Dying & Death Talk

Looking at dying and death for what it is: a part of life.

Tennessee ‘Natural’ Burial Ground Will Offer A Simpler Farewell — Casket Optional

Courtesy of | By Amy Eskind, Evie Stone | Photo Courtesy of John Christian Phifer |Originally Published 03.11.2018 | Posted 03.20.2018

Larkspur Conservation in Sumner County, Tenn., is a beautiful, parklike setting, with hiking trails and picnic areas and, soon, occasional burial plots. The 112 acres of serene rolling hills are protected by a conservation easement through the Nature Conservancy. Larkspur’s founders hope it will offer families a greener — and cheaper — way to lay their loved ones to rest in a beautiful place.

This will be a different kind of cemetery: no rows of tombstones and monuments, and no plastic flowers. The nature preserve will be used for “natural burials” only. Caskets are optional, as are makeup and clothing on the body. Vaults around the caskets are prohibited. So are headstones, beyond a native stone from the property. No need for a hearse. Graves average 3.5 to 4 feet deep — or a bit deeper for biodegradable caskets — in the microbe-rich, living layer of soil. Ceremonies may involve clergy of any faith, or none at all.

Walking through a meadow on the property, Larkspur Executive Director John Christian Phifer says, “People [who] choose to be buried in this area are the people who want wildflowers blooming on their grave and butterflies fluttering about.”

Or, Phifer says, people can opt to be buried in the wooded section: “It’s really an expansive place, and quiet and beautiful.”

Phifer spent 15 years in the funeral industry before quitting, feeling frustrated that families were struggling to pay for pricey burials that left them feeling empty. He went on a months-long odyssey riding trains across the country, talking to people to find out how Americans would prefer to handle death.

The same themes kept coming up. “Choice. Flexibility. Simplicity. Celebration. They wanted something fun. They wanted something happy,” he says. “They are looking for meaning in these rituals. They don’t want to just spend 10 to 15 to 20 thousand dollars on something that has no value to them.”

Phifer returned to Nashville and was hired by the nonprofit that was planning the new conservation burial ground at Larkspur. The first thing to go? Embalming, which uses formaldehyde and chemicals to slow the natural process of decomposition. Phifer, who has worked as an enbalmer, calls the practice unnatural and says it harms the environment. Continue reading “Tennessee ‘Natural’ Burial Ground Will Offer A Simpler Farewell — Casket Optional”

Overcoming Loss, One Newspaper Delivery At A Time

Courtesy of /The Cognpscenti |By Brenda McDonald | Originally Published 03.01.2016 |Posted 03.19.2018

About six months after the death of my husband, Tom, I awoke to the sound of a thud outside my front door. Afraid, I forced myself out of bed. From the second floor, I looked out the window down to the usually quiet, dead-end street. The sun hadn’t risen yet. Under the light of the streetlamps, I saw a pickup truck back out of my driveway. As I stood at the window watching the vehicle drive away, it took me a few minutes to remember that I’d subscribed to the local newspaper and to realize that the thud was the sound of the paper landing at my front door.

The next morning, I woke again before dawn. Since Tom’s sudden death, with the opening of my eyes came the realization that he was gone. Now, in the midst of feeling that pain, I listened for the thud. First, I heard the rumble of the pickup truck, the opening of the vehicle’s door, and then, there it was.

The thud at my doorstep reminded me that life goes on. And it did.

Continue reading “Overcoming Loss, One Newspaper Delivery At A Time”

‘Why Couldn’t I Save Him?’ A Pastor Grieves His Brother’s Death

Courtesy of WBUR.og/Cognoscenti | By Rev. Nathan W. Detering | Originally Published 03.27.2017 | Posted 03.17.2018

As a pastor, I’ve sometimes fallen prey to the fantasy that my vocation would inoculate me and those I loved from suffering. The notion that bad things won’t happen to “good” people is a belief with scant evidence, but strong allure. I felt it pulling at me again last fall, as I marked the one-year anniversary of my younger brother’s death from an opiate overdose.

Nicholas was just one of thousands lost to drug addiction. He left behind a broken-hearted 4-year-old son, a wife, students at the school where he was an assistant principal, parents, friends, a full future and an older brother — me — who marveled at the easy way Nick gained friends, joined the crowd and captured the essence of cool without ever seeming to try. How much I wanted to be like him; how rarely did I tell him so.

In parish ministry, it is easy to think I should have the answers. The high pulpit for preaching, the pews facing me, the robe and stole and “Reverend” in front of my name, all building toward the presumption that I speak with holy clarity and conviction. Add the longing I see in people’s faces for certainty in our uncertain world, the prayers I hear to explain on behalf of God, the ache I meet in others to help point them to their lives’ purpose. You can understand the impulse to keep my own doubts hidden.

The notion that bad things won’t happen to ‘good’ people is a belief with scant evidence, but strong allure.

Continue reading “‘Why Couldn’t I Save Him?’ A Pastor Grieves His Brother’s Death”

Family honors grandma’s memory by displaying all of her quilts at her funeral

Courtesy of | By Brittany Loggins | Originally Published 02.27.2017 | Posted 03.16.2018

Margaret Hubl passed away last July in Nebraska at the age of 89, but it’s safe to say her legacy will continue to live on.

You see, Hubl was a quilter. While some people make quilts as an afternoon pastime, she made them to communicate her love for her family.

This was very clear at her funeral, when her children and grandchildren decided to drape all of the quilts that she had made over the backs of the pews.

“Never did I imagine how many there were,” Hubl’s granddaughter, Christina Tollman, told TODAY. “We covered almost every single pew in that church. I never knew how many she actually made.”

And while the quilts are special, the meaning behind them really takes the cake.

Hubl spent her life caring for her family. She had three children of her own, and then took in her sister-in-law’s twins after a tragic accident. Hubl and her husband, Henry, raised all five children in a small three-bedroom home on their farm.

Hubl initially started sewing in order to make clothes for her children, but as they grew up and had kids of their own, she had to make those kids something as well.

That’s where the quilts come in. She started making them for each grandchild as they graduated from high school. Continue reading “Family honors grandma’s memory by displaying all of her quilts at her funeral”

Wearing My Dying Mother’s Clothes

Courtesy of The New York  | By Ari Scott | Illustration by Katherine Lam | Originally Published 02.24.2018 | Posted 03.15.2018

“Can I borrow this?” I asked my mother in September, knowing she would say yes. I was already wearing it: a smart, gray cardigan covered in tiny diamond shapes. I needed something nice to wear over the sleeveless blouse she had already given me and didn’t think my hoodie would cut it for the job interview I had later that day.

“You can have it,” she said from her bed.

I asked, “Are you sure?” out of politeness, but I knew she was. She wasn’t going to wear the cardigan that day or any day. Chances were she wasn’t going to wear anything in her closet ever again. My mother was in her usual uniform of old vegan-themed T-shirt and hole-in-the-butt sweatpants — her beloved “rags” — just as she had been almost every day since her Stage IV cancer diagnosis 10 months earlier. It didn’t need to be said, but we both knew her days of wearing smart cardigans were over.

There had been days in the past several months when she’d gotten dressed to be seen by the outside world — trips to my sisters’ houses to see her grandsons, a birthday lunch we had for her in April, an excursion to an art exhibition at my nephew’s nursery school that featured finger paintings and creative uses of macaroni. For these, she wore her traditional nice outfit: stylish blouse, long cardigan, crisp jeans, ankle boots and colorful head scarf to cover the bald head she revealed only at home.

Once back in the privacy of her house, she’d quickly change back into her rags. She liked looking nice, but the worse she got, the more comfortable she wanted to be.

By the time September rolled around, the only trips my mother made were occasional visits to the back patio to sit in the afternoon sun, and even those were becoming infrequent. She was content to spend her days on the den’s pullout couch, soon to be replaced by a hospital bed. Continue reading “Wearing My Dying Mother’s Clothes”

More people are adopting old, sick dogs to keep them from dying alone and afraid

Courtesy of the Charlotte Observer | By Karin Brulliard/Washington Post | Photo By Steve Forst | Originally Published 03.05.2018 | Posted 03.14.2018

When a German Shepherd rescue organization posted Elmo’s photo online last fall, it made no effort to mask the dog’s problems. He wore a cone around his neck to prevent him from licking the large open sore on his hip. His fungus-ridden feet were swollen. His graying, 11-year-old face held a pathetic, ears-to-the-ground gaze.

Steve Frost, a retired fire captain in Northern California, said he saw the photo and thought Elmo “looked like hell.” He immediately decided he wanted the dog.

Four months later, Frost sits by his fireplace every morning and evening and gives Elmo four pills for his various ailments, “like an old man.” On Wednesday morning, he took Elmo in for prostate surgery. Frost, who had not owned a dog in several years, is now ushering one through its final years of life, which he says he figures will be “a lot better than living in a kennel.”

rost, 59, met Elmo through the Thulani Program, one of a growing number of animal organizations focusing on adopting out older dogs, or “senior dogs” that are typically 7 years or older. Their age makes them some of the hardest-to-place animals in a society that still adores romping puppies, although that is changing as books on elderly dogs and social media campaigns convince pet-seekers that the mature pooches often come with benefits, such as being house-trained, more sedate and less demanding of people with busy lifestyles. Continue reading “More people are adopting old, sick dogs to keep them from dying alone and afraid”

I Feel Guilty for Surviving My Suicide Attempt

Courtesy of TONIC.VICE.COM | By MacKenzie Reagan | Image by Chicago Tribune/Getty Images | Originally Published 02.23.2018 | Posted 03.13.2018

I’m going to spend the rest of my life trying to internalize the idea that I lived, and that’s okay.

I’m not supposed to tell you this, but I tried to kill myself once. I lived, obviously.

I’m not supposed to tell you this either, but I feel guilty about both facts.

Clinicians call this paradox “survivor’s guilt”—the guilt one feels for surviving a situation many people don’t. It’s common among survivors of trauma, including soldiers returning from combat and people who’ve survived epidemics. “Survivor’s guilt” even used to have its own entry in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, although it’s since been reclassified as a symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Most studies on survivor’s guilt following suicide attempts or deaths by suicide focus on the effects it has on families of the attempter or the person who died. In a study from the journal Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior, for instance, researchers found that people grieving the death of a loved one by suicide is fundamentally different than that of people who’ve lost someone to natural causes. The surviving friends and family members experience shame and are left to grapple with the “why” question that people who lost someone to, say, a heart attack or other obvious cause don’t have to.

But very little research exists on how an attempt affects the psyche of the attempter. “Those who have survived a suicide attempt, also known as those with lived experience, were on the margins for a long time due to stigma and shame,” says Michael Nadorff, director of the Sleep, Suicide and Aging Laboratory at Mississippi State University. “In the past half-decade or so, there’s been a movement to conduct more research on those with lived experience, but it is going to take time to catch up.”

Unlike Nadorff, I don’t have a lot of clinical information to share, but I do have two and a half years of anecdotal experience. On March 2, 2015, I made the choice to end my own life. I called up a friend to say goodbye and he made me go get my roommate, who called 911. The cops came, and I was put into an ambulance. The next few hours are a little blurry. Continue reading “I Feel Guilty for Surviving My Suicide Attempt”

‘Stay Strong,’ And Other Useless Drivel We Tell The Grieving

Courtesy of | By Megan Devine | Photo by Gerald Herbert/AP | Originally Published 03.07.2018 | Posted 03.12.2018

Now that it’s been almost three weeks since the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, and the students have returned to classes, people are starting to wonder how those students will heal. How will the parents whose children died recover? What will the teachers do to cope? And how can we help them all move on?

It was only a matter of hours after my partner drowned in Maine in 2009 that I started hearing things like, “He’s in a better place,” “He wouldn’t want you to be sad,” “You’re young — you have your whole life ahead of you.” When I was still sad three weeks later, and six weeks later, and three months later, many people felt I was doing something wrong. Maybe I wasn’t trying hard enough to be happy. They encouraged me to get better, faster.

We hear a lot about the power of vulnerability these days — how important it is to be real with each other, how it’s our darkest, hardest times we need to share with those around us. What’s missing from that conversation is how quickly we respond to vulnerability with correction or encouragement or condemnation. When someone shares the pain they’re in, we jump in to cheer them up. We judge how well they’re dealing with things. We believe that there’s a right and a wrong way to grieve, and if you don’t return to “normal” (aka: happy) quickly, you’re not doing it right. There’s a shelf-limit for sadness, as there is for most expressions of grief, and it’s far shorter than you think. Continue reading “‘Stay Strong,’ And Other Useless Drivel We Tell The Grieving”

Dr. Death and the Humorist talk about End of Life Issues


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