Cold Food Festival and Qingming Festival (Tomb Sweeping Day)

By Sarah Elizabeth Troop


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


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.

Complete Article HERE!

Woollen coffins: A stitch too far?

Knitting may be great for mental health but it also boasts environmental benefits, according to a textile manufacturer from Yorkshire.

Natural Legacy, a family-run firm based near Pudsey, Leeds, have come up with the innovative idea of creating sustainable coffins, out of wool.


The fully biodegradable resting places are made from 100 per cent pure British wool and began being made in 2009, the Yorkshire Evening Post reports.

After starting in 2009 it now sells around 120 a month, and forecasts to increase to 200 monthly orders by the end of 2013.

Each coffin is handmade from three fleeces, costing approximately £600 to buy and according to quality director, Rachel Hainsworth, the innovative idea is proving popular.

“It is such a unique product,” she told the newspaper. However, “the rapid growth in sales indicates that people like the idea of having a stylish, aesthetically pleasing woollen coffin for their loved ones”.

The gentleness of the natural wool is also “a real comfort to families,” Ms Hainsworth added, saying “people literally like to stroke it when they go up to the coffin to pay their respects and I think families like the fact that it is tactile and warm, it is like their loved ones are wrapped in a blanket”.

Initially the range was developed by a marketing student who came across an odd fact while looking at old records.

An Act of Parliament from 1667 decreed that everyone had to be buried in a woollen shroud to support the woollen textile industry, an idea which proved to be the inspiration behind the firm’s designs.

The coffins are lined with organic cotton and then reinforced with recycled cardboard, as well as jute edges, leaving plenty of space for personal name plate embroidery.

As well as being environmentally-friendly these coffins are made from British wool, using British workers, helping to support the UK wool industry.

Check out the Natural Endings site.

Complete Article HERE!

Pet Peace of Mind

Keeping hospice patients and their beloved pets together.


If you’re a pet owner, you know that a dog, cat or other ‘furry friend’ can truly become a part of your family, a part of your world.

So it’s no surprise that those diagnosed with a debilitating or terminal illness sometimes worry more about their four-legged friends than themselves. What happens if they can no longer care for their pets? Where will those animals live once their owners are gone?   Pet Peace of Mind is a nationwide program that helps hospice patients like Donna Sarner keep their pets near them during their end of life journey.  The program also helps place the pet after the patient dies.

Here is Donna’s story as told by Kristine Murtz, Volunteer Services Manager and Pet Peace of Mind Program Coordinator at Cornerstone Hospice:

In particular, Pet Peace of Mind demonstrates the holistic approach that is at the heart of hospice . The emotional connection that people have with their pets is one to be respected and nurtured.

Donna Sarner is 68 years old and lives in a small, rural town in Central Florida. She was diagnosed with adenocarcinoma of unknown origin, a cancer which causes her a great deal of pain throughout her back, abdomen and legs.  She has no caregiver, no nearby family, and limited financial resources. Despite the challenges, Donna maintains a positive yet realistic attitude and wants to enjoy the time she has left with her dogs as well as the cats, vultures, raccoons and bears she feeds outside.

Donna was admitted to Cornerstone Hospice services in October of 2015 and is supported by a dedicated team who go beyond the call of duty.  The many programs we offer are about helping patients and families feel like things are going to be “ok”.

In particular, Pet Peace of Mind demonstrates the holistic approach that is at the heart of hospice . The emotional connection that people have with their pets is one to be respected and nurtured.

Donna has taken better care of her pets—including the buzzards outside—than she has herself. She wants to have her dogs with her as long as possible, “until the very end.”

Donna’s Social Worker, Renee, had to wait several months before approaching advance directives and funeral plans with Donna, but PPoM visit opened the door to this by discussing how her “babies” will be cared for when she no longer can.

Donna spoke with pride about each of her dogs: Ozzie, a 6-year old Australian Shepherd/St. Bernard mix (I know, right?!); Roxy, a 5-year old Chow mix; Bertie, a 4 year-old Catahoula mix; and her beloved old guy “Highknee,” who is a 15-year old poodle mix. He’s only about ‘knee-high’, hence the name. Along with caring for the dogs, our program arranged to have the stray cats she feeds spayed, neutered, and vaccinated. We haven’t really considered what the buzzards might need!

Pet Peace of Mind volunteer Karen Sanders transported each of the dogs to one of our partner veterinarians to get them vaccinated and any necessary medications; she continues to deliver dog and cat food to Donna. We’re providing little Highknee with some medication for his congestive heart failure, and I’ve promised Donna I would personally care for him after she cannot. She also understands that it may not be realistic to have the three large dogs with her until the end, and we are already looking for loving homes for Ozzie, Roxy, and Bertie.

See the flyers below to learn about each dog.

Learn more about Pet Peace of Mind by visiting their website.





Complete Article HERE!

Who chooses not to have a funeral?

Who chooses not to have a funeral

The writer Anita Brookner, who has died at the age of 87, requested that no funeral be held after her death. How common is this and what does it mean for friends and family?

When someone dies, the UK government’s advice is given in three simple steps. First, get a death certificate from a GP or hospital doctor. Second, register the death. Third, arrange the funeral.

But the writer Anita Brookner, best known for her 1984 Booker Prize-winning novel Hotel du Lac, requested that step three didn’t happen in her case, her death notice in the Times saying: “At Anita’s request there will be no funeral.”


In January, the musician David Bowie didn’t have a funeral either – his body was cremated in New York without any of his friends or family present.

This type of ending, where a coffin goes straight from the place of death to the cremator, where it is burned, is known as a “direct cremation”.

Catherine Powell, customer experience director at Pure Cremation, which offers services for England and Wales, estimates that 2,000 people a year are now making this choice.

The most common reason, she adds, is to enable a more “celebratory” event, such as a summer beach party or function at a golf club, to take place weeks or months later. However, some choose it for financial reasons – a direct cremation, including transport and coffin, costs just over £1,000, whereas an average funeral costs £3,600, according to research by Bath University’s Institute for Policy Research.

A direct cremation involves a company moving the body from a hospital, hospice or home to the crematorium. As with a conventional funeral, the coffin travels along the aisle of the chapel to the cremator, but no ceremony takes place.


However, families and friends can come to watch the coffin’s procession. They can touch it and request music to be played. One woman who attended alone “sang her heart out”, says Powell, while the procession of one man’s body was accompanied by his two daughters performing “air guitar”. But there is no eulogy or other ceremonial aspect.

Some Christians have used the direct cremation service, in one case with friends of the deceased reciting scripture as the coffin passed through the crematorium. A religious memorial service took place months later.

UK funerals, in which mourners traditionally have worn black, have become less conventional. In some cases there is now a party theme, with attendees dressing up as, among other things, clowns, Vikings and Dr Who characters. Some might regard this as flippant behaviour, but supporters say they involve thoughtful, personalised ceremony – a tribute and a send-off.

The US-based website What’s Your Grief offers “guilt-free alternatives” to funerals. These include erecting a “shrine” – a collection of photographs and mementos – in the home, holding birthday or anniversary memorials, planting a tree and setting up a memorial book. Of course, all of these can, and often do, happen if the deceased has a funeral too.

“What we offer isn’t a cheap funeral – it’s a simple cremation,” says Powell. “That’s not right for everybody, but it allows the later remembrance to be more personalised and planned. Often there’s no time for some relatives and friends to get to funerals, so it gives them a chance to attend a memorial when one takes place at a better time. It offers more flexibility.

“The body is the part of the funeral process that people find most difficult to deal with. This takes away that worry for people.”

A central question is whether seeing the body (in an open casket) or at least having it in the same room as the mourners is important. In recent years it’s become more common to refer to a corpse as “just a shell”, wrote William Hoy, clinical professor of medical humanities at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, but he questioned how widely this is actually believed.

He cited the concept of “liminality”, described by the early-20th Century anthropologist Arnold van Gennep – that the immediate period following physical death is a “threshold” in which people aren’t sure whether to describe them as dead or alive.

“The bereaved need support in two months, to be sure,” Hoy wrote, “but they most certainly need the support of personally meaningful ceremonies in the early days after death.”

Who chooses not to have a funeral2

There are no centrally held figures on funeral – or non-funeral – types in the UK, but the National Association of Funeral Directors estimates that direct cremations and the rarer burials without ceremonies follow less than 3% of the 480,000 or so annual deaths.

“This is largely because, despite high-profile examples such Anita Brookner and David Bowie, as a society we generally view the act of a committing a body to the ground or to the flames as a central part of the funeral service,” a spokeswoman says.

She acknowledges that those who opt out of funerals usually do so for personal rather than financial reasons. “While a funeral can be extremely distressing,” she says, “it can also be an important part of the grieving process for those left behind and so providing an option to allow people to come together in another way might be an important consideration in the planning process. ”

Brookner, who nursed her own mother until her death in 1969, said she had read the Bible as a child but had decided there would be “a lot of questions and no answers”. She described herself as a “pagan” and supported the use of euthanasia.

The author, who taught at London’s Courtauld Institute of Art and was the first woman to hold the Slade Professorship of Fine Art at Cambridge University before becoming an author, never married or had children.

It’s not been revealed whether she planned for her friends and family, and many thousands of fans, to hold a celebration of her life at a later date.

Complete Article HERE!