Death with options: How we bury our loved ones is changing

By Sybil Fix

Death with options1
The family of Mrs. Jean Dukes lowers her simple casket into the grave at Greenhaven Preserve. The natural burial is an alternative to traditional mortuary practices.

After burying her mother a few years ago, Sheila Holt found herself contemplating her own death.

There was no urgency to it: she was in her early 50s and in good health. But the Summerville health services online school teacher was not inclined to look at death shyly. With a career in nursing behind her, she felt an urge to plan for it and, specifically, for the disposal of her body.

Meditating, envisioning a reel of sensations, Holt quickly excluded embalming, for both the chemicals and the removal of the organs, which felt violating. And then caskets, too.

She considered cremation, and quickly discarded that option: Fire felt violent and destructive.

“It did not feel free to me. I want to view my death as freeing,” she said.

Frustrated, she turned to Google and read about something called natural burials and three places in South Carolina that offered them. On a rainy winter day, she and her husband drove two hours north to Eastover to visit Greenhaven Preserve, a 360-acre nature land trust where one can be buried in a simple shroud in the thick of the woods.

Walking the grounds, they came to a small clearing big enough to park a large SUV and framed gracefully by four hollies. The space seemed to suggest a bucolic grave. Suddenly, the sun came out and the dappled rays came to rest there.

“That was it. I looked at my husband and said, this is it. This is my afterlife spot,” Holt said. She paused in thought. “I have the deed and everything … I could not be more prepared and happy.”

Confronting our mortality and planning for it continue to be hard things to do. Yet, Holt may be representative of a significant shift not only in willingness to discuss death but to chart it so it can unfold in a way that is more truthful what we want for ourselves.

Once, said Archie Willis, president of McAlister-Smith funeral homes here, people did whatever the family did, on a spit of land that had meaning to them, united by the same religion and tradition.

Now families often are split by distance, divorce, second marriages and different religions. Those things complicate decisions regarding burial.

But other influences are budding as people question embalming and caskets, want ritual without artifice, want more individual choice and question their impact on the planet, even in death.

“There is an awareness and a demand for public information about choice that is unprecedented,”said Kate Kalanick, executive director of the Green Burial Council, based in California, which created standards for environmentally conscious deathcare.

College of Charleston professor George Dickinson, who has taught a class called Death and Dying for some 30 years now, calls us “a death-denying society.” But, he said, “the conversation is coming to the forefront. We don’t have to do what Mom and Pop did anymore and we are freer to be frank about it.”

Changing conversation

Every couple of months, people gather in small groups to talk about death. Called Death Cafes (and elsewhere, Death Over Dinner), people venture over food and drink into an uncomfortable conversation, but one that nearly everyone yearns to have.

The group’s foundational belief, “is that if we talk about death in an open way, people will make the most of their lives,” said Jan Schreiber, who retired to Charleston and founded the Death Cafe chapter here. “Talking about death clarifies your life.”

Some people come to talk about coping with dying; others want suggestions on how to discuss death with their aging parents. And some of the conversation is about planning, which nationally many are expressing a need to discuss.

According to the Funeral and Memorial Information Council’s Study of American Attitudes toward Ritualization and Memorialization, in 2015, 69 percent of adults over the age of 40 say they would prefer to prearrange their own service. It may sound like a chore, but, interestingly, the more planned it is, the better we feel about it.

Death with options2
Greenhaven Preserve offers spaces for natural burials.

“I think people are taking more control over their relationship with death,” said Dickinson.

In one large way, that means that people are beginning to question or revisit practices that, in some cases, have survived and been tweaked over thousands of years: among them, embalming and protecting the body in heavy containers that separate us as much as possible from nature. Now there are more options.

Ashes to ashes

The most obvious revolution in deathcare is the meteoric increase in cremation rates, which have gone from 25 percent in 2009 to nearly 50 percent in 2014 and is estimated to exceed 60 percent by 2025, according to the Cremation Association of North America. In favoring cremation, people cite lower costs, practicality and sometimes wanting to save space on Earth.

In Charleston, mecca for retirees and second-home owners, cremation rates exceed 60 percent, said Willis.

At McAlister-Smith, they handle so many that they have changed their logo. Meanwhile, the ways to memorialize cremated remains have grown proportionally: They can be made into diamonds, art, bird baths and reef balls. They can be launched into space or divided in vials that fit easily in a purse. A deceased loved one can come with us everywhere.

Memorial services for the cremated are often more elaborate and painstakingly planned than funerals at which the body is present, said Cynthia Linhart, McAlister-Smith’s director of support.

“Cremation opens the door to the possibility of multiple services and unique locations outside of church,” Linhart said. “They are real celebrations of life … I hear the most romantic of stories.”

But a newer urge is to achieve true dust to dust, the body returning to the soil, as it were, in its immediacy and purity.

Interest in green burial options has gone from 43 percent to 64 percent over the past five years, according to the FMIC study. In the past 10 years, since it began certifying green burial sites, the Green Burial Council has certified 54 cemeteries around the country; another 50 or so practice green burials though they are not certified, Kalanick said.

Green burial requires the use of nontoxic and biodegradable materials such as pine or sweetgrass caskets and cotton shrouds. It appeals to environmentally minded people but also people who feel connected to the land and, Kalanick said, observers of religions that cherish the belief in ashes to ashes. There is a newfound spirituality in the simplicity of nature, she said.

“It’s the most natural thing on Earth,” said Ronnie Watts, an amiable man who started Greenhaven Preserve with his nephew after reading an article on natural burials. “They were walking a pine box through the woods in jeans. I said, ‘That sounds good. I’ve never worn a suit in my life and I don’t want to wear one when I’m buried.’ ”

In the woods

The practice may sound revolutionary, but it’s ancient and legal.

In South Carolina (and most other states), it is legal not only to handle your deceased, but to bury them without funeral home or director, casket or embalming. While many may continue to rely on someone to take and transport a body — and funeral directors continue to be the preferred professionals to call for help — many people are also trending now toward rituals that seem less artificial and cumbersome.

At Greenhaven people get to choose a plot 10 feet by 10 in expanses of woods over rolling hills. Walking the grounds among the hollies, the dogwoods in bloom, the Bradford pears and pines reaching to the sky, the shrieks of birds and dodging of deer, one barely sees the natural stones marking the graves here and there.

Often the deceased are shrouded and lowered in the ground by their own family members. Families plant blooming bulbs on the graves and trees to shade them. There is no danger of tripping over another grave or cars driving by. And, said Watts, you can have a whole funeral for $2,500, including the cost of the plot, opening and closing the grave, and a shroud or pine casket.

“And you can come and stay as long as you want,” he said.

Pamela Horton, of Irmo, buried her husband, William “Steve,” at Greenhaven in 2014. They visited there after Steve was diagnosed with lung cancer, at 63. He wasn’t too keen on cremation; for her part, she didn’t want a casket or embalming. The concept of a natural burial appealed to them spiritually.

When they toured the grounds, they saw a spot they liked at the foot of a hill, facing the rising sun, a Biblical reference to Jesus’s return. They lay down on the ground together, side by side, like children making snow angels, “to figure out how we wanted to be,” Pam said, tenderness in her voice.

Some months later, Steve died, at home. He was washed and shrouded in a white sheet they had slept in together. The family had a gathering in the woods and they all shoveled in the dirt.

“It felt natural and right. It’s a good way to be buried. It’s the way it’s supposed to be,” she said.

Dying as we live

To accommodate this new appeal is a plethora of green products, including biodegradable shrouds, cardboard caskets and biodegradable containers for cremated remains that look like turtles and dissolve in water.

And ingenuity is taking it further.

An Italian company, Capsula Mundi, is proposing treed pod burial capsules in which tree saplings are planted in the earth with a body folded in a fetal position.

From death sprouts life, truly.

And a company called Coeio, in New York, is poised to release something called the Infinity Burial Shroud, a burial cloth woven of mushroom spores that degrade contaminants in the body as it decomposes.

“It would not be a far cry to say that people want to die the way they live,” said Mike Ma, co-founder and president of Coeio, citing market demand for hybrid cars and organic foods.

Since word of the company got out in the past several months, its mailing list has grown to thousands; they also have a list of hundreds interested in being early adopters of the death infinity suit.

“It’s growing into a movement that people are willing to put themselves into, literally,” Ma said.

Personally, development of the company clarified Ma’s life.

“If we come to grips with our death, we have the potential to live life better,” he said.

Complete Article HERE!

Executive Producing Your Own Goodbye

My father-in-law was a planner his entire life. The end was no exception.

By

Hollywood film industry producers or directors in a sound stage
Hollywood film industry producers or directors in a sound stage

We’re better at welcoming new life into this world than we are at saying goodbye. But some point we all end up on the off ramp, regardless of whether we choose to realize it.

But before we hit the exit, there are a few important things to consider: the body, the obituary, the service, and the afterparty. And my father-in-law, Hank, taught all of us how it’s done.

Hank died last January at 92. In December, two doctors declined to operate on his leaky heart valve. They didn’t think he’d survive. So we had a wistful but wonderful Christmas with him as he furniture-walked around the house, grabbing at table and counter tops with labored breathing until he finally settled in on the TV room couch.

Fortunately for all of us, Hank was an engineer and a planner. Years earlier we’d received a blue folder filled with notes on what to do in the event of his death.

He sent us these thoughts in the year 2000. He re-sent them in 2008, complete with an addendum from his wife called “When We Drop Dead.”

First was the body. Yale Medical School was supposed to get it. He left us the phone number and a name. This is actually more complicated than it sounds. You have to die in Connecticut. Yale has to receive the body quickly. And you need an authentic death certificate before they’ll take the body away.

Next, the obituary. Hank kindly provided the name and number of the New Haven Register obit section. And The New York Times’. My husband wrote it. That’s hard to do when you’re grieving. If at all possible, might I recommend writing an obituary in advance, when your head is clear and you have time to check the facts.

There are two kinds of obituaries: paid and unpaid. The paid have a just the facts, ma’am format. My husband wrote this long, heart-tugging piece about his dad’s rags-to-riches story of working hard and rising through the ranks until he was head of a manufacturing company. How his dad had never thought of going to college until a friend off-handedly told him, “Hey, you’re pretty smart. You should.” How he trained in World War II to be a dive bomber pilot (a profession in which half the men died). How when he was 13, he watched his own father drop dead of a heart attack while placing a star on top of the Christmas tree.

It was a lovely obituary. It was WAY too long. My husband eventually wrote a shorter, more bloodless, just the facts one for the paid section but it made him sad. His dad had been a prominent local philanthropist in New Haven. He’d given to hospitals, universities and schools.

Onto the service. I’m a comedian. Twice before he died, Hank asked me to host his memorial service. I said, “But Grandpa, I’ve never emceed a funeral.” He said, “Jane, it’s not a funeral. It’s a celebration of life. I want people to have fun. Tell them how I loved Scott Joplin and Broadway musicals like Oklahoma and South Pacific. How every year we went to the Messiah sing along at Yale because I loved classical music. And keep it to 90 minutes.”

I emceed. His two sons spoke—one at the beginning of the service and one at the end. So did all four grandchildren, who wanted to share stories about the great guy they knew: how he windsurfed until he was 85, let them drive as kids in his beat-up station wagon as they sat in his lap—unbeknownst to Grandma or their parents. Three representatives from his favorite organizations spoke. And two Scott Joplin piano interludes and one soprano singing Handel’s Messiah were woven into the program.

The obit that had been too long? That went into the program. The grandchildren put a copy on every seat.

The New Haven Register sent a reporter and a photographer. So much of New Haven showed up that it became the next day’s front-page story.

It would have been enough. But ever the planner, Hank had one last idea: the after party. At the end of the service, Charlie Salerno and the Clamdiggers their festive red-striped jackets playing Hank’s all-time favorite song, “When The Saints Go Marching In!” He had left us their card—the brass section marched to the stage and led a procession out the hall and directly toward the two bars that he’d drawn in his notes.

Hank was a terrific planner in life. And he did a bang-up job executive producing how we managed the time right after his death. If only he could have done that for others, he’d certainly have found a great second career.

Complete Article HERE!

The new trend is ‘fun-erals’ with a rise in personalised ceremonies

By Amy Molloy

Memeroial candles might be a thing of the past.
Memeroial candles might be a thing of the past.

I DON’T know where my first husband is buried. That might sound odd — especially as I attended the funeral in a cemetery somewhere in Dublin — but I have total amnesia when it comes to the exact location, and most of the service.

I remember I wore a white dress I bought at a charity shop; I remember it was cloudy and the cemetery was next to a school soccer pitch where a match was playing.

I’m sure it was a beautiful funeral and I’m grateful to my late husband’s family for arranging it at a time when I was incapable of even brushing my teeth. But I felt no connection to the occasion, even though I was the widow.

During the traditional service, I tuned out and focused on the sounds of the soccer match and the ecstatic cheers of the children as they scored goals against each other. To me, their enthusiastic celebrations were more representative of my husband than a cold, grey cemetery. And I’m not the only mourner to feel this way.

Traditionally, how we commemorate death is dictated by dogma — you must wear black, look sombre and serve curled-up sandwiches. Increasingly, however, modern mourners want a more personalised service that reflects their loved one’s true character — even if it goes against social and religious etiquette.

‘You must wear black, look sombre and serve curled-up sandwiches.’
‘You must wear black, look sombre and serve curled-up sandwiches.’

It used to only be celebrities who had flamboyant farewells (the funeral wishes of Joan Rivers included a wind machine near her casket so that her hair was “blowing just like Beyoncé’s”).

But these days, “fun-erals” aren’t just for performers with deep pockets.

The National Funeral Directors Association has highlighted a rise in personalised ceremonies, including a heightened interest in eco-friendly options.

In Australia, you can order a casket made from handwoven willow, be laid to rest in a coffin made from 100 per cent biodegradable cardboard, or even have your ashes buried in an “organic eco pod” which sprouts into a tree.

Another survey by funeral services company The Co-operative Funeralcare in the UK found 54 per cent of people would prefer their funeral be a “celebration of life”, and 48 per cent would like to incorporate their favourite “hobby, colour, football team or music”.

We want choices — even in death — rather than a cookie-cutter approach to commiseration. And now an Australian funeral home, set to launch this month, is taking “imaginative mourning” one step further.

The House, a Sydney-based service founded by friends Morna Seres, Kylee Stevens and Christian Willis, will offer “memory services” as opposed to traditional funerals.

What’s the difference? First of all, location. Instead of churches, chapels or other traditional places, services will be held at unique venues around the city, including dance studios and art galleries, who have agreed to hold private events — with a casket as part of the decor.

Instead of churches and chapels, funerals are being held in art galleries.
Instead of churches and chapels, funerals are being held in art galleries.

Unusually, the three entrepreneurs have no previous experience of funeral care, instead coming from careers in art, fashion and styling. But they believe the funeral industry needs an injection of creativity. “I was stimulated [to start the business] by my own father’s funeral,” says Seres. “He wasn’t religious, so we didn’t want it to be in a church or chapel. The only other option we were offered was a graveside burial. It was a rainy day and the sound system didn’t work in the open. It just didn’t feel like a true reflection of who he was.”

The idea was further encouraged by the funeral of a mutual friend, where Seres and Stevens were both struck by the impersonal experience.

“From the service to the sensory elements surrounding the day, it just didn’t feel relevant to my friend or their family,” says Stevens. “Coming from a background in the fashion industry, I started thinking about how the design process could be applied to how we say goodbye.”

Funerals can feel like bleak occasions — for obvious reasons — but do they really need to be? The House believes a funeral should be a “transitional experience” for attendees, using art, design and “sensory experiences” to help with the grieving process.

This could include setting up an art exhibition or photos and videos. Instead of sitting on rows of chairs like a conference, they encourage mourners to move around the coffin, chatting freely instead of feeling confined by tradition.

‘Funerals can feel like bleak occasions — for obvious reasons.’
‘Funerals can feel like bleak occasions — for obvious reasons.’

They may be onto something.

A survey by the not-for-profit organisation Include a Charity found that Australians would prefer their funeral to be a “more casual send-off”. When questioned about their ideal ceremony, 71 per cent said they’d like their loved ones to wear bright colours and 98 per cent said laughing at a funeral was an appropriate way to remember someone.

We’re also breaking out of the mindset that a funeral has to be uncomfortable for attendees — and it’s all about the small touches. Some people even said they’d like “a barista to serve good coffee” at their service.

Instead of traditional hymns, people are also opting for modern music (Green Day’sTime Of Your Life is a popular choice, apparently). I have a friend who, when his 22-year-old brother died, organised a silent disco by the graveside — imagine spotting a crowd of mourners with headphones on, dancing in silence.

Then there’s the debate around digital documentation. Many funeral parlours now offer webcams so that overseas relatives can tune into a service.

When 13-year-old YouTube star Caleb Logan Bratayley died last October, more than 47,000 people tuned into watch a live-stream of his funeral on Periscope. On YouTube there is a GoPro video of a Buddhist funeral shot from a drone flying above it. Insensitive? That’s just a matter of opinion.

Ceremonies should honour a loved one’s memory.
Ceremonies should honour a loved one’s memory.

“Many ceremonies, like weddings and birthdays, have evolved from a traditional style of celebration to a reflection of an individual’s personality,” says psychologist Barbara Jensen. “This is now also true of funerals, although the change has happened at a slower rate because death is still very much taboo in our society. The important thing to remember here is that there is no right or wrong way to do things, and this is important if a funeral is going to be healing for the attendees.”

This type of healing, however, costs. How much will a multi-sensory, personalised funeral reduce a next-of-kin’s inheritance? The House says it can match the average cost of a funeral in Australia (from $4000 for a basic cremation, according to government finance website moneysmart.gov.au).

“Our cost does vary on the requirements of the individual,” says Seres. “But it is important to us that, if someone walks through our door and doesn’t have a lot of money, we’re still able to service them.”

Final costs can also be reduced by enlisting family and friends to help with certain elements.

The danger is that personalised funerals could go the same way as children’s birthday parties, becoming just another pressure. A decade ago, kids were content with jelly, ice-cream and pass-the-parcel, but now a parent feels like a failure if they don’t hire a full petting zoo and the cast of a Disney musical.

Ceremonies that honour a loved one’s memory, though, as well as providing friends and family with closure, are a wonderful farewell.

Complete Article HERE!

Cold Food Festival and Qingming Festival (Tomb Sweeping Day)

By Sarah Elizabeth Troop

qingming1

How did an act of cannibalism transform into a national day for honoring  the dead?

As the legend goes, during China’s Spring and Autumn Period following a civil war, Prince Chong Er was forced into exile for 19-years. With him was his loyal minister, Jie. When the pair had run out of food and were starving, Jie cut the flesh from his own leg and made a leg soup from it to feed the Prince, taking loyalty to a whole new level.

When the hard times were over and the Prince became King, he rewarded all those who had remained loyal to him and totally overlooked the guy who CUT THE FLESH OFF HIS OWN LEG TO FEED HIM. Jie packed up his bags and disappeared into the wilderness, taking  his mom with him.

Someone finally confronted the King about his major oversight and feeling ashamed, he went off in search of Jie, but never found him. In result, some idiot suggested setting the entire wilderness on fire to smoke him and his moms out so, that’s just what the king does. Surprise! Still no Jie.

When the fire was extinguished poor, loyal Jie is found dead in the forest , underneath a willow tree, with his mother on his back. Inside the tree is a letter, written in blood from Jie, “Giving meat and heart to my lord, hoping my lord will always be upright. An invisible ghost under a willow tree is better than a loyal minister beside my lord.” Ouch…

In honor of Jie’s death, the King decreed that no fires could be lit on this day and created the Hanshi Festival or “Cold Food Festival,” since food could not be cooked.

Throughout China’s history the Cold Food Festival has been absorbed into the Tomb Sweeping Festival, which occurs on April 4 or 5th each year.

Qingming Festival2

Quingming or Tomb Sweeping Day in China is a day for honoring the dead. The day is reserved for visiting the graves of loved ones. At this time the graves are cleaned and tended to, favorite foods of the deceased are offered and the practice of burning paper goods, “joss paper,” in the form of money and luxury items is practiced. Joss paper has taken many forms in recent years, everything from McDonalds food to IPhones to the more traditional money, ensuring that the deceased is well provided for in the afterlife. It is reassuring to know there is no McDonalds in the afterlife, tho, amirite?

Qingming Festival3

Since the tradition of eating cold food remains a large part of the festival, qing tuan, sweet green rice balls, have been a traditional festival food for some 2,000 years. A  “green rice” dish is also common, containing a mixture of rice powder and green mugworts, stuffed with a sweet bean paste. Both dishes are common offerings to the dead.

Modern elements now include the recent crop of websites where busy families and professionals who cannot travel to the gravesite can choose from different “tomb sweeping packages.”  Professional mourners will go to your loved ones grave, clean and provide traditional offerings. Sobbing or weeping is extra.

Complete Article HERE!

On Widower Watch

By ANN NEUMANN

On Widower Watch

He crossed the marbled lobby of his building, headed for the front door, leaning into his blue walker as if he were facing a gale-force wind. A golden starburst of drying urine ringed the front of his khaki pants. I thought we were meeting in his apartment, but one of us had the time wrong.

As a hospice volunteer for his late wife, I had traveled from my home in Brooklyn to the Upper West Side every Sunday for the last four years to spend time with them, adding more visits when they needed help with household tasks. When she died, I could hardly abandon him. We had, over the course of all our time together, become a kind of family.

Widowers are endangered beings, challenged by grief and its grim companions: loneliness, disorientation and a statistically high mortality rate. A 2012 study by a team at Rochester Institute of Technology showed that widowers are 30 percent more likely to die after the recent death of a spouse, compared to normal risks of mortality. The first six months after widowhood are the most challenging, but the effects of grief can last up to a decade.

At 90, the man I come to visit every week has a host of complicating ailments: He lives with a colostomy bag; his feet are permanently swollen and flaky with gout; he was given a diagnosis of prostate cancer more than a decade ago. It’s a slow growing cancer, and while he had treatment for it, he suspects that some of his current urination problems are a result. These health factors would be challenging enough on their own, but now they are compounded by profound grief.

It had been only eight weeks since he and I had watched his wife take her last breath on the sofa in their apartment upstairs. Her companionship — they had been married for 53 years — had long dictated his daily schedule; for years her illness required him to carry on with the duties of the household. With his wife gone, his routine gave way to a morass of unaccountability and unwelcome quiet.

It would be easy to be rebuffed by his stoical insistence that he’s fine, but his family and I have begun to track his emotional and physical wellness in a number of ways in the hope that we can forestall the typical effects of new widowhood. Which is why, as he and I stood in the lobby, I anxiously checked the time on my watch, vigilant for any indication that he was encountering psychological or physical difficulties.

He seemed a little confused about what day it was. Yet his thin white hair was neat; his sneakered steps deliberate and sure. His eyesight has been quickly fading over the past few years, but he continues to watch TV, and he is in charge of his hygiene and his schedule for all but four hours a day when his aide comes to cook his evening meal. Despite his soiled clothes, he seemed to be managing his activities of daily living (what gerontologists call A.D.L.s) successfully.

Social isolation is a risk many widowers face, compounded by solitary living. A Pew Research study reported in February showed that an increased number of men live alone: 18 percent, up from 15 percent in 1990. According to AARP, 90 percent of those over 65 wish to stay at home as long as possible.

Although his daughters call and visit frequently, they both live far away. Most of his friends are long dead and he is not a member of a synagogue or senior center, organizations that can often provide continuity and support to elder widowers. My weekly visits, and those of his niece and others, are important to ensure that he socializes.

Mobility can also be an inhibiting factor to maintaining social ties and physical health. Although he is still able to take the bus to doctors’ appointments across town, he tires easily. Some taxis can’t accommodate his walker, and his swollen feet and fading eyesight put him at risk for falling. The National Council on Aging notes that falls are the leading cause of fatal and nonfatal hospital admissions among the elderly. A misplaced step could lead to depression, feelings of helplessness and increased isolation during recovery. Still, it’s important to him that he remain independent as long as possible, which means he’s learning to balance mobility with safety.

Unlike many of his peers, my friend owns his home and has adequate finances to last until the end of his life, even if he increases the visiting hours of his home health aide. But in New York City alone, 20 percent of those over 65 live below the poverty line. Because the federal poverty rate is so low — $11,770 a year for a single person — many elderly people don’t qualify for the benefits they need, particularly in urban areas where housing and insurance rates can be higher.

According to a recent study by the University of California, Los Angeles’s Center for Health Policy Research, an increased number of senior citizens in California are experiencing “worse health, more depression and less access to care.” Because widowhood can decrease household income and other resources, those who have recently lost a spouse are particularly susceptible to this trend.

He will turn 91 this month. His older daughter is coming up from Virginia to host a party in his honor. I’ll pick up a cake, ordered by his younger daughter in Colorado, from his favorite bakery on the Upper East Side. We’ll drink champagne to toast his health, and we’ll miss his wife on this first birthday without her.

Marking family and personal occasions in this way has become increasingly important to all of us; these events intersect long, quiet weeks with laughter and company. And here’s the often unacknowledged benefit to keeping watch on a widower: With my grandparents dead and my friends all around my age, he diversifies my social life as much as I do his. He gives me a perspective on the city we live in that my peers simply don’t have. We spend our time together talking about our dissimilar lives and the things that matter to us, reminiscing about his many rich years, and looking up old poems in the vast library that lines the walls of his house. He is my friend and I miss him when I am away. As it turns out, nonagenarians are good company.

Complete Article HERE!

You can die of a broken heart, study indicates

A trawl of data in Denmark reveals that recently bereaved people have an elevated risk of heart trouble

Agence France Presse

The risk of an irregular heartbeat was 41% higher among those who had been bereaved, according to the study
The risk of an irregular heartbeat was 41% higher among those who had been bereaved, according to the study

The death of a life partner may trigger an irregular heartbeat, itself potentially life-threatening, according to research into the risk of dying from a broken heart.

A trawl of data on nearly one million Danish people showed an elevated risk, lasting about a year, of developing a heart flutter. Those under 60 whose partners died unexpectedly were most in peril.

The risk was highest “8-14 days after the loss, after which it gradually declined”, said a study published in the online journal Open Heart on Wednesday.

“One year after the loss, the risk was almost the same as in the non-bereaved population.”

Much research has focused on explaining the observed phenomenon of people dying soon after their life partner.

Several studies have shown that grieving spouses have a higher risk of dying, particularly of heart disease and stroke, but the mechanism is unclear.

The latest study asked specifically whether bereaved partners were more likely than others to develop atrial fibrillation, the most common type of irregular heartbeat and a risk factor for stroke and heart failure.

Researchers in Denmark used population data collected between 1995 and 2014 to search for a pattern.

Of the group, 88,612 people had been newly diagnosed with atrial fibrillation (AF) and 886,120 were healthy.

“(T)he risk of developing an irregular heartbeat for the first time was 41% higher among those who had been bereaved than it was among those who had not experienced such a loss,” said the study led by Simon Graff of Aarhus University.

Younger people, those under 60, were more than twice as likely to develop problems, and those whose partners were relatively healthy in the month before death, thus not expected to die, were 57% more at risk.

The team cautioned that no conclusions can be drawn about cause and effect, as the study was merely an observational one, looking at correlations in data.

Several factors that could throw the findings out of whack, such as the bereaved group’s diet, exercise regime, or predisposal to AF, were not known.

The loss of a partner is considered one of the most stressful life events.

It can lead to mental illness symptoms such as depression, and can cause people to lose sleep and appetite, drink too much and stop exercising – all known health risks.

Complete Article HERE!

Deborah DiSesa Hirsch: Passing of Baby Boomers has sobering subtext

Patty Duke

A lot of Baby Boomers have died recently. Garry Shandling. David Bowie. Glenn Frey. And now, Patty Duke.

I was connected to her in a very personal way. When we were preteens, my best friend (also my cousin), and I used to sit in front of the TV in our sponge curlers and Lanz nightgowns, fantasizing about what it would be like to be Patty, always getting into trouble (but having fun) in high school. We loved, too, Cathy, her identical perfectly behaved but boring cousin from Scotland (with that adorable accent). I was always Cathy.

This is what high school would be like, falling in love with our French teachers, switching places to fool teachers, Cathy getting a flu shot when they thought she was Patty. And that flip haircut! Kind of like us.

Then came the drugs and divorces, and bipolar disorder, and no more sweet Patty Lane. The fairy tale ended. For a long time, her life was in decline. Just like a lot of us.

Something broke inside when I heard of her death. I’ve had friends die — one, at 37 — but it’s getting closer and closer.

My husband has started collecting Social Security and now, Medicare.

You know somewhere, in the back of your head, that you will die someday. I, more than most, was exposed to it early, diagnosed twice with cancer.

I suppose it’s all coming home to me because my husband is facing surgery. Yes, it’s minor. But it suddenly got him talking about wills and annuities and trusts and who to call (we’ve always kept our finances separate but he’s afraid he’s going to die and wants to make sure my son and I are taken care of). I guess be grateful for small things!

And then I realized, he’s going to die. Maybe not before me, but he will. We just celebrated our 22nd anniversary (actually been together 33 years and I want credit for it all!), and we’ve had our problems through the years. But I suddenly realized I loved him. What will life be like without him? We’ve been together more than half my lifetime. I don’t know what I will do if he is no longer there.

OK, so I’ll get the TV back (no more Bill O’Reilly) and I won’t have to pick up his ski coat off the floor, where he throws it when he comes home. And I won’t have to listen to any more diatribes about how Bernie Sanders will drive us to taxation hell.

You know this day will eventually come. But it just all seems so soon now.

Research has shown that 52 percent of Americans over 65 will not have enough money to maintain their style of living when they retire — because we haven’t wanted to think about dying. We haven’t made plans, so afraid of our impending mortality. Didn’t we all think we’d live forever? We were the Baby Boomers, after all!

As I said, I had an early preview so maybe it’s easier for me. But I still see my husband as the tall, skinny tennis star walking off the court with his trophy (and if I’m honest, me, too, in my short shorts and halter top).

He’s still athletic but his hernia has turned him into an old man overnight. Because of the pain, he’s had a hard time walking (and forget about getting in and out of the car!). It hasn’t stopped him from working at the two dental clinics he helps out at in New York, or even from using the elliptical and stationary bike at home.

But he still walks very, very slowly and it’s like getting a taste of the future.

Hopefully, the surgery will reverse that. But there’s no getting around it. We’re getting old.

I’m hoping next week he’ll be back to complaining that the paper towels are running out and returning to his endless “Camp Larry” Sundays, where he exercises for four hours at a stretch.

But I’m starting to think it’s the beginning of the end. Or maybe, it’s just the end of the beginning.

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