April 27, 2015

"When I opened the box, it was like a museum."

When Phillip Toledano was six, his sister was killed in a fire. Forty years later, he found a way to bring her back.  The Lost Child

Three decades later, Toledano’s mother died. Three years after that, his father followed. “When your parents die, they leave you with a lot of unopened boxes,” he tells me. “Literally and metaphorically. You can choose to open them or not. I chose to open them all.” The premise of When I Was Six is a literal box found among his mother’s effects – a scruffy, Sellotaped cardboard item from which Toledano drew objects, cards, official documents and family photographs. All of them related to Claudia. “When I opened the box,” he says, “it was like a museum”.

And a museum, in a way, is what he has made of it, systematically photographing its contents, discovering in the process not only his dead sister but his parents and their desire to shield him from grief. In the pages of his book, each piece – a piggy bank, a pencil with her name on it, a note to their mother – is shot in partial shadow, as if left lying on a window sill, and only occasionally coming into view, or consciousness. Interspersed with these images are landscapes concocted by Toledano to look like they are shot in space – reflecting his childhood preoccupation, but also what he calls the “static hiss” that characterised the years after Claudia’s death.

 Lost Child
“I’m talking about very obvious things,” Toledano tries to persuade me, “parents and death and aging and children”. But in his devotion to commemorating private moments long-term, in respecting the everyday as well as the traumatic, Toledano is producing an extraordinary document. If Richard Linklater’s film Boyhood was impressive for its loyalty to a lifelong idea, then Toledano’s has an added shiver of reality. At a time when everyone photographs everything and every photograph is ephemeral, Toledano’s images, however apparently quotidian, uphold the opposite: they are intended against the act of forgetting.
There is a sort of chronological double-take at work in When I Was Six, because although some of the material relates to Claudia’s death, much of it was amassed throughout her life, long before Toledano’s mother could have known it would become a memorial. “My mother was like that,” Toledano says casually, “she kept everything.” But I wonder if Toledano is now doing something similar, not hoarding objects perhaps, but becoming, through his photographs, an archivist of his own life. “I’ve never thought about that,” he says, laughing. “But I guess I’m similar to my mum: she kept the things, and I keep… the feelings.”
It’s important to Toledano that these events can be spoken about. Already, the raft of responses he’s had to his books have, in his own description, made his life better. “People rely on the McWord vocabulary of ‘I’m sorry for your loss’,” he suggests. “I despise all those words – ‘I lost my grandfather’. Lost him where? In the supermarket? I don’t want to use the suburbia of words, I want to use the word that’s in the heart of the thing.”
And so, he says, while most art is in a literal sense fairly useless, this work of his has turned out to be useful to other people. For that unintentional effect, he’s incredibly grateful. “We live behind such high walls most of the time, and art has the ability to destroy them in a very quick blow. It’s beautiful when that happens.”

Phillip Toledano's new book When I Was Six is not yet available in the U.S.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 1:15 PM | Permalink

April 24, 2015

Strippers at funerals in China "“Otherwise no one would come."

Just when I think I've heard it all, I learn about Funeral Strippers in China

The government has been trying to fight the country’s funereal stripper scourge for some time now. In 2006, the state-run broadcaster China Central Television’s leading investigative news show Jiaodian Fangtan aired an exposé on the practice of scantily clad women making appearances at memorial services in Donghai in eastern China’s Jiangsu province.

The point of inviting strippers, some of whom performed with snakes, was to attract large crowds to the deceased’s funeral – seen as a harbinger of good fortune in the afterlife. “It’s to give them face,” one villager explained. “Otherwise no one would come."
Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:07 PM | Permalink

“Exciting place, a graveyard. Least I always think so. Always something going on."

`Some Frail Memorial Still Erected Nigh'

 Church Strumons Cornwall-1

In Rising Ground: A Search for the Spirit of Place (Granta, 2014), Philip Marsden visits Tregony, a village in Cornwall, and approaches two men in the churchyard of St. Rumon’s. One is digging a grave. The other is “busy leaning on his spade.” Marsden describes the latter as “an elderly man with a jowly face” who is “quite happy to interrupt his leaning for a little chat.”….

“`Exciting place, a graveyard. Least I always think so. Always something going on.’ We looked around at the headstones and the empty paths and the shadowy places beneath the sycamore. He extended a finger to an age-skewed memorial beside us. `Best stones are they [sic] slate ones – like that. Nice curly writing. Stays hundreds of years on slate – not like the limestone. Weather gets to the limestone and it’s gone in no time, wiped away.’”

Patrick Kurp then goes on to quote these lines from Thomas Gray's "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard"

“Yet even these bones from insult to protect
Some frail memorial still erected nigh,
With uncouth rhymes and shapeless sculpture decked,
Implores the passing tribute of a sigh.

“Their name, their years, spelt by the unlettered muse,
The place of fame and elegy supply:
And many a holy text around she strews,
That teach the rustic moralist to die.”
Posted by Jill Fallon at 3:27 PM | Permalink

Why Lenin looks better than ever

 Lenin's Corpse

Why Lenin's corpse looks better with age: Scientists reveal experimental embalming methods used on the Soviet leader

Vladmir Lenin may have been dead for 90 years, but his corpse looks better than the day he passed.
This is the claim made by his embalmers, who have developed experimental techniques to maintain the look and feel of the communist revolutionary's body.  They brag that their technique has been the result of almost a century of fine-tuning, creating a science that has benefited real-world medical applications.
The gruesome job is the responsibility of a team known as the 'Mausoleum group' which, at its peak, involved 200 scientists working in a lab dedicated to the former leader's corpse.

'They have to substitute occasional parts of skin and flesh with plastics and other materials,' Alexei Yurchak, professor of social anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley told Mr Hsu. 'That makes it dramatically different from everything in the past, such as mummification.'
In his book, Yurchak describes how a mild bleach is often used to deal with occasional fungus stains on Lenin's face.  One such stain that appeared on Lenin's cheek had the embalmers worried for their lives when they were unable to remove it.  'They might have even killed us,' Ilya Zbarsky, who managed to bleach away the mould, told Jewish World Review.

'The atmosphere of fear and terror was there for us scientists, just as it was for everyone in the society.'

The skin is studied each week using precision instruments that can measure moisture, color and contour to look for signs of dehydration. Every two years and the body is immersed in a bath of glycerol and potassium acetate for 30 days – a technique which scientists say could make the body last for centuries.
While Lenin's blood, bodily fluids and internal organs were removed, his eyebrows, moustache and goatee are his own. A material made of paraffin, glycerin and carotene is used to replace most of the Lenin's skin.

More details in Scientific American

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:55 AM | Permalink

April 23, 2015

What A Small-Town Obituary Writer Can Teach Us All About Living

What A Small-Town Obituary Writer Can Teach Us All About Living

Heather Lende has an intimate relationship with death.  She is the longtime obituary writer in her small Alaska hometown of Haines, having memorialized some 400 departed locals, neighbors, friends. She volunteers at the hospice center, and had her own close brush with oblivion. Ten years ago, Lende was hit by a truck while bicycling; the vehicle ran over her torso and crushed her pelvis. She was lucky to survive.
Her latest book, out April 28, is "Find the Good: Unexpected Life Lessons from a Small-Town Obituary Writer." We spoke with Lende for Sophia, a HuffPost project to collect life lessons from accomplished people.

She shared 10 key insights she's learned from her years of observing people living well and dying well, too.  Among them  -

1. The under-appreciated joy of ordinary days.
I said to her, "You've got maybe three months, six months while you're still feeling good. What do you want to do with your life?"  And she said the thing she really wanted to do was just have another ordinary day. She wanted to go to school, and teach second grade, and come home and have dinner with her family…..

It's kind of like "Our Town" by Thornton Wilder; at the end of that play, the character Emily runs around and says, "Does anybody really appreciate life while they have it? Do they know?" And no, of course not. Of course not. But the more I bump up against that kind of stuff, I try [laughs]. I try to remember it.

I think you can purposefully step back from stuff and say that to yourself. "Oh yes, thank you. Thank you just that I'm awake this morning."
Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:03 PM | Permalink

Mugging in a graveyard

The  93-year-old  'Miracle on Ice' team doctor was laying flowers on his wife's grave when he was  'mugged and brutally beaten by teen with a snowbrush' 

A physician, 93, who team doctor for five U.S. men's Olympic hockey squads, including the 'Miracle on Ice' team that won in the 1980's, has suffered serious injuries in an attack while visiting his wife's grave on Sunday.

George Nagobads was allegedly mugged by a teenager on Sunday afternoon at the Crystal Lake Cemetery in Minneapolis while laying flowers on his wife Velta's grave.  He was released from the hospital on Tuesday with 18 stitches in his head.
'I brought new flowers and was just stooping down,' said Nagobads of honoring his wife Velta Nagobads who died in 2005.  Nagobads said that by throwing his wallet in attempt to distract the teen he was able to get away without further harm.  'I’m so lucky. … I used that little trick and threw the wallet to get to my car' about 40 yards away, the doctor said.  As the boy picked up the wallet, Nagobads continued, 'I was running … really fast. I was surprised how I could run like this.'
Nagobads said that he bled heavily while behind the wheel of his car and risked being stopped by a cop.
'I drove way over the speed limit. If a cop catches me, that’s fine,' he said he thought after the attack on Sunday. 

Witness Justin McCarthy says he saw a young man around the age of 14 or 15 looking through a wallet near the mausoleum before fleeing by bicycle and jumping over a fence. 'I saw the kid there. I put two and two together, and I just got really mad,' said McCarthy.  McCarthy said he chased the teen but not very far.
'I’m 52 and I’m kind of fat. It wasn’t going to happen. … I was completely exhausted,' said McCarthy.

Mccarthy said that Nagobads told him, 'I gave him my wallet, and he still tried to kill me.’ Nagobads was the University of Minnesota men's hockey team physician for 34 years until his retirement in 1992.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 1:22 PM | Permalink

April 21, 2015

The strangest grave I've ever seen

Neanderthal who fell down a sinkhole 150,000 years ago starved to death and FUSED with its walls
"It was a gruesome death that is the stuff of most people's nightmares. Now scientists have identified the unfortunate individual whose bones were found fused to the walls of a cave in Lamalunga, near Altamura, in southern Italy.
Using analysis of DNA extracted from the bones sticking out from the limestone rock, researchers have found he was a Neanderthal who fell down a sinkhole around 150,000 years ago.

 Altamura Man

The researchers now hope that further analysis of the DNA might reveal new insights into Neanderthal evolution. It is nearly 100,000 years older than other previously sequenced Neanderthal DNA."

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:22 AM | Permalink

April 20, 2015

Bog Bodies - Uncannily preserved remains from the peat marshes of northern Europe

In Archaeology. Bog Bodies Rediscovered
"Aside from a bit of periodontal disease, he was a healthy man in his 30s, about 5'7" tall, with a strong build. He had recently eaten porridge made from barley, grass, wheat, and herbs, and maybe a few bites of pork. But the meal was his last. Between 12 and 24 hours after dinner, he was strangled. His throat was slashed from ear to ear, and his body was thrown into a Danish peat bog. He lay in this grave until 1952, when residents of the nearby village of Grauballe were cutting peat for fuel and found his remains. He still had his skin and a full head of hair. Soon he became known as Grauballe Man and although it looks like he died recently, he lived almost 2,300 years ago.

 Grauballe Man-1

“Bog bodies are special because they have flesh. They look like us,” says Jody Joy, the British Museum curator who is responsible for the care of Lindow Man’s remains….. “But bog bodies are not just archaeological finds,” says University of Copenhagen scholar and bog body expert Niels Lynnerup. “They are extraordinarily intact human remains, and deserve to be treated as such.” The people on the next pages may appear gruesome, even horrifying. But they all have stories—some innocent and some macabre—written in their uncannily preserved remains."

Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:09 PM | Permalink

Grief hasn't changed

Mummies in Korea are rare.  So when archeologists uncovered a 500-year-old mummy, they were surprised to find a letter from his wife on top of the body

The Letter to Won's Father

 Letter To Won's Father

To Won's Father
June 1, 1586

You always said, "Dear, let's live together until our hair turns gray and die on the same day. How could you pass away without me? Who should I and our little boy listen to and how should we live? How could you go ahead of me?

How did you bring your heart to me and how did I bring my heart to you? Whenever we lay down together you always told me, "Dear, do other people cherish and love each other like we do? Are they really like us?" How could you leave all that behind and go ahead of me?

I just cannot live without you. I just want to go to you. Please take me to where you are. My feelings toward you I cannot forget in this world and my sorrow knows no limit. Where would I put my heart in now and how can I live with the child missing you?

Please look at this letter and tell me in detail in my dreams. Because I want to listen to your saying in detail in my dreams I write this letter and put it in. Look closely and talk to me.

When I give birth to the child in me, who should it call father? Can anyone fathom how I feel? There is no tragedy like this under the sky.

You are just in another place, and not in such a deep grief as I am. There is no limit and end [to my sorrows] that I write roughly. Please look closely at this letter and come to me in my dreams and show yourself in detail and tell me. I believe I can see you in my dreams. Come to me secretly and show yourself. There is no limit to what I want to say and I stop here.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:45 AM | Permalink

Nearly 20 years after his death, Morrie Schwartz lives on

 Prof  Morris Schwartz

Nearly 20 years after his death, Morrie Schwartz lives on.  In the throes of a fatal illness, Morrie Schwartz was that rare voice eager to talk about his impending death.

"The story of a retired Brandeis sociology professor, stricken with ALS — Lou Gehrig’s disease — who was given 12 to 18 months to live, was surprisingly upbeat. Rather than curling up in the fetal position, Morrie Schwartz irreverently held a memorial service for himself so he could hear friends tell him what he meant to them while he was still alive. Always the teacher, Morrie — that’s what he wanted to be called — decided to use whatever time he had left to conduct an ongoing class for friends and colleagues who’d stop by his Newton home — lessons on how to live as he stared death in the face.

What no one knew at the time, least of all Morrie, was that nearly 20 years after his death, he’d still be teaching, all around the world, because of an improbable cascade of events — including the publication of a best-selling book about him, “Tuesdays With Morrie.”

It began with Jack Thomas’s story in the Globe.
Over the next six months as the disease progressed, Ted Koppel had three nationally televised conversations with Morrie where he talked of ALS robbing him of his ability to walk, to wipe his behind, and eventually to swallow. But Morrie was determined never to let his descent into dependency rob him of his dignity.

“The truth is,” he said, “once you learn how to die, you learn how to live.”

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:35 AM | Permalink

April 10, 2015

She chose hospice not hemlock

Wesley Smith Lauren Hill Should be “Extraordinary Person”

Brittany Maynard was lauded internationally–at A-list movie star decibels–because she committed suicide rather than face the difficulties of terminal brain cancer.  But 19-year-old Lauren Hill–also with terminal brain cancer–received far more subdued coverage.

You see, Hill was deemed less newsworthy than Maynard by our increasingly tabloid and subversive media: Hill wasn’t transgressive. She intended to live with cancer until she died–play basketball, and raise money for research, Maynard used her time to promote hastened death. Hill told the world that hospice allowed her continue living with terminal illness. Maynard rejected hospice and told the world that poison pills were a proper way to end terminal illness. Hill pushed life with dignity. Maynard pushed death with dignity. 

Hill’s extraordinary life has now come to a natural end. From the CNN story:

“I never gave up for a second, even when I got a terminal diagnosis, never thought about sitting back and not living life anymore,” she told CNN affiliate WKRC-TV at the time. She had already committed to play for Mount St. Joseph when she was diagnosed. In October, the school received permission from the NCAA to move up its schedule so Hill could play.
Hill had true dignity. Yet, everyone knows who Brittany Manyard was. Far fewer know Lauren Hill’s name. 

That awful dichotomy reminds me of how everyone knew who Jack Kevorkian’s was, but few the great medical humanitarian, Dame Cecily Saunders, the founder of hospice. Yet she alleviated more suffering than can ever be quantified.

In a nutshell, the contrasting stories of Maynard and Hill–two women tragically cut down in their primes by cancer–tell us so much about what has gone profoundly wrong in our times.

Here is the USA Today obit

Lauren Hill touched a nation with her desire to play for Mount St. Joseph's women's basketball team, even as she battled an inoperable brain tumor.

Her resolve, spirit and courage were celebrated Nov. 2 when she realized her dream at Xavier University's Cintas Center. Cheered on by a sold-out crowd of 10,250 and a television audience, Hill scored the first and last basket of the Mount's 66-55 victory over Hiram College.

She passed away Friday at the age of 19.

 Lauren Hill
AP photo by Tom Uhlman

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:59 PM | Permalink

"I was born; I blinked; and it was over"

Before she died, Emily Phillips wrote her own obituary that went viral.

Emily Phillips obituary in the Jacksonville, FL

It pains me to admit it, but apparently, I have passed away. Everyone told me it would happen one day but that's simply not something I wanted to hear, much less experience. Once again I didn't get things my way! That's been the story of my life all my life.

So…I was born; I blinked; and it was over. No buildings named after me; no monuments erected in my honor.
But I DID have the chance to know and love each and every friend as well as all my family members. How much more blessed can a person be? -
Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:22 PM | Permalink

Strange deaths

Farm worker, 54, dies after getting buried alive in 'corn avalanche'
Donald Merchant was using equipment to move corn from a large mound at the Square A Farm in Lebanon on Monday afternoon.  When he got off a farm vehicle some of the cow feed toppled onto him.

Woman killed in fiery crash after husband drove car off 40-foot bridge because his GPS didn't know the span was closed
Investigators suspect the 64-year-old motorist was following GPS directions when he bypassed several barricades blocking the road and ultimately drove his 2014 Nissan Sentra off the bridge.

Elderly man decorating family grave for Easter with his wife is killed by falling headstone
An elderly man decorating a relative's grave for Easter has been killed after the headstone fell on him.
Stephan Woytack, 74, from Scranton, Pennsylvania, was struck in the head by the memorial on Monday at Saint Joseph's Cemetery p on Monday. He and his wife were attaching an ornament when it toppled, trapping him underneath.  Caretaker Ed Kubilus says the bases of headstones often sink when the ground thaws, making them susceptible to tipping over.

The walking dead: German undertaker passes out in shock when ‘dead’ woman woke up and asked ‘Where am I?’
An undertaker in Germany passed out in shock when a coffin lid slid open and the woman inside groaned: "Where am I?"  The 92-year-old lady had been pronounced dead hours earlier at a retirement home and taken to the funeral parlor.

But when the funeral director recovered from passing out he saw the old woman lying in the coffin groaning with both eyes open. …They found she still had a pulse and she was rushed to hospital.  But she fell ill once again and was pronounced dead again two days later

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:19 PM | Permalink

Strange cemetery

The Pilots’ Graveyard
The Ämari Air Base in Estonia was once a busy hub of the Soviet Air Force. There’s a cemetery in a forested area of the base. Eric Grundhauser of Atlas Obscura reports that during the Soviet occupation of Estonia, some pilots were buried beneath the vertical stabilizer fins of their aircraft. Grundhauser writes that “the effect almost looks as though a squadron of the ships are burrowing through the ground with their fins above the surface like sharks.”

 Pilots' Graveyard-1

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:24 PM | Permalink

Ghost Dad


Photographer Adds Father Who Died Before Seeing His Son To Family Portrait

Sierra Sharry and Lane Smith were supposed to have a son in 2014, but Lane died in a tragic accident. Sierra recently asked a photographer to insert Lane into a family portrait of her and her son. Kayli Rene was more than glad to help. Kayli used a warm family portrait of Sierra and her baby son Taos and merged it with a picture of Lane. The photo went viral shortly after Kayli posted it on her business’ Facebook page.

On the day of the tragedy in July 2014, the couple was going to a jet boat race, since Lane’s family was there, and Lane was nothing if not a family man. Sierra had to leave early, since the July heat wasn’t good for then 8 month pregnant woman. Unfortunately, Lane suffered an accident and passed away.

After posting the image, Kayli has received a veritable onslaught of messages from people interested in similar projects, as well as general well-wishers. There’s a fund set up to support Sierra and Taos, too. As for the picture, here’s what Sierra herself had to say: “Thanks to Kayli I now have a picture of my little family. It brought me to tears as I know it will many if y’all. This is how I picture us. Taos and I living our lives the best we can with Lane ALWAYS watching over our shoulder.”
Posted by Jill Fallon at 7:12 PM | Permalink