by creditors.
Apart from his three children — Kate, Pat and Lorcan, who survive him — cricket was Mr. O’Toole’s most lasting love. Indeed, he took a diploma as a professional coach when he was 60, the better to instruct his son and train a London boys’ team.
In 2000, he was honored with the Outstanding Achievement citation at the Laurence Olivier Awards in London. In 2003, one nomination away from setting a record among actors for the most Oscar nominations without winning — he received an honorary one for lifetime achievement.

At first reluctant to accept, fearing it would somehow signal the end of his career, Mr. O’Toole eventually agreed to the honor as something well earned and started his acceptance speech by saying, not without a note of triumph: “Always a bridesmaid, never a bride — my foot. I have my very own Oscar now to be with me till death us do part.”

London Telegraph obituary

-O'toole By Phil Coburn

Peter O'Toole, the Irish-born actor who has died aged 81, was one of the most charismatic, unpredictable, eccentric and individualistic players of his generation.

Hailed both as a classicist and as an exponent of post-war realism in the new British drama, he seemed destined for greatness on the stage until David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia (1962) turned him into a film star.  It was one of the most spectacular screen breakthroughs of the post-war years.

O’Toole was as famous in his private life for hell-raising exploits, alcoholic benders and independence of artistic judgement, as for his wildly variable performances on stage and screen. The traditional distinction between the actor and the role soon became something of a blur.

Tall, lean, blue-eyed, watchful, whimsical — and, by middle age, so emaciated that his friends feared for his health — O’Toole seemed regularly to veer close to self destruction. A self-confessed lover of sleaze, he once said: “I can’t stand light; I hate weather; my idea of heaven is moving from one smoke-filled room to another.”
His acting ranged from the sublime to the ridiculous. It could be subtle, reserved, sensitive and deeply affecting. It could also be loud, self-regarding, mannered and imitative of the worst of the 19th-century barnstormers.
The year 1992 also saw the publication of the first volume of his autobiography, Loitering With Intent. Besides committing to record his own account of a life rich in myth and hyperbole, O’Toole revealed a genuine writing talent whose promise is sadly cut short.

Having been denied as best actor Oscar many times, in 2003 O’Toole received a special honorary award, effectively for his lifetime’s work. He joked about this when, in 2006, he received yet another best-actor nomination, playing a 70-year-old roué in Venus, who romances his best friend’s grand-niece. The lifetime’s recognition, he quipped, had been premature because there was life in the old dog yet.

Peter O’Toole married, in 1960 (dissolved 1979), the actress Sian Phillips, with whom he had two daughters. He married secondly, in 1983, Karen Brown, with whom he had a son. The second marriage also ended in divorce.

Boston Globe obituary by Ty Burr, "God, he was beautiful."

 "Beautiful Peter O'toole

He was possibly the most charismatic, handsome, and gifted of his acting peers, remarkable when you consider that his fellow actors in the 1954 graduating class of London's Royal Academy of Dramatic Art included Richard Harris, Albert Finney, and Alan Bates.
For a while, O'Toole had it all, but after a decade-long run from 1958 to 1968 that included two stage Hamlets, two filmed Henry IIs, and a career-defining title role in David Lean's 1962 "Lawrence of Arabia," the momentum slipped away. It may have been all the carousing, which achieved iconic proportions until the actor gave up drinking (more or less) in 1975. Or it may have been a curious indecision about celebrity itself. ….O'Toole made hesitancy his metier. His T. E. Lawrence is the hero terrified of what heroism may bring -- a larger-than-life adventurer when seen from a distance, a tremulous blue-eyed existentialist when encountered up close. The tension, majesty, and sorrow of the performance came from some mysterious place between the two.

Thoughts from Roger L Simon, 'Nothing is Written'

For people of my generation who went into film as writers, directors or practically anything else, no movie was of deeper import, of greater inspiration, than Lawrence of Arabia.
The film has remarkable resonance, since it was based (rather loosely) on the book  by T. E. Lawrence, which had, as its core subject, the West’s relationship with what, until Edward Said wagged his angry finger, was called the Orient…..

Sherif Ali! So long as the Arabs fight tribe against tribe, so long will they be a little people, a silly people. Greedy, barbarous and cruel, as you are.

Tribe against tribe?  Where have we heard all that before? Back in 1962, who among us knew about Sunni versus Shiite (or the Howitat and the others, for that matter)? In 2013, who among us doesn’t?

What Peter O'Toole said he wanted on his tombstone

"Many years ago I sent an old, beloved jacket to a cleaner, the Sycamore Cleaners. It was a leather jacket covered in Guinness and blood and marmalade, one of those jobs . . . and it came back with a little note pinned to it, and on the note it said, "It distresses us to return work which is not perfect." So that will do for me. That can go on my tombstone."

Peter O'Toole: 20 best quotes

On fame after Lawrence of Arabia
1. "I woke up one morning to find I was famous. Bought a white Rolls-Royce and drove down Sunset Boulevard wearing dark specs and a white suit, waving like the Queen Mum. Nobody took any f---ing notice, but I thoroughly enjoyed myself."

On drinking
2. “I did quite enjoy the days when one went for a beer at one’s local in Paris and woke up in Corsica.”
Posted by Jill Fallon at 1:32 PM | Permalink

December 13, 2013

Downplaying Death, the Demise of the Funeral

Funerals should be sad and offer catharsis for the overwhelming emotions of the family and friends,  Funerals should remind us all of the shortness of our lives.  After the body is buried, there always can be an after party when people can eat and drink, remember, reminisce  and tell stories about the deceased.  In fact, I think it's a good idea, but it should never supplant the grave solemnity of a funeral.

In The Federalist, Chad Bird questions the "celebration of life" , the 'happier'  alternative that is quickly supplanting those old and sad funerals.

The Tragic Death Of The Funeral Baby Boomer narcissism crowds out Christian meaning from a familiar ritual

So what makes a Celebration of Life different? Rather than a focus upon the loss of a loved one, this service rewinds the present into the past, to draw the mourners back into the life lived by the deceased. It’s like a miniature, enacted biography of the person, with a focus upon those qualities, interests, and achievements that his family and friends found most endearing about him. Whereas a traditional funeral is structured around a liturgy, in this ceremony stories about the person—serious or lighthearted—take center stage. It is his funeral, after all, so shouldn’t it be about him?
To guarantee that the Celebration of Life dovetails with the desires of the departed, pre-death planning is strongly encouraged. Indeed, it’s almost a must. What better way to have the celebration you want than to plan it yourself? In fact, this is a large part of its appeal. This possibility resonates especially well with that aging, voluminous generation for whom self-determination is the spice of life:  the baby boomers.  According to Mark Duffey, the CEO of Everest, a funeral planning and concierge service, the boomer generation is revolutionizing the funeral industry:

“If you're 75 or older, the mentality is: ‘I want to have the same funeral that we had for Aunt Mildred; I don't want to be a bother, I don't want to be showy,’” he said. “You get below 70 and, all of a sudden, it's changing. Now people are saying, I'm a boomer and I want to be talked about.”
…. Although they may initially appear innocuous, or even attractive, these celebrations represent a dual danger: they perpetuate and even formalize our culture’s egocentrism, and they rob life of its true value by refusing to address its end and the meaning thereof. Let’s take a look at each of these dangers.
What makes community life viable, in groups as small as a family or large as a country, is the will of individuals to makes sacrifices for others, to consider more than their own needs and wants, and to act accordingly. The more robust this other-focused approach to life is, the healthier the community will be. For that reason, there is no greater threat to the cohesion and perpetuation of a society than narcissism. The narcissist operates not according to an objective set of values or beliefs, nor are the needs of others an impetus for his actions, but his whole world is centered in the navel at which he gazes. The be-all and end-all reason for his existence is the man in the mirror. Therefore, the question he poses, whenever any decision must be made, is quite simply this: “What’s in it for me?”

Let it be said that, yes, it is well and good to be involved in planning your own funeral: choosing hymns and readings; pallbearers and the minister; and dealing with the nitty-gritty of casket selection, plot purchase, and the like. Such planning can relieve the family of making decisions under the stress of grief. What is at issue is not planning but priority. Will the priority of the end-of-life service be the exaltation of the individual or will it confront the reality of death honestly and constructively. And that brings up a second, more serious, concern with a Celebration of Life.

The other danger revolving around a Celebration of Life is harder to detect, for it is camouflaged by euphemistic language and wears a smiling mask that whispers half-truths that we, especially in the throes of grief, want to believe …. The danger is simply this: that we downplay death and, in so doing, fail to fully appreciate life. Stripped of its euphemistic language, the get-together billed as a “celebration” or even a “party” is, in truth, a gathering of mourners around a corpse.
To the extent that we bury our head in the sand when confronted with the reality of death, to that same extent we miss out on an opportunity to learn more about, and to appreciate more deeply, the life that is ours.

Whereas a funeral, at least in traditional Christianity, takes death seriously, and balances the truth of grief and loss with the hope of life and resurrection, the Celebration of Life looks neither to the present of grief nor the future of hope, but solely to the past. Its focus is neither faith nor hope but only love of what was lost. And in this case, the greatest of these is not love. Call it a celebration all you want; life is not so much celebrated as death is ignored. Therein lies a great tragedy, for a Celebration of Life is a missed opportunity to understand death aright.
The bereaved need, and deserve, something better. They deserve a service that speaks frankly and honestly about death, while anchoring the survivors in a hope that extends beyond this world. If any life is to be celebrated, let it be the life of the One who alone can lighten the load of grief borne by the survivors, and who shines a ray of his life into the gloom of death.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:42 PM | Permalink

Mushroom Burial Suit


Mushroom burial suit turns heads at convention 

Few things shock funeral professionals, but a new a mushroom burial suit designed to help the body decompose after death is the latest earthy concept turning heads at a convention downtown.

The setup at the National Funeral Directors Association looks like any other convention, but when you venture over to one corner, you notice something different going on. A body lying in rest, wearing a black suit and surrounded by mushrooms.

It's all part of the "design for death" world competition involving more than 1,300 entries from more than 700 designers.

One of the winners, a mushroom death suit, created by artist Jae Rhim Lee, is embedded with infinity mushroom spores that supposedly speed up decomposition of the body after death. The idea is to protect the environment from the body's toxic chemicals, such as pesticides, lead and mercury. Lee said those chemicals are often associated with cremations and graveyards.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:16 PM | Permalink

December 12, 2013

Funeral Etiquette

Creator of ‘Selfies at Funerals’ blog retires after Obama flub: ‘Our work here is done

The man who decided to turn the social media phenomenon of “funeral selfies” into a viral blog has announced he is shutting down the website after President Obama snapped a shot of himself at Nelson Mandela’s memorial on Tuesday.
“Obama smooshed heads with the Danish and British prime ministers for what is arguably the most epic funeral selfie of all time,” Jason Feifer, creator of the Selfies at Funerals blog, wrote in the Britain’s The Guardian.

 Obama Funeral Selfie

My Tumblr was once a collection of evidence, convincing the world that something very strange actually existed, but now everyone believes, and everyone has seen, and Thorning-Schmidt has the evidence on her phone.

“So it was time to do the only sensible thing: It was time to declare victory, to revel in drawing a line from the bottom to the top,” he continued.

“I won’t miss it. I’m not even tempted to post another image. That is, unless the pope takes a funeral selfie. Then I’ll return for one more. Your move, Your Holiness,” he said.

It's no secret that criminals read the obituary pages.  Archbishop Desmond Tutu's home robbed same day he attended memorial for Nelson Mandela

If you are named in a relative's obituary, you would be wise to ask a neighbor or a friend to stay at your home while you attend the funeral and reception.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 1:03 PM | Permalink

December 11, 2013

Open-holed, dirt-moving burial was cathartic

John Cuddleback found that a hands-on burial helped him come to terms with the "truth of what happened" in a cathartic release of sorrow

Touching Death: Mourning Physically through Burial

In mid-September of this year my father passed away after a several year decline with dementia. With the help and support of family and friends we were able to give him a very special burial—in that we buried him ourselves: opening the earth, setting him in it, and mounding the earth back. The experience was extraordinary, and one I found to be a gift….

t was all about the earth. Opening it, placing something it, and closing it. Like planting a seed. We started with the assumption that the more we did with our own hands the better. We knew that my father had enough hearty pall-bearers that we could actually carry his casket. With an open casket wake, we knew we could at least put a hand on his breast or hands and feel him dead.
It was all about the earth. Opening it, placing something it, and closing it. Like planting a seed. We started with the assumption that the more we did with our own hands the better. We knew that my father had enough hearty pall-bearers that we could actually carry his casket. With an open casket wake, we knew we could at least put a hand on his breast or hands and feel him dead.

It seems fitting to ask: what kind of burial is good for those left behind? After all, though much of what we do after the death of a person is done for the sake of and in memory of the deceased, the needs of those left behind must also be considered. Prominent among these is surely the need for help in coming to terms with the truth of what has happened. We humans are prone to live in denial, especially of truths that make us uncomfortable. The death of a loved one, with all that it implies, is often just such a truth that we do not want to face. Often even if we want to, we find that we just can’t get our minds, or arms, around it.
The discomfort we spare ourselves now we reap later in unresolved sorrow. The Greek word catharsis refers to the release of an emotion that needs to be released. Loved ones of a deceased person stand in need of the cleansing experience of catharsis, and this especially through the fitting expression of sorrow.
The common emphasis on ‘celebrating the life’ of the deceased can in practice both invalidate the need and remove the occasions for mourning. We are coached and coaxed to look on the bright side, and then when it is all over we find ourselves ill-prepared to face life without the deceased. We know we need to mourn, but we deprive ourselves of many of the best contexts for mourning. Such as an open-holed, dirt-moving burial.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:28 AM | Permalink

December 4, 2013

"He was alone in a room with me, he was without his trousers, and he was very, very dead."

The victim of the first big mistake I ever made was a gentleman to whom I had never been properly introduced (and whose name I still do not know) but who was possessed of three singular qualities: he was alone in a room with me, he was without his trousers, and he was very, very dead.

How can you not read on?

Simon Winchester writes about his summer working in a mortuary to earn money for passage to Canada to see his girlfriend.

  My First Mistake 

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:20 AM | Permalink

The Last Letter of a Loving Mother

From Letters of Note,  Your Loving Mother

On January 22nd of 1919, during her freshman year at college, 19-year-old Margaret Mitchell received word that her mother had fallen ill as a result of a deadly flu pandemic that was sweeping the globe, along with instructions from her father to return home. A few days later, she did just that, only to be greeted at the train station by her brother with the tragic news that their mother had succumbed to pneumonia the day before. As they travelled home from the station, he passed her the following letter.

January 23, 1919

Dear Margaret,

I have been thinking of you all day long. Yesterday you received a letter saying I am sick. I expect your father drew the situation with a strong hand and dark colors and I hope I am not as sick as he thought. I have pneumonia in one lung and were it not for flu complications, I would have had more than a fair chance of recovery. But Mrs. Riley had pneumonia in both lungs and is now well and strong. We shall hope for the best but remember, dear, that if I go now it is the best time for me to go.

I should have liked a few more years of life, but if I had had those it may have been that I should have lived too long. Waste no sympathy on me. However little it seems to you I got out of life, I have held in my hands all that the world can give. I have had a happy childhood and married the man I wanted. I had children who loved me, as I have loved them. I have been able to give what will put them on the high road to mental, moral, and perhaps financial success, were I going to give them nothing else.

I expect to see you again, but if I do not I must warn you of one mistake a woman of your temperament might fall into. Give of yourself with both hands and overflowing heart, but give only the excess after you have lived your own life. This is badly put. What I mean is that your life and energies belong first to yourself, your husband and your children. Anything left over after you have served these, give and give generously, but be sure there is no stinting of attention at home. Your father loves you dearly, but do not let the thought of being with him keep you from marrying if you wish to do so. He has lived his life; live yours as best you can. Both of my children have loved me so much that there is no need to dwell on it. You have done all you can for me and have given me the greatest love that children can give to parents. Care for your father when he is old, as I cared for my mother. But never let his or anyone else's life interfere with your real life. Goodbye, darling, and if you see me no more then it may be best that you remember me as I was in New York.

Your Loving Mother

Can a parent give a greater gift then to leave such a letter behind for each child?  What comfort Margaret Mitchell must have taken from this letter.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:03 AM | Permalink