09/19/17

Festival of Death and Dying explores topic Australians ignore

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News headlines can feel like a catalogue of death and destruction, but are we really grappling with the reality of human mortality? The answer is no, according to a new festival.

Death and dying festival grapples with human reality

By Eloise Fuss and Lisa Skerrett

The Festival of Death and Dying wants us to stop focusing on our jobs, mortgages, children and relationships for a minute to consider life’s biggest unknown: death.

“We all live in a way as if we’re going to live forever,” said Festival of Death and Dying director Dr Peter Banki.

“To produce a cultural shift we need to do more than just talk about death and dying, I think we need to actively learn more about it, and even experience it in a certain way.”

The festival takes place in Melbourne this weekend after a successful debut in Sydney last year, with plans to also expand to Adelaide and Berlin.

Using art installations and immersive workshops, it hopes to provoke contemplation about how societies mark death and come to terms with the inevitable loss of friends and family.

“[Death] is probably the most difficult thing that any of us will ever have to do, and it’s probably the most important thing one can do for someone else — witnessing someone dying, accompanying them, and taking responsibility for their legacy and their memory,” Dr Banki said.

“You can’t experience death as such, so you need art — it helps us bear witness to it, even if it doesn’t save us from it.”

Mainstream Australia distanced from death

Before modern medical breakthroughs like vaccines and penicillin, it was more common to die at home, meaning most people had firsthand experience of human death.

Traditional funeral rites were also largely a family affair — a far cry from today’s funeral industry, which Dr Banki thinks has “commodified” the personal experience and expression of grief.

“We don’t see death, it’s hidden from us,” he said.

“You have a funeral and you might have a get together afterwards but that’s about it, there’s nothing within the culture that’s there or any type of ritual or ceremonial way to mourn our dead.”

One project helping people create ritual around death is a fashion designer making garments for the grave.

Pia Interlandi combines skills in fashion and funeral celebrancy, working with individuals and families to create bio-degradable clothing to be buried in.

“It neither denies nor flirts with death, but presents it in a way that invites observers to view it as natural, undeniable, inevitable and at times, beautiful,” said Ms Interlandi.

Rituals and mourning

Kopi hats, central to the mourning rituals of some Aboriginal cultures, represent the weight of a woman’s grief.

There is another older way of thinking about death close to home too: the complex mourning rituals of Australia’s Indigenous cultures.

Artist Maree Clarke builds an understanding of grief from an Indigenous cultural perspective, by guiding people through the experience of wearing Kopi mourning caps, or widow’s caps.

“In different areas some women would cut off their hair, weave a net of emu sinews, place it on their head and then plaster their head with gypsum, a very heavy river clay.

“They represented the weight of your grief, so the heavier it was, the bigger connection to the person that had passed.”

Dr Banki said mainstream Australia, which had “completely missed out on these ways of mourning”, had a lot to learn from Aboriginal cultures about dealing with death — and that getting “hands-on” helped in the process.

“There are other people in Australia also working to promote people to learn and have conversations about death and dying, but it’s always within the realm of speech and lectures and talks,” he said.

“We think deep learning happens when people feel something, when people experience something, and for that you have to get them to try on a garment or have to get them to try on a hat, or go into a coffin.”

Artist Maree Clarke builds an understanding of grief from an Indigenous cultural perspective by guiding people through making and wearing a Kopi mourning cap.

Complete Article HERE!

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09/17/17

Japanese Company Creates Robot Priest to Administer Your Last Rites

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Plastics manufacturer Nissei Eco introduced Pepper last month, a robe-donning robot trained to recite prayers and scripture while tapping a little drum.

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In Japan, where funerals often require elaborate preparation and involve religious rites, honoring the deceased comes at a very steep price. It costs about 550,000 yen (~$5,030) just to hire the services of a Buddhist monk, whose duties include chanting sutras. But now families have a more economical option to stand in place of these religious men: a robe-donning robot named Pepper who’s been trained to recite prayers and scripture while tapping a little drum. It can even livestream ceremonies to loved ones unable to attend a funeral in person.
 


 
Plastics manufacturer Nissei Eco introduced Pepper last month at Tokyo’s annual Life Ending Industry Expo — Japan’s largest trade show for everything funeral-related — and intends to offer its services at a cost of 50,000 yen (~$460), according to Japan Times. It’s an incredibly niche and unusual position for the four-foot-tall bot, which was originally designed by SoftBank Robotics as the first humanoid robot to live with humans, and the first capable of perceiving and responding to our emotions. Other Peppers have found homes in hospitals, where they work as receptionists, and in banks, where they greet and assist patrons. As Hyperallergic’s Allison Meier experienced first-hand, this little android is quite capable of displaying empathy.

Nissei Eco started tinkering with Pepper a year ago. A company spokesperson told Japan Times that its repurposed bot is part of a larger effort to innovate the funeral industry, as customers increasingly seek alternatives to traditional rituals. The robo-monk may also serve as a substitute to human priests when they aren’t available. As Nissei’s executive advisor Michio Inamura explains in the video below, priests are increasingly seeking part-time work outside their temple duties as donations from families affiliated with temples are in decline.

 


 

“So we thought that Pepper could fill that role of worship,” he concludes. Buddhist monk Tetsugi Matsuo, however, questions whether the smiling machine can offer guidance that is spiritual at heart, rather than simply replicate the physical demands of these age-old duties. Pepper the Buddhist monk’s computerized voice, for instance, may not carry the emotion that some people may seek. And some will perhaps see the machine as an undignified presence at a service steeped in tradition. Pepper, however, has yet to administer its first official funeral, so we’ll have to wait and see if it manages to fill such esteemed roles while maintaining a room’s expected decorum.

Complete Article HERE!

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09/12/17

How to care for your pets after you die — and what you should never do

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According to the 2017-2018 National Pet Owners Survey, 68 percent of U.S. households, or about 85 million families, own a pet. For many, these animals are not just companions, but beloved family members. From providing comfort in times of trouble to greeting us at the front door, it’s hard to imagine life without their unconditional love.

Nevertheless, whether you’re the proud owner of a miniature box turtle or mammoth Irish Wolfhound, owners have an obligation to ensure that their four legged friends are cared for when they’re no longer around.

But Erach F. Screwvala, an estate-planning attorney with Screwvala LLC, says that he’s noticed a rising trend in asset base management: unusual pet provisions.

Recently, one NYC woman made headlines when she left $300,000 of her $3 million estate to her two cats. The Manhattan lawyer says that though it’s not uncommon to see vast sums allocated to furry friends, you don’t need to allot such sky high funds for adequate care.

“Amounts higher than this are more common in the celebrity world – for example, Oprah Winfrey supposedly has put aside $30 million for her dogs in her will,” Screwvala said. “If such large bequests are desired, it is critical to provide for distribution of any excess amounts after the death of the pets to avoid burdensome probate proceedings to distribute any remaining money.”

In outlining pet provisions for a well-crafted estate plan, Screwvala suggests taking one of three routes: listing a beneficiary, establishing a pet trust, or finding a trustworthy organization to look after your sweet Fluffy or Fido.

First, a beneficiary will inherit your pet when you pass away; preferably, you can leave them money to provide for the animal. Next, if you desire more control, a pet trust, ideally as part of a revocable living trust, is recommended. While this plan is more expensive to set up, it provides certainty that the pet will be cared for precisely how you want, Screwvala said. It is critical to provide sufficient funds for a pet trust, so that the trustee has ample funds to execute your wishes. This is particularly true with animals that have longer life expectancies, like horses, he adds.

Lastly, finding a specialized animal care organization is a viable option to leave your furry friend in good hands. Make sure that you make arrangements in advance, as many groups will have specific guidelines, Screwvala notes. In his years as an estate planning attorney, Screwvala has encountered many bizarre requests for pet provisions.

“One that really sticks out in my mind was when I was asked to include a diamond dog collar and walking leash. Although, this was a rather peculiar request, it was definitely a wise move, as you can imagine a genuine diamond collar is incredibly valuable!” he said. “However, if the dog collar was encrusted with laboratory grown diamonds I would advise against because synthetic diamonds are of no inherent value.”

Additional requests have included a wardrobe of designer animal outfits and provisions for a custom-made wooden casket for a cat, Screwvala said. While such specific requests certainly gave the owners of those animals peace of mind, establishing your estate plan with straightforward pet provisions is beneficial to all.

“The most important thing people should leave is enough money to ensure that their pet is properly cared for after they pass away,” Screwvala said. He suggests avoiding overtly ridiculous food provisions (filet mignon steak only!) or anything else that might be difficult for the caretaker to fulfill.

Ultimately, one of the smartest moves you can make is connecting with an experienced estate planning attorney who understands your local laws, Screwvala says. This expertise is critical: in some states, provisions for pet care in wills are honorary, meaning that they can be ignored by your heirs.

“They don’t need $300,000, but a loving caretaker, regular veterinarian care, and a couple square meals a day will do wonders!” he said.

Complete Article HERE!

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08/20/17

Death anxiety: The fear that drives us?

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Death is often a taboo subject, so when death anxiety comes into play, it is hard to know how to face it.

Death is something that we all, sooner or later, have to face. But how do we respond to it? Why are some of us more afraid than others? And what is it, exactly, that scares us about death? We offer an overview of theories related to death anxiety, and what you can do to address it.

To a greater or lesser extent, it is likely that we are all scared of death – whether it be the thought of our own cessation or the fear that someone we love might pass away. The thought of death is not a pleasant one, and many of us avoid such morbid musings, naturally choosing to focus on what life has to offer, as well as on our own wishes and goals, instead.

Yet, as Benjamin Franklin once famously wrote, “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes,” so it is no surprise that death-related worries sometimes take us by storm.

Fear of death is sometimes referred to as “thanatophobia,” deriving from the Ancient Greek words “Thanatos,” the name of the god of death, and “phobos,” meaning “fear.”

Notably, thanatophobia – which is called “death anxiety” in a clinical context – is not listed as a disorder in its own right in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Still, this rarely spoken-about anxiety has the potential to seriously affect people’s lifestyles and emotional health.

Thanatophobia: Natural or trauma-driven?

Thanatophobia was first tackled by Sigmund Freud, who did not consider it to be fear of death, as such. Freud thought that we cannot truly believe in death as a real occurrence, so any death-related fears must stem from unaddressed childhood trauma.

But it was the theory put forth a little later by an anthropologist called Ernst Becker that ended up informing most current understandings of death anxiety and its causes. Becker believed that death anxiety comes naturally to all people who find the thought of death and dying unacceptable.

That is why, he argued, everything everyone does – the goals we set, our passions and hobbies, and the activities we engage in – is, in essence, a coping strategy, and that these are things we focus on so we that need not worry about our eventual death.

Becker’s work gave rise to “terror management theory” (TMT), which posits that humans must constantly deal with an internal conflict: the basic desire to live against the certainty of death. TMT emphasizes individuals’ self-consciousness and their drive to achieve personal goals, motivated by the awareness of mortality.

Also, according to TMT, self-esteem is key for the degree to which individuals experience death anxiety. People with high self-esteem are better at managing fear of death, while people with low self-esteem are more easily intimidated by death-related situations.

Some newer approaches suggest a “middle way” between TMT and another theory referred to as “separation theory,” which highlights the importance of early trauma, reinforced by an awareness of mortality later in life.

Another recent approach to understanding and explaining death anxiety is that of “post-traumatic growth theory” (PTG). According to PTG, going through a distressing event – such as the death of a loved one or receiving a worrying health diagnosis – can actually have a positive effect, causing individuals to appreciate the small things in life a lot more, or to become more goal-oriented.

Death anxiety as a disorder

Although it is likely that we will all be worried about death or a death-related situation at some time in our lives, death anxiety is only pathological when it reaches extreme levels, disrupting the normal lifestyle of an individual.

One account of death anxiety – as reported by a man’s worried wife – emphasizes how this kind of fear can become obsessive and get out of control.

The fear is specifically of death (not pain or dying as such) and the emptiness of it (he’s not religious) and the fact that he will no longer be here. […] this is an irrational, emotional fear that he has trouble controlling. Recently it has got worse – he’s not sure why – but it has made him feel panicky and the thoughts have been straying into the daytime.”

Who is afraid of death?

Dr. Robert Kastenbaum has reviewed various psychology theories and studies related to the concept of death, outlining which populations are most likely to express a persistent fear of death. Drs. Patricia Furer and John Walker summarize the findings in an article published in the Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy.

Women are more likely than men to experience death anxiety, and this tends to peak twice: once in their 20s and again in their 50s.

  1. The majority of individuals are afraid of death. Most people tend to fear death, but they usually only exhibit low to moderate levels of anxiety.
  2. Women tend to be more afraid of death than men. Additionally, a newer study has found that while death anxiety seems to surface in both women and men during their 20s, women also experience a second surge of thanatophobia when they reach their 50s.
  3. Young people are just as likely to experience death anxiety as elderly people.
  4. There appears to be some correlation between a person’s educational and socioeconomic status and reduced death anxiety.
  5. No association has been found between religious engagement and reduced death anxiety.

Specialists argue that more often than not, death anxiety does not come on its own, and that it is instead accompanied by another type of mental health disorder (such as generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, or obsessive-compulsive disorder).

Other studies show that people exhibiting health anxiety, or hypochondriasis, are also affected by death anxiety, as it naturally correlates with an excessive worry about health.

Complete Article HERE!

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08/13/17

Meet the “Death Positive” Women Changing the Funeral Industry

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Courtney Lane, who practices the art of Victorian hairwork, with some of her creations.

by

Sooner or later, the end is coming — for all of us. But women in particular have been at the forefront of the “death positive” movement, which aims to strip away the mystery and fear around the end of life and help us each find our own “good death.”

Amber Carvaly is a mortician and service director at Undertaking LA, the funeral home she coruns with Caitlin Doughty. A women’s studies major whose life’s passion has been to work harder, better, smarter, and kinder as a human being, she soon found herself in the nonprofit industry, preparing meals and holding birthday parties for LA’s homeless. When she lost her job after the economy crashed in the late aughts, she made friends with a funeral director. “It seemed like it had similar characteristics to what I was doing at the Downtown Women’s Center,” Carvaly remembers of their talks about funeral work. She wanted to continue helping people and decided to go back to school, this time to study mortuary science. “I had been emailing Caitlin throughout this,” Carvaly says, “although we had never met.” Eventually, Doughty asked if Carvaly was interested in helping her start Undertaking LA and the rest, as they say, is death-positive history.

Amber Carvaly of Undertaking LA.

“It is not death that is important, but how we live our lives as we near it,” Carvaly explains. “How we view and treat the dead is a reflection of society and our values. What I want is to change our hearts and souls and the way we literally see and process the world around us. I think our very existence and survival as a species depends on it.” Carvaly’s next big plan is to offer house death calls, where families are given a person to guide them through washing and dressing the body. “In my experience,” Carvaly says, “families have not needed anything spiritual or extravagant. They just want someone to stand with them and help give them the confidence to use the strength they already have within themselves to start.”

Melissa Unfred with her sidekick, Kermit.

The Summer before Melissa Unfred‘s senior year of high school, a local funeral home was featured on the news. They were a family-owned business looking for assistance and, as a joke, her mom turned to her and suggested she get a job. A budding rebel, Unfred did just that. “I was fascinated by the science and art involved in funeral service and embalming,” Unfred says. “And led by such a strong woman, no less! Billie White Everett [the home’s owner and one of the first female directors in Texas] made a huge impression on me.”

These days, Unfred educates people about home funerals and green burial, which focuses on returning the body to the earth in its natural state by foregoing embalming and using biodegradable materials like wooden caskets. She partners with an Austin crematory that shares her core values and is one half of Texas’s first certified therapy dog team working in funeral care, along with her furry sidekick, Kermit the dog. Originally adopted to be a pet and emotional support source for Unfred, Kermit’s knack for interacting with others, particularly the grieving, quickly became apparent. Now, the two are inseparable during transfers to funeral homes after someone has died, at graveside ceremonies, and everywhere in between. Together, they’re on a mission to clear out the smoke and mirrors of the funeral service, helping families understand their options so they can make an informed decision on what they want for themselves and their loved ones.

One of Lane’s hairwork pieces.

Courtney Lane of Never Forgotten braids hair for a living. She’s following a tradition called “hairwork,” which was part of the extensive Victorian mourning process. “What really makes hair art and jewelry special is that it can contain the hair of your loved ones,” Lane says. Her clients might provide her with their own hair to make into a romantic gift or a snippet from their child’s first haircut. Lane also works with cancer patients who lose their hair during treatment. “A cancer survivor once explained to me that this was an artistic statement that helped her feel like she wasn’t losing her hair, but transforming it into something new and beautiful,” Lane says. Very often, of course, the hair she’s working with is that of a deceased family member; because hair doesn’t decompose, Lane explains, it’s a perfect relic with which to remember our dead.

In addition to custom work for clients, Lane also makes art out of antique Victorian hair and travels to give lectures and workshops on the misunderstood history behind hairwork and its elaborate techniques. The first time she showed her art at a convention, a man walked up to her table and asked, in what she calls a Disney villain voice, if she could make him “something truly evil” if he brought her the hair of his enemies. Since then, she has gotten so many similar requests that she added a section to the FAQ on her website. The answer is no.

The theme of education runs throughout the work of Lane, Carvaly, and Unfred. For while death is ubiquitous, it is also misunderstood and maligned. “I do completely believe that humans should not be afraid of dead bodies,” Carvaly says. “By leading by example, I can show others that there is another way to approach our existence and demise. And that if I can do it, so can they.”

Complete Article HERE!

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08/12/17

Prehistoric Britons ate the dead & carved their bones – research

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Prehistoric cannibals who once lived in a Somerset cave engraved human bones with zig-zag designs as part of a “complex” eating ritual, according to new research.

The bones, which had a number of deliberate cuts and human teeth marks, were discovered at Gough’s Cave in the Mendip Hills and are believed to be between 12,000 and 17,000 years old – when the cave was occupied by Ice Age Britons.

Scientists from the Natural History Museum in London and University College London (UCL) compared hundreds of cut-marks found on human and animal bones in the cave. They discovered one human body with the bones separated, filleted, chewed and then marked with a zig-zag design, before it was finally broken to extract the bone marrow.

Researchers ruled out an initial theory that the marks were made during the butchery process, because they were found on a part of the bone with no muscle attachments. There is no indication on the skeletons that the humans had suffered violence before they died.
They concluded that the “zig zagging incisions are undoubtedly engraving marks, produced with no utilitarian purpose but purely for artistic or symbolic representation.”

The study, published in the journal PLOS ONE, says the marks may have represented the “story” of the victim’s life or a memorial to how they died. Whatever the reason, researchers agree it must have been part of a ritual or ceremony to mark the person’s passing, like modern day funerary rites.

“The sequence of modifications performed on this bone suggests that the engraving was a purposeful component of the cannibalistic practice, rich in symbolic connotations,” says Dr Silvia Bello, lead author of the study.

“Archaeologists have linked the engraving of objects and tools to ways of remembering events, places or circumstances, a sort of ‘written memory’ and ‘symbolic glue’ that held together complex social groups.

“Perhaps the engraving of this bone may have told a sort of story, more related to the deceased than the surrounding landscape. It could be that they are indicative of the individual, events from their life, the way they died, or the cannibalistic ritual itself.”

Gough’s Cave was first discovered in the 1880s and frequent excavations at the site found evidence that humans lived there for thousands of years, including “Cheddar man,” Britain’s oldest complete human skeleton, which dates from 7,150BC.

DNA taken from the skeleton was found to match that of Adrian Targett, a man living in the local area today.

The cave is 115 meters (377ft) deep and 3.405km (2.12 miles) long, and contains a variety of large chambers and rock formations.

Human bones have been found intermingled with butchered large mammal remains as well as flint, bone, antler and ivory artefacts, including a 13,000-year-old carving of a woolly mammoth.

The team has previously found skulls at the site which had been turned into bowls or cups, possibly to eat or drink from.

Complete Article HERE!

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