Archive of ‘death and dying’ category

Links Of The Dead {August 2017}

Michael Zavros, White Peacock

Michael Zavros, White Peacock

A gathering of death related links that I have encountered in the past month or so. From somber to hilarious, from informative to creepy, here’s a snippet of things that have been reported on or journaled about in or related to the Death Industry recently.

More reading: Links of the Dead {August 2016}

💀 Why Your Dog’s Death May Be The Most Difficult Event Of Your Life
💀 Japan Unveils a Buddhist Funeral Robot
💀 Everything Dies! A Coloring Book About Life!
💀 Friends honor artist’s last wishes with kiddie pool water ballet
💀 The Joys of Soul Midwifery
💀 Meet the “Death Positive” Women Changing the Funeral Industry
💀 With a Glimpse of Mortality, Losing Sight of the Wild
💀 The Ecology Of Death

Links Of The Dead {July 2017}

Conquering Princeling by Tia Kinsman

Conquering Princeling by Tia Kinsman

A gathering of death related links that I have encountered in the past month or so. From somber to hilarious, from informative to creepy, here’s a snippet of things that have been reported on or journaled about in or related to the Death Industry recently.

More reading: Links of the Dead {July 2016}

💀 The One Thing No One Ever Says About Grieving
💀 This Is Why So Many People ‘See The Light’ Near Death
💀 The Lady Anatomist Who Brought Dead Bodies to Light
💀 Want to Cut Your Carbon Footprint? Get Liquefied When You’re Dead
💀 I’m Terrible, Thanks For Asking
💀 9 Secrets of Coroners and Medical Examiners
💀 When photography was new, it was often used to preserve corpses via their images
💀 DIY coffin-building workshop reviving dying art of casket-making
💀 What I Learned Hanging Out with Corpses Around the World
💀 Death Becomes the Wounded (In Conversation with Daphne Deitchman of Little Wounds)
💀 Photographing Victorian Corpses Exposes the Beauty of the Human Body
💀 Life in Death at Tower Hamlets Cemetery
💀 Japan’s “Corpse Hotels”: It’s There That No One Will Stare
💀 A Year Gardening the Grave of a Stranger
💀 The Professionals Who Want to Help You Plan Your Death
💀 ‘Stop the corpses rolling into my garden’: Desperate man’s plea as bodies from cemetery fall into his land

Respect The Zombie; or, On Mourning The Death Of George Romero

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My stories are about humans and how they react, or fail to react, or react stupidly. I’m pointing the finger at us, not at the zombies. I try to respect and sympathize with the zombies as much as possible. –George Romero

With the news of George Romero’s death, there’s a peculiar hole in my heart that I am not certain will ever be filled. Romero’s films had a profound impact on me at young age, and have been a part of my life, in some form or another, ever since that time. I felt I knew him intimately, and yet I never met the man–and if given the chance, I probably wouldn’t have (I’m not really big on meeting celebrities. Or people in general, I guess.)

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Where were you when you saw your first zombie? I think I was ten years old, in 1986, and it was Romero’s 1968 film Night of the Living Dead, whilst seated upon an ugly floral sofa in the living room of my family’s small house on Viking Drive, the empty, troubled house that I still dream about to this day. From the opening scenes of Barbara and Johnny’s ghoulish encounter in the cemetery where they trekked to place a wreath on their father’s grave, to the expository radio and television updates on the zombie phenomenon, presented with such deadpan expression: “…the wave of murders…in the Eastern third of the nation is being committed by creatures who feast upon the flesh of their victims,” and those unforgettable scenes of the bloody aftermath of the gas-station pump explosion and little Karen Cooper (the OG Ghoul Next Door) hacking her mother to death in the basement of that abandoned farmhouse…these are scenes I have watched so many times that their shadowy afterimages are burned indelibly behind my eyelids, and I can replay them in an instant.

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When I was eleven or twelve years old, a book suddenly appeared on my mother’s bookshelf. I suspect it was a gift from her boyfriend at the time, whom I believe was really quite fond of my sisters and I, and delighted in introducing us to all manner of gruesome, gory movies. I’m not sure my mother really appreciated the gift of this book–in retrospect, it just doesn’t seem like her cup of tea. It was very much my cup of tea, however, and captivated by its lurid cover, I would steal into her bedroom time and time again, sneaking The Zombies That Ate Pittsburgh from her shelf, secreting myself away in my bedroom and devouring the story of George Romero and his fascinating filmography. For a period of several months, I thought of nothing but this man and his zombies, but far from working myself into a state of terror, I just grew more and more fond of this visionary and his shambling undead creations.

Already a fan of horror, and of ghosts and monsters, (thanks Scooby Doo in my formative years!), the concept of the zombie was relatively new to me at that time, but my interest in it grew to influence my every decision regarding reading, viewing, and even listening, for years to come. I believe that’s what got me into Iron Maiden; after all, their iconic mascot sort of looks like some crazed, skeletal, undead flesh-eater, you know?

I think it was easier to fixate on these ghastly monsters and fantastical stories of the macabre instead of focusing on my own life, which was becoming increasingly chaotic. In the grips of addiction, my mother had grown quite monstrous, her frightening rages unpredictable and inconsistent–I never knew what might set her off, how to deal with it, or how to prevent it from happening, again. I became paralyzed with fear anticipating the fury of her next explosion, numb with guilt and shame and recriminations: why is our mother like this? What did we do to make her angry? How close are we to becoming that family on the street, the ones that the neighbors call the police on once a week? (We were somewhat lucky, there was already another family that had us beat in that regard.) In the face of my mother’s alcoholism, I found myself shutting down, shutting people out, becoming a zombie myself. These many years and mommy-issues later, monsters, and zombies in particular, are still a safe haven for me. How funny is that?

Martin

But, although I’m very familiar with Romero’s oeuvre, I’ve still only seen Night of the Living Dead! Well, and maybe snippets of Creepshow. I suppose after having read about these films so often, I almost feel as if I have already seen them? I did see the Dawn of The Dead remake, and I saw The Crazies remake, and well, I guess I suppose I have seen most of Land of the Dead, but I barely remember it, so I am not certain that counts.

At any rate, I was terribly saddened to hear of George Romero’s passing. Thinking about his life and his body of work dredged up a lot of issues for me–old bones I thought I’d buried deep, as well as the good stuff, too, the lifeblood that sustained me in troubled times, and the passion it sparked in me for the themes he touched on in his work and all my related interests that grew from that. Without him, I’d be a very different ghoul today.

I shall miss George Romero–the “Godfather of the Dead”,  “father of the modern movie zombie”–tremendously. To celebrate his life, I have commenced watching all of the films I’ve come know and love from reading about them so very long ago, and which influenced me in ways I am still discovering today. To start with, one that Romero called his “most realized film”, Martinwhich is actually not a zombie film at all! A story about a confused, misunderstood youth committing a series of vampiric murders, Martin has long since intrigued me. I also think that since I so closely associate Romero and his zombies, it might be easier on my heart to watch a film that would seem to be so distanced from that.

What are some of your favorite George Romero films? How are you holding up since the passing of our beloved storyteller? Disembodied hugs for you all can be found here.

Links of the Dead {June 2017}

Artist credit: Matsuyama Miyabi

Artist credit: Matsuyama Miyabi

A gathering of death related links that I have encountered in the past month or so. From somber to hilarious, from informative to creepy, here’s a snippet of things that have been reported on or journaled about in or related to the Death Industry recently.

More reading: Links of the Dead {June 2016}

💀 When Your Loved One’s Last Wish Was ‘No Funeral’
💀 ‘Story of Flowers’ Tells an Epic Animated Tale of Life and Death
💀 A Controversial Trial to Bring the Dead Back to Life
💀 Why does cinema still demonise grieving mothers?
💀 This Farmer Wants To Give Animals A Better Life — And Death
💀 A Guide to Architects’ Mundane and Monumental Graves
💀 When a Pet Dies, Helping Children Through the ‘Worst Day of Their Lives’
💀 Why Trips To The Cemetery Aren’t Just For ‘Big Fat Goths’
💀 Feminism, politics and death: my mum died the night Hillary Clinton lost
💀 One Year After the Pulse Massacre, an Orlando Group Confronts LGBT Death Head-On
💀 Even in death, everyone is striving for that perfect no-makeup makeup look.
💀 Watching funerals streamed online offers a new way to deal with death
💀 What to Know About Donating Your Body to Science

…and finally, A Sad Farewell to the Man Who Started The Death Cafe Movement, Jon Underwood.

Links of the Dead {May 2017}

Symbiosis, Dan McCarthy

Symbiosis, Dan McCarthy

A gathering of death related links that I have encountered in the past month or so. From somber to hilarious, from informative to creepy, here’s a snippet of things that have been reported on or journaled about in or related to the Death Industry recently.

More reading: Links of the Dead {May 2016}

💀 The 12-year-old who helps out at the family funeral home
💀 Finding the plot: England’s tombstone tourists
💀 In Green-Wood Cemetery, Sophie Calle Invites You to Bury Your Secrets
💀 Ancient Funerary Garden Discovered in Egypt for First Time
💀 When I Miss My Mom, I Put on Her Eye Cream
💀 This Brooklyn couple made hard cider from Green-Wood Cemetery trees
💀  The Director of The Human Centipede On Confrontations With Death In The Horror Genre
💀 Pop Goes The Reaper! A new series on death positivity in pop culture
💀 A Letter To My Mother That She Will Never Read
💀 These Extremely Loving Pet Owners Preserve Their Pets For Eternity
💀 Medieval Death Bot tweets about how people in medieval England died and it’s fascinating
💀 Bring Soup, Not Salad– and other rules for those in mourning.
💀 Beauty in Decomposition: An Interview With Artist AJ Hawkins
💀 Meet the Funeral Therapy Dog Who Helps Mourners Process Their Grief
💀 Passed away, pushing up daisies – the many ways we don’t talk about death
💀 How Close Is Too Close? When Death Affects Real Estate
💀 Speaking with the Dead Is an Effective Way of Mourning
💀 Kieran Crowder ‘Liberates’ Ashes, Makes Art
💀 What happens when a spouse dies in the middle of a divorce?
💀 The Uncanny Body: Jennifer Firestone’s Gates and Fields
💀 Misconceptions about HIV/AIDS and the funeral arts in the year 2017
💀 Playing With Death: The Morbid Curiosity Game
💀 The Grave Girl Explores Upsala Swedish Cemetery in Sanford, Florida

Links of the Dead {April 2017}

Artist: Haenuli Shin

Artist: Haenuli Shin

A gathering of death related links that I have encountered in the past month or so. From somber to hilarious, from informative to creepy, here’s a snippet of things that have been reported on or journaled about in or related to the Death Industry recently.

More reading: Links of the Dead {April 2016} // Links of the Dead {April 2014}

💀 How Grief Books By Mediums Harm The Living And The Dead
💀 Victorian ‘Coffin Torpedoes’ Blasted Would-Be Body Snatchers
💀 Death-Inspired Love Comics That I Create To Cope With My Depression
💀 How Tech Is Transforming A Bejing Burial Site
💀 Grieving Haitians go into lifetime of debt to fund funerals
💀 This Is What It’s Really Like To Do Makeup… On Dead People
💀 The Devastating Process of Dying in America Without Insurance
💀 My Journey As A Hospice Care Volunteer via Patricia Lundy
💀 The Grave Girl Shares Some Out Takes From Her Year Of Cemetery Visits
💀 Remembering the World’s Oldest Person, in the Objects She Left Behind
💀 Bang the Drum Slowly: Grief in Modern Horror
💀 See Death as a Triumph, Not a Failure
💀 In South Jersey, a familiar fight to save a historic African-American cemetery
💀 How To Love The Earth In The Afterlife
💀 13 Reasons Why I Gave it a Shot (and am glad I did) via Death In The Gay Den
💀 Thoughts On The International End of Life Doula Association Training Weekend, From Death In The Gay Den

Links of the Dead {March 2017}

american ghoul

Photo credit: American Ghoul {Daniel Vazquez}

A gathering of death related links that I have encountered in the past month or so. From somber to hilarious, from informative to creepy, here’s a snippet of things that have been reported on or journaled about in or related to the Death Industry recently.

This time last year: Links of the Dead {March 2016}

💀 Carnival and the Spectacle of Bodies
💀 What Do We Do With the Clothing of Grief?
💀 “Zombie” Votes (or, Voter Fraud and The Agency of the Dead)
💀 This comedian’s dad died last month. So she added that in her Tinder profile.
💀 What the Dead Can Teach Us About Aging and Beauty
💀 Patton Oswalt Explains How Pop Culture Gets Grieving All Wrong
💀 When a Partner Dies, Grieving the Loss of Sex
💀 A discussion of grief, survivor’s guilt, & intersectionality in the wake of the Pulse Tragedy.
💀 Vice talks to the guy who’s responsible for fixing wonky skeletons at the Mütter Museum.
💀 More Than 100 Bodies, 70 Coffins Recovered From Construction Site In Old City
💀 Tubercular Venus: When the Beauty Standard was Dying
💀 In Trunyan, where mortality is openly confronted with a visible spectacle of human decay.
💀 Death, decay, and regeneration in the art of Nicomi Nix Turner
💀 Powerful photographs of terminally ill patients living out their final wishes
💀 Things I Wish I Had Known When My Dog Died
💀 Catching Feelings: The Myth of Victorian-Era Tear Catchers
💀 From Here to Eternity: An Interview With Caitlin Doughty of The Order of the Good Death
💀 Don’t Go Into the White Light: A thoughtful rumination on the (unintentional) lack of diversity in the death positive movement

Elsewhere: Taking Your Pulse (Interview for Storycorps)

Pulse

On Saturday I had the distinct honor to talk with with my good friend Gus for Story Corps about the Pulse tragedy in Orlando last June. We discuss grief, survivor’s guilt, intersectionality and death care, among other things.

Gus writes about it at Death In The Gay Den today, where you will find a link to the entire interview, I hope you’ll take a moment to listen.

I should also note that, although she doesn’t remember telling me this, my sister encouraged me several years ago to “do one thing every day that scares you”. I was freaking out so badly about this that I think it should count as three days worth of anxiety-inducing initiatives!

Links of the Dead {February 2017}

Katrin Berge

Artist: Katrin Berge

A gathering of death related links that I have encountered in the past month or so. From somber to hilarious, from informative to creepy, here’s a snippet of things that have been reported on or journaled about in or related to the Death Industry recently.

This time last year: Links of the Dead {February 2016}

💀 Why it is now more important than ever for the death positive movement to be political.
💀 Ghost Marriages: Where the Living Wed the Dead
💀 Death Hacker: You’re Going to Die, Here’s How to Deal With It
💀 How the Unrelenting Threat of Death Shapes Our Behavior
💀 The Skeleton Rocker: A Cozy Reminder of Our Mortality
💀 In Europe’s First Forensic Cemetery, Corpses Decompose for Science
💀 Santa Muerte as Religious Resistance
💀 Dealing with debts when someone dies
💀 The Challenge of Identifying The Dead In a Disaster
💀 Grieving Someone You Didn’t Like (because it happens)
💀 A Company Will Press Your Ashes Into A Working Vinyl Album
💀 Diet culture is just another way of dealing with the fear of death.
💀 “Famous last words” and Japanese death poems offer two strikingly different approaches to mortality.
💀 Why the #DeathPositive movement is important for public research
💀 The Year After My Dad’s Death Was the Best of My Life
💀 New technology is forcing us to confront the ethics of bringing people back from the dead
💀 These Elderly DIYers Came To Peace With Death–By Crafting Their Own Coffins
💀 Bad Taste in Funeral Flowers: 1895-1914
💀 Art and Death in Medieval Byzantium
💀 The woman who washes the dead
💀 “The Phone Of The Wind” Connects Both The Living And The Dead

Our Mawgas, Ourselves

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I sincerely thought that I had prepared myself for the loss of my maternal grandmother; that I had steeled myself for the absence of her weird light, that I was ready to brave a world in which the wisest, kindest, most influential woman in my life no longer existed. The passage of recent years saw the loss of all of her children, including my mother, and then a year and a half ago, the death of her husband of 72 years, our beloved grandfather. My grandma had lost so much, and had been unwell for so long; she was ready to let go…the only thing is, her body, though it was slowly shutting down, was certainly taking its time and wasn’t ready to let her pass to the next big thing just yet.

My sisters and I used to whisper that perhaps our grandmother was a witch, or a vampire, or maybe even a Highlander. A creature who had bargained for immortality, or perhaps she had it unwittingly bestowed upon her, but regardless, she would end up outliving us all. I think we truly believed this supernatural theory regarding her longevity after watching several years of this ninety-something year old woman bounce back from various maladies and afflictions and health-related dramas– a little worse for wear each time, but she would never lose that mysterious, mischievous twinkle in her eye. “Ha!” it seemed to glint and tease, “…think again! You’re not getting rid of me that easily!”

But whether it was some vital bit of sorcery on the part of her own body or the spell cast by the fierce love of her granddaughters, death came for her in the end, and no there is no magic that I know of which can–or should–withstand that call.

My grandmother’s death marks the passing of the last adult figure in my life, which a pretty strange feeling, I can tell you that. Or at least, I know that to be true on an intellectual level, but to be honest, I’ve been feeling her absence long before her passing. For so long she was lucid and “with it” and even if she’d only met you once in her life and even if it was 50 years ago, she would remember you. But on New Year’s Day, two months after she turned 95, a cerebral episode left her increasingly confused and disoriented and she rapidly got to a point where she didn’t know where she was, or who we were anymore. We had worked so hard to keep her at home, and she didn’t believe it was her home anymore. It was a heartbreaking decline.

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I love this hazy, old photo of her. It is strange to admit, but I never actually thought of my grandmother as having legs; for as long as I can remember she suffered knee problems, and then for the last fifteen-twenty or so years she had either been using a walker, very slowly and painfully. In her last year of life she had been confined to her armchair, and finally, a hospice bed. But I know when she was younger she would carefully crouch while tending to her vegetable garden, kneel reverently whilst cultivating her otherworldly roses, and spend time on her back porch feeding her beloved birds, sprightly chasing off the chipmunks and squirrels from the seeds in winter, sitting cross-legged watching for deer and rabbits at the edge of their heavily wooded property in the spring.  Seeing her pretty legs stretched out in the summer sun like this makes me so happy, especially when I reflect upon her last few months under layers of socks and blankets, her pale legs, weak, immobile, and never warm enough.

kitchen witch

I am forever indebted to my grandmother for bestowing upon me her love of cooking. I received no formal culinary teaching at her hands, but she always allowed me to hover nearby and watch, or give me a turn to stir the gravy, or roll out some dough, or a spoon to lick, while her murmuring of the ingredients and recipe became a gentle incantation that I can still her when attempt any sort of kitchen witchery in my own home. I remember the fearful curses that flew from her lips when a meringue would droop or a pudding would fail to set, but I also recall the peaceful magics that would beset a room when my sisters and I would tuck into a bowl of chicken and dumplings or Cincinnati chili that had earlier been bubbling merrily away on the stove. She never made me feel like I was a nuisance, or in the way, and she genuinely seemed to be pleased with my company. In later years, when standing became too difficult, she would direct the proceedings from a kitchen chair, while I carried out the steps for new recipes that she wanted to try. She had a grand appreciation for a good meal and a tremendous appetite for all kinds of junk food, too. Last May, when she recovered from an infection that left her bed bound, the first thing she said when she was feeling herself again, was that she was hungry for fried chicken! She had her priorities straight, we always liked to say.Magpie

Also, like my grandmother, I am a bit of a magpie. I spent so much of my childhood trawling through her mother of pearl jewelry box and playing dress-up with her dangling earrings and sparkling brooches; everything carried the lingering scent of her signature scent– Estee Lauder’s Youth Dew–and for the longest time I thought that all baubles and gems emanated a musty, metallic tang, a strange witches brew of heady, formidable glamour and aggressive luxury. Even now, stealing sniffs from her almost empty perfume bottle, my memories glimmer and gleam with the treasures associated with that fragrance. Never opals, though. Opals are bad luck unless they are your birthstone, she’d caution me in a dire tone. I’m still frightened of them and to this day, I won’t even touch an opal.

An astrology enthusiast who insisted she had the second sight, my grandmother was also, as she liked to remind us, “a good, Christian woman”. This God-fearing woman believed that we absolutely should not date any Scorpios (I wish I had heeded that particular warning) and that she was a little bit psychic; unfortunately her premonitions only extended to bad news and death, and which I personally thought had more a tinge of those “see I told you that’s what would happen”, cautionary energies rather the manifestation of the metaphysical. She was a good woman, that part I know for sure. Our holidays were often crowded with friends who had no families, and to whom she had extended invitations to her home in perpetuity so that they would never have to spend a holiday alone. My own mother was a complicated woman who fought and lost to many of her demons, but my grandmother was always a steady, dependable force who was there for my sisters and I when our mom was not. No one could have taken better care of us; my grandparents ensured that we always had clothes to wear, books to read, and food to eat (we thought that everyone’s dinner table was provided for by a grandmother who drove around with meat loaf and tuna casserole in the trunk of their car).

I owe everything I am to my grandmother…even the weird, problematic bits. She had a morbid, melancholic streak, as did my mother, and I don’t believe that depression develops in a vacuum. I remember her telling me once that she used to write poetry sometimes in high school, and recalling my own flair for melodrama, I was not the least bit surprised to hear that. Depression for my grandmother took the form of long naps and early bedtimes, and when I cannot bestir myself in the morning because of a gloomy mood, I know it for the echoes of her unhappiness running through my blood.

She loved true crime novels and sat spellbound watching dramatic court cases. She enthusiastically perused celebrity gossip magazines and oddly enough, thoroughly enjoyed South Park. I think she found the nature of human drama utterly fascinating, even and especially the sensationalist kind. But as much as she enjoyed connecting with people, she hated talking on the phone, and would only use the telephone in the event of an emergency. I too am made anxious at the thought of phone conversations, and I loved her for assuring me that we weren’t the odd ones for having that aversion. We were perfectly normal, it was the rest of the world that was weird.

And no matter what we believed, or said, or did, or didn’t do–she thought her granddaughters were smart, and beautiful, and perfect.

And this sage, strange, weird, wonderful woman, oh, how we thought the same of her.
We’re going to miss you so much, Mawga.

In loving memory of Valora E. Derrickson. 11/28/21 to 2/15/17

 

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