June 8, 2015

The new four last things - ‘boredom, illness, dementia, solitude’.

From  a review by Rosemary Hill in the London Review of Books on Crazy Age: Thoughts on Being Old by Jane Miller

Her frankness is rare. Old age, as it becomes more common, is talked about less. If old people are praised for anything it is usually for being ‘splendid’ in some unspecified way which really means, as Miller points out, that they don’t look or seem truly old. In obituaries of long-lived public figures there is often, she notices, an ominous gap towards the end. After all the achievements, the marriages, the medals and the anecdotes there may be a decade or more unaccounted for before the date of death. Speculating on what might have filled it Miller lists the terrors of old age, the modern four last things that have replaced death, judgment, heaven and hell: ‘boredom, illness, dementia, solitude’.

And after that ‘what sort of ending?’ The medieval ideal of the good death has gone with heaven and hell, the pious cliché of the ‘long illness courageously borne’ has lost much power to comfort and is anyway more often replaced with a ‘battle’ against whatever it was. Miller writes as one of the many who are left, in increasing numbers, to stare into a void which neither the certainties of religion nor an everyday familiarity with the facts of age and death can illuminate.
Seamus Heaney, she recalls, once remarked on her ‘comparatively untethered skirmishes with old age and thoughts of dying’. Having been brought up a Catholic, with ‘the drama of last things … there from the start’, he was surprised at her surprise on encountering them. This air of mild astonishment lends freshness to the personal passages in the book, though it also leads to some large and questionable generalizations.

Give me death, judgment, heaven and hell any day over ‘boredom, illness, dementia, solitude’.  They are so much more exciting.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:34 AM | Permalink

June 6, 2015

D-Day 71 years ago cost more than 2500 lives of American young men

On the 71st anniversary of D-Day, David Smith argues that it was the most important day of the 20th century


Gerard Vanderleun has a splendid post on what it felt and smelled like that fateful day. June 6: A walk across a beach in Normandy

Here's a Reporter's firsthand account on June 6, 1944

Rick Moran on D-Day as recounted by Steven Ambrose

Hitler lost, largely because “the Boy Scouts had been taught to figure their way out of their own problems,” writes Ambrose. Americans were trained to use their own initiative and not blindly follow orders, like the Germans. This proved decisive on Omaha Beach, as nothing went as planned, and the first and second waves of the landings were being slaughtered. And then, one by one — mostly NCO’s — began to realize that staying put was death and they began a slow, painful climb up the bluffs. There was no mass charge, but rather small groups of two and three soldiers taking it upon themselves to get the job done. Ambrose points out that never could have happened in the German army.

But the most shocking is the data visualization of  The Fallen of World War II, a worthy, even must-see documentary of war and peace, about 18 minutes long. 

Some  2500 American soldiers died on Omaha Beach on that one day. more than all the American lives lost in the 13 years of the war in Afghanistan.  They were all men with an average age of 23.  We can never be sufficiently grateful.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 4:52 PM | Permalink

June 5, 2015

She donated her dead brother's face so another man could live

Woman Sees Her Dead Brother's Face on Another Man for the First Time

In 1997, Richard Norris's face was blown off in a terrible accident. Five years later, plastic surgeons attempted a revolutionary new type of treatment: a full face transplant. Surgeons have performed this operation since 2005. 23 of the 27 transplants have been successful. In this happily successful surgery, the donor was 21-year old Joshua Aversano, who died in a car accident.

Recently, the Australian news program 60 Minutes introduced Norris to Aversano's family. He met his donor's sister, Rebekah.

-My Brother's Face

(video link)

Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:05 PM | Permalink

June 3, 2015

"Dying is my next career"

Author Phyllis Tickle faces death just as she enjoyed life: ‘The dying is my next career’
Over the past generation, no one has written more deeply and spoken more widely about the contours of American faith and spirituality than Phyllis Tickle.  And now, at 81, she’s working on her final chapter: her own.

On Jan. 2, the very day her husband, Sam, succumbed to a long and debilitating illness, Tickle found herself flat on her back with a high fever, “as sick as I’ve ever been” and racked by “the cough from hell.”  The fever eventually subsided, but the cough wouldn’t let go. When she finally visited the doctor last month, the diagnosis was quick, and grim: Stage IV lung cancer that had already spread to her spine. The doctors told her she has four months to live, maybe six.

“And then they added: ‘But you’re very healthy so it may take longer.’ Which I just loved!” she says with her characteristic sharp laugh.


She was recruited by Publishers Weekly in the early 1990s to start its religion division. Then her first “big” book, “Re-Discovering the Sacred: Spirituality in America,” came out in 1995, followed two years later by “God-Talk in America.”
She’s best-known for a range of essays and books on faith and life, most notably and successfully her series  on “The Divine Hours,” about the power of daily fixed-hour prayer. 
Taken together, Tickle’s works combine the sprawling scope of historian Karen Armstrong with the fine-grained command of sociologist Robert Bellah and the rural sensibilities of poet Wendell Berry. Throw in a dash of Thomas Merton’s sense and spirituality for good measure.......

What’s just as impressive is that she did all this and raised six children — a seventh, a son, died just two weeks after he was born — mostly on a 20-acre working farm, where the family moved in 1977.
“At 81 you figure you’re going to die of something, and sooner rather than later,” she says, sitting at her kitchen table for her first interview about her diagnosis. “I could almost embrace this, that, OK, now I know what it’s probably going to be, and probably how much time there is. So you can clean up some of the mess you’ve made and tie up some of the loose ends.”
Her once boundless energy starts to fail by midday. She started radiation treatment on Thursday (May 21), mainly in an effort to forestall the possible collapse of her spine, which would leave her helpless and in intractable pain. “That sounds a little formidable to me,” she says. “I was never much for suffering.”

She goes on, her words carefully chosen. “Am I grateful for this? Not exactly. But I’m not unhappy about it. And that’s very difficult for people to understand.”

Having a near-death experience at 21 had something to do with it.

You’re never afraid of death after that,” Tickle says of her long-ago taste of mortality. “I’m sorry. You could work at it but you’d just never be afraid of it. … You don’t invite that kind of thing. It’s a gift. It’s not like you can prepare for it or anything. It’s part of the working material you’re given.
Tickle had been mulling a book on aging before her diagnosis, and she hopes to finish it, knowing that it will probably be informed by her new perspective. “I hope it won’t be another model, ‘this-is-how-we-die’ thing,” she says. “If it veers over to that I’ll be the first to burn the manuscript. Or pull the plug.”
As she reflects on her life, Tickle says she has always seen herself as a listener, something she admits may surprise those who know her literary output and her gift of gab.

It’s an inner voice, she says, that has always told her what to do, what was coming next in a life filled with so much variety. And it’s a voice she has always obeyed.

“It’s the truth. Just like I’m told to do this,” she says, referring to her terminal illness. “Which is why it doesn’t bother me. The dying is my next career.

“You can call it whatever you want to. Spooky? I hate the word ‘mystical.’ It has such a cachet now. Like an exquisite and high-priced perfume. But if that makes me a mystic, so be it.”
Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:37 AM | Permalink

Death by Lion

That woman who was mauled to death through her open car window by a lion was a Game of Thrones special effects editor.
The 68-year-old tour guide who tried to fend off the big cat attack suffered serious arm injuries and a heart attack.

In South Africa to help protect animals from poachers, Katherine Chappell was taking pictures out of 4X4 up until moment the lioness launched herself through the open window, say park officials.

 Kate Chappell Departs On Fateful Trip

Katherine Chappell traveled to South Africa a week ago via London from Vancouver, Canada, where she had been living and working as a visual effects editor since 2013. After working as an assistant for several production outfits around New York, in November 2013 Chappell was hired as a video effects editor at Scanline - an award-winning production company with offices in Los Angeles, Vancouver and Germany. During her tenure at Scanline, Chappell helped create graphic effects for HBO's hit series Game of Thrones and feature films Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Divergence….

On Tuesday evening, Katherine's younger sibling, Jennifer Chappell, paid tribute to the 29-year-old woman in a touching Facebook post, confirming that the tragic accident that claimed her life took place while her sister was on a mission to protect wildlife in South Africa.

'Katie was a brilliant, kind, adventurous and high-spirited woman. Her energy and passion could not be contained by mere continents or oceans,' Jennifer wrote. 'She was very much loved and shared her love for life with those she met.'
In March, Miss Chappell launched a GoFundMe campaign hoping to raise $1,300 for the group Wildlife ACT, which is dedicated to the protection and conservation of animals in South Africa.'I will be assisting rangers in tracking and monitoring animals, setting up camera traps, participating in poaching prevention techniques, providing support and assistance to veternarians [sic], and be involved in game capture and relocation,' Miss Chappell wrote in the description of her fundraiser.
On Tuesday it was revealed the traveler took pictures through a wide-open car window of the cat who killed her just seconds before the animal pounced. Police were examining the last haunting photographs taken by Ms Chappell as evidence that she had ignored warnings to keep her windows closed as she toured the South African safari park. Traumatized tourists who watched as the nine-year-old lioness killed Chappell through an open window have also handed over pictures of the fatal attack.ABC News also reported that the nine-year-old lioness responsible for the attack had been mating and had several cubs with her at the time of the incident, which could explain her aggressive demeanor towards intruders.

What a tragic death.  May she rest in peace.  All condolences to her family.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:47 AM | Permalink