Archive of ‘death and dying’ category

Links of the Dead {November 2016}

Tristeza by Lizz Lopez

Tristeza by Lizz Lopez

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 related to matters of death & dying & mortality.

This time last year: Links of the Dead {November 2015}

💀 You Can Embalm Dead Bodies In This Funeral Home Video Game
💀 These Photos Show How People Are Dying Around The World
💀 Imagined Afterlives: Death in Classic Fantasy
💀 Evi Numen, Death Doula
💀 Patton Oswalt Opens Up About How His Wife Died
💀 Scientifically, What’s the Best Way to Die (Without Killing Yourself)?
💀 What I learned about dying from those who work in the funeral industry
💀 The hidden part of the internet where the grieving find solace by sharing pictures of loved ones
💀 “The Art of Dying”, a virtual & augmented reality art show
💀 ‘Grief is so overpowering – it consumes you’: The Guardian readers on death and dying
💀 Glimpses of the Afterlife in Swoon’s New Installation
💀 The Surprising Number of Middle-Aged White Men Who Think About Faking Their Own Deaths
💀 Feminists are redefining culture’s broken relationship with mortality
💀 Oh, cool. Facebook is saying we’re all dead
💀 The corpses that changed my life | Caitlin Doughty | TEDxVienna
💀 Immortal prose: how writers deal with death
💀 Revisiting America’s Dead in Posthumous Portraits from the 19th Century
💀 Amber Carvaly on why politics, social justice and the death positive movement are inseparable
💀 A Time To Mourn Without a Place to Pray
💀 Defying Morbidity: Tales From a Central Pennsylvania Funeral Home. Patricia Lundy talks with her grandmother about what it was like to live so intimately close to the dead.

Elsewhere: Evi Numen, Death Doula

evinumen_veilAt Haute Macabre this week I talk with Evi Numen about her role as a Death Doula. We discuss the need for this type of service in a society that lost the vital connection it once had with its dying and the dead, and the training involved in both bearing witness to the process of dying as well as easing the passage from this world to the next.

For the interview, Evi shared some of her exquisite Victorian tintypes, and noted “I’ve been collecting portraits of local Victorians for a while now, mostly in the form of albumen prints (cartes de visite) and tintypes. Most of the people in my collections are anonymous, and forgotten by history. Their portraits have made their way to flea markets and antique shops, no longer in the family album. I wanted to honor them by giving them a new narrative through painting… I think of them as small tributes to the individuals depicted.”

 

 

Links of the Dead {October 2016}

Full circle by Kristy Patterson

Full circle by Kristy Patterson

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 related to matters of death & dying & mortality.

💀 Canada legalized assisted suicide, but there aren’t enough doctors to keep up with demand
💀 Saving Skin: The public lives of posthumous bodies.
💀 The Art of Condolence
💀 Dying woman picks road trip over chemotherapy
💀 The Privilege of a Good Death
💀 A Letter to the Doctors and Nurses Who Cared for My Wife
💀 24 Photos Of Skulls and Skeletons From Different Death Rituals
💀 Aid in Dying Movement Advances
💀 The 10 Iconic Cemeteries That Made Death Beautiful
💀 Lessons on Dying From David Bowie and My Friends
💀 Fetus Funerals: The Dystopian New Turn in the Fight Against Abortion Rights
💀 Metro Arts Presents DEATHFEST
💀 This Explorer’s Corpse Has Been Trapped in Ice for More Than a Century
💀 A Performance Where Victorian Mourning Braiding Meets Neuroscience
💀 A History of the Infinite: Death & Immortality
💀 Strengthen Your Sense of Smell While Contemplating Your Doom

Links of the Dead {September 2016}

"Evening Walk" by Kristin Forbes-Mullane, 2016

“Evening Walk” by Kristin Forbes-Mullane, 2016

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 related to matters of death & dying & mortality.

💀 Dhruvi Acharya’s new work explores the journey of reconstructing the self after loss.
💀 Little Miss Funeral: Lauren LeRoy reflects on her experiences in a male dominated industry and on why her job is so important.
💀 Shopping for the Afterlife in China
💀 A Daughter Reflects On Her Mother’s Fight For A Medically-Assisted Death.
💀 How Quakers Cope with Death
💀 After escaping the World Trade Center on 9/11, Stephen Milller left Wall Street to become a professional obituary writer.
💀 What It Feels Like to Die: Science is just beginning to understand the experience of life’s end.
💀 The funeral business? Eternally healthy. But finding younger mortuary workers is a challenge.
💀 Is 2016 the year of the celebrity death? An update.
💀 Morbid Curiosity is a card game about death. Part trivia, part conversation it offers an intriguing and delightfully morbid evening with friends.
💀 The Sobering Thing Doctors Do When They Die
💀 Life, The Universe And Everything: Five Things I Learnt At A Death Cafe

death cafe daytona

…and speaking of Death Cafe, I have just facilitated my fourth and final Death Cafe Orlando event. It was a lively, yet bittersweet gathering, but I can’t be too sad, for I have passed the torch to some truly fantastic folks, and in the meantime, I am gearing up to begin Death Cafe Daytona Beach to serve the Volusia County area! Our first event will be in early 2017 and I couldn’t be more excited.

Previous installments:
Links of the Dead for August 2016
Links of the Dead for July 2016
Links of the Dead for June 2016
Links of the Dead for May 2016
Links of the Dead for April 2016
Links of the Dead for March 2016
Links of the dead for February 2016
Links of the dead for January 2016
Links of the dead for December 2015
Links of the dead for November 2015
Links of the dead for September 2015
Links of the dead for August 2015

Links of the Dead {August 2016}

Sedlec, Nona Limmen

Sedlec, Nona Limmen

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 related to matters of death & dying & mortality.

💀 I arrived at my friend’s party. A few hours later she died, exactly as planned.
💀 This 25-Year-Old Cancer Patient Is Live Blogging His Death
💀 Photographer Karen Jerzyk shares her journey onward from her father’s sudden death 
💀 ‘Right, Before I Die’ LA photo exhibit on wisdom of the dying
💀 The King is Dead: Death Positivity in the Epic of Gilgamesh
💀 Palliative care physician BJ Miller asks big questions about how we think on death
💀 Artist Nona Limmen on her philosophies of death and the inspiration she finds there
💀 Death & the Maidens: Why Women Are Working With Death
💀 Saturday September 17, 2016 is the15th annual hearse show in Hell (Hell, MI)
💀 Your Own Personal Graveyard: Tiny Tombstones and Memento Mori
💀 N.Y. Close to Allowing Pets to be Buried With Their Owners
💀 Four things dying people agree are as bad as or worse than death
💀 Talk is cheap. Burials are not: Telling people what you want for your funeral is not enough
💀 What Happens When a Cemetery Dies?
💀 We’re All Going to Die review: Leah Kaminsky puts a positive spin on our demise

Previous installments:
Links of the Dead for July 2016
Links of the Dead for June 2016
Links of the Dead for May 2016
Links of the Dead for April 2016
Links of the Dead for March 2016
Links of the dead for February 2016
Links of the dead for January 2016
Links of the dead for December 2015
Links of the dead for November 2015
Links of the dead for September 2015
Links of the dead for August 2015

Links Of The Dead {July 2016}

Frederik Ruysch

Frederik Ruysch

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 related to matters of death & dying & mortality.

💀 No one ever tells you that when your dog is dying, it feels like a human is dying.
💀 7 Imaginative But Most Peculiar Novels About Death
💀 Dignity in Death for Black Families at a Brooklyn Funeral Home
💀 When You Make Friends With Death
💀 Documenting death – the final stories of 3 terminally ill people
💀 The Dark Magic of Dead Bodies
💀 Silent Sisters: Caring for the dead in gendered religious space
💀 Cry, Heart, But Never Break: A Remarkable Illustrated Meditation on Loss and Life
💀 Exploring Graveyards and our Feelings about Death with Pokémon Go
💀 No One Tells You This About Loss, So I Will
💀 The 18th-Century Anatomist Who Celebrated Life with Dioramas of Death
💀 Yale Open Courses On Death
💀 The Dead and their Ghostly Baggage of Superstitions
💀 I Simulated My Own Death & Here’s What I Learned

Previous installments:
Links of the Dead for June 2016
Links of the Dead for May 2016
Links of the Dead for April 2016
Links of the Dead for March 2016
Links of the dead for February 2016
Links of the dead for January 2016
Links of the dead for December 2015
Links of the dead for November 2015
Links of the dead for September 2015
Links of the dead for August 2015

Links of the Dead {June 2016}

Vanitas Newtoniana, Agostino Arrivabene. 2015

Vanitas Newtoniana, Agostino Arrivabene. 2015

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 related to matters of death & dying & mortality.

💀 Obituaries my mother wrote for me while I was still living
💀 From fears to fascinations, what exactly is a death salon?
💀 Death Talk Is Cool At This Festival
💀 The Little Book of Burial
💀 Remains of the Day: Here Are the New Ways to Dispose of Your Body
💀 Undertakers Deadly Serious About Gravedigging Championship
💀 When is it appropriate to laugh again after grief?
💀 Visiting my dead dad on Google Street View
💀 EXPIRED–A Death-Positive game for mortals
💀 How to Build a Nursery for a Dying Baby
💀 Planning For Your Death — Why It’s Crucial For The Living
💀 We Live On the Internet. We Die Alone.
💀 A Different Kind Of Grief: Mourning The Loss Of A Twitter Friend

Previous installments:
Links of the Dead for May 2016
Links of the Dead for April 2016
Links of the Dead for March 2016
Links of the dead for February 2016
Links of the dead for January 2016
Links of the dead for December 2015
Links of the dead for November 2015
Links of the dead for September 2015
Links of the dead for August 2015

Currently {6.27.16}

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Currently…

I am having a difficult time concentrating on much of anything, and no doubt my focus and attention span will not improve as the week goes on.  So while there are things I have done, read, smelled, tasted lately that I would like to share with you…I couldn’t for the life of me tell you what they were.

My grandmother is not doing well, and while that is not much of a surprise–after all, she is 96 years old, and has been generally unwell since before my grandfather passed on last year–I do feel like at this point we are all just waiting, waiting.

I believe she is ready to let go, and I think that we are ready to let her go, which is a rather “dizzying, nauseating, emotional contradiction” because it sort of feels like you are wishing someone you love, dead, doesn’t it? Of course we are not, but regardless of what anyone wants or wishes, it seems like her body is stubbornly, obstinately clinging to life. Which I suppose is commendable, in a way? But it is also very sad and exhausting for everyone, and I think we all sort of feel stuck in limbo just a bit.

She has the look that my grandfather had a few days before he died. A mushroomy pallor. A sort of deflated slackness in the face.  Except where he was a little loopy at the end, she is, so far, totally lucid. I’m not thrilled that I have begun to recognize the look of a human who is about to wink out of existence. This is never knowledge I hoped to have.

But then again, what do I know? A long time ago, we decided that my grandmother was a vampire. Immortal.  For all I know she will live another ten years. At least!  Wouldn’t that be something?

Links of the Dead {May 2016}

"Famine" by David Seidman

“Famine” by David Seidman

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 related to matters of death & dying & mortality.

💀 A Future Where the Decomposing Dead Could Power Cemetery Lights
💀 3 Kinds of Grief Nobody Talks About
💀 All Must Submit to the King of Terrors, But That Is No Reason to Look So Grave
💀 In Praise of Social Media Mourning
💀 Everything dies and it’s best we learn to live with that
💀 A Different Way of Death: The Alternative Funeral Movement is Taking Hold in the US
💀 How Music Helps Us Grieve
💀 SNL – Talking about Death Experience with Brie Larson
💀 The Cemetery As a Spiritual Experience
💀 Forensic jeweller unravels secrets of the dead
💀 Keening & the Death Wail
💀 Duck, Death and the Tulip: A Tender Illustrated Meditation on the Cycle of Life

Previous installments:
Links of the Dead for April 2016
Links of the Dead for March 2016
Links of the dead for February 2016
Links of the dead for January 2016
Links of the dead for December 2015
Links of the dead for November 2015
Links of the dead for September 2015
Links of the dead for August 2015

All Must Submit to the King of Terrors, But That Is No Reason to Look So Grave

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(This was originally written for and posted at After Dark In the Playing Fields in 2010, by my partner in the enterprise at that time, who shall henceforth be known as A Kindred Spirit)

Remember friend as you pass by
As you are now so once was I
As I am now you will surely be
Prepare thyself to follow me.

–Common epitaph from the nineteenth century.

I have always been fascinated by cemeteries and graveyards–not out of any real morbid sense, but often an aesthetic and even scientific curiosity.  The town I grew up in seemed to have more dead than living.  Wandering around the edges of farmer’s fields turned up long-forgotten family graveyards.  The iron fences had been sold off in a WWII scrap drive, and cows now wandered freely among the graves.  If it weren’t for the names chiseled on stone, those people would be long forgotten–anyone who remembered where they lay was was now themselves, dead.

In graveyards, we find deliberately chosen monuments to everyday people who have gone before:  reflective of the period of history they were wrought in and the values of those who erected them, with an elaborate symbolic language all their own.  Of course, humans have been custodians of their dead ever at least since the first Neanderthal tossed a flower in a long ago burial, but with historical cemeteries, we have it all laid out for our perusal: names, exact dates and the amazing realization that tombstone art, like anything else, is susceptible to fads.

Until well into the nineteenth century, where individual expression started to become more prevalent, gravestones in American cemeteries generally follow one of a few types designs that had a fairly strict progression through time.

The earliest gravestones were populated by grim reminders of the inevitability of death: skulls and crossbones, winged hourglasses.  These reflected a heavy Puritan influence:  life was nasty, brutish and short and only a select few would make it to heaven.  Everyone else was a sinner in the hands of an angry God.  Often, stones with this type of motif mention something blunt like “Here lies the body”–there was no softening of the blow of death.  Puritans were wary of succumbing to idolatry so the grim reminder of death was the only acceptable form of grave decoration.

As America accepted more and more settlers of varied backgrounds, the Puritans gradually lost their stranglehold on gravestone iconography, and by the end of the seventeenth century, the stark and disturbing skeletal renderings gradually lost their edge by the addition of wings.

By the end of the eighteenth century, the winged death’s heads had gradually phased into a regular human face, with wings (as seen above).  This too reflects the sentiments of the time–there was hope of some kind of afterlife for the deceased and mentions of corrupted bodies gradually gave way to the gentler concept of “mortal remains”.

By the beginning of the nineteenth century, the main motif underwent a another adjustment.  The vacant and slightly distressed looking human face gradually gave way to a winged cherub, effectively removing the sting from death.  During this time period, burials had begun to move from the dank and overcrowded churchyard settings into a more rural, garden-like atmosphere with the introduction of the cemetery park in the 1830’s.  Even the linguistic shift from “graveyard” to “cemetery” indicates the focus was now less on the rotting body and more on memorializing the departed soul.  The language on these stones now says something like “In Memory of” or “Sacred to the Memory of”.

Also popular at this time was a completely new motif: the weeping willow and urn (above). The association with weeping is certainly appropriate for a funereal setting, but the willow also symbolized the gospel, since no matter how many branches are cut off, the tree remains whole, reflecting the kinder, gentler form of Christianity that had come to replace the dour hellfire and damnation of the Puritans a few generations back. The above example is somewhat transitional between the two types, as later willow and urn stones would have a square shoulder instead of the rounded one seen until now. One significant reason for the change in style was that many of these willow and urn graves were actually cenotaphs, empty graves for someone lost far from home; at sea or in a war, but gradually the style came to be favored over the others.

Of course these stylistic attributes are best seen in the longest settled-areas in America, especially New England, but almost any cemetery of a decent age will probably show willow and urn designs marking the oldest graves. In another installment, I will describe the iconographic changes taking place in the Victorian period and what the various symbols you can find in a typical cemetery represent about their permanent inhabitants.

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All Must Submit to the King of Terrors, But That Is No Reason to Look So Grave, Part II.

And they die
An equal death,—the idler and the man
Of mighty deeds.
Homer—Iliad. Bk. IX. L. 396.

In our previous installment, gravestone motifs had just shifted to emphasizing the memory of the departed love one as opposed to focusing on the stark reality of mortal remains.  Skeletons became winged heads, which became cherubs and ultimately the graceful forms of willow and urn, so prevalent in early ninteenth century burials.  By the 1830’s, even more new forms of expression were appearing as carvers turned to using more versatile granite and marble mediums instead of the more brittle shale commonly used on older gravestones.

The Victorians were well known for euphemizing all aspects of society.  Graveyards moved away from attachment to a particular church or village and became housed in the more park-like cemeteries.  Gravestones became monuments.  Even the burial containers themselves changed from the rather austere body-shaped six-sided coffin to an elaborate satin-lined “casket”.

As the Victorian era progressed, grave monuments began to take on a more individualistic iconographic language which often gave clues to the life of the deceased, their occupation or even how they passed away.  Cemeteries from this time period show much more variety in their forms and choices of decoration, celebrating the life or status of the individual dead or the grief of the survivors.

As expected, images of Christianity became very popular with crosses, the Virgin Mary, angels and doves all very common motifs.  Allegorical figures, such as Temperance, Charity, Justice and Hope and Faith are also commonly found.  A single hand pointing upward signified the hoped for destination of the deceased.

For the first time, children’s graves were given their own specific symbols:  carvings of lambs, cherubs, broken buds and daises were all used.  Another common symbol is a vacant chair–often there will be a tiny sculpted pair of shoes next to such a monument.

Obelisks, symbolizing a ray of light, became a very popular shape for tombstones, beginning in the Victorian area.  Part of this was related to the fascination with anything Egyptian, especially after Napoleon’s 1798-99 campaign and subsequent archaeological discoveries.  Obelisks were also less expensive than a sculpted monument of a similar size, and each face could be used for an inscription, making them suitable for family markers and persons of great social status.  Their height allowed them to tower over other markers and be easily located in a cemetery.

Another peculiar motif often seen in cemeteries from this time are treestones:  The Victorians had a fascination with anything rustic looking.  These were most popular from about 1880 to 1905 and could also be ordered from Sears and Roebuck, making them common in the Midwest, which had more catalog shoppers. Treestones were also favored for their symbolism, which was suitable for a family patriarch (they could be shown as lopped off, showing one had died before their prime, as below) or for anyone in a woodworking profession.

Typical example of a “treestone”, a popular Victorian motif. The cut off stump represents someone who died before reaching old age. Image by Luigi Anzivino.

Typical example of a “treestone”, a popular Victorian motif. The cut off stump represents someone who died before reaching old age. Image by Luigi Anzivino.

Broken columns served a similar function–often their height will correspond to the age of the person at death, with snapped-off columns representing someone who has died before their prime and a complete column showing someone has lived a full life. These were most popular around the mid-nineteenth century.

Another curious material for tombstones is zinc or “white bronze”, as it was termed by the manufacturer, the Monumental Bronze Company of Bridgeport, Connecticut. These monuments are hollow cast metal and were extremely inexpensive to purchase, but have a similar appearance to carved stone. They can also be easily spotted in any cemetery, because they are in perfect shape, having held up amazingly well compared to their more weathered marble and granite counterparts. They were only produced from 1874 to 1914, when the supply of zinc metal was needed for World War I.

Detail of a lily of the valley from a well-preserved zinc monument, showing the characteristic blue-grey patina. The lily symbolizes purity and resurrection, since it is one of the first flowers to bloom in the spring. Image by Svadilfari.

Detail of a lily of the valley from a well-preserved zinc monument, showing the characteristic blue-grey patina. The lily symbolizes purity and resurrection, since it is one of the first flowers to bloom in the spring. Image by Svadilfari.

Perhaps this autumn one might need to take an atmospheric walk in the local cemetery and pay particular attention to the details of each monument. The choices were deliberately made, influenced by fads, economics and personal preference. I always find it amazing what can be learned from simply observing the quiet gestures of the dead.

(Image at top: Virgin Mary statue in Woodland Cemetery, Burlington, Ontario by Kevin. Religious iconography became popular in the Victorian era and the use of new materials such as granite and marble allowed for more elaborate sculpted forms.)

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