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Dying & Death Talk

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

My Day At A Death Cafe

Courtesy of Dose.com | By Andy Kushnir | Posted 12.09.2016 | Published 09.12.2017

I used to work at a retirement home. I was a waiter and yes, it was a very glamorous job, thank you for asking. All the little old ladies gave me hugs and we’d dance when they came down for dinner. I used to tell people it was like being a professional grandson. I was 23 years old and I was having a ball.

The thing is, a retirement home is often the last place someone lives before they pass. So people tend to die. And during my third month of work, one of the residents, Cheryl*, passed away. I was pretty upset. I hadn’t thought about the ramifications of working at a senior living community. (Remember: I was 23, so, you know, dumb.)

Over time, I realized the concealment of death was by design. When a resident died, management made a point to hold the memorial in a side room, away from foot traffic. They also placed a small picture in a side hallway, out of the way, with a tasteful sign that read “In Memory of Cheryl.” When I asked my manager why the picture wasn’t placed near the dining hall, or at least in a spot where more residents could see it, I was told, “Oh, we don’t want to remind the residents of death.”

Remind them of death?! Da fuq??! Have they never heard of it? Do they know where Cheryl went? Are we telling the residents she’s on a farm with all her childhood pets? Can I go to the farm? No? I have to know somebody who works AT the farm? What kind of farm IS THIS?! Continue reading “My Day At A Death Cafe”

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Rethinking SIDS: Many Deaths No Longer A Mystery

Courtesy of NPR.com | By Andrea Hsu | Posted 07.15.2011 | Published 09.20.2017

The thought of a baby dying suddenly and unexpectedly is one that keeps parents awake at night, fearing the worst. For years, little was known about sudden infant death syndrome, or SIDS. Babies would die in their sleep, and it was presumed that little could be done to prevent those deaths.

Today in the U.S., more than 2,000 babies die of SIDS every year, according to government figures.

But the mystery surrounding SIDS is not what it once was. Many SIDS deaths are now believed to be accidents caused by unsafe sleep practices. And some are questioning whether the term SIDS remains relevant at all.

SIDS: A ‘Diagnosis Of Exclusion’

In Wayne County, Mich., 50 to 60 infants die suddenly and unexpectedly each year, most of them in Detroit.

For the past 11 years, the task of investigating those cases has fallen to Pat Tackitt, a pediatric mortality investigator for the Wayne County Medical Examiner’s Office.

When an infant dies, law enforcement will contact her. She’ll head out immediately to the family’s home, spending anywhere from one to five hours talking with the family, using a doll to help parents re-enact what happened.

American Academy Of Pediatrics Guidelines

Safe Sleep Practices

  • Always place babies to sleep on their backs during naps and at nighttime. Because babies sleeping on their sides are more likely to accidentally roll onto their stomachs, the side position is not as safe as the back and is not recommended.
  • Don’t cover the heads of babies with a blanket or overbundle them in clothing and blankets.
  • Avoid letting the baby get too hot. The baby could be too hot if you notice sweating, damp hair, flushed cheeks, heat rash and rapid breathing. Dress the baby lightly for sleep. Set the room temperature in a range that is comfortable for a lightly clothed adult.

Safe Sleep Environment

  • Place your baby in a safety-approved crib with a firm mattress and a well-fitting sheet (cradles and bassinets may be used, but choose those that are JPMA [Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association] certified for safety).
  • Place the crib in an area that is always smoke-free.
  • Don’t place babies to sleep on adult beds, chairs, sofas, waterbeds or cushions.
  • Toys and other soft bedding, including fluffy blankets, comforters, pillows, stuffed animals and wedges should not be placed in the crib with the baby. These items can impair the infant’s ability to breathe if they cover his face.
  • Breast-feed your baby. Experts recommend that mothers feed their children human milk at least through the first year of life.
  • The safest place for your baby to sleep is in the room where you sleep. Place the baby’s crib or bassinet near your bed (within an arm’s reach). This makes it easier to breast-feed and to bond with your baby.

Source: American Academy of Pediatrics


Continue reading “Rethinking SIDS: Many Deaths No Longer A Mystery”

The Secret Life of Grief

Courtesy of The Atlantic | By Derek Thompson | Posted 12.03.2013 | Published 09.19.2017
My mom’s cancer and the science of resilience

Someone laughed. It might have been my sister, dad, grandmother, or one of the dozen friends and family members arrayed around that bed in my parents’ room. Before we cried, said goodbye, and fanned out in separate cars to begin our private journeys of grief, something was said, at the moment she died, in a summer evening’s half-light. And somebody laughed. Maybe it seems strange, but I like to remember it.

* * *

I come from a long line of mama’s boys. My dad is a mama’s boy, my uncle is a mama’s boy, and my grandfather’s mama’s-boy-ness was practically clinical, according to family tradition. So, really, what choice did I have in the matter, born at the confluence of all this maternal devotion, except to be helplessly devoted to my mom? When I was a kid, I adored her in a way that made people with perfectly adequate mother-son bonds think, there is a boy who needs more friends in life.

I preferred to think that she, too, was a kid, passing undetected through the land of adults.

Continue reading “The Secret Life of Grief”

Grief and Grieving – Topic Overview

Courtesy of WebMD.com | Published 09.18.2017

What is grief?

Grief is your emotional reaction to a significant loss. The words sorrow and heartache are often used to describe feelings of grief.

Anticipatory grief is grief that strikes in advance of an impending loss. You may feel anticipatory grief for a loved one who is sick and dying. Anticipatory grief helps us prepare for loss.

What is grieving?

Grieving is the process of emotional and life adjustment you go through after a loss. Grieving after a loved one’s death is also known as bereavement.

Grieving is a personal experience. Depending on who you are and the nature of your loss, your process of grieving will be different from another person’s experience. There is no “normal and expected” period of time for grieving. Continue reading “Grief and Grieving – Topic Overview”

Finding Forgiveness After Decades of Guilt

Courtesy of The New York Times | By Gail Eisenberg | Posted 08.25.2017 | Published 09.16.2017

Visceral congestion, pending chemical examination.

Decades later, those five words on a mustard-yellow death certificate were the only explanation I’d had for my mother’s demise in May of 1980, when I was 14. The question remained: Had my mother killed herself? Without proof, I would allow myself to waver. I convinced myself that uncertainty was better than having to say goodbye. But about 10 years ago, as I approached 40 — the age Mom was when she died — I needed resolution. I was determined to ground myself in facts. I dialed New York City’s chief medical examiner to request a copy of her autopsy report.

Within two weeks, I held the legal-size pages folded tightly in thirds. As I read, I imagined my mother’s toe-tagged body draped in a crisp white sheet as it slid out from the metal chamber, the glint of the scalpel, the snap of latex gloves. The pages of the report included terms I didn’t understand, quantities I couldn’t comprehend, body parts I didn’t know existed. My mother described à la carte.

Then: Final cause of death: Acute propoxyphene and diazepam toxicity. Suicide.

My list of socially marginalized affiliations grew — motherless, gay, only child, suicide survivor. I thanked God I wasn’t left-handed. I felt sad, yet satisfied. Until I saw something on the document I’d somehow missed:

Notes found at scene to be brought to mortuary.

“Did Mom kill herself?” I’d asked my father many times over the years, wondering if he’d protected me from the truth at 14, hoping he’d tell me at 40. Continue reading “Finding Forgiveness After Decades of Guilt”

What Forrest Gump Teaches Us About Death and Dying

Courtesy of HuffPost | By Karen Wyatt, M.D. | Posted 11.10.2015 | 09.15.2017

The classic movie Forrest Gump (1994), directed by Robert Zemeckis, has been described by some as a profound social commentary and a historical depiction of southern culture, and by others as a model of man’s resiliency. But on closer look, Forrest Gump, the tale of a simple man negotiating a complex world, can actually be interpreted as a film about death and dying with some important lessons for us to learn on this subject.

Throughout the film Forrest tells stories of historical events that involve the deaths of various iconic figures such as Elvis Presley, John F. Kennedy, Bobby Kennedy, Martin Luther King, and John Lennon. He matter-of-factly talks about each man’s death and sums up his own lack of explanation for these tragedies with “for no particular reason” or “I don’t know why,” reminding us that death is a mystery that very often cannot be understood from a rational perspective.

But Forrest also faces death on a personal level as he must endure the loss of three of the most important people in his life: his Momma, his “best good friend” Bubba, and his beloved Jenny, who won his heart the moment he first laid eyes on her. As we watch Forrest cope with death in his uncomplicated and imperturbable manner there are certain lessons that shine forth for each of us about death and dying:

1. “You never know what you’re gonna get.”

This is the corollary to Forrest’s most famous adage: “Life [and also Death] is like a box of chocolates.” One of our greatest struggles is the fact that life and death are uncertain. We have no way of knowing when or how we will die and must live with our questions and take our chances as we move through this world.

Even if we demand control over death by choosing to take it into our own hands, there are still no guarantees: the method we choose to hasten death might fail, we might change our minds at the last minute, or we might even die by some other cause before the date of our planned death.

So we have to reach into the box of life, not knowing what we will get, and make the best of whatever we draw out. Forrest is okay with this reality of life and models for us, in his Zen-like fashion, that sometimes not-knowing and simply accepting things as they are can be the highest form of wisdom. Continue reading “What Forrest Gump Teaches Us About Death and Dying”

After a Loss, Learning to Be Happy Again

Courtesy of The New York Times | By Liz Rosenberg | Posted 05.19.2017 | Posted 09.14.2017

A wedding lay just around the corner: my son’s. Major family events stir things up, the way spring stirs up a lake. You never know what will rise to the surface. In my family, where we lost my husband three and a half years ago, suddenly and shockingly — an aneurysm, we think — we all have had to deal with wildly fluctuating emotions.

For that first year after David’s death, it felt as if he hovered very close. My 10-year-old daughter could ask what Daddy would say about this or that, and I’d answer unhesitatingly. I still heard his voice. During this first year, I saw the famous Chagall painting “The Promenade,” where the artist is holding his wife’s hand while she floats above him just at arm’s length, and that’s how it felt.

My husband was in another realm, yet nearly close enough for me to reach out and touch. After the anniversary of his death, the day after Valentine’s Day, I could almost feel him move away. It was as if he’d shifted to a different realm, as Jewish mysticism teaches. The departed is simultaneously here and not-here.

I felt this viscerally. And my body responded: I immediately came down with pneumonia. (It didn’t help that I had spent the bitter cold day wandering around the cemetery, in the deep snow, looking for his grave.) Continue reading “After a Loss, Learning to Be Happy Again”

The Anniversary Malady

Courtesy of The New York Times | By Joyce Maynard | Posted 09.08.2017| Published 09.13.2017

This past spring, as I moved closer to the date that would have been my husband, Jim’s, 65th birthday — and four days later, the anniversary of his death — the calendar was filled with land mines. I never knew when I might step on one.

There is a phenomenon that occurs in the life of a grieving person approaching the anniversary of her greatest loss. Trauma and pain have imprinted themselves, real as a tattoo. Every day begins with the knowledge of where you and the person you loved were at the same time last year: What flowers were in bloom; what song was playing on the radio; what was going on in the election whose outcome he came to recognize he’d never know.

It goes beyond conscious thought to sensory memory and you can’t predict what might summon it: a guitar riff, the smell of a hospital waiting room, the angle of the sun coming in the window beside the bed.

Triggers are everywhere. One day a few months ago, visiting my neighbors’ garden, my eye fell on blackberries coming ripe, and there it was: last year’s berry season and the little Tupperware container of homemade blackberry ice cream they brought over for Jim. That was the last food he managed to enjoy before the act of eating — like so much else (practicing law, playing his bass, railing against the Republicans, dancing with me and, finally, speech) — fell away from his world.

The first week in May, a little over a year ago and six weeks before he died Jim and I drove to the Owens Valley in the Eastern Sierras, a place he’d been going to all his life. He’d always wanted to take me there. He brought along his camera and tripod and the gun he’d used for target shooting. He was in such pain that I wasn’t sure he could still make it to the particular patch of desert outside Lone Pine that his father used to take him to as a boy, a place he’d brought his own kids when they were young. But he made his way over the dry desert earth, and when he fired the gun, he hit the target square in the middle, three times in a row. Continue reading “The Anniversary Malady”

Today is My Mom’s Birthday

Today my mother, Helena Barbara Brown Sales, would have turned 75. Mom died 19 years ago in an automobile accident while coming home from vacation.

We lived in Atlantic City, NJ.  Mom loved traveling to New York City to take in plays and during the Christmas holidays, to view the department store window displays. She loved to travel; Mom has literally been all over the world.

Mom did the best she could for us.  I suppose that is all you can ask of a person.  I miss her terribly.  Happy Birthday, Mom.

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