Click on the thumbnail images below to view the comics.
More marvelous news! The second amazing review of The Amateur’s Guide To Death and Dying; Enhancing the End of Life has appeared in as many days.
The Amateur’s Guide to Death and Dying
Review by Emilie Collyer
‘None of the hard times I’ve seen, and I’ve seen plenty, lasted forever. Even this dying business will be over one day. I’ll just wake up dead one morning and that will that. What can I tell you?’
So says Max, an 86 year old man dying from stomach cancer. He’s one of ten group members you’ll meet and get to know when reading The Amateur’s Guide to Death and Dying.
The book is written by Richard Wagner who runs a non profit organisation called PARADIGM Programs Inc whose mission is ‘enhancing the end of life’. One of the main initiatives of the organisation is a ten week structured support program that focuses on death and dying. It is primarily targeted at people diagnosed with a terminal illness, but anyone can do the course.
The Amateur’s Guide to Death and Dying is a ‘workbook’ that takes the reader through the course. There are ten chapters that cover a wide range of territory. It is presented as a combination of group sessions, homework tasks and reflection exercises. There is a detailed blurb about each person and from then on we ‘hear’ from them in the first person, as if they are speaking directly to us in a group situation. They are fictional creations, but based on amalgams of real people. Wagner evokes their personalities well. I felt like I was hearing from ten distinct voices.
The content is comprehensive. We start with a discussion about perceptions of death, including why it still seems to be a taboo subject for so many people. Raul, 18, has polycystic kidney disease. He says how sick he is of ‘fightin’ something I can’t win.’ He hasn’t told his parents about attending the group because he knows how scared they are to accept the fact that he won’t live a long life: ‘They want me to keep praying to all these saints for some kinda stupid miracle. There are so many saints I can’t even remember all their names.’
From there, chapters move through many subjects and tasks including: writing your own obituary, legal, medical and financial matters, sexuality and body image for people who are dying, spirituality and belief, what happens to the body when we die, and the question of assisted, or pro-active dying.
The book is not always an easy read. It opens up questions about our own lives, including regrets and lost chances: ‘I haven’t done anything extraordinary, never won an award, never had my picture in the paper, never went to college, never even had a real job. I’m just an old woman who hasn’t anything to show for her life. And that makes me sad,’ says Janice, 62.
Reading such personal and intense stories has a significant emotional impact. I had to read slowly and take time out on occasion. And of course each story, task and provocation is designed to bring to the surface our own fears, hopes and regrets about death. This is a stated goal of the book and Wagner’s work in general. He is seeking a radical shift in how we perceive dying, specifically in terms of integrating it more consciously into every day life.
It’s not just about increasing awareness. Wagner believes we can live more full lives by embracing death. One of his motivations for creating the program and the book was because: ‘… the wisdom people come to during the dying process often died with them. There simply wasn’t a medium for collecting this abundant wisdom and thus it was frequently lost.’
There is a satisfying narrative arc to the book. Each of the participants comes to a sense of peace and acceptance about their situation. Many have renewed hope and vigour. ‘I feel like I’ve been able to look death in the face these past ten weeks and I didn’t flinch. So maybe, just maybe, death is not so foreboding after all,’ says Kevin, 39.
Some of the final statements in the evaluation section are a little pat. The book allows a neatness and sense of conclusion that is generally lacking in life with all its messiness. This is a minor point though, as the book’s content never shies away from the difficult and the unresolved.
The Amateur’s Guide to Death and Dying is a useful and practical tool for any person approaching their own death, or the death of a loved one and would make a valuable resource for health and community organisations working in this area.
Spending focussed time meditating on the end of life is not something we do often. It’s confronting to face our own mortality, but there’s something vital, even exhilarating about the brief moments of insight that can come. I’d recommend The Amateur’s Guide to Death and Dying to anyone seeking to engage with questions about death and the meaning of life.
Full Review HERE!
I’d like to share with you a wonderful review of The Amateur’s Guide To Death and Dying; Enhancing the End of Life posted this morning on Bill’s ‘Faith Matters’ Blog. Thank you, Bill!
Bill Tammeus, the author of the blog, is the former Faith section columnist for The Kansas City Star. He came to The Star in 1970 as a reporter, spent nearly 27 years on the paper’s editorial page and then moved his column in March 2004 to the weekly Faith section. He took formal retirement in mid-2006 but continued as Faith section columnist on a freelance basis until mid-November 2008. In addition to this daily blog, Bill writes columns for The Presbyterian Outlook and the online edition of the National Catholic Reporter.
In America’s death-denying culture, the reality that death awaits all of us seems to sneak up on lots of people and catch them off guard.
What I bring you today is some remarkable help in exactly that — understanding your own death. It’s a new book (well, workbook might be a better term) called The Amateur’s Guide to Death and Dying: Enhancing the End of Life, by Richard Wagner.
Wagner. a former Catholic priest, is a psychotherapist who founded and now is executive director of PARADIGM Programs, Inc., a nonprofit that works to help people with end-of-life matters.
What Wagner does in this book is walk readers through the experience of being part of a group for 10 weeks, discussing death and dying for two hours at a time.
Now, of course, readers aren’t physically with the composite characters (meaning fictional but based on reality) of Jan, Michael, Holly, Raymond, Clare, Kevin, Max, Mia, Raul and Robin as they talk about their own situations.
But after a time readers will feel as if they know them quite well and have compassion for what each of them is going through.
Wagner also brings experts to the group meetings to deal with various subjects related to death and dying. I thought his chapter on spirituality and religion was quite helpful. The discussion was led by the Rev. David Pattee, who is not a composite character at all but a Unitarian-Universalist pastor.
As you might expect, Wagner has the composite characters in this discussion be from all over the lot when it comes to religious experience. Some are detached from any faith commitment, others are angry at God, others rely on faith to get them through each day.
Somewhere in the midst of all that readers may well find themselves and find some help in grasping how various religious traditions deal with death and dying.
Facing our own mortality can be a sobering and jarring experience, but it’s something each of us must do if we hope to bring our life to any kind of coherent conclusion.
I see Wagner’s book as an excellent tool to help people of all ages with that task. I could see this book being used in various faith communities as a study guide for small groups led by competent lay leaders or clergy.
And the time to engage in this sort of facing-death discipline is well before you think you need it.
Complete Posting HERE!
RELIGIOUS parents of seriously ill children who expect miraculous intervention are challenging the withdrawal of therapies that medical professionals consider to be “aggressive”, “futile and burdensome”, a paper published in the current issue of the Journal of Medical Ethics suggests.
The authors of the article – “Should religious beliefs be allowed to stonewall a secular approach to withdrawing and witholding treatment in children?”- argue that, in place of protracted dialogue between parents and professionals, during which a child might be subject to pain and discomfort, it would be better to have a “default position” whereby the case is taken to court.
Dr Joe Brierley and Dr Andy Petros, both consultants at the Paediatric and Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children, and the chaplain of the hospital, the Revd Jim Linthicum, reviewed 203 cases at the unit over a three-year period, where withdrawal or limitation of invasive care was recommended by the medical team.
While in the majority of cases parents agreed to withdrawal or limitation, in 17 cases “extended discussions” between parents and medical teams did not lead to a resolution. Of these, 11 involved “explicit religious claims that intensive care should not be stopped due to the expectation of divine intervention and complete cure together with the conviction that overly pessimistic medical predictions were wrong”.
Of the 11 cases, five – involving Muslim, Jewish, and Roman Catholic parents – were resolved after meeting religious leaders; one child had intensive care withdrawn after a High Court Order; and in the remaining five, all involving Christian parents, most from “Christian fundamentalist churches with African evangelical origins”, no resolution was possible, owing to “expressed expectations that a ‘miracle’ would happen”.
The authors report that the Christian parents who “held fervent or fundamentalist views” did not engage in exploration of their religious beliefs with hospital chaplains, and that no religious community leaders were available to attend discussions.
Of the total number of 17 cases where there difficulties with finding a resolution, 14 of the children died soon after intensive care was withdrawn; one died within a week of withdrawal; and two survived with “profound residual neurodisability”.
While the authors acknowledge that it is “completely understandable” that some parents oppose withdrawal of support, they call for a “different approach”, citing “considerable stress, tension and conflict” for parents and staff.
The paper argues that while “any solution should allow due deference to a family’s beliefs and shared involvement in decision-making”, the religion of parents “should not influence the management of their child”. It cites the example of giving the children of Jehovah Witnesses blood transfusions and also Article 3 of the Human Rights Act, which states that “no one shall be subjected to torture or to inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment”.
The argument of the paper is challenged in four commentaries also published in the Journal of Medical Ethics. They were commissioned by the journal, and appear alongside the article.
Professor Julian Savulescu, the journal’s editor, argues that: “Treatment limitation decisions are best made, not in the alleged interests of patients, but on distributive justice grounds.”
He suggests that, while it is difficult to say when a human being’s life is worse than death for that individual, “it is much more tractable to decide when one life is better than another and when one life is more worth saving.” In a publicly funded system with limited resources, these should be given to those whose lives could be saved rather than to those who are very unlikely to survive, he argues.
Dr Steve Clarke of the Institute for Science and Ethics argues that the comparison with Jehovah’s Witnesses opposing blood tranfusions does not stand up: belief in miracles is widespread, and opposing withdrawal of treatment in the hope of a miracle cannot be said to be against a child’s best interests. He cites “significant scholarly arguments for the conclusion that miracles are possible”, and suggests that doctors should engage with devout parents on their own terms.
“Devout parents, who are hoping for a miracle, may be able to be persuaded, by the lights of their own personal . . . religious beliefs, that waiting indefinite periods of time for a miracle to occur while a child is suffering, and while scarce medical equipment is being denied to other children, is not the right thing to do,” Dr Clarke writes.
Dr Mark Sheehan, an Ethics Fellow at the University of Oxford, describes religion as discussed in the paper as a “red herring”. There are, he argues, “other things going on in these cases”, and they would be better resolved by being interpreted accordingly, with a focus on “the well-articulated ethical reasons that apply to all”.
Charles Foster, from Green Templeton College at the University of Oxford, suggests that English law, in which the child’s best interests are paramount, is already adequate to the challenge posed by the cases described in the paper. He also argues that these interests cannot be judged only according to medical criteria, but as a “holistic exercise”.
He is critical of the assumption that “there is some sort of democratically ordained mandate to impose secular values on everyone.” He suggests that a parent’s refusal to withdraw treatment from a child is something that “a truly secular society, rejoicing in diversity, should be keen to respect, as long as it is consistent with the best interests of the child, as broadly viewed.”
Complete Article HERE!
1. Get Married
Death is no obstacle when it comes to love in China. That’s because ghost marriage—the practice of setting up deceased relatives with suitable spouses, dead or alive—is still an option.
Ghost marriage first appeared in Chinese legends 2,000 years ago, and it’s been a staple of the culture ever since. At times, it was a way for spinsters to gain social acceptance after death. At other times, the ceremony honored dead sons by giving them living brides. In both cases, the marriages served a religious function by making the deceased happier in the afterlife.
While the practice of matchmaking for the dead waned during China’s Cultural Revolution in the late 1960s, officials report that ghost marriages are back on the rise. Today, the goal is often to give a deceased bachelor a wife—preferably one who has recently been laid to rest. But in a nation where men outnumber women in death as well as in life, the shortage of corpse brides has led to murder. In 2007, there were two widely reported cases of rural men killing prostitutes, housekeepers, and mentally ill women in order to sell their bodies as ghost wives. Worse, these crimes pay. According to The Washington Post and The London Times, one undertaker buys women’s bodies for more than $2,000 and sells them to prospective “in-laws” for nearly $5,000.
2. Unwind with a Few Friends
Today, most of us think of mummies as rare and valuable artifacts, but to the ancient Egyptians, they were as common as iPhones. So, where have all those mummies gone? Basically, they’ve been used up. Europeans and Middle Easterners spent centuries raiding ancient Egyptian tombs and turning the bandaged bodies into cheap commodities. For instance, mummy-based panaceas were once popular as quack medicine. In the 16th century, French King Francis I took a daily pinch of mummy to build strength, sort of like a particularly offensive multivitamin. Other mummies, mainly those of animals, became kindling in homes and steam engines. Meanwhile, human mummies frequently fell victim to Victorian social events. During the late 19th century, it was popular for wealthy families to host mummy-unwrapping parties, where the desecration of the dead was followed by cocktails and hors d’oeuvres.
3. Tour the Globe as a Scandalous Work of Art
Beginning in 1996 with the BODY WORLDS show in Japan, exhibits featuring artfully flayed human bodies have rocked the museum circuit. BODY WORLDS is now in its fourth incarnation, and competing shows, such as Bodies Revealed, are pulling in $30 million per year. The problem is, it’s not always clear where those bodies are coming from.
Dr. Gunther von Hagens, the man behind BODY WORLDS, has documented that his bodies were donated voluntarily to his organization. However, his largest competitor, Premier Entertainment, doesn’t have a well-established donation system. Premier maintains that its cadavers are unclaimed bodies from mainland China. And therein lies the concern. Activists and journalists believe “unclaimed bodies” is a euphemism for “executed political prisoners.”
The fear isn’t unfounded. In 2006, Canada commissioned a human rights report that found Chinese political prisoners were being killed so that their organs could be “donated” to transplant patients. And in February 2008, ABC News ran an exposÃ© featuring a former employee from one of the Chinese companies that supplied corpses to Premier Entertainment. In the interview, he claimed that one-third of the bodies he processed were political prisoners. Not surprisingly, governments have started to take notice. In January 2008, the California State Assembly passed legislation requiring body exhibits to prove that all their corpses were willfully donated.
4. Fuel a City
Cremating a body uses up a lot of energy—and a lot of nonrenewable resources. So how do you give Grandma the send-off she wanted and protect the planet at the same time? Multitask. Some European crematoriums have figured out a way to replace conventional boilers by harnessing the heat produced in their fires, which can reach temperatures in excess of 1,832 degrees F. In fact, starting in 1997, the Swedish city of Helsingborg used local crematoriums to supply 10 percent of the heat for its homes.
5. Get Sold, Chop Shop-Style
Selling a stiff has always been a profitable venture. In the Middle Ages, grave robbers scoured cemeteries and sold whatever they could dig up to doctors and scientists. And while the business of selling cadavers and body parts in the United States is certainly cleaner now, it’s no less dubious.
Today, the system runs like this: Willed-body donation programs, often run by universities, match cadavers with the researchers who need them. But because dead bodies and body parts can’t be sold legally, the middlemen who supply these bodies charge large fees for “shipping and handling.” Shipping a full cadaver can bring in as much as $1,000, but if you divvy up a body into its component parts, you can make a fortune. A head can cost as much as $500; a knee, $650; and a disembodied torso, $5,000.
The truth is, there are never enough of these willed bodies to meet demand. And with that kind of money on the mortician’s table, corruption abounds. In the past few years, coroners have been busted stealing corneas, crematorium technicians have been caught lifting heads off bodies before they’re burned, and university employees at body donation programs have been found stealing cadavers. After UCLA’s willed-body program director was arrested for selling body parts in 2004, the State of California recommended outfitting corpses with bar code tattoos or tracking chips, like the kinds injected into dogs and cats. The hope is to make cadavers easier to inventory and track down when they disappear.
6. Become a Soviet Tourist Attraction
Russian revolutionary Vladimir Lenin wanted to be buried in his family plot. But when Lenin died in 1924, Joseph Stalin insisted on putting his corpse on public display in Red Square, creating a secular, Communist relic. Consequently, an organization called the Research Institute for Biological Structures was formed to keep Lenin’s body from decay. The Institute was no joke, as some of the Soviet Union’s most brilliant minds spent more than 25 years working and living on site to perfect the Soviet system of corpse preservation. Scientists today still use their method, which involves a carefully controlled climate, a twice-weekly regimen of dusting and lubrication, and semi-annual dips in a secret blend of 11 herbs and chemicals. Unlike bodies, however, fame can’t last forever. The popularity of the tomb is dwindling, and the Russian government is now considering giving Lenin the burial he always wanted.
7. Snuggle Up with Your Stalker
When a beautiful young woman named Elena Hoyos died from tuberculosis in Florida in 1931, her life as a misused object of desire began. Her admirer, a local X-ray technician who called himself Count Carl von Cosel, paid for Hoyos to be embalmed and buried in a mausoleum above ground. Then, in 1933, the crafty Count stole Elena’s body and hid it in his home. During the next seven years, he worked to preserve her corpse, replacing her flesh as it decayed with hanger wires, molded wax, and plaster of Paris. He even slept beside Elena’s body in bed—that is, until her family discovered her there. In the ensuing media circus, more than 6,000 people filed through the funeral home to view Elena before she was put to rest. Her family buried her in an unmarked grave so that von Cosel couldn’t find her, but that didn’t stop his obsession. Von Cosel wrote about Elena for pulp fiction magazines and sold postcards of her likeness until he was found dead in his home in 1952. Near his body was a life-size wax dummy made to look just like Elena.
8. Not Spread an Epidemic
In the aftermath of natural disasters such as tsunamis, floods, and hurricanes, it’s common for the bodies of victims to be buried or burned en masse as soon as possible. Supposedly, this prevents the spread of disease. But according to the World Health Organization (WHO), dead bodies have been getting a bad rap. It turns out that the victims of natural disasters are no more likely to harbor infectious diseases than the general population. Plus, most pathogens can’t survive long in a corpse. Taken together, the WHO says there’s no way that cadavers are to blame for post-disaster outbreaks. So what is? The fault seems to lie with the living or, more specifically, their living conditions. After a disaster, people often end up in crowded refugee camps with poor sanitation. For epidemic diseases, that’s akin to an all-you-can-eat buffet.
9. Stand Trial
In 897 CE, Pope Stephen VI accused former Pope Formosus of perjury and violation of church canon. The problem was that Pope Formosus had died nine months earlier. Stephen worked around this little detail by exhuming the dead pope’s body, dressing it in full papal regalia, and putting it on trial. He then proceeded to serve as chief prosecutor as he angrily cross-examined the corpse. The spectacle was about as ludicrous as you’d imagine. In fact, Pope Stephen appeared so thoroughly insane that a group of concerned citizens launched a successful assassination plot against him. The next year, one of Pope Stephen’s successors reversed Formosus’ conviction, ordering his body reburied with full honors.
10. Stave Off Freezer Burn
At cryonics facilities around the globe, the dead aren’t frozen anymore. The reason? Freezer burn. As with steaks and green beans, freezing a human body damages tissues, largely because cells burst as the water in them solidifies and expands. In the early days of cryonics, the theory was that future medical technology would be able to fix this damage, along with curing whatever illness killed the patient in the first place.
Realizing that straight freezing isn’t the best option, today’s scientists have made significant advances in cryonics. Using a process called vitrification, the water in the body is now replaced with an anti-freezing agent. The body is then stored at cold temperatures, but no ice forms. In 2005, researchers vitrified a rabbit kidney and successfully brought it back to complete functionality—a big step in cryonics research. (It may help in organ transplants someday, too.) But science has yet to prove that an entire body can be revived. Even worse, some vitrified bodies have developed large cracks in places where cracks don’t belong. Until those kinks get worked out, the hope of being revived in the future will remain a dream.
Complete Article HERE!
Her Death And After by Thomas Hardy
‘TWAS a death-bed summons, and forth I went
By the way of the Western Wall, so drear
On that winter night, and sought a gate–
The home, by Fate,
Of one I had long held dear.
The rooms within had the piteous shine
The home-things wear which the housewife miss;
From the stairway floated the rise and fall
Of an infant’s call,
Whose birth had brought her to this.
Her life was the price she would pay for that whine–
For a child by the man she did not love.
“But let that rest forever,” I said,
And bent my tread
To the chamber up above.
She took my hand in her thin white own,
And smiled her thanks–though nigh too weak–
And made them a sign to leave us there;
Then faltered, ere
She could bring herself to speak.
“‘Twas to see you before I go–he’ll condone
Such a natural thing now my time’s not much–
When Death is so near it hustles hence
All passioned sense
Between woman and man as such!
“My husband is absent. As heretofore
The City detains him. But, in truth,
He has not been kind…. I will speak no blame,
But–the child is lame;
O, I pray she may reach his ruth!
“Forgive past days–I can say no more–
Maybe if we’d wedded you’d now repine!…
But I treated you ill. I was punished. Farewell!
–Truth shall I tell?
Would the child were yours and mine!
“As a wife I was true. But, such my unease
That, could I insert a deed back in Time,
I’d make her yours, to secure your care;
And the scandal bear,
And the penalty for the crime!”
–When I had left, and the swinging trees
Rang above me, as lauding her candid say,
Another was I. Her words were enough:
Came smooth, came rough,
I felt I could live my day.
Next night she died; and her obsequies
In the Field of Tombs, by the Via renowned,
Had her husband’s heed. His tendance spent,
I often went
And pondered by her mound.
All that year and the next year whiled,
And I still went thitherward in the gloam;
But the Town forgot her and her nook,
And her husband took
Another Love to his home.
And the rumor flew that the lame lone child
Whom she wished for its safety child of mine,
Was treated ill when offspring came
Of the new-made dame,
And marked a more vigorous line.
A smarter grief within me wrought
Than even at loss of her so dear;
Dead the being whose soul my soul suffused,
Her child ill-used,
I helpless to interfere!
One eve as I stood at my spot of thought
In the white-stoned Garth, brooding thus her wrong,
Her husband neared; and to shun his view
By her hallowed mew
I went from the tombs among
To the Cirque of the Gladiators which faced–
That haggard mark of Imperial Rome,
Whose Pagan echoes mock the chime
Of our Christian time:
It was void, and I inward clomb.
Scarce had night the sun’s gold touch displaced
From the vast Rotund and the neighboring dead
When her husband followed; bowed; half-passed,
With lip upcast;
Then, halting, sullenly said:
“It is noised that you visit my first wife’s tomb.
Now, I gave her an honored name to bear
While living, when dead. So I’ve claim to ask
By what right you task
My patience by vigiling there?
“There’s decency even in death, I assume;
Preserve it, sir, and keep away;
For the mother of my first-born you
Show mind undue!
–Sir, I’ve nothing more to say.”
A desperate stroke discerned I then–
God pardon–or pardon not–the lie;
She had sighed that she wished (lest the child should pine
Of slights) ’twere mine,
So I said: “But the father I.
“That you thought it yours is the way of men;
But I won her troth long ere your day:
You learnt how, in dying, she summoned me?
‘Twas in fealty.
–Sir, I’ve nothing more to say,
“Save that, if you’ll hand me my little maid,
I’ll take her, and rear her, and spare you toil.
Think it more than a friendly act none can;
I’m a lonely man,
While you’ve a large pot to boil.
“If not, and you’ll put it to ball or blade–
To-night, to-morrow night, anywhen–
I’ll meet you here…. But think of it,
And in season fit
Let me hear from you again.”
–Well, I went away, hoping; but nought I heard
Of my stroke for the child, till there greeted me
A little voice that one day came
To my window-frame
And babbled innocently:
“My father who’s not my own, sends word
I’m to stay here, sir, where I belong!”
Next a writing came: “Since the child was the fruit
Of your passions brute,
Pray take her, to right a wrong.”
And I did. And I gave the child my love,
And the child loved me, and estranged us none.
But compunctions loomed; for I’d harmed the dead
By what I’d said
For the good of the living one.
–Yet though, God wot, I am sinner enough,
And unworthy the woman who drew me so,
Perhaps this wrong for her darling’s good
She forgives, or would,
If only she could know!
Click on the thumbnail images below to view the comics.