Dying & Death Talk

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

Emory student helps bury the dead no one else mourns

Courtesy of | By Maureen Downey | Originally Published 05.02.2018 | Posted 06.07.2018

Growing up in Boston, Sam Gardner went to the Roxbury Latin School, where he internalized its philosophy “from whom much has been given, much is expected.”

Now he is studying political science, economics, and classics at Oxford College of Emory University.

In this remarkable piece, Gardner talks about his volunteer role as a mourner at burials for Atlanta’s poor who have no family or friends to arrange a service or bid them farewell.

You can read more about the minister who conducts these funerals in this 2016 AJC story.

By Sam Gardner

One hour ago, I walked to breakfast on an elegant brick pathway. The grand glass doors, framed in a dark walnut and emblazoned with the Emory logo, welcomed me to the dining room. The pungent smell of Murphy’s Oil Soap off the immaculate tables was certainly inviting – Emory does not use generic industrial cleaners: too many chemicals. The kitchen staff served organic acorn squash, kale, and heirloom tomatoes from the local farm. Even the hamburgers were freshly cooked and never frozen.

As I strolled in, I saw all my friends. Some sat beside the fireplace talking; some stood in line waiting to be served; and some waved, smiling and asking how my day was. None of us thought we were particularly fortunate to have this treatment. We often complained. This orzo is disgusting. The lines are too long. These eggs are so bland. But I had to eat quickly; I needed to make it to a funeral later this morning.

The funeral wasn’t for someone I knew. In fact, the funeral was for someone nobody knew. He or she died alone and indigent, the body sent to the Atlanta coroner for a public health burial. I finished the last of my egg on toast and shelved the empty plate onto the moving conveyer belt where it would be cleaned out of sight.  Continue reading “Emory student helps bury the dead no one else mourns”

A Harder Death for People With Intellectual Disabilities

Courtesy of | By Tim Lahey, M.D. | Photo by iStock | Originally Published 04.05.2018 | Posted 06.04.2018

Hanover, N.H. — Several weeks after my patient was admitted to the intensive care unit for pneumonia and other problems, a clear plastic tube sprouted up from the mechanical ventilator, onto his pillow and down into his trachea. He showed few signs of improvement. In fact, the weeks on his back in an I.C.U. bed were making my 59-year-old patient more and more debilitated.

Still worse, a law meant to protect him was probably making him suffer more.

When the prognosis looks this bad, clinicians typically ask the patient what kind of care they want. Should we push for a miracle or focus on comfort? When patients cannot speak for themselves, we ask the same questions of a loved one or a legal guardian. This helps us avoid giving unwanted care that isn’t likely to heal the patient.

This patient was different. Because he was born with a severe intellectual disability, the law made it much harder for him to avoid unwanted care. Continue reading “A Harder Death for People With Intellectual Disabilities”

Fearing Death, and Photographing the Rituals That Surround It

Courtesy of the | By John Otis | Photos by Chanoho Park | 04.30.2019 | 06.02.2018

The question of what awaits after death has obsessed humanity for millennia.

The Korean photographer Chanho Park’s fixation took root when he was 11 and his mother, who suffered from pancreatic cancer, was hospitalized. Much of his time was spent at her side, where he heard the anguished screams of the dying and their mourning families and saw the beds of gaunt patients become empty from one day to the next.

“I began to feel more afraid of the pain and screams that they were experiencing than the death itself,” Mr. Park said.

After his mother died, he was adrift and bereft. Discord with his father led him to run away from home when he was 14. By his late 30s, he fell into depression, which he sought to ease by taking pictures. Without meaning to, he found himself drawn to burial plots, ritual sites, and places of prayer — synonymous with marking the end of life or remembering those who died. While sorting through his photos, he was struck by a commonality: the image of mothers praying.


Credit: Chanho Park

Continue reading “Fearing Death, and Photographing the Rituals That Surround It”

What It Was Like to Finally Write My Will

Courtesy of the | By John Schwartz | Originally Published 04.03.2018| Posted 04.28.2018

Did you know Prince died without a will? It’s true!

All that money, and one of the greatest performers I ever saw onstage didn’t spend a little of it on sorting out his estate? It amazes me.

Death is inevitable, but we continue to make long-term bets: My wife, Jeanne, and I might have enough economy-size jugs of Tide and gigantic packages of toilet paper rolls, bought on regular trips to Costco, to survive into the next century.

Still, preparing for an eventual demise — at least by drawing up a will — is a good idea. A will smooths the way for your heirs to inherit whatever you’re going to give them, saving time and money. Wills can also help you avoid tax pitfalls and feuding heirs. (Remember: The conflict at the heart of Dickens’s “Bleak House” is a generations-long lawsuit over an inheritance. No spoilers, but the case did not end well for anyone involved, over several generations, except the lawyers.)

Wills provide control over more than money. For people whose children are still minors, the will names guardians. If you haven’t written these decisions down, the government will make money and custodial decisions itself. You’ll be beyond caring by then, but why not do what you can ahead of time to see that the assets get distributed as you’d like?

Continue reading “What It Was Like to Finally Write My Will”

Animals Grieve Just Like Humans. Meet Bella.

Story and Photo by Lisa C. Oliver | Posted 05.26.2018

Bella lost her brother Argyris on the night of April 28th, 2018.  At eight years old, the  Neapolitan mastiffs were littermates, adopted together at 7 weeks of age.

Arygris was the alpha dog.  As such he would sometimes bully her when it came to getting attention from her human family.  She would get back at him and lay in his dog cage. This would cause him to whine (and, when I happen to be resting in bed, nudge me to get up and get her out of his space).  In the days/weeks following Argyris’ tragic death (they both escaped from the yard and Argyris was shot to death)  it seems that she only missed him slightly. Bella would lay in Argyris’ cage and raise her head to look over to her cage to see if he was there. Overall she seemed to enjoy all the love that she was denied when her brother was around.

IMG_3822 (2)
Argyris (Grey) and Bella (Tan) relaxing after a long walk.  Photo Credit: Cara Oliver

We waited a few weeks before we dismantled Argyris’ dog cage. We combined his bedding with Bella’s bedding in her dog cage so she could still smell her brother… Oddly enough, even though Argyris’ cage is not there anymore, Bella still lays in that spot.

All the calm ended about a week ago. It seems Bella realizes that her brother is gone forever. Whenever we leave her alone, she begins wailing and howling. For the last two days, even with someone in the room with Bella, she begins the wailing, howling, whining…It is absolutely heartbreaking.

For all the knowledge I have and experience I  gained talking to people about grief, I unable to comfort my Bella. That sucks.




Bella lying where her brother Argyris’ dog cage used to be.  Photo Credit: Lisa C. Oliver

The 3 Kinds Of Grief Nobody Talks About

Courtesy of |By Monica Prince McDaniel | Cover Photo by Cross Walk | Originally Published 10.25.2016 | Posted 05.26.2018

Remember, there is always light at the end of a tunnel.

What is grief?

This question comprised of three small words is a multifaceted response to loss that can largely affect our cognitive, emotional, behavioral, physical, and social health. According to clinical psychologists, grief is a natural process of life’s interchangeable progression of life. However, the emotional pain and suffering can become unrecognizable by close friends and family – and even ourselves. Since the experience of grief varies from person to person, how we handle catastrophic events is really dependent on our mental health and body stamina. Whether you have experienced a recent death, entered a new stage in your life, or ended a relationship, the important concept to remember is that the grieving process is temporary and eventually, we will emerge from the ashes stronger than ever before.

1. The Loss of a Person We Once Knew

Whether it’s losing your best friend or a close family member, sometimes the people we love can change in significant ways. When our lives revolve around someone,their nonexistence in our social orbit can create an emotional imbalance, which causes us to keep some memories that continue to linger on with each passing day. The collision can wreck us, change us, and shift us. For example, I “lost” one of my best friends from high school based on a terrible rumor five years ago. The outward appearance showed two friends who were inseparable and truly complimented one another’s personality; however, behind closed doors, the relationship was destructive and manipulated to the point that I became a different person that was unrecognizable in the mirror.

Since my best friend and I continued on different paths, every time I come across a picture of us or watch one of our favorite movies, those precious memories continue to infiltrate my mind. Those precious memories created a cognitive footprint and I know it will take a tremendous amount of strength and courage to emotionally move on from that destructive friendship. Regardless, friends and family will inevitably become present and un-present in our lives, which causes us to mourn the loss of a person we once knew that made a positive or negative life-long impact on each of our lives.

Continue reading “The 3 Kinds Of Grief Nobody Talks About”

Jokes Told by Death Row Inmates Right Before Execution

Courtesy of | By Edira Putri |  Posted 05.24.2018
Execution, arguably the ultimate “most horrifying” moment a person could face. It stands to reason you wouldn’t expect death row inmates to be cracking jokes in the moments before their deaths. It surely takes some kind of psychopathy, bravery, or gallows humor (literally, in this case) to tell jokes right before an injection or electrocution.  

Between 1976 and 2006, nearly 1,500 people were executed in the United States. Some used their last minutes to express heartfelt apologies to victims or families, some claimed innocence until the very end. A few greeted death with lighthearted quips. 

Probably, these jokes told by death row inmates were intended to be funny. But they might give you the chills. From puns to movie references, jokes inmates told before they were executed were in many cases unbelievable. 

George Appel

George Appel is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list Jokes Told by Death Row Inmates Right Before Execution
Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

“Well, gentlemen, you are about to see a baked Appel.” 

George Appel uttered the world’s most depressing (or hilarious, depending on your sense of humor) pun while strapped to the electric chair in New York City. He was given the death sentence for killing a police officer in 1928.

Carl Panzram is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list Jokes Told by Death Row Inmates Right Before Execution
Photo: Freebase/Public domain

“Yes, hurry it up, you Hoosier bastard! I could kill a dozen men while you’re screwing around!” 

Carl Panzram was a busy serial killer, rapist, and burglar. He claimed to have committed 22 murders and more than 1,000 rapes. Panzram was executed by hanging in Kansas on September 5, 1930.see more on Carl Panzram

James French is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list Jokes Told by Death Row Inmates Right Before Execution
Photo: Police Mugshot

“How’s this for a headline? ‘French Fries.’”

James D. French was the only prisoner executed in the United States in 1966. He was sentenced to life in prison for committing a first-degree murder, then upgraded to the electric chair after murdering his cellmate. see more on James French

John Eldon Smith

John Eldon Smith is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list Jokes Told by Death Row Inmates Right Before Execution
Photo: Macon Telegraph

“Well, the Lord is going to get another one.” 

John Smith, along with his wife, was sentenced to death for the murder of a couple, to claim their insurance money. Smith’s wife, Rebecca Akins Smith Machetti, was the male victim’s ex-wife. Smith was electrocuted in Georgia on December 15, 1983.

Jimmy Glass is listed (or ranked) 5 on the list Jokes Told by Death Row Inmates Right Before Execution
Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

“Yeah, I think I’d rather be fishing.” 

There’s a lot of things you’d rather be doing than frying in an electric chair. For Jimmy Glass, the preferred activity was fishing. The 25-year-old man was executed in 1987 for shooting a couple to death during a burglary in 1982.see more on Jimmy Glass

Gary Burris

Gary Burris is listed (or ranked) 6 on the list Jokes Told by Death Row Inmates Right Before Execution
Photo: Indiana Department of Correction

“Beam me up.”  

In case you didn’t get it, Gary Burris’s last words referred to a popular catchphrase from Star Trek. Burris was executed by lethal injection on November 20, 1997, for shooting a taxi driver in Indianapolis.

Vincent Gutierrez

Vincent Gutierrez is listed (or ranked) 7 on the list Jokes Told by Death Row Inmates Right Before Execution
“Where’s my stunt double when you need one?” 

Gutierrez was only 18 when he carjack his 40-year-old victim and shot him twice. The crime occurred one morning in 1997, when Gutierrez and two friends intended to steal a red Mazda RX-7 for parts. The victim, an Air Force Captain named Jose Cobo, was shot attempting to escape. Gutierrez was executed ten years later by lethal injection.


Patrick Bryan Knight

Patrick Bryan Knight is listed (or ranked) 8 on the list Jokes Told by Death Row Inmates Right Before Execution
Photo: Texas Department of Criminal Justice

“Death has set me free. That’s the biggest joke. I deserve this. And the other joke is that I’m not Patrick Bryan Knight and y’all can’t stop this execution now.”  

Patrick Knight abducted Walter and Mary Ann Werner before killing them, in August 1991. When awaiting trial, he threatened to kill his cellmatewith a sharp tool made from a hanger. Knight was executed by lethal injection on 26 June, 2007, in Texas.

Christopher Scott Emmett

Christopher Scott Emmett is listed (or ranked) 9 on the list Jokes Told by Death Row Inmates Right Before Execution
Photo: Clark Prosecutor

“Tell my family and friends I love them. Tell the governor he just lost my vote.” 

Before Christopher Emmet was injected, he unsuccessfully argued that Virginia’s method of execution was unconstitutional. He was executed on July 24, 2008, for beating a co-worker to death with a lamp in 2001.

Jeffrey David Matthews

Jeffrey David Matthews is listed (or ranked) 10 on the list Jokes Told by Death Row Inmates Right Before Execution
Photo: Oklahoma Department of Corrections

“I think that the governor’s phone is broke. He hadn’t called yet.” 

Jeffrey Matthews was scheduled to be executed by lethal injection on June 17, 2010, for murdering his great uncle 17 years earlier. However, then-governor Brad Henry called and asked for the evidence to be re-examined. The same thing happened on Matthews’s next scheduled execution date, a month later.

In August, on the date of his third execution, Matthews received yet another stay, on account of problems with the drug used for lethal injection. His execution was rescheduled to January 2011. The governor didn’t call again.

The Mistake I Made with My Grieving Friend

Courtesy of | By Celeste Headlee | Posted 05.21.2018

A good friend of mine lost her dad some years back. I found her sitting alone on a bench outside our workplace, not moving, just staring at the horizon. She was absolutely distraught and I didn’t know what to say to her. It’s so easy to say the wrong thing to someone who is grieving and vulnerable. So, I started talking about how I grew up without a father. I told her that my dad had drowned in a submarine when I was only 9 months old and I’d always mourned his loss, even though I’d never known him. I just wanted her to realize that she wasn’t alone, that I’d been through something similar and could understand how she felt.

But after I related this story, my friend looked at me and snapped, “Okay, Celeste, you win. You never had a dad, and I at least got to spend 30 years with mine. You had it worse. I guess I shouldn’t be so upset that my dad just died.”

I was stunned and mortified. My immediate reaction was to plead my case. “No, no, no,” I said, “that’s not what I’m saying at all. I just meant that I know how you feel.” And she answered, “No, Celeste, you don’t. You have no idea how I feel.”

She walked away and I stood there helplessly, watching her go and feeling like a jerk. I had totally failed my friend. I had wanted to comfort her, and instead, I’d made her feel worse. At that point, I still felt she misunderstood me. I thought she was in a fragile state and had lashed out at me unfairly when I was only trying to help.  Continue reading “The Mistake I Made with My Grieving Friend”


Courtesy of | By Merritt | Originally published 04.14.2018 | Posted 05.18.2018

I lost my dad when I was eighteen. I’m not going to lie, up until that point my life was pretty easy. I was loved by two amazing parents who wanted nothing but the best for me, and was always taken care of. I was well-fed and healthy, had a great education, got to travel often, and wanted for nothing. The only unhappy memories I have stem from my own idiotic behaviors in high school – I was a teenager. Sue me. But those were few and far between. But truly, I had a wonderful childhood and always felt supported, loved and cared for. I was quite sheltered and unexperienced, especially when it came to big life moments like the one I was about to get rocked by.

Before I tell you what happened, I want to tell you a little bit about my dad. He was larger than life, and there’s not a person I’ve met who knew him who disagrees. He lived every moment to the fullest – loved A LOT, worked hard, had unshakable faith, was always making new friends, and just truly gave everything he had to whatever was in front of him. To this day, people I’ve never even met come up to me and tell me how much they loved my dad – whether they worked with him in some capacity, met him at a random party or went to grade school with him, everything I’ve heard focuses on how wonderful he was or how he helped those people with something. When you spoke to him, he made you feel you were the only person in the room. Everyone was his best friend, and he was always trying to help others. I know this may sound biased coming from his daughter, but I swear, it is not. He was known as Big Red in our group of family friends, and everyone’s favorite phrase of his was “That’s what I’m talking about!”… and nobody said it like him.

It was during my freshman year at SMU. I had just pledged a sorority a few months before and was having the time of my life! I had awesome friends, was loving school and everything was great at home too. My dad had just celebrated his 50th birthday with all of our close family friends at a ranch he and my mom were renovating the weekend before Easter. He would have been 62 on April 10th this week. It was Good Friday, and I was driving down to Austin with a friend for the holiday weekend. I remember when I got the call so clearly, because I had just dropped her off at a friend’s apartment at UT and was driving the short distance to my old house on Windsor Road. It was my sister on the phone, and she called to tell me Dad was in an accident. My first instinct was to react with anger at her, because I assumed she was playing some kind of a mean joke – I’m pretty sure I cursed at her, but I rushed home none the less.


A Website.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: