The top 10 leading causes of death in the U.S.

By MARY BROPHY MARCUS

hospital

Heart disease and cancer still top the list as the leading causes of death in the United States, but the gap is closing between the two. A new report out from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention looks at the shifting trends in Americans’ health and mortality, and the conditions most likely to take lives.

In 2014, a total of 2,626,418 deaths were reported in the United States, and the age-adjusted death rate decreased 1 percent to a record low.

Bob Anderson, chief of the CDC’s Mortality Statistics Branch, told CBS News the 15 leading causes of death in 2014 remained the same as in 2013.

“We all have to die of something at some point. When you’re looking at these categories you have to account for the fact that there are competing risks, but you can’t avoid death,” said Anderson.

Why the list, then?

“We want to create a society where we live as long as we can, as healthy as we can,” he said. Crunching the data provides researchers with information that will help develop prevention programs, he explained.

Anderson, who oversaw the production of the National Center for Health Statistics report, shared some insights into the top ten:

1. Heart disease

While heart disease has topped the list for years now, the actual number of deaths and the death rate for heart disease has come down by quite a bit over recent decades, said Anderson.

“The decline goes back about 50 years. For trends in heart disease, you see a substantial increase from the beginning of 20th century to 1950 or so, and then it starts to come down. It mirrors the rise and decline in smoking in the United States

“What we’ve seen in last 20 or 30 years is rapid decline in heart disease. The decline has been fairly rapid and rapid enough so it’s sort of overshadowed the aging of the population,” said Anderson.

However, a new study published this week in JAMA Cardiology, by Kaiser Permanente researchers, shows that the decline in deaths from heart disease and stroke has slowed, nearly leveling out since 2011.

2. Cancer

Cancer has seen a gradual rise in deaths over time although death rates have declined gradually since 1990. While smoking cessation’s perks were pretty quickly reflected in a drop in heart disease-related deaths, the increasing number of cancer deaths reflect the longer term damage smoking can do, as well as a growing aging population.

“Cancer tends to occur a little bit later, it’s a more chronic issue. It kills you later than heart disease does on average,” said Anderson. “You see this increase in cancer mortality — a lot of it is lung cancer.”

He noted that the gap between heart disease and cancer deaths has narrowed substantially over time.

3. Chronic lower respiratory diseases

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), largely due to smoking, makes up the majority of deaths in this category. It also includes deaths from chronic bronchitis, emphysema and asthma. Again, smoking earlier in life or throughout life plays a large part in respiratory disease deaths, including secondhand smoke-related illnesses.

4. Accidents

Motor vehicle accidents, unintentional drug overdoses, and accidental falls and other injuries make up this category.

“The largest proportions of these are motor vehicle accidents and drug overdoses,” said Anderson, noting that this category does not include intentional overdoses that lead to suicide. The number of accidental drug-related deaths has been on the rise amid a growing epidemic of heroin and opioid painkiller addiction.

Deaths from motor vehicle accidents declined when seat belts and car seats for kids were mandated. “They have made a huge difference,” he added.

5. Stroke

Cerebrovascular disease, or stroke, is not considered heart disease — it involves blood vessels.

“Stroke is centered on the brain, heart disease is centered on heart. Both infarction, a blockage in blood vessels leading to the brain, and hemorrhage due to things like brain aneurisms, are included,” said Anderson.

This is another category that has dropped substantially, he added.

“For a long time cerebrovascular disease was the third leading cause of death and now it’s at five. Smoking and healthy behaviors and our ability to treat these diseases have had an impact. We’ve gotten very good at treating cardiovascular disease generally and that’s had an impact on both heart disease and stroke deaths. It’s a combination of both prevention and treatment,” Anderson said.

6. Alzheimer’s disease

Alzheimer’s disease has climbed up the list.

“A lot of the increase we’ve seen has to do with better diagnosis. Folks who work on this have come up with better diagnostic criteria. Some of these [deaths] may have in previous years been reported as dementia, which goes to a separate category,” said Anderson.

But not all of the increase has to do with better diagnosis and reporting, he noted.Alzheimer’s risk tends to increase with age, so as there have been substantial declines in heart disease and stroke, more people are living to older ages and developing Alzheimer’s.

7. Diabetes

Diabetes has bobbled up and down on the top ten list over the years.

“It hasn’t changed a whole lot over last 10 years or so. There are different risk factors. Some are inherited, like in type 1 diabetes. Much of type 2 is associated with obesity. Diabetes is also connected with other diseases, such as cardiovascular disease,” said Anderson.

He said diabetes-related deaths are likely under reported — physicians may not make it the primary cause of death on a death certificate, but “if you look at any mention of diabetes on death certificates, cases where it’s a contributing factor, the numbers are much much larger.”

There are about 76,000 deaths caused by diabetes each year, but it is listed as a contributing factor in death on close to 245,000 death certificates annually, Anderson said.

8. Influenza and pneumonia

“You have to be careful here,” Anderson said. “These are not all flu-related deaths. We combine influenza and pneumonia because we use this combination category for flu mortality surveillance. Perhaps as much as 20 percent of deaths in this category are actually associated with the flu. A lot of these deaths are elderly folks who, say, have a stroke and are in the hospital and may develop pneumonia from being in a static position.”

He said that the deaths that specifically mention flu tally only about 3,000 to 5,000 deaths a year. The deaths in this category associated with flu tend to fluctuate by flu season, but the numbers due solely to pneumonia stay pretty stable over time.

“The fluctuations in this category help us determine the effects of flu season on mortality. So that’s why these two are combined,” he explained.

9. Kidney disease

This category includes chronic kidney issues, including kidney failure or end-stage renal disease.

“A large proportion of this category is renal failure. Some are probably related to diabetes in some way, or heart disease and heart failure, and high blood pressure. It’s always been on the second half of the list, at least in recent memory,” Anderson said.

10. Suicide

Suicide is the nation’s 10th leading cause of death, and the number of cases has been on the rise. “The rate of suicide has gone up nearly steadily since 1999,” Sally Curtin, a statistician with the National Center for Health Statistics at the CDC, said when the latest figures were released this spring.

“It has typically been there between number 10 and 15, but occasionally it has popped up into the top ten and it’s something we’re keeping our eye on,” said Anderson.

Other causes

Blood poisoning, chronic liver disease and Parkinson’s disease didn’t make the top 10 list, but aren’t far behind.

“Parkinson’s is a fairly important category. It’s one of those that’s gone up — the numbers have increased over time,” Anderson said. It wasn’t on the list in the year 2000, for example.

A study out earlier this year also suggested medical errors can be blamed for a significant number of deaths each year, although they were not included on this list. Anderson said many physicians likely do not report medical errors on death certificates.

Another significant cause of death, HIV/AIDS, has been declining since its peak in 1995, but the disease still takes a high toll among men in certain age groups. For men ages 25-34, HIV/AIDS was the 8th leading cause of death in 2014.

Life expectancy

The report also found that life expectancy at birth is 78.8 years, unchanged since 2012. Life expectancy rose for black males, Hispanic males and females, and non-Hispanic black males. Life expectancy shrunk for non-Hispanic white femalesfrom 2013 to 2014, possibly due to a rise in opioid use and suicide.

Preliminary data for 2015 suggest the death rate is going up. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention posted the numbers earlier this month. They are based on a preliminary look at 2015 death certificates. The overall death rate rose to nearly 730 deaths per 100,000 people last year, from about 723 the year before.

“I think, ideally, what we would like to see is people living well into their nineties and even early 100s in relatively good health, and dying as things just kind of wear out. That’s what I’d like to see,” Anderson said. “That’s one of the reasons for creating these lists.”

Complete Article HERE!

Can You Die of Laughter?

While laughter provides plenty of health benefits, laughing uncontrollably for a longer duration carries health risk for individuals with heart ailments.

healing experience

Laugh your way to good health. This is one piece of advice that often works in improving overall well-being. A good hearty laugh can work wonders in relieving stress. There is no better feeling than being with someone who makes you laugh. However, it appears that laughing too hard continuously may not be as good as it seems.

The British Medical Journal in its recent report highlights the ill-effects of excessive laughing in people suffering from various medical conditions. The research was carried out by University of Birmingham’s R. E. Ferner and Oxford University’s J. K. Aronson.

  • A normal laugh where there is no excessive sound is indeed good for the cardiovascular system. However, excessive laughter causes the blood pressure to increase substantially, putting too much pressure on the heart. A defective heart due to medical conditions like coronary artery disease and congestive heart failure (CHF) may not be able to handle such excessive pressure.
  • Intense laughter also increases the heart rate considerably, which patients with heart conditions are unlikely to tolerate for long. To put it simply, a faulty heart might not be able to sustain the increased heart rate associated with hard laughter.
  • Excessive laughter can also be fatal to people affected with cerebral aneurysm. Laughing out vigorously can considerably increase intracranial pressure (ICP refers to pressure inside the skull). This can cause the aneurysm to burst, which may lead to stroke. Even people with other neurological disorders are advised to avoid uncontrollable laughter to keep complications at bay.

Laughter-induced Asthma

  • People suffering from asthma should also stay away from laughing too hard. In one study, patients noticed that their symptoms laughing too hard(chest pain and coughing) worsened due to excessive laughing. However, it was observed that laughter-induced asthma wasn’t a case of medical emergency.
  • Also, the patients reported that when they can manage their asthma well, symptoms do not flare up when laughing for a longer duration. This means that exacerbation of symptoms due to laughter indicates that asthma is not being managed properly. Nevertheless, intense laughter may trigger asthma attacks. Hence, patients ought to take a cautionary approach when it comes to laughing loudly.
  • Laughing too hard also puts excessive strain on the chest muscles. Hence, people affected with respiratory conditions such as collapsed lung are often advised to avoid laughing loudly.

Laughter-induced Syncope

  • It is observed that intense laughter increases the breathing rate and when this continues for a longer duration, say for 10 to 15 minutes, it can be risky even to healthy individuals.
  • People have experienced shortness of breath during fits of laughter. There also have been reports of people losing their consciousness temporarily (for around 3 to 5 minutes); some have blacked out for a few seconds due to unrestrained laughter. Experts warn that excessive laughter tends to cause hyperventilation, which carries health risk but is unlikely to result in death.

A fit of hysterical laughter can also cause hernia to bulge out. Jaw trauma such as a dislocated jaw can also be one of the side effects of laughing too much. Excessive laughter is also responsible for triggering cataplexy, a condition that is marked by sudden temporary loss of muscle function.
Dr. Martin Samuels, professor of neurology at Harvard Medical, opines that extreme strong feelings related to sorrow or happiness stimulate an area of the brain corresponding to fight or flight response. During a fight or flight response, chemicals like adrenaline are released into the body. Too much of adrenaline can be detrimental to health, particularly the heart. So handling emotions (good or bad) in a better way is necessary to manage overall health.

Death from Laughter

  • There also have been confirmed reports of people laughing their way to death. In one instance, in 1989, Ole Bentzen, a Danish audiologist while watching a heist-comedy film A Fish Called Wanda went into uncontrollable fits of laughter. He began laughing so intensely that his heart started beating very fast and the heart rate was found to be fluctuating between 250 to 500 heartbeats per minute. This eventually caused cardiac arrest.
  • In another instance, in 1975, Alex Mitchell from England had uncontrollable fits of laughter while watching a television episode of Goodies, a popular British comedy series telecasted during the 1970s. He laughed hard non-stop for 25 minutes, which left him breathless due to severe heart failure. Later, it was found that Alex was a patient of long QT syndrome, a rare congenital heart disorder. This heart ailment may also have contributed to his death.

On the whole, experts say that contributory factors such as an underlying medical condition are likely to have played a role in causing deaths due to laughter. However, the fact remains that laughing too hard for long, although not fatal, can cause breathlessness.

Keep in mind that continuous fits of laughter can be risky but that doesn’t mean you should avoid laughing altogether. A good hearty laugh on a daily basis is in fact considered an elixir of life but make sure that the laughter-inducing moments do not leave you out of breath.

Complete Article HERE!

The Decision to Stop Eating at the End of Life

Stopping Eating and Drinking to Regain Control at the End of Life

By Angela Morrow, RN

hospital food

The decision to voluntarily stop eating and drinking at the end of life is a choice a patient makes with the intent to hasten the dying process.

Is It Suicide?

No. This is a choice made by patients who are already at the end of their life. A dying person will naturally lose interest in food and fluids and progressively become weaker. When the dying person decides to stop eating and drinking altogether, the process of progressive weakness leading to death occurs days to weeks sooner than would happen if the person were to continue eating and drinking.

To learn more about this expected loss of interest in food and drink, read Where Did Your Appetite Go?

Why Would a Dying Person Choose to Stop Eating?

Most people who choose to voluntarily stop eating and drinking do so to regain or maintain some control over their situation. Reasons people give for making this decision include the desire to avoid suffering, not to prolong the dying process and to take control over the circumstances surrounding their death.

What Kind of Patient Chooses to Stop Eating?

According to a study in the New England Journal of Medicine, which surveyedhospice nurses in Oregon who cared for patients who chose to voluntarily stop eating and drinking, the typical patient is elderly and considers himself to have poor quality of life.

Do Persons Who Choose to Stop Eating Suffer?

Overwhelming evidence says no. The same study in the New England Journal of Medicine found that 94 percent of nurses reported these patients’ deaths as peaceful.

The cessation of eating and drinking is a normal part of the dying process that typically occurs days to weeks before death. Once the body becomes mildly dehydrated, the brain releases endorphins which act as natural opioids, leading to euphoria and often decreased pain and discomfort. When a dying person voluntarily stops eating and drinking, the same process occurs, and they may report feeling better than when taking in nutrition.

Very few patients complain of feeling hungry or thirsty after the first couple of days. Mucous membranes may become dry as dehydration sets in, which is why some patients may want to moisten their mouth with drops of water for comfort.

See: Acts of Love: Caring for a Dying Loved One.

When death by voluntarily stopping of eating and drinking was compared with death resulting from physician-assisted suicide, nurses reported that patients in the former group had less suffering and less pain, and were more at peace than those in the latter group. Nurses reported that both groups had a high quality of death, which sounds strange but means that their deaths proceeded with lower levels of pain and struggle.

How Long after Does Death Occur?

Once a person stops eating and drinking, death usually occurs within two weeks. The person may continue to take small amounts of water to swallow pills or moisten the mouth, and these small sips of fluids may prolong the dying process by a couple of days.

See: The Dying Process: A Journey.

Is Voluntarily Stopping of Eating and Drinking Right for Me?

This is likely a question you never thought you’d ask. But if you are, be sure to discuss this with your physician. She will likely want to make sure that there aren’t treatable conditions, such as depression or untreated pain, that are contributing to your decision. She may also refer you to a social worker or a member of your religious organization (if applicable) to discuss this decision further.

No one can tell you whether you should voluntarily stop eating and drinking. Depending on your quality of life, amount of suffering and personal belief system, you can decide if this choice is right for you.

Complete Article HERE!

Fear of death underlies most of our phobias

By , and 

Some people focus their fear of death on smaller and more manageable threats.
Some people focus their fear of death on smaller and more manageable threats.

Awareness of our mortality is part of being human. As author and existential philosopher Irvin Yalom said, we are “forever shadowed by the knowledge that we will grow, blossom and, inevitably, diminish and die”.

There is growing research exploring the overwhelming anxiety that the inevitability of death, and our uncertainty about when it will occur, has the power to create. A social psychological theory, called terror management theory (TMT), is one way to understand how this anxiety influences our behaviour and sense of self.

Coping mechanisms

According to this theory, we manage our fear of death by creating a sense of permanence and meaning in life. We focus on personal achievements and accomplishments of loved ones; we take endless photos to create enduring memories; and we may attend church and believe in an afterlife.

These behaviours bolster our self-esteem and can help us feel empowered against death. For some, however, periods of stress or threats to their health, or that of loved ones, may result in ineffective and pathological coping mechanisms.

These people might focus their real fear of death on smaller and more manageable threats, such as spiders or germs. Such phobias may appear safer and more controllable than the ultimate fear of death.

We might take endless photographs to create a sense of permanence.
We might take endless photographs to create a sense of permanence.

This makes sense because when we look closely at the symptoms of several anxiety-related disorders, death themes feature prominently.

When children experience separation anxiety disorder, it is often connected to excessive fear of losing major attachment figures – such as parents or other family members – to harm or tragedy from car accidents, disasters or significant illness.

Compulsive checkers repeatedly check power points, stoves and locks in an attempt to prevent harm or death. Compulsive hand washers often fear contracting chronic and life-threatening diseases.

People with panic disorder frequently visit the doctor because they’re afraid of dying from a heart attack. Meanwhile, those with somatic symptom disorders, including those formerly identified as hypochondriacs, frequently request medical tests and body scans to identify serious illness.

Finally, specific phobias are characterised by excessive fears of heights, spiders, snakes and blood – all of which are associated with death. Phobic responses to seeing a spider, for instance, typically involve jumping, screaming and shaking. Some researchers argue these extreme responses could actually represent rational reactions to more significant threats, such as seeing a person with a weapon.

Priming death

More evidence for the TMT hypothesis comes from studies showing that death anxiety is capable of increasing anxious and phobic responding.

Compulsive hand washers
Compulsive hand washers

These studies use a popular “mortality salience induction” technique to prime death anxiety in people with other anxiety disorders. The technique involvesparticipants writing down the emotions that the thought of their own death arouses, as well as detailing what they think will happen as they die and once they are dead.

Spider phobics primed like this had increased reactions to spiders, such as avoiding looking at spider-related images, when compared to spider phobics not primed with death. And compulsive hand washers spent more time washing their hands and used more paper towels when primed with death.

Likewise, those with social phobias took longer to join social interactions. After they had been reminded of death, they also viewed happy and angry faces as more socially threatening – as these faces indicate judgement – than neutral, seemingly innocuous faces.

Is fear of death normal?

Given that we are all going to die at some point, death anxiety is a normal part of the human experience. For many of us, thinking about death can evoke fears of separation, loss, pain, suffering and anxiety over leaving those we love behind.

According to terror management theory, this fear has the power to motivate a life well lived. It stimulates us to cherish those we love, create enduring memories, pursue our hopes and dreams and achieve our potential.

Death anxiety is a normal part of human experience.
Death anxiety is a normal part of human experience.

Death anxiety becomes abnormal when it forms the basis of pathological thoughts and behaviours that interfere with normal living. Many obsessive-compulsive hand washers and checkers spend significant amounts of time each day in ritualistic behaviours designed to reduce the threat of dirt, germs, fire, home invasion or threats to themselves and loved ones.

Similarly, those with phobias may go to extreme lengths to avoid what they fear and react with extreme distress when confronted with it. When these thoughts and behaviours lead to impaired functioning, anxiety is no longer considered “normal”.

Treatments, such as cognitive behaviour therapy, for a range of disorders may need to incorporate new strategies that directly address death anxiety. Without such innovation, the spectre of death may tragically haunt the anxious across their lifespan, until it is too late.

Complete Article HERE!

Why the First Cremation in the U.S. Was So Controversial

It was a scandalous topic before Dr. Francis Julius LeMoyne in 1876.

By Amy Elliott Bragg

LeMoyne Crematory in Pennsylvania.
LeMoyne Crematory in Pennsylvania.

“Things were a little ghostly,” wrote a reporter for the Philadelphia Times, setting the scene for a morbid public spectacle. The press had been invited to the first “modern” cremation performed in the United States. It was December 6, 1876.

The Times reporter was among a crowd of journalists and townspeople gathered at the top of a hill in Washington, Pennsylvania to witness the first run of a new crematory built by Dr. Francis Julius LeMoyne. The furnace, designed by LeMoyne and built on his own property, was based on a working model presented at the Vienna Exposition in 1873. The remains to be cremated were those of Joseph Henry Louis Charles, Baron de Palm, a Theosophist who was fascinated by “Eastern” philosophy, and besides that had once known a woman who had been buried alive, and was terrified by the prospect.

Burning the dead is an ancient practice, and in some cultural traditions, it’s a thousands-year-old norm. Today, cremation in the U.S. is soaring in popularity; by 2018, the Cremation Association of North America predicts that over 50 percent of Americans will choose to have their bodies cremated.

Dr. Francis Julius LeMoyne.
Dr. Francis Julius LeMoyne.

But in late 19th-century America, cremation was a radical, tradition-bucking idea. LeMoyne and other cremation advocates believed that burying the dead in the ground allowed germs to seep into the soil, thus contributing to the spread of diseases like cholera, typhus, and yellow fever. Cremation promised to sterilize human remains and bypass the altogether slow and icky process of decomposition. When performed in a state-of-the-art indoor furnace, it was a sanitary and high-tech alternative to burial.

Cremation was also a solution to an urban problem. As cities expanded, they surrounded burial grounds that had once been miles away from town—and rested on prime real estate. “In and about New York, Brooklyn, and Jersey City, 4,000 acres of valuable land are taken up by cemeteries,” wrote Hugo Erichsen in his 1887 pro-cremation treatise The Cremation of the Dead. “It is calculated that with the probable increase of population in the next half a decade, 500,000 acres of the best land in the United States will be enclosed by graveyard walls. … It is an outrage!”

But cremation didn’t catch on with the masses right away. LeMoyne had first approached a local cemetery with an offer to build the crematory on their land; they dismissed him with disgust. The Times reporter who witnessed the de Palm cremation was horrified: “If [de Palm] could have foreshadowed the startling scenes his poor bones would have to go through he would have thought twice before he jumped into the fire.” Anti-cremationists put aside their religious discomfort with cremation to argue that burning bodies would encourage crime—you can’t exhume a cremated corpse!—and dismissed the public health claims of cremationists as unfounded fear-mongering. (They weren’t wrong; there’s no evidence that in-ground burial encouraged the spread of epidemics.)

Cremation was also a solution to an urban problem. As cities expanded, they surrounded burial grounds that had once been miles away from town—and rested on prime real estate. “In and about New York, Brooklyn, and Jersey City, 4,000 acres of valuable land are taken up by cemeteries,” wrote Hugo Erichsen in his 1887 pro-cremation treatise The Cremation of the Dead. “It is calculated that with the probable increase of population in the next half a decade, 500,000 acres of the best land in the United States will be enclosed by graveyard walls. … It is an outrage!”

But cremation didn’t catch on with the masses right away. LeMoyne had first approached a local cemetery with an offer to build the crematory on their land; they dismissed him with disgust. The Times reporter who witnessed the de Palm cremation was horrified: “If [de Palm] could have foreshadowed the startling scenes his poor bones would have to go through he would have thought twice before he jumped into the fire.” Anti-cremationists put aside their religious discomfort with cremation to argue that burning bodies would encourage crime—you can’t exhume a cremated corpse!—and dismissed the public health claims of cremationists as unfounded fear-mongering. (They weren’t wrong; there’s no evidence that in-ground burial encouraged the spread of epidemics.)

Inside the Detroit Crematorium columbarium at Woodmere Cemetery.
Inside the Detroit Crematorium columbarium at Woodmere Cemetery.

Throughout the 1870s and ’80s, as debates about cremation raged in the papers, local cremation societies were organized to argue their case and — more importantly—to raise funds to build crematories. The first public crematory in the U.S., at Lancaster, Pennsylvania—funded by the Lancaster Cremation and Funeral Reform Society—was built in 1884. By 1887, Cincinnati, Buffalo, Los Angeles, and Detroit had all built crematories, many of them designed to look like chapels, with stained glass and stonework. These crematories operated independently of cemeteries, which saw cremationists as competitors.

A few of these early crematories still exist; in Cincinnati, the building is hiding behind deceptive new construction.

The opening pages to 1887 book The Cremation of the Dead.
The opening pages to 1887 book The Cremation of the Dead.

Sometimes the dead traveled hundreds of miles to have their last wishes fulfilled. When Barbara Schorr died in Millersburg, Ohio in 1887, her family honored her wish to be cremated by sending her body to the Detroit Crematorium—nearly 200 miles away, it was nonetheless the closest crematory. But it was still under construction, so Barbara Schorr lay in state for several weeks while it was completed.

Today, a portrait of Barbara Schorr, commissioned by her sons, hangs in the columbarium at Woodmere Cemetery, honoring her as a pioneer of the cremation movement in Detroit.

 A stereoscope view of Lancaster Crematorium, Pennsylvania.
A stereoscope view of Lancaster Crematorium, Pennsylvania.

Because cremation was a moral crusade for the betterment of public health, it attracted sympathizers from other moral causes to its ranks, including no small number of women activists. The suffragist Lucy Stone was the first person cremated at the Forest Hills Crematory in Boston in 1893. Frances Willard—suffragist, temperance activist, and avid bicyclist—was also a vocal advocate of cremation. In 1900, the New York Times ran a satirical news item about the cremation of Willard’s cat: “Each of Toots’s human friends will sprinkle a little myrrh or frankincense over the body, and while it is being consumed the incense will counteract any odor which might be emitted through the furnace chimney.”

By the early 20th century, the sensationalism of cremation had waned, and the practical case for cremation was winning minds. After all, cremation, which requires no elaborate monument marker or plot purchase, is significantly less expensive than in-ground burial. Eventually, cemetery directors realized they might be better off joining the cremationists than trying to beat them. In 1899, Mount Auburn Cemetery—famously one of the original rural cemeteries in the U.S.—hired an architect to renovate an existing chapel on the grounds into a crematory. It was the first cemetery crematory in the state of Massachusetts, and it marked a turning point in the history from what was once a “ghostly” spectacle to an agreeably American way of death and burial.

Complete Article HERE!

Pets Get Send-Off Wit A Very Human Touch

By Yves Herman and Meredith McGrath

pets1

 

Pets are getting a high-class send-off at Animatrans, a funeral home that claims to be the first in Belgium to cater exclusively for pets.

pets2

Chantal Detimmerman weeps at the funeral parlour as she spends a last few moments with her beloved Chico who has been prepared for cremation and laid out in a dog basket.

That is no disrespect for Chico.

Curled up as if asleep, with a garland of flowers around one paw, the Chihuahua is getting a high-class send-off at Animatrans.

pets3

“I loved him so much that I decided to keep his ashes, to always have Chico next to me,” Detimmerman said.

pets4

Other customers choose to turn their dead pets into an even more tangible reminder.

pets5

“Arthur was a special duck,” said Myrian Waeles, who nuzzles her nose against the mallard’s green head as she poses for photographs at her home in nearby Lennik, a town west of Brussels.

Arthur stares ahead with the same expression he has had for the last eight years, since he died and Waeles took him to Animatrans to be stuffed. The company also makes death masks, casting an impression of an animal’s face in long-lasting resin.

“Having Arthur, stuffed next to me, comforts me.”

“He was always waiting for me at the door when I came home, walking next to me in the living room,” Waeles said of her duck.

pets6

Patrick Pendville set up the funeral service after seeing first-hand what animal disposal often looks, and smells, like.

Dropping a dead dog off at an animal rendering plant, a guard instructed him to unpack the carcass, remove its collar, and throw the body into a two-metre-high (7-foot) container swarming with flies, among other animal remains.

pets7

Pendville says his company – which charges between 35 and 350 euros for a cremation – provides a humane way for people to say goodbye to animals they feel were part of the family. But by law it is classified as a processor of hazardous waste.

“I totally refuse (that) name,” he said. “I eagerly wait for when a pet is considered to be sentient and not an expired common commodity when it dies.”

Complete Article HERE!

Dying traditions, and new life, in the funeral industry

By

Vice president Arthur DeFilippo prepared a headstone at Woodlawn Memorials in Everett, a family-run business where sales have been declining for a decade.
Vice president Arthur DeFilippo prepared a headstone at Woodlawn Memorials in Everett, a family-run business where sales have been declining for a decade.

Death is inevitable, but, increasingly, traditional burials are not.

From diamonds made from cremated remains to eco-friendly interments, the $20 billion funeral industry is being reshaped, creating opportunities for the entrepreneurially minded — and financial hardship for those with business models more set in stone.

Consider:

At Rockland Golf Course a few years ago, a kayaker paddled to the middle of a pond with the cremated remains of a golfer who had hit many an errant ball into the water. As the rower released the biodegradable container and the ashes dispersed, a bagpiper played “Amazing Grace” and 75 members of the man’s golf league chipped shots into the water.

A Great Barrington woman wrapped her mother’s body in a cotton sheet and laid her in a cardboard coffin lined with dry ice. The family then held a three-day vigil at her home dance studio, inviting people to play music and see and touch her face for the last time.

In Woburn, a carpenter with a degenerative brain condition is set to be buried in a suit embedded with mushrooms, which will neutralize the toxins in his body as it decomposes into the earth.

In Seattle, plans are underway for a facility to turn corpses into compost; in Italy, a pair of designers is working on a biodegradable burial seed pod that will allow a person’s decaying body to provide nutrients for a tree planted on top of it.

But the number of alternatives to caskets and cemeteries is making life tough for undertakers and monument makers.

At Woodlawn Monuments Inc. in Everett, sales have been in a “freefall” over the past 10 years, said co-owner David DeFilippo. His family has been making tombstones since his great-grandfather opened a shop in 1907, but DeFilippo, 50, said the company – which also employs his mother, aunt, and uncle — is likely to end with him.

“People always say to me, ‘You’re set, people are always going to die,’” said Jeff Hardy, of the Chelmsford burial vault company Hardy Doric Inc. “Well yeah, it’s what happens to them after that keeps changing.”

Death rates are rising as America’s population ages, but with some estimating that cremations surpassed burials for the first time last year, and other cheaper alternatives becoming more popular, profits are being tamped down.

Lewis Funeral Home on Nantucket closed its doors in 2013 after 135 years in business, citing the rise in cremation as a cause. Families who opt for cremation spend 42 cents on the dollar compared with those who have traditional burials, said Teresa Gyulafia, strategic communications director at Batesville, a funeral product manufacturer in Batesville, Ind. — “a big economic burden to the industry.”

Interest in cremations has risen swiftly in recent years, particularly among the growing ranks of the nonreligious. In the 1960s, less than 5 percent of deaths resulted in cremations, according to the Cremation Association of North America. But after the Catholic Church lifted the ban on cremations in 1963 and started allowing cremated remains at funeral Masses in 1997, the practice has become more common. In Maine, which has one of the country’s highest cremation rates, 73 percent of deaths resulted in cremations last year. In Massachusetts, it was 45 percent.

By 2030, the national cremation rate is expected to be 71 percent.

The movement toward cremation and natural burials harkens back to the way things used to be done. Cremation was big during the Roman Empire, before the practice became associated with pagan rituals. Embalming arose during the Civil War as a way to preserve the bodies of fallen soldiers being shipped home from the battlefield.

In response to a shifting market, traditional funeral providers are branching out, offering more custom products and personalized service. To counter a drop in domestic sales, Dodge Co. in Billerica, the world’s largest supplier of embalming fluid, has been selling more sports-themed urns and video tributes. New England Casket Co. in East Boston, founded by an Italian cabinet maker in the 1930s and now run his grandson, makes a casket with a camouflage lining and a rifle holder, among other unique offerings, and has started making more oversized caskets for an increasingly larger clientele.

At Magoun-Biggins Funeral Home in Rockland, owner Bob Biggins offers concierge services: making arrangements with caterers, helping plan dinners at country clubs, and arranging bereavement rates at hotels for out-of-town guests.

Biggins coordinated the golf course memorial. He also put together a funeral procession for an ice cream man led by his iconic truck, complete with popsicles for guests at the grave site, and had a body shop paint a casket to look like a school bus for a local driver.

“You have to adapt to meet what your clients’ needs are,” Biggins said, “and it’s not the old-fashioned cookie-cutter funeral.”

As death becomes less of a taboo topic — at “death cafes” the end of life is discussed over tea and cake — people are also increasingly looking for unique ways to memorialize the dead. Off the coast of Florida, a manmade reef serves as an underwater mausoleum for cremated remains. The Daytona International Speedway considered creating a place to house urns, known as a columbarium, to accommodate NASCAR fans who had been scattering ashes inside the track.

The burgeoning natural burial movement is also changing the industry. The Green Burial Council, which certifies environmentally friendly providers, started with a single funeral home in New Mexico in 2006; today, there are more than 300.

When Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge held a workshop on green burials two years ago, on a sunny Saturday in June, 150 people showed up. “It was the first beach day of the summer, and all these people came to hear about death and disposition,” said Candace Currie, director of planning and cemetery development.

Mount Auburn has sold about half of its 50 natural grave sites in the past two years, and the nonprofit Green Burial Massachusetts Inc. is working to establish the first all-natural cemetery in the state. Mourning Dove Studio in Arlington has seen a sharp uptick in demand this year forbiodegradable caskets made of recycled paper, woven banana leaves, cardboard, and pine.

The process of alkaline hydrolysis, in which bodies are dissolved in a lye-like solution with the help of heat and pressure — seen as a more environmentally friendly alternative to cremation — is legal in a handful of states, including Maine and Vermont.

Some question the movement toward scattered ashes and unmarked graves as too ephemeral.

“How are we going to record our existence?” said Jacquelyn Taylor, a former professor of funeral service education at Mount Ida College in Newton who works as a data analyst for the Dodge Co.

But just because people want a natural burial doesn’t mean they don’t want a place to be remembered.

Dennis White, the Woburn carpenter with a degenerative brain disease, will be the first person to be buried in a Coeio mushroom suit. White, 64, liked the idea of returning his body’s energy to the earth, free of toxins, but wanted a plaque to mark his final resting spot. In Limington, Maine, he and his wife found a cemetery that would let them do both.

Ann-Elizabeth Barnes, the Western Massachusetts woman who held a home funeral for her mother and helps others do the same, said the experience helped bring her closure.

“The first day she looked like herself. She had a little smile on her face. She looked quite peaceful,” she said. “The next day she was just a little bit caved in. The next day she was definitely a cadaver.”

At that point, Barnes knew, “It’s time, she’s gone, we can really say goodbye.”

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