07/18/17

The Gentler Symptoms of Dying

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The patient’s hair was styled with curls so stiff, they held her head a few inches up from her hospital pillow. She had painted her lips a shade of bright pink that exuded the confidence of age.

Just after her colon burst, she was still awake. She looked around, at me, at the monitors. She asked for pain medication. “Am I dying?” she asked.

“We think so,” I said, touching her manicured fingernails. “I am here with you.”

Later, she kept her eyes closed but opened them when we talked. It was a state that the author and hospice nurse Barbara Karnes described as “one foot in each world.”

“Can I do anything?” I asked.

“No, honey. I’m just tired.” She closed her eyes again.

Still later, she lapsed into a stupor. It was as if I wasn’t in the room at all, as if she’d gotten so close to death that she could no longer see the living world. With each hour, her lipstick appeared brighter as if in defiance as her blood pressure dropped and her skin whitened. Midmorning, she died.

While some of the symptoms of dying, like the death rattle, air hunger and terminal agitation, can cause alarm in witnesses, other symptoms are more gentle.

The human body’s most compassionate gift is the interdependence of its parts. As organs in the torso fail, the brain likewise shuts down. With the exception of the minority of people who suffer sudden death, the vast majority of us experience a slumberous slippage from life. We may be able to sense people at the bedside on a spiritual level, but we are not fully awake in the moments, and often hours, before we die.

Every major organ in the body — heart, lungs, liver, kidneys — has the capacity to shut off the brain. It’s a biological veto system.

When the heart stops pumping, blood pressure drops throughout the body. Like electricity on a city block, service goes out everywhere, including the brain.

When the liver or kidneys fail, toxic electrolytes and metabolites build up in the body and cloud awareness.

Failing lungs decrease oxygen and increase carbon dioxide in the blood, both of which slow cognitive function.

The mysterious exception is “terminal lucidity,” a term coined by the biologist Michael Nahm in 2009 to describe the brief state of clarity and energy that sometimes precedes death. Alexander Batthyány, another contemporary expert on dying, calls it “the light before the end of the tunnel.”

A 5-year-old boy in a coma for three weeks suddenly regains consciousness. He thanks his family for letting him go and tells them he’ll be dying soon. The next day, he does.

A 26-year-old woman with severe mental disabilities hasn’t spoken a word for years. Suddenly, she sings, “Where does the soul find its home, its peace? Peace, peace, heavenly peace!” The year is 1922. She sings for half an hour and then she passes away. The episode is witnessed by two prominent physicians and later recounted by them separately, at least five times, with identical descriptions.

Early reports of terminal lucidity date back to Hippocrates, Plutarch and Galen. Dr. Nahm collected 83 accounts of terminal lucidity written over 250 years, most of which were witnessed by medical professionals. Nearly 90 percent of cases happened within a week of death and almost half occurred on the final day of life.

Terminal lucidity occurred irrespective of ailment, in patients with tumors, strokes, dementia and psychiatric disorders. Dr. Nahm suggested the mechanism of terminal lucidity may differ from one disease to another. For example, severe weight loss in patients with brain tumors could cause the brain to shrink, yielding fleeting relief of pressure on the brain that might allow for clearer thinking. Yet this theory doesn’t explain terminal lucidity in people dying from dementia, kidney failure or other diseases. Like death itself, terminal lucidity retains a screen of mystery.

My grandfather talked to us for 10 minutes the day before he died. He hadn’t spoken coherently in days. His hands had become baby-like, grasping our fingers or the bed railing reflexively. The weight of his eyelids had become too heavy to lift.

Suddenly, he was back. “What’s the good word?” he asked, as if that day was the same as all the days before. He marched down the line of grandchildren at his bedside, asking for the latest news in our lives. He asked if they ever finished building the Waldorf Astoria in Jerusalem. He made a joke, one I can’t remember except for the way he smiled out of the right side of his mouth, tilted his head from side to side, and held up his hands in jest.

And then, again, he was gone.

Complete Article HERE!

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07/16/17

The Professionals Who Want to Help You Plan Your Death

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When events involve a lot of moving pieces, it’s common to bring in a specialist. We have planners for weddings, parties, corporate retreats, and more — people who help us nail down our goals, explain complicated rules and contracts, and take care of the logistics so we can focus on the parts that matter most. When it comes to the most difficult event of all, though, many of us are on our own. Enter end-of-life specialists, who make it their job to guide dying people and their families through all the details they never wanted to think about.

Michelle Acciavatti, a former neuroscientist and ethics consultant, is the woman behind Ending Well, a Vermont-based business that helps people plan, prepare for, and experience “their own good death.” After working in hospitals and in hospice care, Acciavatti says, she began to notice repeated problems with end-of-life care: patients and family members not feeling listened to, people feeling too afraid or uncomfortable to broach the subject of death, outright denial about what was coming. Through Ending Well, she now offers services to help her clients come to terms with mortality, whether that means caring for a dying loved one, mourning a miscarriage or stillbirth, or planning their own advance care

“My work is to help people face and embrace the fear that keeps them from living well,” she says. “I educate people about their options at the end of life, but, hopefully, I also help them learn about themselves.” To do that, Acciavatti helps people articulate their priorities around death — do they want a home funeral? have any last requests? what do they want their legacy to be? — and then works to convert those desires into a concrete plan.

In part, that means handling all the logistics (for example, she has the legal and practical knowledge to hold a home funeral in any U.S. state), but Acciavatti says that “values-based care planning,” or helping people figure out their quality-of-life goals, is the element that she finds most meaningful.

“A big fear for many people doing advance-care planning is dementia,” Acciavatti explains, “and many people say they wouldn’t want to live if they couldn’t recognize their family members. In my process, we try and unpack that statement. What does ‘recognize’ mean? Remembering their names? Their relationship to you? Or recognizing them as people who love you even if you can’t place them?”

“Since you can’t possibly plan for every possible medical outcome and potential intervention,” she adds, “I find it’s much more useful to do the self-work to understand your values for living well and find where the line is in that way.” For example, a person might initially shy away from the idea of a breathing machine, but change their mind once they begin to consider when in their disease progression they may need one.

Once a person figures all that out, the next step is making their wishes known. Acciavatti urges her clients to have “an ongoing and evolving conversation … with your family, your doctor, with anyone who might be involved or have an opinion about your care, so that they understand why you have made the plans you have made.”

Amy Pickard, whose Los Angeles–based company Good to Go! helps guide groups and individuals through end-of-life paperwork, agrees. “Most people don’t even talk about those things, let alone put their wishes down in writing,” she says. “Imagine how traumatizing that would be if suddenly your loved one needed you to make life/death decisions for them and you never talked about it before.”

Pickard founded Good to Go! after losing her mother, an experience that left her unprepared to navigate what she calls “the death duties.” “I was stunned to learn of all the work involved after someone dies,” she says.
“When you’re grappling with an unbearable reality, which is when your fiercest cheerleader, best friend, and the one who loves you the most on the planet is dead, the last thing you want to do is spend every waking moment encountering nonstop questions about the deceased person’s life and estate.”

But how do you make a long conversation about death seem like a fun way to spend a weekend afternoon? The answer, Pickard decided, was to recontextualize advance planning as a party, complete with upbeat playlists, food, and plenty of humor. “I joke that Good to Go! is like when you give your dog a pill wrapped in cheese,” Pickard says. “The pill is confronting your mortality and G2G! is the cheese.”

“Basically, Amy saved me,” says Erika Thormahlen, a client of Pickard’s. When the two women met in Los Angeles years ago, “it was occurring to me how little I knew about my mom’s wishes for end-of-life stuff … We were a don’t-ask-don’t-tell family in a way, and my mother both always wanted to remain positive and also never wanted to be a burden.” Worried about potential awkwardness when she raised the subject, Thormahlen asked her mother if it would be okay if “my pal Amy came over and we filled out some questions together.”

When Thormahlen’s mother passed away a month after Pickard’s visit, “the dozen notes I made informed both my handling of her memorial and how I try to honor her life,” Thormahlen says. “I feel very privileged to have been there — and Amy made it this wonderful memory I often return to.”

The Good to Go! “departure file,” as Pickard calls it, includes a template for a living will (a document outlining a person’s desires for their end-of-life medical care) and a booklet covering almost everything the living will doesn’t: contact information for doctors and business associates; bills, social-media passwords; plans for children and pets; instructions for what should be done with photos, journals, and other personal belongings; and funeral and body disposition wishes, from where to distribute ashes after a cremation to whether an obituary is desired and what photo ought to be used.

“It’s basically every question that came up after my mom died,” Pickard says. “Since she died unexpectedly, I had to guess. I don’t want anyone else to have to guess.”

Clients of Pickard’s can go through the departure file on their own time or during one of her Good to Go! parties, which she throws monthly in L.A.; she hopes to take the event on the road this summer.

Over in Vermont, Acciavatti of Ending Well also says she hopes to expand her services down the line: “I want to offer everything!” she says.
“Anything someone tells me they need — if it resonates with me I want to do it. Reiki, therapeutic massage, music therapy, aromatherapy … Holding space for people to create their own rituals, tell their own stories.”

“If I’ve done my work well,” she adds, “people are dying in the manner they chose.”

Complete Article HERE!

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07/11/17

People are choosing to die in their beds over a hospital

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By David K. Li

More New Yorkers are choosing to spend the last moments of their life in the comfort of their own home — rather than a hospital bed.

The percentage of terminally ill Big Apple residents who pass away at home has been on the increase for the past eight years.

“It’s become understood it’s more comfortable to die at home,” said Arthur Caplan, director of medical ethics at NYU Langone Medical Center.

“It’s become acceptable to think and plan about dying at home.”

Back in 2007, just 18.9 percent of deceased New Yorkers passed away at in their own home, according to figures compiled by the city’s Department of Health & Mental Hygiene.

That figure has been climbing every year — reaching 23.4 percent in 2015, according to the most recent data available.

“I do think it’s a trend,” said Dr. Susan Cohen, section chief of palliative care at the NYU School of Medicine. “If we’re having the conversations that will offer [home death] as an option, they will take it.”

City hospitals still remains the most preferred the place to pass. But hospital deaths have been sliding down for years — from 51.4 percent in 2011 to 46.4 percent in 2015.

While city data doesn’t specify what ailment ultimately leads to home death, palliative care researchers and medical ethicists said that dying patients are choosing comfort over more medical treatment.

In addition, data on deaths at licensed hospices in the city has risen to 5 percent from just 1.8 percent in 2011.

It’s not clear to medical professional what might have changed patients minds about where they choose to live out their last days.

Cohen – who is also director of the Palliative Care Program at Bellevue Hospital – cited the American Board of Medical Specialties’ move in 2006 to formally recognize palliative care as an official specialty.

That recognition could have eased the concerns of patients and their families about the process.

Caplan traced roots of this die-at-home trend back to the 1980s and early 1990s when AIDS ravaged America’s gay community.

“HIV led to people re-think how to care for the dying. For a gay man (in that era) being in hospital was not a comfortable place to be,” Caplan said. “There was a stigma [in a hospital] but [at home] you could be surrounded by your loved ones and friends.”

Complete Article HERE!

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07/6/17

This Startup Wants to Make End-of-Life Care Easier and More Compassionate

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Maggie Norris endured two significant family deaths just six years apart. First, her stepfather was diagnosed with bladder cancer, which spread to his lungs and his brain. He passed away in 2008. Then, her biological father was diagnosed with lung cancer, which metastasized to his spine. He died in 2014.

Caring for her biological father and her stepfather before their deaths meant that she, her sister and her mother had to put their lives on hold. Caring for them meant everything from bathing and administering medications to planning meals and overseeing care, all of which she said amounted to a full-time job. While her stepfather was more forthcoming about his illness, her father was not as open about his, which led to Norris and her sister not finding out about his prognosis until things had gotten difficult.

In between all of this, Norris said her family conducted research in order to understand the illnesses. It was not clear how these conditions would progress or what they should do to ensure the best care was provided.

“He didn’t openly talk about it with family or his primary oncologist, so by the time we found out he was really in a tough spot,” Norris said, referring to her biological father. “What people don’t understand is death is a process. It doesn’t happen in a day or a week. It is over the course of several months or several years. It’s an emotionally and situationally really complex to navigate.”

An idea emerged in the aftermath of her grief. What if there was a way to making end-of-life planning easier? How can discussing advanced care be simplified in a way that keeps family members, medical professionals and other stakeholders in the loop? Those questions led her to create After, an end-of-life planning software that provides informational healthcare videos, organizes key legal and healthcare-related forms, and coordinates end-of-life care requests with stakeholders involved in patients’ healthcare decisions. Norris founded the company in January 2017 and is preparing for a soft launch this August.

The software features animated videos that walk patients through what to expect with their diagnosis for the most common causes of death including cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, chronic lower respiratory disease, diabetes and stroke. It also allows patients to organize their advance care planning and power of attorney information. But what distinguishes the software, Norris said, is its personalized, compassionate questions regarding how the patient wants to spend their last length of time.

“No one likes talking about death and dying, even if it’s your job to have conversations with patients about death and dying,” Norris said. “A lot of times physicians wait for families and patients to come to them with questions. The problem with that is the first stage of grief is denial.”

Norris is in the process of determining where to best place her software. It’s a natural fit for the healthcare industry, but she said she could also see the software being applied by lawyers and financial planners, or pharmacist. Navigating bureaucratic hospital systems and healthcare laws could also be tough for the company going forward, she added.

Still, Norris is aiming to provide vulnerable patients with a way to regain control over their final moments and initiate the uncomfortable, yet necessary conversations surrounding death.

“How do you make this conversation happen more often and easier and more accessible?” Norris said. “There’s this empty space there, and we’re trying to fill it with software.”

Complete Article HERE!

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06/27/17

The Symptoms of Dying

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You and I, one day we’ll die from the same thing. We’ll call it different names: cancer, diabetes, heart failure, stroke.

One organ will fail, then another. Or maybe all at once. We’ll become more similar to each other than to people who continue living with your original diagnosis or mine.

Dying has its own biology and symptoms. It’s a diagnosis in itself. While the weeks and days leading up to death can vary from person to person, the hours before death are similar across the vast majority of human afflictions.

Some symptoms, like the death rattle, air hunger and terminal agitation, appear agonizing, but aren’t usually uncomfortable for the dying person. They are well-treated with medications. With hospice availability increasing worldwide, it is rare to die in pain.

While few of us will experience all the symptoms of dying, most of us will have at least one, if not more. This is what to expect.

The Death Rattle

“The graves are full of ruined bones, of speechless death-rattles” (Pablo Neruda)

We suspected the patient wouldn’t survive off the ventilator. A blood clot had crawled up one of the vessels in the back of his brain, blocking blood flow to the area that controlled alertness. He would die from not being awake enough to cough.

The beat of the death rattle began when the breathing tube was removed and continued until life was done. It was a gurgling, crackling sound, like blowing air through a straw at the bottom of a cup of water. The average time between the onset of death rattles to death itself is 16 hours. For him, it was six.

The death rattle is a symptom of swallowing dysfunction. Normally, our tongue rises to the top of the mouth and propels saliva, liquid or food backward. The epiglottis, a flap in the throat, flops forward to protect the swallowed substance from entering the airway.

In the dying process, the symphony of swallowing becomes a cacophony of weak and mistimed movements. Sometimes the tongue propels saliva backward before the epiglottis has time to cover the airway. Other times, the tongue fails to push at all and saliva trickles down the airway to the lungs in a steady stream. The death rattle is the lungs’ attempt to breathe through a layer of saliva.

Despite the sound’s alarming roughness, it’s unlikely that the death rattle is painful. The presence of a death rattle doesn’t correlate with signs of respiratory distress.

As often happens in medicine, we treat based on intuition. To lessen the volume of the death rattle, we give medications that decrease saliva production. Sometimes, we are successful in silencing the rattle. More of the time, we placate our instinctive concern for a noise that probably sounds worse than it feels. Without hurting our patients, we treat the witnesses who will go on living.

Air Hunger

“You villain touch! What are you doing? My breath is tight in its throat” (Walt Whitman)

The patient was a wiry woman in her 80s who had smoked for seven decades. Cigarettes turned her lungs from a spongelike texture to billowing plastic bags that collapsed on themselves when she exhaled. It was like trying to scrunch all the air out of a shopping bag. Air got trapped.

Air hunger — the uncomfortable feeling of breathing difficulty — is one of the most common end-of-life symptoms that doctors work to ease.

The treatment? Opiates, usually morphine.

People sometimes ask why the treatment for painful breathing is a medication that can depress breathing. You’d guess that opiates would worsen air hunger.

The answer hinges on defining why air hunger is uncomfortable in the first place.

Some researchers think the discomfort of air hunger is from the mismatch between the breathing our brain wants and our lungs’ ability to inflate and deflate. Opiates provide relief because they tune our brain’s appetite for air to what our body can provide. They take the “hunger” out of “air hunger.”

Others believe that the amount of morphine needed to relieve air hunger may have little effect on our ability to breathe. Since air hunger and pain activate similar parts of the brain, opiates may simply work by muting the brain’s pain signals.

The patient traded her cigarettes for a breathing mask when she came to the hospital. She quit smoking for the umpteenth time and made plans to go home and live independently again. A few days later, her thin frame tired. She died in hospice.

Terminal Agitation

“Do not go gentle into that good night” (Dylan Thomas)

My grandfather screamed two days before he died. “Open that door and let me out! Right now! It’s a travesty! Open that door!”

It was the scream of a lost child. My grandfather’s eyebrows, which had been lost over the years from the outside inward so that only a centimeter of long gray hairs near the middle remained, tilted toward each other.

Until then, we were preparing for missing and absence. Not for an agitated delirium. Not for rage.

A famous poet once wrote that “dying is an art, like everything else.” For hospice doctors, the artists of death, terminal agitation is the subject’s revolt against the shaper. It’s uncommon, but it can be difficult to watch when it happens.

Instead of peacefully floating off, the dying person may cry out and try to get out of bed. Their muscles might twitch or spasm. The body can appear tormented.

There are physical causes for terminal agitation like urine retention, shortness of breath, pain and metabolic abnormalities. There are medications that quell it. Yet it’s hard to discount the role of the psyche and the spiritual.

People who witness terminal agitation often believe it is the dying person’s existential response to death’s approach. Intense agitation may be the most visceral way that the human body can react to the shattering of inertia. We squirm and cry out coming into the world, and sometimes we do the same leaving it.

Complete Article HERE!

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06/17/17

The things dying people care about reveal a lot about how to live

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In the end, only one thing matters.

By Corinne Purtill

Ask people to imagine what they’d say if they knew they were dying and most would have words of sadness, fear, and regret. But new psychological research bolsters what chaplains, hospice workers, and others who spend a lot of time in the company of those approaching the end of life have long known: the process of dying is a complicated one, with room for moments of profundity and light alongside fear and darkness.

In a series of experiments documented in the journal Psychological Science, researchers compared the blog posts of terminally ill people and the last words of death row inmates to the words of healthy people asked to imagine themselves writing near their death.

The people actually approaching death used more positive terms and fewer negative ones to describe their emotions than those imagining the experience. In the blog posts—all from real people who eventually died from their disease—emotions grew more positive as death approached.

It’s not a perfect study—people with unspeakable regrets or fears may be less inclined to publicly chronicle their final days than those who do not. But there are a few reasons why death may be more terrifying as a distant abstract than an immediate reality.

People tend to overlook or discount the psyche’s ability to adapt to new circumstances when imagining the future, according to research from the Harvard University psychologist Daniel Gilbert. Because we don’t properly account for our own resilience when envisioning future calamities, we tend to think that we’ll feel sadder, for longer, than we actually do.

Even amid the trauma of a terminal diagnosis and the discomforts of the dying process, the mind can adapt to find pleasure in the comforts available. And when we believe we have less time to live, whether due to age, illness, or external threat, we subconsciously adjust our priorities to favor those things closest to home. Research has found that old people, young people with serious diagnoses, and people living in uncertain political climates vastly prefer time with old friends and family over new contacts and experiences. The depth of these connections bring meaning to the final days of life in a way that can be hard for healthy people in an externally-focused, future-oriented mindset to comprehend.

It’s inaccurate to portray the close of life as a universally positive or peaceful experience. “We die the way we have lived,” says Barbara Karnes, a hospice nurse who has written extensively on the dying process. “I think it is human nature to look for love, connection, and meaning. We don’t necessarily have to be dying to do that. Dying gives us the opportunity, the gift of time, to reach out, but many do not take that opportunity.”

Death focuses us on what we care about most. But we don’t have to wait until the end is imminent to live as if each day matters.

“If there is any great difference between the people who know they are dying and the rest of us, it’s this: They know they’re running out of time,” Kerry Egan, a Harvard Divinity School-trained hospital chaplain, writes in her book On Living. “They have more motivation to do the things they want to do, and to become the person they want to become…. There’s nothing stopping you from acting with the same urgency the dying feel.”

Complete Article HERE!

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05/20/17

Pathologist Carla Valentine Will Teach You How to Die Fearlessly

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“The people who think about mortality tend to have the highest happiness rate.”

By Sarah Sloat

Ambitious technocrats may predict a deathless future, but as the world stands now, we’re all going to die. This leaves us humans with the same two options we’ve had since we emerged from the evolutionary mire: Fear the final shuffling of our mortal coils, or embrace the inevitability that we’ll all be one with the dirt.

Fortunately, there are people out there who can help ease your mind about the whole “one day you’ll be dead” thing. One of those people is Carla Valentine, whose job as an anatomical pathologist, technical curator at Barts Pathology Museum, and author of The Chick and the Dead, has more than prepared her to come face to face with the inevitable end. In her book, which will be released in the United States in June, she weaves together corpse science and her intimate involvement with the “death industry” with the vital lesson about dying she’s learned over the years: Everyone wants to learn more about death whether they admit it to themselves or not, and accepting that education is the best preparation for their final days.

Valentine, whose book will be released in the United States in June, recently spoke to Inverse about the CSI effect, the future of “soul midwives,” and urban legends that just won’t go to the grave.

Carla Valentine.

>Why was now the right time to write this book?
There are two reasons, really. There is definitely more of a desire at the moment for people to speak about death and learn more about it. That’s been on an upward trajectory. That just happened to coincide with when I left my career as a full-time pathology technician and I began to work at the museum, which gave me more free time to actually start to write.

What do you think has driven that increased interest in talking about death and learning about it?
When I first studied forensic science, which was 15 years ago, there were barely any courses. Those courses began to increase with what we call the “CSI effect”. That’s an actual academic term now for the interest in death and autopsies that has emerged from the increase in books and TV shows on the topic.

I think another issue is just the cost of funerals, like many things, is rising. People want to be a bit more informed and demystify the process around death so that they can plan properly and just dispel a lot of the myths before the time comes. There have always been a lot of myths around autopsies and how we conduct them. I think people just want to know the truth and it’s a good time for it.

What do you think people gain when from learning about what happens to their body after they die?
Personally, I think that when people face this idea of their mortality, the reality of it, and the reality of what may happen to their family members, for example, they tend to live a better life. They tend to understand how quickly it can be taken away. They can appreciate their own mortality and their own health. That was always what I felt and that’s been backed up by psychological studies, as well, which I reference in the book. The people who think about mortality tend to have the highest happiness rate. I think it’s because it demystifies it. People say that you’re afraid of the unknown. Sometimes it’s better to face the reality of it. Then it’s not so scary anymore.

Fracture of a mandible at the Pathology Museum.

Do you get consistently the same sort of questions from people when they learn about your job?
I get consistently the same sort of questions and I get consistently told the same myths. Those absolutely drive me insane. I took as much opportunity as I could to answer all of the questions that I always get asked in the book. A lot of these myths have been doing the rounds since I was a child. For example, I was at the hairdresser’s yesterday, and the girl in the chair next to me overheard that we were talking about my job, and she said, “It’s true, isn’t it, that the fingernails grow and the hair grows after death?” I was like, “No it’s not like that.” I’ve heard the same things for 20 years.

What else do people get wrong about death?
People also think the deceased sit upright because of their gases, which is not true at all. Some deceased people are possibly in a state of rigor mortis, where they’ve passed away in a chair and so that means for a while they’ll still be in a bent-over position. They’ll look slightly like they’re sitting up when they’re on the slab. But they don’t sit up because of the gases. There are the odd groans or burps or farts. That is true.

The most annoying urban legend is the one where someone tells me, “A friend of mine knows someone who got a rash and when she went to the doctors she found out that it can only be caught from a corpse.” Basically insinuating that the guy that she’d had sex with or whatever has had sex with a corpse. That always drives me insane because there’s nothing on a deceased individual that isn’t on a live individual. We have the flora and fauna. There is no such thing as a parasite or a fungus that you can get from the dead.

It just goes to show how fascinated people are by those subjects. I’m doing my MA on the relationship between the sexualized gaze and anatomical displays. When I blog about sex and death and people go, “Really?” I think, look, you’re all interested in sex and death, just look at this one urban legend that’s nearly outlived me. Clearly, people are far more interested in sex and death than they’d like to let on.

A broken cervical spine.

What is it about that intersection that people keep on coming back to?
They’ve had similar periods in time where they’ve been sort of considered taboos. But the simple fact is sex is what begins our lives and death is what ends it. They’re two sides of the same coin. They’ve always been connected to each other psychoanalytically because everything you do, according to Freud, you do with either the death drive, the morbido, or a life drive, which is libido.

Inside Barts Pathology Museum.

Are there any new modern trends you’ve noticed, when it comes to what people want immediately before and after they die?
There are definitely newer trends towards much more environmentally friendly funerals. A lot of people are moving away from the traditional funeral, and opting for a green burial. That means that they wouldn’t be embalmed. Embalming was never as big over in the United Kingdom as it is in the U.S. anyway, but it’s still definitely dwindling. Natural burials where people are placed into wicker, cardboard coffins, or linen and buried into an actual burial ground. There’s definitely an increase in people who want that, while we never really would hear of that request a few years ago.

And then there’s death doulas and end of life doulas. They’re just like midwives, but for death. I met one the other night and he actually called himself a “soul midwife.” Death doulas are usually brought in when the person is in hospice. It can also be as soon as a person discovers that they’re terminally ill. In the same way that a midwife is there for the mother as she’s becoming dilated and then she delivers the baby, the doula helps the person through the process of death. It’s a similar process, I suppose, just the other way around.

Complete Article HERE!

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