The Good Death

By Robert Kastenbaum

What is the good life? Most people would prefer health to illness, affluence to poverty, and freedom to confinement. Nevertheless, different people might have significantly different priorities. Is the good life one that is devoted to family affection or individual achievement? To contemplation or action? To safeguarding tradition or discovering new possibilities? There is a parallel situation in regard to the good death. Not surprisingly, most people would prefer to end their lives with ease of body, mind, and spirit. This unanimity dissolves, however, when one moves beyond the desire to avoid suffering. Societies as well as individuals have differed markedly in their conception of the good death. The long and eventful history of the good death has taken some new turns at the turn of the millennium, although enduring links with the past are still evident.

Santa MuerteDying is a phase of living, and death is the outcome. This obvious distinction is not always preserved in language and thought. When people speak of “the good death,” they sometimes are thinking of the dying process, sometimes of death as an event that concludes the process, and sometimes of the status of “being dead.” Furthermore, it is not unusual for people to shift focus from one facet to another.

Consider, for example, a person whose life has ended suddenly in a motor vehicle accident. One might consider this to have been a bad death because a healthy and vibrant life was destroyed along with all its future possibilities. But one might also consider this to have been a good death in that there was no protracted period of suffering. The death was bad, having been premature, but the dying was merciful. Moreover, one might believe that the person, who is now “in death,” is either experiencing a joyous afterlife or simply no longer exists.

It is possible, then, to confuse oneself and others by shifting attention from process to event to status while using the same words. It is not only possible but also fairly common for these three aspects of death to be the subject of conflict. For example, the controversial practice of physician-assisted suicide advances the event of death to reduce suffering in the dying process. By contrast, some dying people have refrained from taking their own lives in the belief that suicide is a sin that will be punished when the soul has passed into the realm of death. It is therefore useful to keep in mind the distinction between death as process, event, and status. It is also important to consider perspective: who judges this death to be good or bad? Society and individual do not necessarily share the same view, nor do physician and patient.

Philosophers continue to disagree among themselves as to whether death can be either good or bad. The Greek philosopher Epicurus (341–270 B.C.E.) made the case that death means nothing to us one way or the other: When we are here, death is not. When death is here, we are not. So why worry? Subsequent philosophers, however, have come up with reasons to worry. For example, according to Walter Glannon, author of a 1993 article in the journal Monist, the Deprivation of Goods Principle holds that death is bad to the extent that it removes the opportunity to enjoy what life still might have offered. It can be seen that philosophers are talking past each other on this point. Epicurus argued that death is a matter of indifference because it is outside humans’ lived experience. This is a focus on process. Glannon and others argue that the “badness” of death is relative and quantitative—it depends on how much one has lost. This is a focus on death as event.Lucy

A World Perspective

From terminology and philosophy, one next turns to the rich heritage of world cultures as they have wrestled with the question of the good death within their own distinctive ways of life. Many of the world’s peoples have lived in fairly small groups. People knew each other well and were bonded to their territory by economic, social, and religious ties. These face-to-face societies often contended with hardships and external threats. Community survival was therefore vital to individual survival. Within this context, the good death was regarded as even more consequential for the community than for the individual.

The good death was one that did not expose the community to reprisals from angry spirits or stir up confusion and discontent among the survivors. Personal sorrow was experienced when a family member died, but the community as a whole responded with a sequence of rituals intended to avoid the disasters attendant on a bad death.

The Lugbara of Uganda and Zaire do not practice many rituals for birth, puberty, or marriage, but they become intensely involved in the funeral process. Death is regarded as an enemy, an alien force that raids the village. Nobody just dies. Much of Lugbara life is therefore devoted to controlling or placating evil spirits. The good death for the Lugbara encompasses the process, the event, and the state.

  • The Process: Dying right is a performance that should take place in the individual’s own hut with family gathered about to hear the last words. The dying person should be alert and capable of communicating, and the final hours should flow peacefully without physical discomfort or spiritual distress. The dying person has then prepared for the passage and has settled his or her affairs with family and community. It is especially desirable that a lineage successor has been appointed and confirmed to avoid rivalry and perhaps violence.
  • The Event: The death occurs on schedule—not too soon and not too much later than what was expected. The moment is marked by the lineage successor with the cre, a whooping cry, which signifies that the deceased is dead to the community both physically and socially, and that the people can now get back to their lives.
  • The State: The deceased and the community have performed their ritual obligations properly, so there is little danger of attack from discontented spirits. The spirit particular to the deceased may linger for a while, but it will soon continue its journey through the land of the dead.
  • A death can go bad when any of these components fails. For example, a person who dies suddenly or away from home is likely to become a confused and angry spirit who can become a menace to the community. A woman who dies in childbirth might return as an especially vengeful spirit because the sacred link between sexuality and fertility has been violated. The Lugbara deathbed scene shows compassion for the dying person and concern for the well-being of the community. Nevertheless, it is a tense occasion because a bad death can leave the survivors vulnerable to the forces of evil.

In many other world cultures the passage from life to death has also been regarded as a crucial transaction with the realm of gods and spirits. The community becomes especially vulnerable at such times. It is best, then, to support this passage with rules and rituals. These observances begin while the person is still alive and continue while the released spirit is exploring its new state of being. Dying people receive compassionate care because of close interpersonal relationships but also because a bad death is so risky for the community.

Google ChromeScreenSnapz012Other conceptions of the good death have also been around for a long time. Greek, Roman, Islamic, Viking, and early Christian cultures all valued heroic death in battle. Life was often difficult and brief in ancient times. Patriotic and religious beliefs extolled those who chose a glorious death instead of an increasingly burdensome and uncertain life. Norse mythology provides an example made famous in an opera by the nineteenth-century German composer Richard Wagner in which the Valkyrie—the spirits of formidable female warriors—bring fallen heroes to Valhalla where their mortal sacrifice is rewarded by the gods.

Images of the heroic death have not been limited to the remote past. Many subsequent commanders have sent their troops to almost certain death, urging them to die gloriously. The U.S. Civil War (1861–1865) provides numerous examples of men pressing forward into withering firepower, but similar episodes have also occurred repeatedly throughout the world. Critics of heroic death observe that the young men who think they are giving their lives for a noble cause are actually being manipulated by leaders interested only in their own power.

Some acts of suicide have also been considered heroic. The Roman commander who lost the battle could retain honor by falling on his sword, and the Roman senator who displeased the emperor was given the opportunity to have a good death by cutting his wrists and bleeding his life away. Japanese warriors and noblemen similarly could expiate mistakes or crimes by the ritualistic suicide known in the West as hara-kiri. Widows in India were expected to burn themselves alive on their husbands’ funeral pyres.

Other deaths through the centuries have earned admiration for the willingness of individuals to sacrifice their lives to help another person or affirm a core value. Martyrs, people who chose to die rather than renounce their faith, have been sources of inspiration in Christianity and Islam. There is also admiration for the courage of people who died at the hands of enemies instead of betraying their friends. History lauds physicians who succumbed to fatal illnesses while knowingly exposing themselves to the risk in order to find a cause or cure. These deaths are exemplary from society’s perspective, but they can be regarded as terrible misfortunes from the standpoint of the families and friends of the deceased.

The death of the Greek philosopher Socrates (c. 470–399 B.C.E.) shines through the centuries as an example of a person who remained true to his principles rather than take an available escape route. It is further distinguished as a death intended to be instruction to his followers. The good death, then, might be the one that strengthens and educates the living. The modern hospice/palliative care movement traces its origins to deaths of this kind.

With the advent of Christianity the stakes became higher for the dying person. The death and resurrection of Jesus led to the promise that true accepting deathbelievers would also find their way into heaven—but one might instead be condemned to eternal damnation. It was crucial, then, to end this life in a state of grace. A new purification ritual was developed to assist in this outcome, the ordo defunctorum. The last moments of life now took on extraordinary significance. Nothing less than the fate of the soul hung in the balance.

The mood as well as the practice of Christianity underwent changes through the centuries with the joyful messianic expectation of an imminent transformation giving way to anxiety and doubt. The fear of punishment as a sinner darkened the hope of a blissful eternity. Individual salvation became the most salient concern. By the fifteenth century, European society was deeply immersed in death anxiety. The Ars Moriendi (“art of dying”) movement advised people to prepare themselves for death every day of their lives—and to see that their children learned to focus on the perils of their
own deathbed scene rather than become attached to the amusements and temptations of earthly life. The good death was redemption and grace; everything else was of little value.

This heavy emphasis on lifelong contemplation of mortality and the crucial nature of the deathbed scene gradually lessened as the tempo of sociotechnological change accelerated. Hardships continued, but earthly life seemed to offer more attractions and possibilities, drawing attention away from meditations on death. And by the seventeenth century a familiar voice was speaking with a new ring of authority. Physicians were shedding their humble roles in society and proudly claiming enhanced powers and privileges. In consequence, the nobility were more likely to be tormented by aggressive, painful, and ineffective interventions before they could escape into death. The emerging medical profession was staking its claim to the deathbed scene. It was a good death now when physicians could assure each other, “We did everything that could be done and more.”

The Good Death in the Twenty-First Century

In the early twenty-first century, as in the past, humans seek order, security, and meaning when confronted with death. It is therefore clear that not everything has changed. Nevertheless, people’s views of the good death have been influenced by the altered conditions of life. To begin with, there are more people alive today than ever before, and, in technologically developed nations, they are more likely to remain alive into the later adult years. The most remarkable gains in average life expectancy have come from eliminating the contagious diseases that previously had killed many infants and children. The juvenile death rate had been so high that in various countries census takers did not bother to count young children. Parents mourned for their lost children then as they do now. The impact of this bad death was tempered to some extent by the knowledge that childhood was perilous and survival in God’s hands. The current expectation that children will certainly survive into adulthood makes their death even more devastating. Parental self-blame, anger at God, stress disorders, and marital separation are among the consequences that have been linked to the death of a child.

Childbirth was a hazardous experience that many women did not long survive. Graveyards around the world provide evidence in stone of young mothers who had soon joined their infants and children in death. Such deaths are much less expected in the twenty-first century and therefore create an even bigger impact when they do occur.

In the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, many Mexicans died while attempting to cross the desert to find employment in the United States in order to feed and shelter their families. Are these “good deaths” because of the heroism of those who risked—and lost—their lives, tragic deaths because of their consequences, or senseless deaths because society has allowed this situation to develop?

It is far more common to assume that one has the right to a long life and therefore to regard an earlier demise as unfair or tragic. Paradoxically, though, there is also more concern about not dying young. Many people remain vigorous and active through a long life. Nevertheless, gerontophobia (fear of growing old) has become a significant problem in part because more people, having lived long, now die old. Younger people often fear that age will bring them to a lonely, dependent, and helpless preterminal situation. The distinction between aging and dying has become blurred in the minds of many people, with aging viewed as a slow fading away in which a person becomes less useful to themselves and others. It is a singularly prolonged bad death, then, to slide gradually into terminal decline, in essence having outlived one’s authentic life. This pessimistic outlook has been linked to the rising rate of suicide for men in older age groups. In reality, many elders both contribute to society and receive loving support until the very end, but the image of dying too long and too late has become an anxious prospect since at least the middle of the twentieth century.

tumblr_min5gbpYVO1s11oe8o1_500Two other forms of the bad death came to prominence in the late twentieth century. The aggressive but mostly ineffective physicians of the seventeenth century have been replaced by a public health and medical establishment that has made remarkable strides in helping people through their crises. Unfortunately, some terminally ill people have experienced persistent and invasive medical procedures that produced suffering without either extending or restoring the quality of their lives. The international hospice movement arose as an alternative to what was seen as a futile overemphasis on treatment that added to the physical and emotional distress of the dying person. The hospice mission has been to provide effective symptom relief and help the dying person maintain a sense of security and worth by supporting the family’s own strength.

Being sustained indefinitely between life and death is the another image of the bad death that has been emerging from modern medical practice. The persistent vegetative state arouses anxieties once associated with fears of being buried alive. “Is this person alive, dead, or what?” is a question that adds the pangs of uncertainty to this form of the bad death.

The range of bad death has also expanded greatly from the perspective of those people who have not benefited from the general increase in life expectancy. The impoverished in technologically advanced societies and the larger part of the population in third world nations see others enjoy longer lives while their own kin die young. For example, once even the wealthy were vulnerable to high mortality rates in infancy, childhood, and childbirth. Many such deaths are now preventable, so when a child in a disadvantaged group dies for lack of basic care there is often a feeling of rage and despair.

A change in the configuration of society has made it more difficult to achieve consensus on the good death. Traditional societies usually were built upon shared residence, economic activity, and religious beliefs and practices. It was easier to judge what was good and what was bad. Many nations include substantial numbers of people from diverse backgrounds, practicing a variety of customs and rituals. There is an enriching effect with this cultural mix, but there is also the opportunity for misunderstandings and conflicts. One common example occurs when a large and loving family tries to gather around the bedside of a hospitalized family member. This custom is traditional within some ethnic groups, as is the open expression of feelings. Intense and demonstrative family gatherings can unnerve hospital personnel whose own roots are in a less expressive subculture. Such simple acts as touching and singing to a dying person can be vital within one ethnic tradition and mystifying or unsettling to another.

Current Conceptions of the Good Death

The most obvious way to discover people’s conceptions of the good death is to ask them. Most studies have focused on people who were not afflicted with a life-threatening condition at the time. There is a clear preference for an easy death. The process should be mercifully brief. Often people specify that death should occur in their sleep. Interestingly, students who are completing death education courses and experienced hospice care-givers tend toward a different view. When their turn comes, they would want to complete unfinished business, take leave of the people most important to them, and reflect upon their lives and their relationship to God. These actions require both time and awareness. Drifting off to sleep and death would be an easy ending, but only after they had enough opportunity to do what must be done during the dying process.

Women often describe their imagined deathbed scenes in consoling detail: wildflowers in an old milk jug; a favorite song being played; familiar faces gathered around; a grandchild skipping carefree in and out of the room; the woman, now aged and dying, easy in mind, leaving her full life without regrets. Conspicuous by their absence are the symptoms that often accompany the terminal phase—pain, respiratory difficulties, and so on. These good deaths require not only the positives of a familiar environment and interpersonal support but also a remarkably intact physical condition. (Men also seldom describe physical symptoms on their imagined deathbed.) Men usually give less detailed descriptions of their imagined final hours and are more likely than women to expect to die alone or suddenly in an accident. The imagined good death for some men and a few women takes place in a thrilling adventure, such as skydiving. This fantasy version of death is supposed to occur despite the ravages of a terminal illness.

What is the good death for people who know that they have only a short time to live? People dying of cancer in the National Hospice Demonstration study conducted in 1988, explained to their interviewers how they would like to experience the last three days of their lives. Among their wishes were the following:

  • I want certain people to be here with me.
  • I want to be physically able to do things.
  • I want to feel at peace.
  • I want to be free from pain.
  • I want the last three days of my life to be like any other days.

This vision of the good death does not rely on fantasy or miracles. It represents a continuation of the life they have known, and their chances of having these wishes fulfilled were well within the reality of their situation. Religion was seldom mentioned as such, most probably because these people were secure in their beliefs.

Society as a whole is still reconstructing its concepts of both the good life and the good death. Studies suggest that most people hope to be spared pain and suffering, and to end their days with supportive companionship in familiar surroundings. Dramatic endings such as heroic sacrifice or deathbed conversion are seldom mentioned. There are continuing differences of opinion in other areas, however. Should people fight for their lives until the last breath, or accept the inevitable with grace? Is the good death simply a no-fuss punctuation mark after a good life—or does the quality of the death depend on how well people have prepared themselves for the next phase of their spiritual journey? Questions such as these will continue to engage humankind as the conditions of life and death also continue to change over time.

Complete Article HERE!

Ideas for Headstone Inscriptions

By Reshma Jirage

A few words can never truly capture the emotional upheaval one undergoes when a loved one passes away. Headstone inscriptions are, at best, a way of paying tribute to someone who is no longer with us. Choosing these words is a highly personal decision. We give you some ideas and words that we hope will help and inspire.

The death of a loved one can be one of the most distressing moments in one’s life. One of the few things that keep us going is the knowledge that their remembrances are something that no one can take away from us. The headstone that you place at your loved one’s grave reflects these memories and emotions that you shared with them. The inscription on the headstone is a symbol of the life that they lived and your memory of them.

While picking an inscription for a headstone it may help if you took into consideration the likes, passions, interests, and convictions of the person who has passed on. You could also pick a quote that they liked or a song that they related to. Given here are some ideas that may help you pick a sentiment that expresses everything that you would want to.Google ChromeScreenSnapz012

In Words

Sometimes, the simplest of epitaphs have the most impact. Using something simple, short and elegant as the inscription for the headstone can best express the emotions for the person you have lost.

Lying in peace for an eternity

We will cherish and remember you always

In Rhythm

Poetry has a soul of its own, and when you are at a loss for words that can describe your emotions, a few lines from a poem that truly touches you can be the answer you are looking for.

One short sleep past, we wake eternally
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die. – Death, Be Not Proud by John Donne

Farewell to thee! but not farewell
To all my fondest thoughts of thee:
Within my heart they still shall dwell;
And they shall cheer and comfort me. – Farewell by Anne Brontë

In Their Own Words

If your loved one chose to write their epitaph while alive, then use this as an inscription for the headstone. If this wish was not made clear, you may go through the letters and notes that they have left behind to see if you find something that expresses your loved one’s feelings.

If I should go tomorrow
It would never be goodbye,
For I have left my heart with you,
So don’t you ever cry. – Unknown

The best is yet to come. – Frank Sinatra’s grave marker

In the Words of Others

When you are grieving the death of someone close to you, it can be quite difficult to come up with words that tell the world how much you will miss them and how much they mattered to you. Choose quotes by famous people to describe your love.

Dust thou art, to dust returnest, was not spoken of the soul. – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Yet in this heart’s most sacred place, thou, alone, shall dwell forever. – Thomas Moore

In God’s Name

Traditionally, headstone verses are religious in tone. If the person who has passed on was devout, then verses from the Bible may be the perfect inscription on their headstone. These verses can also be a great source of comfort.

I am the resurrection and the life; he that believeth in me, though he were dead yet shall he live. – John 11:25

They can no longer die; for they are like the angels. – Luke 20:36

In Light Humor

If your loved one was known for his ability to look at the funnier side of things, then it may be a good idea for his headstone to reflect this quality. Of course, with a funny inscription it is important that you tread lightly and do not hurt any sentiments.Google ChromeScreenSnapz008

Dúirt mé leat go raibh mé breoite. (I told you I was sick) – Headstone of Spike Milligan, English comedian

Here lies the body of Jonathan Blake,
Stepped on the gas instead of the brake. – Gravestone near Uniontown, Pennsylvania

These are just some different ideas that you can use to pick a headstone inscription. If you are looking for some words for the headstone, then here are some soul-stirring epitaphs that you can choose from.

For the Headstones of Adults

Earth has one gentle soul less,
Heaven has one special angel more.

In the garden of happy memories,
It is always summer.

You are gone, I remain
Until the day we meet again
Her life a beautiful memory
Her absence a silent grief.

Those we love don’t go away,
They walk beside us everyday.

God took you from our home
But never from our hearts.

So much to live for,
So much to do
So many dreams
Then God chose you.

You taught us many things in life
That we would have to do
But you never taught us
how to cope
with the hurt of losing you.

He shall receive in the world to come, eternal life.

May the journey on your next adventure be as joy-filled as your time with us.

For the Headstones of Children

Ours for a little while.

Sleep, my little one, sleep.

Still loving, still living, still ours.

Tread carefully, here lies our world.

Held for a moment,
Loved for a lifetime.

You touched our lives for the
briefest of moments,
Yet you will stay with us
forever.

O blessed little sunbeam,
O child of love and prayer,
We give thee to the keeping,
Of the tender Shepherd’s care.

Those who we have held in our arms for a little while, we hold in our hearts forever.

Sleep my beautiful angel on your pillow in the sky,
Angels are forever so we’ll never say goodbye.

An angel in the book of life wrote down my baby’s birth, and whispered as she closed the book, too beautiful for earth.

Inscriptions for headstones should always reflect your sentiments, feelings and affection for the deceased. It is your way of honoring a person who has touched your life. Let the memories of your close ones last for eternity with a meaningful epitaph.

Complete Article HERE!

Vatican declares Mexican Death Saint blasphemous

A senior Vatican official has condemned the cult of Santa Muerte, or Holy Death, in Mexico as “blasphemous”.

Santa Muerte

The president of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Culture, Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, said worshipping Santa Muerte was a “degeneration of religion”.

Cardinal Ravasi spoke at a series of events for believers and non-believers in Mexico City.

The cult, which reveres death, has been growing rapidly in Mexico.

It is represented by a cloaked female skeleton clutching a scythe.

It is particularly popular in areas of Mexico that have suffered from extreme violence carried out by the country’s drug cartels.

The cult is believed to date back to colonial times.

It merges indigenous beliefs with the tradition of venerating saints introduced by Christian missionaries after the Spanish conquest of Mexico.
‘Anti-religious’

Devotees pray to the saint at home-made altars and often offer votive candles, fruit and tequila in the hope Santa Muerte will grant their wishes.

Cardinal Ravasi said the practice was “anti-religious”. “Religion celebrates life, but here you have death,” he said.

“It’s not religion just because it’s dressed up like religion; it’s a blasphemy against religion”, he said.

The cardinal also referred to the fact that the cult is particularly popular among members of Mexico’s drug cartels and accused “criminals” of invoking it.

Cardinal Ravasi said a country like Mexico, where more than 70,000 people are estimated to have been killed in drug-related violence over the past six years, had to send out a clear message to its young generation.

“The mafia, drug trafficking and organised crime don’t have a religious aspect and have nothing to do with religion, even if they use the image of Santa Muerte,” he said.

There are no reliable figures showing how many people worship Santa Muerte, but academics studying the subject say more and more Santa Muerte shrines have been popping up in Mexico and the US, where the cult is popular with Mexican immigrants.

Last year, police in northern Mexico arrested eight people in connection with the killing of two boys and a woman in ritual sacrifices which prosecutors said were linked to the cult of Santa Muerte.

Complete Article HERE!

Deathbed Visions and Escorts

Deathbed visions are apparitions; that is, appearances of ghostly beings to the dying near the time of their death. These beings are usually deceased family members or friends of the one who is dying. However, they can also be appearances of living people or of famous religious figures. Usually these visions are only seen and reported by the dying, but caretakers and those attending the dying have also reported witnessing such apparitions. In the majority of these cases, the apparition came to either announce the imminent death of the individual or to help that person die. In the latter situation they act as escorts to the dying in the process of passing from this life to the next.

Deathbed Visions and EscortsVisions at the time of death and announcements or omens of impending death, as well as escorts for the dead, are part of many cultures and religious traditions stretching back through antiquity. The religious motif of the soul making a journey from this life through death to another form of existence, whether it be reincarnation or to an eternal realm, is commonly found in many religions throughout history.

Shamans from many native cultures were adept at journeying from the land of the living to the land of the dead and were thus able to act as guides for those who were dying. Hermes, the Greek god of travel, was also known as the Psychopompos, the one who guided the soul from this life to Hades, and the realm of dead. Certain religious traditions have elaborate rituals of instruction for the soul at the time of death. The Egyptian Book of the Dead and the coffin texts of ancient Egypt gave detailed instructions for the soul’s journey to the next life. Similarly, by use of the Bardo Thodol, or Tibetan Book of the Dead, Tibetan Buddhist monks have guided the souls of the dying through death to their next incarnation. In the Christian tradition it has been guardian angels that have acted as the soul’s guide to paradise. The ancient hymn, “In Paradisum,” invoking the angels to escort the soul to heaven, is still sung at twenty-first-century Roman Catholic funerals.

Christianity’s belief in resurrection and the concept of a communion of saints, that is, the continued involvement of the dead with the spiritual welfare of the living, is reflected in the historical accounts of deathbed visions in the West. Third-century legends about the life of the Virgin Mary recount Christ’s appearing to her to tell her of the approaching hour of her death and to lead her into glory. In the hagiography of many early Christian martyrs and saints, impending death is revealed by the visitation of Christ, Mary, or another saint who has come to accompany the dying into heaven. This tradition is carried over into early historical records. The eighth-century English historian Bede wrote of a dying nun who is visited by a recently deceased holy man telling her that she would die at dawn, and she did. Medieval texts such as the thirteenth-century Dialogue of Miracles by the German monk Caesarius of Heisterbach recount similar stories, but always within a theological framework.

In the seventeenth century treatises began to be published specifically on the phenomena of apparitions and ghosts. By the nineteenth century specific categories within this type of phenomena were being described. For instance, apparitions began to be distinguished between those seen by healthy people and those seen by the dying. It was noted that when the dead appeared to the living, it was usually to impart some information to them such as the location of a treasure, or the identity of a murderer. However, when an apparition was seen by a dying person, its intent was almost always to announce the impending death of that individual, and often to be an escort for that death.

Early in the twentieth century, the doctor James H. Hyslop of Columbia University, and later Sir William F. Barrett of the University of Dublin, researched the deathbed visions of the dying. They were particularly interested in what became known as the “Peak in Darien” cases. These were instances when dying persons saw an apparition of someone coming to escort them to the next world whom they thought to be still alive and could not have known that they had preceded them in death.

In 1961 the physician Karlis Osis published Deathbed Observations of Physicians and Nurses. In it he analyzed 640 questionnaires returned by physicians and nurses on their experience of observing over 35,000 deaths. Osis refers to the deathbed visions of the dying as hallucinations because they cannot be empirically verified. He categorized two types of hallucinations: visions that were nonhuman (i.e., nature or landscapes), and apparitions that were of people. His work confirmed previous research that the dying who see apparitions predominantly see deceased relatives or friends who are there to aid them in their transition to the next life. With the assistance of another physician, Erlandur Haraldsson, Osis conducted two more surveys of physicians and nurses: one in the United States and one in northern India. The results of these surveys confirmed Osis’s earlier research on deathbed hallucinations with the exception that there were more apparitions of religious figures in the Indian population.

These studies and the extensive literature on this subject confirm that throughout history and across cultures, the dying often experience apparitional hallucinations. What significance these deathbed visions have depends on the worldview with which one holds them. In this data those with religious or spiritual beliefs can find support for their beliefs. Parapsychological explanations such as telepathy or the doctrine of psychometry, whereby environments can hold emotional energy that is received by the subconscious of the dying, have all been advanced to explain apparitions at the time of death. The Jungian psychoanalyst Aniela Jaffe viewed apparitions, including those of the dying, as manifestations of Carl Jung’s transpersonal views of the psyche and, therefore, a validation of Jungian metapsychology. Indeed both the visions as well as the apparitional hallucinations described by Osis can be attributed to a number of medical causes, including lack of oxygen to the brain. Ultimately the research into the phenomenon of deathbed visions, while confirming that such events are common, offers no clear explanations.

Complete Article HERE!

Death Masks

I thought it might be time for another edition of the death mask series, which is little variation on the Cemetery Art Project we’re doing here.

This Sexy-Christmas-Themed Funeral Home Ad Will Break Your Brain

Thanks to the folks at Gawker, we have this gem.Funeraria López

We all know that sex sells — but how about sexy funeral home employees dressed in skimpy two-piece Santa outfits?

Funeraria López in the Guatemalan city of El Progreso bravely volunteered to find out.

The result? Well, let’s just say Christmas came early this year.

Complete Article HERE!

10 extraordinary burial ceremonies from around the world

By James Michael Dorsey

Not all cultures believe in burying the dead in the ground. Here are 10 unique ceremonies from around the world.

THE MODERN DICTIONARY defines the word ‘burial’ as placing a body in the ground.

But burying the deceased was not always the case.

Just as primitive man has long worshiped the four elements of Earth, Sky, Water, and Fire, so too have these elements taken their place in burial practices as diverse as the different tribes of the earth.

The way mankind deals with its dead says a great deal about those left to carry on. Burial practices are windows to a culture that speak volumes about how it lives.

As we are told in Genesis, man comes from dust, and returns to it. We have found many different ways to return. Here are 10 that I found particularly fascinating:

Air Sacrifice – Mongolia

Lamas direct the entire ceremony, with their number determined by the social standing of the deceased. They decide the direction the entourage will travel with the body, to the specific day and time the ceremony can happen.

Mongolians believe in the return of the soul. Therefore the lamas pray and offer food to keep evil spirits away and to protect the remaining family. They also place blue stones in the dead persons bed to prevent evil spirits from entering it.

No one but a lama is allowed to touch the corpse, and a white silk veil is placed over the face. The naked body is flanked by men on the right side of the yurt while women are placed on the left. Both have their respective right or left hand placed under their heads, and are situated in the fetal position.

The family burns incense and leaves food out to feed all visiting spirits. When time comes to remove the body, it must be passed through a window or a hole cut in the wall to prevent evil from slipping in while the door is open.

The body is taken away from the village and laid on the open ground. A stone outline is placed around it, and then the village dogs that have been penned up and not fed for days are released to consume the remains. What is left goes to the local predators.

The stone outline remains as a reminder of the person. If any step of the ceremony is left out, no matter how trivial, bad karma is believed to ensue.

Sky Burial – Tibet

This is similar to the Mongolian ceremony. The deceased is dismembered by a rogyapa, or body breaker, and left outside away from any occupied dwellings to be consumed by nature.

To the western mind, this may seem barbaric, as it did to the Chinese who outlawed the practice after taking control of the country in the 1950s. But in Buddhist Tibet, it makes perfect sense. The ceremony represents the perfect Buddhist act, known as Jhator. The worthless body provides sustenance to the birds of prey that are the primary consumers of its flesh.

To a Buddhist, the body is but an empty shell, worthless after the spirit has departed. Most of the country is surrounded by snowy peaks, and the ground is too solid for traditional earth internment. Likewise, being mostly above the tree line, there is not enough fuel for cremation.

Pit Burial – Pacific Northwest Haida

Before white contact, the indigenous people of the American northwest coast, particularly the Haida, simply cast their dead into a large open pit behind the village.

Their flesh was left to the animals. But if one was a chief, shaman, or warrior, things were quite different.

The body was crushed with clubs until it fit into a small wooden box about the size of a piece of modern luggage. It was then fitted atop a totem pole in front of the longhouse of the man’s tribe where the various icons of the totem acted as guardians for the spirits’ journey to the next world.

Written history left to us by the first missionaries to the area all speak of an unbelievable stench at most of these villages. Today, this practice is outlawed.

Viking Burial – Scandinavia

We have all seen images of a Viking funeral with the body laid out on the deck of a dragon ship, floating into the sunset while warriors fire flaming arrows to ignite the pyre.

While very dramatic, burning a ship is quite expensive, and not very practical.

What we do know is most Vikings, being a sea faring people, were interred in large graves dug in the shape of a ship and lined with rocks. The person’s belongings and food were placed beside them. Men took their weapons to the next world, while women were laid to rest wearing their finest jewelry and accessories.

If the deceased was a nobleman or great warrior, his woman was passed from man to man in his tribe, who all made love to her (some would say raped) before strangling her, and placing her next to the body of her man. Thankfully this practice is now, for the most part, extinct.

Fire Burial – Bali

On the mostly Hindu Isle of Bali, fire is the vehicle to the next life. The body or Mayat is bathed and laid out on a table where food offerings are laid beside it for the journey.

Lanterns line the path to the persons hut to let people know he or she has passed, and act as a reminder of their life so they are not forgotten.

It is then interred in a mass grave with others from the same village who have passed on until it is deemed there are a sufficient number of bodies to hold a cremation.

The bodies are unearthed, cleaned, and stacked on an elaborate float, gloriously decorated by the entire village and adorned with flowers. The float is paraded through the village to the central square where it is consumed by flames, and marks the beginning of a massive feast to honor and remember the dead.

Spirit Offerings – Southeast Asia

Throughout most of Southeast Asia, people have been buried in the fields where they lived and worked. It is common to see large stone monuments in the middle of a pasture of cows or water buffalo.

The Vietnamese leave thick wads of counterfeit money under rocks on these monuments so the deceased can buy whatever they need on their way to the next life

In Cambodia and Thailand, wooden “spirit houses” sit in front of almost every hut from the poorest to the most elaborate estate. These are places where food and drink are left periodically for the souls of departed relatives to refuel when necessary. The offerings of both countries also ask the spirits of the relatives to watch over the lands and the families left behind.

Predator Burial – Maasai Tribe

The Maasai of East Africa are hereditary nomads who believe in a deity known as Enkai, but this is not a single being or entity.

It is a term that encompasses the earth, sky, and all that dwells below. It is a difficult concept for western minds that are more used to traditional religious beliefs than those of so-called primitive cultures.

Actual burial is reserved for chiefs as a sign of respect, while the common people are simply left outdoors for predators to dispose of, since Maasai believe dead bodies are harmful to the earth. To them when you are dead, you are simply gone. There is no after life.

Skull Burial – Kiribati

On the tiny island of Kiribati the deceased is laid out in their house for no less than three days and as long as twelve, depending on their status in the community. Friends and relatives make a pudding from the root of a local plant as an offering.

Several months after internment the body is exhumed and the skull removed, oiled, polished, and offered tobacco and food. After the remainder of the body is re-interred, traditional islanders keep the skull on a shelf in their home and believe the native god Nakaa welcomes the dead person’s spirit in the northern end of the islands.

Cave Burial – Hawaii

In the Hawaiian Islands, a traditional burial takes place in a cave where the body is bent into a fetal position with hands and feet tied to keep it that way, then covered with a tapa cloth made from the bark of a mulberry bush.

Sometimes the internal organs are removed and the cavity filled with salt to preserve it. The bones are considered sacred and believed to have diving power.

Many caves in Hawaii still contain these skeletons, particularly along the coast of Maui.
Ocean Burial

The open sea

Since most of our planet is covered with water, burial at sea has long been the accepted norm for mariners the world over.

By international law, the captain of any ship, regardless of size or nationality has the authority to conduct an official burial service at sea.

The traditional burial shroud is a burlap bag, being cheap and plentiful, and long in use to carry cargo. The deceased is sewn inside and is weighted with rocks or other heavy debris to keep it from floating.

If available, the flag of their nation covers the bag while a service is conducted on deck. The body is then slid from under the flag, and deposited in Davy Jones locker.

In olden days, the British navy mandated that the final stitch in the bag had to go through the deceased person’s lip, just to make sure they really were dead. (If they were still alive, having a needle passed through their skin would revive them).

It is quite possible that sea burial has been the main form of burial across the earth since before recorded history.

The Final Frontier

Today, if one has enough money, you can be launched into space aboard a private commercial satellite and a capsule containing your ashes will be in permanent orbit around the earth.

Perhaps this is the ultimate burial ceremony, or maybe the beginning of a whole new era in which man continues to find new and innovative ways to invoke spirits and provide a safe passage to whatever awaits us at the end of this life.

Any other death ceremonies you’ve encountered? Share your thoughts in the comments!

Complete Article HERE!