Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Poignant Pictures of Death Rituals

“It’s the one thing that we definitely have in common all over the world, that we’re going to die,” he says. Yet although many of the ideas behind death rituals are the same—the desire to honor a dead person’s life, or give them a safe passage to the other side—the specific practices and beliefs that go along with them vary incredibly by region and religion. These photos take you to death rituals around the world: to Ghana, where a poultry farmer is buried in a casket that looks like a chicken; to Haiti, where a dead priestess’ spirit is called out of her body; and to Madagascar, where bodies are taken out of their graves every seven years.

Poignant Pictures of Death Rituals:

Monday, August 29, 2016

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Max Ritvo, Poet Who Chronicled His Cancer Fight, Dies at 25 - The New York Times

Mr. Ritvo’s body bore three tattoos depicting birds that he had acquired after enduring each new wound or scar. “He wanted to juxtapose it,” Ms. Ritvo explained, referring to his cancer, “with something beautiful.”... In Max Ritvo’s final weeks, he remained cleareyed. In a podcast interview on Aug. 14 with the media personality Dr. Drew Pinsky, he said, his voice weak, “This is end-of-life stuff.” Over time, he said, his work had shifted “away from sort of ebullient death poetry and fighting poetry and poetry of, sort of, the bloods and the squirmies and the guts, and more toward trying to figure out what death is, and what my place in the world is.” His poetry sustained him, his family said. “He said the day he stopped writing, that would be the end of it,” his wife said in an interview. She added: “He was writing three days before he died.”
Max Ritvo, Poet Who Chronicled His Cancer Fight, Dies at 25 - The New York Times:

Friday, August 26, 2016

Helping Others Who Are Grieving Can Help Ease Your Grief, But...

"Too often people throw themselves into helping others and they forget to take care of themselves, their own needs, and the needs of those closest to them (i.e. their family)."

What's your grief?:

Wednesday, August 24, 2016


To be brought close to the bone through the adversity of illness, the closeness of death and the knowledge that we are not in control of the situation, is to come close to the essence of who we are, both as unique individuals and as human beings. 
Therefore the greatest gifts we can offer our family and friends are helping them to die well. Sometimes they are ready to go to God but we have a hard time letting them go. But there is a moment in which we need to give those we love the permission to return to God, from whom they came.  
This was the first 3 day spirituality training organized by KEHPCA which brought together Muslims, Christians- from different religions including Hospital chaplains, Bishops, Reverends, Catholic  priests and palliative care providers. – from  20 palliative care units and hospices.


Dying to Know: Ram Dass

I LIve My Final Days in My Soul

I see less with my eyes,
but more with my mind.
I feel less with my body
but more with my heart.
I hear less with my ears
but more with my being.
I vibrate in the presence
of others. I hear sounds
I never heard before. I
understand what I never
understood before. My soul
is no longer one with my
body. I live my final days
in my soul.

Aaron Greifer 1920-2007

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Lessons from My Father - The New Yorker

"Don’t watch your father die. Then again, maybe you should. I don’t know. What do I know? I know that when they remove the tubes and machines that keep him alive they tell you that it could be hours or a day or minutes. They tell you he might gasp or choke, but he won’t feel pain, he won’t be aware. My father was surrounded by love, by our hands on him, our faces at his, our voices in his ear, hushed, trying. The sounds were brutal, uneven, as the last of his life left him. He was unnaturally gray, his whole body. His mouth was agape and no one knew what to do, so someone pulled the sheet over his face, then decided against it. I found the corner of the room and fell back against the wall. I wanted to put my fists through the wall, to shatter the dirty windows, to tell every man I saw he was a fucking loser because he was not my father and no one could be, no one comes close or ever will."

Lessons from My Father - The New Yorker:

Practical ways to help people who are dying

Just months before she died Ruth Terracini wrote a list of practical things people could do to help her and her husband Andrew. Mow our lawn, make me dinner, take me to a good movie, send me a text when you're grocery shopping and ask me if I need anything, plant something in my veggie garden …  "If I am feeling brave I will send this list to the next person that utters the dreaded words 'Let me know what I can do' and say take your pick," she wrote.

Practical ways to help people who are dying:

Revolutionizing Hospice Care With A Mindful Approach To Death

“We’re shifting from a disease-centered to a person-centered model in health care,” Dr. B.J. Miller, the Project’s executive director, told Martin. “If seen through, this shift would revolutionize how care is delivered and how illness and suffering and dying are experienced.”

Revolutionizing Hospice Care With A Mindful Approach To Death:

Death is not the enemy. More physicians need to realize that.

We in the health care field are not good at navigating death and this deficit has not gone unnoticed. Dr. Atul Gawande and many health care workers as well as medical institutions have openly reflected on the ways we fail our patients when it comes to talking about dying and guiding their decisions. This not only results in millions of health care dollars spent without any survival benefit, but it also leads to patients dying uncomfortably in hospitals instead of peacefully at home. 
This push to do everything at the end of life is understandable but not necessarily good. Doctors go along with it because we spend so many years learning how to do everything: We learn how to clinically evaluate a patient, how disease and the body works, and all the medications and procedures we can use to treat patients. We are trained to fight illness with death as our implied enemy.  
Thus, a good death is an oxymoronic, alien and uncomfortable concept. Yet, as health care providers, our oath is not to keep someone’s heart beating, lungs breathing and body warm for as long as possible — no; our oath is to relieve suffering. Separating suffering from death is hard to do but critical. Everyone will die, but that does not mean that all must suffer.  
When I think of patients dying in the hospital, I think of breathing tubes, loud beeping machines, uncomfortable beds and a round robin of strangers checking in on you throughout the day.  That is not how I want to die, nor how I want any of my loved ones to die. “Doing everything” sounds irreproachable, but it is not harmless or painless; and it is often not worth it. 
 When we delay discussions of end of life goals, we rob patients of the chance to diminish their suffering during their last days. We take away their voice and their control, and simultaneously unload the stress and burden of making these crucial decisions on their loved ones.

Death is not the enemy. More physicians need to realize that.

Our Response To Grief

"We shouldn’t comfort others with consolations and silver linings. If you’re not the immediate family you have no right to proclaim any kind of goodness in their suffering. Let God be the one to reveal good effects, and allow the immediate family to embrace the revelations in their own time. "

Our Response To Grief

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Watching my grandfather die showed me all the problems with how we treat illness in America - Vox

For most of human history, death was a swift event. In 1945, most deaths occurred quickly at home. Just four decades later, in the 1980s, only 17 percent of Americans died at home, according to Atul Gawande’s 2014 book Being Mortal. 
Today, death has increasingly become a battle, a contentious process more so than an inevitable and singular event. Our new normative mortality is a "long, drawn-out death after 85," Sandra Tsing Loh observed in the Atlantic, adding that the demographic experiencing this is also the fastest-growing in the nation and is projected to more than double by 2035. As a result, the final years of life have become increasingly medicalized. 
The modern medical industry views death through a misguided lens of human progress and encourages doctors to battle death at any cost — despite the fact that this cost is unsustainable and unreimbursable. Ninety-seven percent of medical students take no course in geriatrics, and only 300 medical students trained in geriatrics in 2015, according to Gawande.

Watching my grandfather die showed me all the problems with how we treat illness in America - Vox

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Loss Made Her Braver

"In 2014, my baby daughter Elouisa died in my arms and my life changed forever. Some weeks later, my husband helped me name a curious result of our loss — we were afraid of nothing. Nothing could wreak the havoc that Elouisa’s death did and so our new reality felt like an opportunity to live more bravely. To realize, despite the chaos of a shattered heart, the absence of fear as bold hope."

Another Hillary Email Leak:

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

A Good Death Checklist

"he three most important factors according to all of three groups were:

  • Being pain-free 
  • Feeling "at peace" and in a good emotional head space 
  • Dying in a location where the conditions are ideal for the patient, whether that's in one's bed with family around or the hospital with doctors nearby 

The others were:

  • Feeling ready to say goodbye and accepting that this really is the end instead of wishing to prolong it 
  • Having a sense that there is a purpose of life and that it's been fulfilled, regardless of whether one is religious or spiritual 
  • Having treatment preferences met (e.g. no heroic measures, pain-relieving palliative care) Having the people you want around you 
  • Feeling that a subjective definition of "quality of life" is met (e.g. being home versus being at the hospital) 
  • That a subjective definition of "dignity" is met (e.g. control and agency over oneself, being respected and not ignored) 
  • Having a good relationship with the health care provider"

A 'good death' by going gentle into that good night - CNN.com:

A 'good death' by going gentle into that good night - CNN.com

"Sen. Ted Kennedy seemed to have asked himself such a question and discovered one possible answer in how he spent his final days. (Maybe because he had an opportunity tragically denied his three brothers.) The New York Times' Mark Leibovich detailed how the famed politician chose to spend his final weeks in pursuit of a "good ending," and it stuck with me as a model ever since I read it seven years ago. As death approached, Kennedy held family dinners and sing-alongs most every night. He watched his way through the James Bond film canon. He reveled in the simple joys of his dogs, reading newspapers and drinking coffee. He had a view of the sea from his bed and sailed when he could. He ate lots of ice cream. His mantra in his last days was "Every day is a gift.""

A 'good death' by going gentle into that good night - CNN.com:

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Intimate Photos Tell Story Of A Beloved Grandmother's Final Days

”In the moments we shared I had the chance to witness her keep all her dignity while letting go of the pride, confronting a fast-changing body without any shyness, and without ever losing her femininity,” Squarci wrote, describing the five months she spent in Italy with Nonna before her death.

Intimate Photos Tell Story Of A Beloved Grandmother's Final Days

My aunt's struggle with assisted suicide: There was death, but not enough dignity - LA Times

"We had been forced to assist in the most bizarre fashion, jumping through seemingly random legal hoops and meeting arbitrary deadlines while my aunt suffered, and finally emptying capsules, making an elixir so vile I cried when I knew she had to drink it. This was death with dignity?"

My aunt's struggle with assisted suicide: There was death, but not enough dignity - LA Times

Quando Quando Quando - The Songaminute Man

The Songaminute Man features duets by a son and his father, a former professional singer who now has dementia but who can still remember his songs.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Terminally ill Betsy Davis holds party before ending her life | Daily Mail Online

"In early July, Davis emailed her closest friends and family to invite them to a two-day celebration, telling them: 'These circumstances are unlike any party you have attended before, requiring emotional stamina, centeredness, and openness. And one rule: No crying.'"

Terminally ill Betsy Davis holds party before ending her life | Daily Mail Online:

You Went to a Funeral and Then You Went Home

"When you go to a funeral, and are allowed to go home to life, remember that at least one person goes home to a new life that was NOT asked for, but handed to them. Give those people more than sympathy or judgement; give them an endless amount of time to grieve in their own way. For that one act of kindness and grace, they will be forever grateful for you."

You Went to a Funeral and Then You Went Home

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

My Own Goodbye – Your Own Good Death

"I light a candle. I sit quietly with my candle and my thoughts. I start by remembering the first time I met the person. I end by remembering our last visit. I say thank you. I blow the candle out. Once the candle goes out I breathe deeply. I am always grateful and amazed that such a simple muscle movement is what keeps me alive. Grateful and amazed that I can breathe when someone I knew, and loved, no longer does. Then [the] last step of my goodbye begins. I let my diaphragm contract, I let my lungs fill with air, and as I exhale I start to speak. I tell myself the story of my time with that person. It is a story I will use my breath to tell over and over.Because saying goodbye never means forgetting. Because their story is a part of me. Because I have the breath to tell it. Because saying goodbye, my way of saying goodbye, will go on until my last breath. Even when I am done telling the story, I will never forget how my time with them has shaped me. And as long as I am breathing they will be a part of me."

My Own Goodbye – Your Own Good Death:

Monday, August 8, 2016

When A Mother Decides To Stop Cancer Treatment And Face Death | CommonHealth

Colleen Lum decided to end treatment after 13 years fighting cancer.

"We’ve always been straightforward and honest," Lum said during an extensive interview in June. The kids "get the facts and the truth and it’s not 'Mommy has a tummy ache.' No, 'Mommy has cancer.' " Lum added: “I was a good parent before cancer, but cancer made me a better parent, because you don’t have time to postpone."

When A Mother Decides To Stop Cancer Treatment And Face Death | CommonHealth

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Dying to Know Day: August 8

"'Death literacy' recognises the role that everyone has in end of life care and death care. Having knowledge helps us make informed decisions about the care, being able to act on that knowledge is empowering.  
For example, do you know: What an advance care plan is and how it is used? How to access palliative and end of life care in your area? Including death doulas or other end of life workers in your community? About alternatives to hospital death / traditional cremation/burial in your local area? What happens if you die without a will or if don’t have an enduring guardian?"

Death literacy... huh? — D2KDay

Friday, August 5, 2016

Obituary Writing in the Selfie Age - WSJ

"A Haverhill, Mass., newspaperman teaches seniors how to tell their life story for the last time; ‘don’t think that your life is any more insignificant than anyone else’s’"

Obituary Writing in the Selfie Age - WSJ:

Amazon.com: The Tao of Death: The Secret to a Rich and Meaningful Life

Amazon.com: The Tao of Death: The Secret to a Rich and Meaningful Life:

[T]hose who work with dying patients, like hospice physician Dr. Karen Wyatt, have reported a lessening of fear and increase in joy after being exposed to death on a daily basis. You can experience this same remarkable shift in your own mindset by becoming aware of death and intentionally thinking about it every day and this book can help you accomplish that.
'via Blog this'

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Love, Loss, and Kimchi

Michelle Zauner writes in Glamour:

After my mom died, I was so haunted by the trauma of her illness I worried I’d never remember her as the woman she had been: stylish and headstrong, always speaking her mind. When she appeared in my dreams, she was always sick.

Then I started cooking. When I first searched for Korean recipes, I found few resources, and I wasn’t about to trust Bobby Flay’s Korean taco monstrosity or his clumsy kimchi slaw. Then, among videos of oriental chicken salads, I found the Korean YouTube personality Maangchi. There she was, peeling the skin off an Asian pear just like my mom: in one long strip, index finger steadied on the back of the knife. She cut galbi with my mom’s ambidextrous precision: positioning the chopsticks in her right hand while snipping bite-size pieces with her left. A Korean woman uses kitchen scissors the way a warrior brandishes a weapon.

...My kitchen filled with jars containing cabbage, cucumbers, and radishes in various stages of fermentation. I could hear my mom’s voice: “Never fall in love with anyone who doesn’t like kimchi; they’ll always smell it coming out of your pores.”

I’ve spent over a year cooking with Maangchi. Sometimes I pause and rewind to get the steps exactly right. Other times I’ll let my hands and taste buds take over from memory. My dishes are never exactly like my mom’s, but that’s OK—they’re still a delicious tribute. The more I learn, the closer I feel to her.

One night not long ago, I had a dream: I was watching my mother as she stuffed giant heads of Napa cabbage into earthenware jars.

She looked healthy and beautiful.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

A Mother on the Unending, Unyielding Grief of Losing a Child

 I speak to bereaved parents who are often made to feel by others as if they should “be over” the death of their child. They are told to “move on.” Or, in faith circles, to “be happy he is in heaven.”
Most mental health professionals agree that child loss is probably the most difficult loss anyone has to bear. A simple Google search will turn up dozens of articles that support this understanding of a parent’s heartache and lifelong struggle to embrace the pain of losing a child. Yet most people are unaware of this fact. 
So I’m here to tell you — grieving mama, grieving dad —you are NOT crazy! You are not overreacting to one of the most awful things that can happen to someone. Out of order death is devastating! 
When asked about his son years after he had died, Gregory Peck replied, “I don’t think of him every day; I think of him every hour of every day.” 

I Am NOT Crazy!:

Nine Ways to Help Mourning Children Return to School | griefministerdotcom

Practical suggestions for helping children who are grieving by preparing them and the school, especially:

"Assure your child that they don’t have to answer every question if they feel uncomfortable doing so.  Tell her or him that they have a right to privacy when questioned by anyone at the school.


Set up a plan for when your child may be overwhelmed by his or her grief at school.  One suggestion is to arrange between the child and school staff for special permission for the child to leave the classroom and go to a designated safe place to receive support and comfort.  The child should understand that this permission is not an excuse to get out of everyday school work or responsibilities."

From griefminister.com

Patton Oswalt on Grief

Writer/actor/comedian Patten Oswalt mourns his wife, who died suddenly this year at age 46.

Thanks, grief.

Thanks for making depression look like the buzzing little bully it always was. Depression is the tallest kid in the 4th grade, dinging rubber bands off the back of your head and feeling safe on the playground, knowing that no teacher is coming to help you.

But grief? Grief is Jason Statham holding that 4th grade bully's head in a toilet and then fucking the teacher you've got a crush on in front of the class. Grief makes depression cower behind you and apologize for being such a dick.

If you spend 102 days completely focused on ONE thing you can achieve miracles. Make a film, write a novel, get MMA ripped, kick heroin, learn a language, travel around the world. Fall in love with someone. Get 'em to love you back.

But 102 days at the mercy of grief and loss feels like 102 years and you have shit to show for it. You will not be physically healthier. You will not feel "wiser." You will not have "closure." You will not have "perspective" or "resilience" or "a new sense of self." You WILL have solid knowledge of fear, exhaustion and a new appreciation for the randomness and horror of the universe. And you'll also realize that 102 days is nothing but a warm-up for things to come.


You will have been shown new levels of humanity and grace and intelligence by your family and friends. They will show up for you, physically and emotionally, in ways which make you take careful note, and say to yourself, "Make sure to try to do that for someone else someday." Complete strangers will send you genuinely touching messages on Facebook and Twitter, or will somehow figure out your address to send you letters which you'll keep and re-read 'cause you can't believe how helpful they are. And, if you're a parent? You'll wish you were your kid's age, because the way they embrace despair and joy are at a purer level that you're going to have to reconnect with, to reach backwards through years of calcified cynicism and ironic detachment.

Lose your cool, and you're saved.

Michelle McNamara got yanked off the planet and out of life 102 days ago. She left behind an amazing unfinished book, about a horrific series of murders that everyone -- including the retired homicide detectives she worked with -- was sure she'd solve. The Golden State Killer. She gave him that name, in an article for Los Angeles Magazine. She was going to figure out the real name behind it.

She left Alice, her 7 year-old daughter. But not before putting the best parts of her into Alice, like beautiful music burned onto a CD and sent out into the void on a spaceship.

And she left me. 102 days into this.

I was face-down and frozen for weeks. It's 102 days later and I can confidently say I have reached a point where I'm crawling. Which, objectively, is an improvement. Maybe 102 days later I'll be walking.

Any spare energy I've managed to summon since April 21st I've put toward finishing Michelle's book. With a lot of help from some very amazing people. It will come out. I will let you know. It's all her. We're just taking what's there and letting it tell us how to shape it. It's amazing.

And I'm going to start telling jokes again soon. And writing. And acting in stuff and making things I like and working with friends on projects and do all the stuff I was always so privileged to get to do before the air caught fire around me and the sun died. It's all I knew how to do before I met Michelle. I don't know what else I'm supposed to do now without her.

And not because, "It's what Michelle would have wanted me to do." For me to even presume to know what Michelle would have wanted me to do is the height of arrogance on my part. That was one of the many reasons I so looked forward to growing old with her. Because she was always surprising me. Because I never knew what she'd think or what direction she'd go.

Okay, I'll start being funny again soon. What other choice do I have? Reality is in a death spiral and we seem to be living in a cackling, looming nightmare-swamp. We're all being dragged into a shadow-realm of doom by hateful lunatics who are determined to send our planet careening into oblivion.

Hey, there's that smile I was missing!