Pa’s Smile

Jaimal Yogis’s dad explained his final wishes: “I’ve gotten so much from Buddhism for good living, I’m not going to pass up their tips for good dying.”


The first and only time I bought dry ice, the grocery store clerk asked if I was going camping. “No,” I muttered, then managed to stop myself from saying it was for a body. The ice really was to lay my father’s corpse on.

An air force colonel who was skeptical of organized religion, my father, who we call Pa, wasn’t sure the Tibetan Buddhist tradition of leaving the dead undisturbed for three days was necessary. But, as he said after being diagnosed with late stage lung cancer, “I’ve gotten so much from Buddhism for good living, I’m not going to pass up their tips for good dying.”

As if summarizing Socrates in his famous pre-execution speech, Pa often said he had no idea where he was going. ‘If the lights go out, it’ll be a good rest,’ he’d say. ‘And if there’s more, it’ll be a great adventure.’

These three days are not unique to Tibetan, or more accurately, Vajrayana Buddhism. Irish wakes often last two or three days while a soul departs, and Jewish Midrashic texts say a soul hovers over the body for three days (or seven) until the body is buried. The idea behind the three days in Vajrayana Buddhism is that as the breath and heart stop, our gross level of consciousness dissolves but more subtle levels of consciousness remain in the body for up to about seventy-two hours. During that time the subtlest stream of consciousness is said to leave, a transition known to go more smoothly if the body can chill—in Pa’s case literally since under California law dead bodies have to be kept on ice.

“Otherwise they tend to smell like dead bodies,” our hospice nurse informed us.

“Right,” I nodded. “And where do we get the ice?”

“Grocery store.”

“Of course.”

As if summarizing Socrates in his famous pre-execution speech, Pa often said he had no idea where he was going. “If the lights go out, it’ll be a good rest,” he’d say. “And if there’s more, it’ll be a great adventure.” Still, he’d reasoned his way toward the three-day death plan. In addition to reading up on how Vajrayana Buddhists use strict tests to prove they’ve found reincarnations of former teachers, he’d read the work of doctors like Sam Parnia of NYU Langone Health. Dr. Parnia has meticulously catalogued data on people who’ve died clinically, sometimes for hours, before being resuscitated. These briefly dead folks often report vivid dreams after waking, sometimes ones in which they correctly recount what doctors had been saying—“Going to the game later?”—when the patients had no heartbeat. “That’s enough evidence for me,” Pa said. “Don’t poke or prod me for a few days.”

As the actual death part of the three-day death plan approached, we—his family—wondered if having Pa’s cold body steaming on carbon dioxide in the bedroom might intensify our grief. And might it be a little creepy? It turned out to be just the opposite.

Death leaves you in a dreamy shock. You don’t know if you should wail or drive all night to Mexico or finally get to writing your own will. When Pa stopped breathing on a warm summer evening, dressing him in his aloha shirt and favorite Christmas socks, then adorning his room with flowers, was just the beautiful busy work our reeling minds needed. Reading Jane Hirshfield’s “It Was Like This: You Were Happy,” a special request from Pa, while he was actually there in the room felt more heart opening than reading it again while scattering his ashes. And as we sat with Pa each of the three mornings while reading him The Tibetan Book of The Dead—a text meant to help us navigate the space between lives—it felt as if we were on a kind of spiritual tour bus with him, visiting the realms where awakened beings are born from lotuses and truths are whispered on the breeze.

Perhaps most surprising was how much the three-day death plan helped before death. As Pa was starting to show signs of getting close to the end, my sister Ciel and I asked if he would like to hear a Medicine Buddha ceremony that is often done for the sick and dying. “You don’t have to bother with that,” Pa said, continuing his usual stubborn quest to keep us from doting. But we argued that the ceremony would be a good warm-up for when he was down for the count and we were reading The Tibetan Book of the Dead, which Tibetans actually call The Great Liberation for Hearing in the Bardo. Since this made it sound like the reading was for us, Pa agreed.

We sat around his bed, switching back and forth between botching the Tibetan chanting and reading the English translation. The ceremony took about an hour, and we thought ­­Pa had slept through it. But at the end, he sat up with tears in his eyes. “I am so honored you did that for me,” he said. “And now I’m going to get up and see the sky one more time.”

“We’ll get the wheelchair,” Pa’s wife, Margaret, said reasonably.

“No,” he said, “I’m going to walk.”

Pa had already fallen behind the toilet in such a precarious position we’d needed the fire department to come dislodge him, and he’d been bedridden for days now. But charged up by the chanting, Pa managed to lumber slowly to the back porch, rasping with every breath.

We opened the door. Pa turned his face up bracingly to the blue. He looked so pale, I half expected him to croak right there. Instead, he then looked down at a few small stairs he would have to navigate in order to be fully outside. “Take me back,” he whispered. “I want an easy death. Not to fall off the damn steps.”

We laughed. Finding humor in the face of hardship was one of Pa’s great gifts. But we hadn’t heard zingers with gusto like this for a few weeks. And I think, in addition to the power of the ceremony itself, knowing that his family would be there for three full days—botching more Tibetan chants around him—was a great comfort, a lightening.

Philosophical aspects of the plan were helpful too. In hospice Pa occasionally felt unsure of where—even who—he was. One day he called himself King Henry and my aunt the queen. “You wouldn’t believe what’s happening,” he told me. “It’s like I’m disappearing.” This was scary, but Buddhist wisdom for conscious dying gave Pa a place to put his fears.

According to Vajrayana Buddhists, our gross consciousness is where we construct our version of reality through our senses. This construction is like a video game in our heads in which we are the most important character, the one whose suffering matters most, the one who should win all the gold coins because, as our senses (falsely) tell us, we exist separately from the rest of reality. The more we let go of this illusory separation from others, the more room there is to experience our true blissful and compassionate nature. Vajrayana Buddhist teachers say this true nature is most easily accessible at death because, as opposed to meditative glimpses beyond the veil, in death the gross levels of consciousness drop away automatically. So, when Pa was scared or disoriented, we could remind him that losing a mere idea of himself was not just natural, it was part of spiritual awakening.

In his last hours, Pa’s brow was furrowed and his body appeared tense. He looked like he was trying desperately to remember something. Ciel, Margaret, and I were taking turns sitting with him, and fittingly it was just when Margaret was singing him Nat King Cole’s, “When I Fall in Love,” a song they’d danced to on West Cliff Drive above the sea, that Pa finally let go. As he did, his brow smoothed completely, making him look instantly younger. A distinct half-smile appeared on his lips. A Buddha smile. And whether it was Pa’s newfound bliss, rigor mortis, or some combination of both, that smile remained perfectly serene for all three days.

Complete Article HERE!

Santa Prisca Skeleton

A skeleton without arms watches over the side door of one of the most beautiful baroque temples in Mexico.

Santa Prisca, Taxco, Mexico

The temple of Santa Prisca, erected in 1758, is considered one of the most magnificent Churrigueresque churches in Mexico. Built in just seven years, the rose-colored church boasts two towering belfries, a nave, a chapel, and a small ossuary. To guard it, a sculpture of a skeleton brandishing a scythe was placed over the side door.

This part of the church is believed to have been used during the processions of the Cofradía de la Buena Muerte (Brotherhood of the Good Death), a religious group that prayed for souls stuck in purgatory and financed religious death and dying rites and ceremonies.

The street from which the skeleton can be seen was once called “Calle de la Muerte,” or the street of death. Local lore has it that, in 1914, a revolutionary set fire to the shop of a wealthy businessman. While making his escape, he allegedly tripped and landed on his gun, which accidentally fired and killed him instantly. Since then, the street and the skeleton have become even stronger emblems of mortality, inspiring fear in those who cross them.

According to legend, a commuter who had to pass beneath the skeleton each night on his way home from work was so afraid that this eerie representation of death would pursue him that he removed the arms from the skeleton. Since then, the skeleton has remained without a scythe, nor arms to hold one.

When the street was remodeled in the 1960s, a stone skeleton was added to the cobblestone street near the church’s side entrance. Today the two skeletons are mostly ignored by the crowds of people who pass above and beneath them, unaware of the storied pair looming close by.

Complete Article HERE!

These Myths About Grief Could Be Interrupting Your Healing Process

by Catherine Adams

At the end of February, I lost my beloved cat of 13 years to mammary cancer. I adopted her as a kitten when I was a child and she grew with me and comforted me through the highs and lows of my life. Needless to say, it’s been hard, and this experience has me thinking about the process of grieving as I move through it.

Unfortunately, I’ve had a lot of experience with grief in my short 25 years. When I look at this year and speak with my loved ones, I see grief all around me. Grief can be such a shocking experience, and I’ve found there are many harmful expectations surrounding how grief and healing should look. These expectations pigeon-hole us into pain and stagnancy, and can bar us from actually getting to the healing.

Researchers have identified different “types” of grief:

  • Anticipatory grief. When we grieve a loss before the loss has happened. For example, many of us are grieving the loss of 2020 to COVID-19 before the year has ended.
  • Common grief. This includes all of the symptoms you’d typically associate with bereavement.
  • Complicated grief. Where the one affected grieves in an “atypical” way (we’ll get back to this later).
  • Persistent grief. When intense grieving lasts past 12 months in association with certain symptoms.

Through years of experience, I’ve broken down alternatives to the following misconceptions associated with these types of grief to help free you from these expectations in a way that allows you to heal and move forward.

Grief can come hand in hand with any kind of loss, and loss doesn’t only apply to death. Perhaps you’re a part of the class of 2020 and are grieving the loss of a celebration of your accomplishments with friends and family. Perhaps you’re grieving the loss of a relationship and a future you had imagined together with that person. Perhaps you’re grieving the loss of an acquaintance, a public figure, or an unjustly killed stranger.

Whatever you’re feeling, that feeling is valid. After all, how can we move forward from something we haven’t acknowledged we’re going through?

It’s easy to slip into comparison at times of crisis. We may think that because the worst didn’t happen, that because we are alive and healthy and others are much less fortunate, that we do not deserve to feel distraught over events in our own lives.

But, while gratitude for our blessings is a good thing, as is empathy for others, comparison helps no one. It does no good for the less fortunate, and that sort of self-punishment only deepens our pain. Be kind to yourself, and let yourself feel what you are feeling.

Don’t let the surveys dictate how you feel. While research says that bereavement grief tends to last 7 to 12 months, how you cope with your loss (any loss) holds no bearing over what that person or experience meant to you.

Just because you’re able to feel happy after your loss does not mean that you’re happy that it happened. Moments of joy in the midst of a painful experience are completely normal.

Indeed, this myth is pervasive enough that it was deemed worthy of research. Inhibited grief, where a person shows few outward signs of grieving, is a commonly touted type of complicated grief that may contribute to the feeling that you’re doing grief “wrong.” But studies have shown that rather than being harmful or abnormal in some way, this kind of grieving is a sign of human resilience.

Loss is hard and the fact that you have the strength to continue with the difficulties of daily life in the midst of it is something to be proud of.

If you’re dealing with the death of a loved one, that person who passed would have likely celebrated your good days with you if they could. Letting go of your pain does not mean you’re letting go of what you loved.

Emotional numbing

There are times where starting over quickly is a sign of emotional numbing. This is when you “feel nothing” rather than feeling everything (memories, regrets, etc.). This is a coping mechanism for loss. With numbing, feelings may resurface at a later, seemingly unrelated time.

Complete Article HERE!

Relearning how to die

By Richard Smith

Kevin Toolis, author of the beautiful My Father’s Wake, would agree with the surgeon Atul Gawande that we have forgotten how to die. Toolis’s core argument is that his forebears on an Atlantic-lashed island off the west coast of Ireland had a familiarity with death that meant that they knew how to die. Unfortunately, what he calls the Western Death Machine has destroyed that familiarity, leaving us with an existential dread of our inevitable mortality. But he ends the book with a call for rediscovery of how to die, although recognising that “It’s harder than you think to break away from the blinding of the Western Death Machine. In fact, it’s the work of a lifetime.”

The book is constructed around the death, wake, funeral, and burial of Sonny, Toolis’s father, an ordinary but much loved man who had 300 people at his funeral. (As I read that, I thought of funerals I’ve attended with just one or two people and of David Bowie being whisked off without any funeral.) Sonny, who had spent much of his life away from Dookinella, the village where he was born, returned there to die. The dying and those who care for them are not alone: family, friends, villagers, and children are there.

Toolis describes standing beside his unconscious dying father: “We were becalmed. Waiting for his heart to stop, the wake, his funeral, the church, the grave. Waiting for the death of this very ordinary man. Waiting, I thought, to start again. Resume Life. As it turned out, nothing else I have ever done or will do was more important than those precious days.”

Those days were precious because Sonny retaught Toolis how to die. Toolis had experienced the horrors of the Western Death Machine when his brother died young of leukaemia. He could make no sense of that death and launched into a desperate attempt to make sense of death by, as a journalist and filmmaker, interviewing families in Northern Ireland and Palestine whose family members had been killed by terrorists or the Israeli army or whose children had blown themselves up. These experiences produced powerful reports and films but no equanimity with death.

Sonny’s death and wake merged into each other. Given the last rites he died, and his sister and daughters washed the body and prepared him for his coffin. They washed the body of their father as the mother and wife of Hector washed his body after he was killed by Achilles; throughout the book Toolis draws parallels with the Iliad, emphasising how what is happening in rural Ireland has been happening across the world for thousands of years. There was no question of Sonny being spirited away to a funeral home. 

With Sonny dressed and in his open coffin the wake could get into full swing. It would last until he would be carried to the church and then up the mountainside to his grave, two days and a night. Sometimes wakes would last longer if family had to return from abroad. Everybody is welcome at the wake. Toolis didn’t recognise many of those who came. Children play around the coffin. Everybody touches the corpse, and most kiss him. Food and drink are served. People talk about farming, the price of sheep, the weather, but they also tell stories. Death often features in the stories. Toolis hears one young man tell the story of working in a rich home in Essex and finding the owner having hanged himself.

An elderly woman tells the story of having to bury her stillborn child in the unconsecrated ground reserved for suicides and the stillborn. “Sonny’s corpse, his touchable deadness,” writes Toolis, “had made it harder to deceive ourselves of the shiny lies of daylight. So for a few hours, at least, we were free of the constraints of our daily dissembling….In those close watching hours upon the corpse a portal had opened, too, amongst the living, and we spoke without fear on the nature of what each had seen and felt on the shores of life and death.”

Perhaps the most surprising line in the book is a teenager saying to other teenagers after they have left a dance at 3 in the morning: “Shall we go back to the wake for the craic?” Many people outside Ireland are now familiar with the Gaelic word craic, which Wikipedia defines as “a term for news, gossip, fun, entertainment, and enjoyable conversation.” It’s unthinkable that teenagers in London would go to a room with a corpse for fun. It would be thought indecent. But at the wake the teenagers play “the ring,” one of the wake games (which were also played in the Iliad), which are a mixture of violence, kissing, and “libidinous foreplay.” 

Death, as Toolis observes, can be a great aphrodisiac: “The coldness of a corpse has its own perverse existential aphrodisiac; nothing so encourages the animal within us, the hunger for sexual consummation, the need of the comfort of another warm body, than death’s present denial. We affirm ourselves in heat and flesh.” A central argument in the book is that by learning how to die we also learn how to live and love.

Once the wake is over, Sonny is carried to the church and then up the mountain to the grave that has been dug by local people. Toolis carries the coffin, along with his sisters (a development in the tradition). “The carrying of the dead, into and from the church altar and onto the grave, rests on the shoulders of their kin, hopefully their sons. To be carried by those of your own house to your grave is an ancient tribal blessing—a life and death hope, that you will multiply and prosper, bear children, die amidst your family, your community, and still be loved at the end of days. To carry the weight of your own dead, to link arm to shoulder with your brother pall bearer, whoever that might be, shuffling forward in three sets of pairs, in sight of the congregation, is another communal rite of the wake, another fusion of the individual within the wider community.”

There is nothing romantic or sentimental in Toolis’s account of his father’s death, wake, funeral, and burial, but already these traditional customs are disappearing in Ireland and are unknown in the big cities. Can they ever come again? Toolis ends his powerful book with a chapter on how to defeat the Western Death Machine and this challenge:

“You cannot step twice into the same river, ever newer waters flow around and beneath your feet. And we cannot all go back to the island, listen daily to the cowboy songs and the ‘deaths’ on the radio, and live on and die in the last full gatherings of this ancient Celtic rite. But we can carry much of the Irish Wake with us in our hearts. A rite that survived the fall of Troy and a thousand generations before the rise of the Western Death Machine can easily survive the retransplantation back to our cities of glass and concrete. We need to find our way again with death. To be human is to be mortal, and to be mortal is to love, live and die amidst the lives of everyone around you on the island or in the city. And to embrace rather than deny our mortal fate.”

Complete Article HERE!

The 6 stages of coronavirus grief

By Daniel Scott

As a band director, the coronavirus turned me into a person I didn’t recognize, and I am beginning to figure out how to become OK with that. If you are an educator like me, you probably led a semi-continuously busy life made up of moments. You planned those moments based off events through the year. From one event to the next, you would check the boxes.

For me, it looked like this: Holiday Concert? Check. All district auditions? Check. All county clinic? Done. Summer Convention schedule released? I’m ready.

Life was busy, and it was beautiful. With the passing of each event you felt more excitement to reach the next moment in time. You loved the structure of your pre-COVID-19 life and your ability to make a direct difference in the lives of the young people who trusted you to lead them. As a pre-coronavirus coach, dance instructor, or fine arts teacher, you went from changing the world one rehearsal or practice at a time to sitting on the couch in your eerily quiet living room.

You went from booked evenings and packed weekends to forcing yourself to open the backdoor for fresh air. You get fancied up to go to the grocery store with hopes that you will see any other form of face-to-face human life. Coronavirus you is not vibrant. Coronavirus you is not outgoing. And while coronavirus you has all the time in the world to be busy and get tasks done, you don’t want to move from your comfortable, you-shaped cushion on your new couch.

Why is that? How can you go from one of the most task-oriented people you know, to having to muster the motivation to tackle simple tasks? This shift is caused by much, much more than COVID-19, and to understand it, we’re going to have to look at the realm of psychology and, more specifically, grief.

A brief on grief

Grief is the common, internal feeling one faces when they react to loss. Bereavement is the “state of being” experienced when one has lost someone. If you have ever taken an introduction to psychology course, you have probably heard of the 5 stages of grief detailed in the book, On Grief and Grieving: Finding the Meaning of Grief through the Five Stages of Loss, co-authored by Elisabeth Kuber-Ross and David Kessler. The book explored the grief process and identified 5 non-linear stages that exist throughout.

  • Denial
  • Bargaining
  • Anger
  • Depression
  • Acceptance

Kubler-Ross explained in the book that the stage of denial deals with bereavement and the feeling of disbelief for what has happened. The bargaining stage is known as the trade-off stage. During this development, the individual tends to make a deal with fate to gain more moments of time with the loved one they lost. In the anger stage, individuals find something or someone to place blame. In this stage, questions of fairness arise. The sadness stage sends individuals into deep depression and helplessness, and acceptance is the stage in which individuals feel a sense of understanding and the ability to continue through their grief journey.

Many, including myself, believed that grief only occurs when mourning the death of a loved one. It took me by surprise when I was talking through many of my thoughts and emotions surrounding COVID-19 with my principal, and she proclaimed, “You’re experiencing grief.”

“I can’t be experiencing grief,” I thought.

I have experienced the pain of mourning a death, and this feeling was nothing like it. I walked away from that conversation feeling like I was exaggerating the emotions I felt. I did not believe I could ethically compare losing a few concerts and events to the loss of a loved one. So I did some research, and here’s what I found.

Understanding the COVID-grief

“Grief is like the ocean; it comes on waves ebbing and flowing. Sometimes the water is calm, and sometimes it is overwhelming. All we can do is learn to swim.”

– Vicki Harrison

Grief is highly individualized. Frequently, when we experience loss, we are able to skip many of the stages of the process. Others may experience instances where the stages reoccur. Kubler-Ross also believed that the stages of grief could be applied to any significant feeling of personal loss, not just death of a loved one. Kubler-Ross believed people could also experience grief over loss of a job, a relationship, anticipating one’s own death, or similar experiences.

Grief can be encountered by all who have had a major personal loss. For many, COVID-19 uprooted many aspects of day-to-day life: work, leisure, child care, and more. People all over the world have been forced to change their plans and adapt to new, uncertain circumstances. People have lost their normal routine and events they look forward to; as such, people are grieving what we could call a loss of expectation.

This means that COVID-19 grief is a reality and your feelings of loss and fear are valid. The truth is, there is not a “normal” type of grief. If you were to Google “types of grief,” you would meet an onslaught of websites labeling more than 10 different archetypes of grief. Anticipatory, complicated, cumulative, and  disenfranchised grief are just a few types that explain our COVID-19 life.

Anticipatory grief deals with the fear of what the future may hold. One typically incurs this type of grief when he or she receives a bad diagnosis, or when they begin to think of their own parent’s mortality, however, this type of grief also deals with the fear of the unknown. In a recent conversation with the Harvard Business Review, David Kessler stated the following:

With a virus, this kind of grief is so confusing for people. Our primitive mind knows something bad is happening, but you can’t see it. This breaks our sense of safety. We’re feeling that loss of safety. I don’t think we’ve collectively lost our sense of general safety like this. Individually or as smaller groups, people have felt this. But all together, this is new. We are grieving on a micro and a macro level.

As Kessler mentions, the coronavirus is a threat that we can’t see. Further, it is unlike anything we have experienced, so we have difficulty predicting it and knowing what to expect. This uncertainty about the future is where anticipatory grief — this fear of what might lie in wait — can come into play. Anticipatory grief is related to anxiety and the fear of “what comes next.”

Complicated grief includes three different subtypes: chronic, delayed, and distorted. This grief type focuses on the feelings of loss that are long-lasting and disrupt your ability to do daily activities. For instance, this type of grief could manifest as the increased difficulty in getting off of the couch day after day. Some other possible symptoms of this grief are anger and irritability towards others and oneself. Complicated grief reminds us that being stuck in quarantine may not be the only reason you’re getting fed up with your significant other.

Cumulative grief refers to the feeling of loss one experiences when there is a chain of negative events one after the other following a loss. One encounters this type of grief when a second loss occurs while you are still grieving over the first. One tough aspect of COVID-19 has been the slow cancellations of every event and experience from March through the summer and beyond. To many — myself included — it has felt as if life was slowly being taken away one moment at a time. The intense feeling of loss that you may feel is cumulative grief.

You have not finished grieving over the loss of the musical being canceled, and now you’re having to deal with your spring recital being canceled as well. Both events are losses and caused a major disruption to your life. Continued disruptions and losses can send one into a tailspin that leads to a constant recycling of the grieving process. Because of this, the cumulative grief cycle could be very damaging to one’s psyche.

Disenfranchised grief occurs when society attempts to invalidate the grief of an individual, which leads to disenfranchisement. Many teachers are hearing invalidating statements such as, “At least you’re still getting paid. I’d like to get paid to sit around” or “I bet you’re happy to have more time with your family.”

Many of our students, specifically the class of 2020, are experiencing disenfranchised grief. How many of us have read statements such as, “It’s just prom” or “It’s not like they aren’t going to graduate. They just can’t walk on the stage. I wish I could’ve skipped my graduation”? While well-meaning, these statements serve to invalidate the intense feeling of loss that many students and staff are experiencing. These comments send the message that we “shouldn’t” feel this loss. Because of this, many become disillusioned from the grief felt.

The current culture has often made grief felt by educators and students insignificant. Without the ability to acknowledge this grief, feelings of anger, sadness, or loss can arise and be mis-attributed to other issues. All of this feeds the continuation through the grief cycle.

The human brain searches to make sense of what surrounds it. Unfortunately, we are in a constant state of an unknown, fear-inducing world, with a myriad of grief types that force us to feel lost even when we’ve jumped on our seventh Zoom call of the week. What can we do to overcome this grief?

Where do we go from here?

“We grieve because we love. How lucky we are to have experienced that love?” -Jahanvi Sardana

The first step of overcoming grief is understanding. This article doesn’t exist to be an exhaustive guide on how to overcome grief, but more to bring an awareness to what we may be experiencing. Some may be in our denial stages, pretending that the virus doesn’t exist, or in our anger stages where we are extremely angry with the social distancing measures put in place that have caused so much loss and anxiety in our lives. Bargaining may have occurred where we have decided to distance ourselves to be safe for a short period of time in hopes that everything would be “normal” after two weeks. Many of us may be feeling a sense of sadness or hopelessness believing that there is no end in sight.

Rather than be future-oriented, I believe that in this time we should stay present-focused. Every individual should extend grace and compassion to others and work every day toward acceptance.

I believe, much like Kessler, that there is a sixth stage of grief following acceptance. This stage deals with giving a meaning and purpose to the grief we experienced.

I believe that each of us has the unique ability to reach the end of this pandemic stronger, with a few new skills and an abundance of lessons learned.  We have to expect and understand that we may not function at the level that we normally might during this time — and that’s OK! As educators, our focus should be on providing. What experience can we create? What joy can we exude? What smile can we provide to our students and families in need?

Provide joy. Provide happiness. Provide humility. Provide understanding.

Grief is difficult. The emotions experienced are confusing and messy. We must understand that many of our days we will not be able to give as much of ourselves as we are used to, and that is OK.

Our 100% will be different each day, but we must focus on doing our best to provide what we can for the career that we love. The most important lesson I hope we all take away is to always love and appreciate the gifts life gives us every day.

Complete Article HERE!

How Death Doulas Have Adapted End-of-Life Care Amid COVID-19


Christy Marek, a certified end-of-life doula, has seen firsthand the added stress that terminally ill individuals have had to endure because of the pandemic. One client had been living at home but decided that her health was putting too much added stress on her family. “She had considered going into a facility just so that she could get the level of support that she needed as she was becoming bed-bound,” says Marek, who is based in Minnesota. But the client found herself at a crossroads: she had to choose between the possibility of dying alone in a facility (upon admission, patients were required to quarantine alone with no visitation for two weeks) or continuing to rely on family care while spending the rest of her time at home.

Marek made several phone calls to facilities to advocate for her client. “I said, ‘What if she doesn’t have two weeks? What are you going to do?’” Marek recalls. Ultimately, her client ended up getting 24-hour home care, but it wasn’t her first choice. “People are then dying at home because the last thing they want is to go into a facility,” says Marek. “They don’t have time to quarantine for the amount of time that [facilities] need.”

For centuries, doulas have been assisting with childbirth, providing emotional, physical, and educational support during pregnancy, labor, and delivery. But there aren’t just doulas for the birthing process: over time, both officially and unofficially, end-of-life doulas have emerged to help individuals with palliative care and support their families through the grief that comes with losing someone. A 2017 study found that women who had continuous support during their labor—whether from a nurse, doula, or partner—reported a more positive birth experience. It seems likely that the same kind of constant emotional support from a death doula would have an equally positive effect on processing the grief around passing.

In a year when death and grief have become a constant, the palliative care process has reached a new level of complexity amid COVID-19. End-of-life doulas have always strived to be a support system for those who are terminally ill, but in 2020 the people who take on that responsibility have been challenged to think outside the box when it comes to caregiving. They’ve had to help their dying clients make unimaginable choices between risking virus exposure and spending their last days alone. They’ve also had their presence questioned at a time when their skills could be most valuable.

Alua Arthur, an end-of-life doula and founder of Going With Grace, has been trying to encourage clients to focus on what they do have control over, even when the world feels full of uncertainty. “Because they’re getting close to the end of life, I remind them that there are some things that are still firmly within our control,” says Alua. “[I have them] look at what it is that we’re trying to control and where the control actually exists. She has her clients work on “cultivating presence and practicing adaptability,” along with “exercises, like finding our feet and consistently planting our feet firmly on the ground [and] becoming present.”

Communication and connection have been the most challenging variables for doulas and their clients. Many in-person meetings with clients and their families have gone digital. For Arthur, FaceTime and Zoom have become essential for helping with clients’ health-related questions when she can’t physically be with them. “Family members [can] scan body parts through a video call, show me and say, ‘Does that look normal?’ Or, ‘She’s breathing like this, does that sound normal?’ And [they] hold the phone up [for me to hear] somebody’s breathing pattern.” That way, even if Arthur is not with the client, she can make an informed decision as to whether they should call the doctor. Arthur has also hosted webinars to help people experience grief and facilitate rituals for transitioning. She has helped coordinate with funeral homes to livestream funerals for clients so that more family members could participate.

For clients who are in assisted-living communities or the hospital, nurses often act as a bridge on behalf of doulas. Janie Rakow, a recently retired end-of-life doula and former president of the International End of Life Doula Association (INELDA), has been raising money for baby monitors for local hospitals so that doulas can keep in touch with their clients, talk to social workers and chaplains, and even play music. “Nurses and medical staff have been integral in helping doulas make sure they connect with families and play music until the end,” she says.

Omisade Burney-Scott, a full-spectrum doula based in North Carolina, has been encouraging her clients to “think about how you show up energetically when you can’t show up physically.”

“Because I’m a Southern Black woman, there’s so much ritual involved with death and dying in the South with Black folk,” says Burney-Scott. “It’s beautiful, it’s complex, but it’s highly ritualized.” Grieving has generally involved a lot of face-to-face interactions and “people coming to your house dropping off casserole after casserole,” so during the pandemic Burney-Scott has tried to help her clients try to find alternate activities that will create a similar feeling of closeness and community. One client with relatives spread throughout the United States and Europe had lost two family members and was looking to honor the deceased. “My question for this person was, ‘Where are they from? What are the things that are meaningful for your family? What are the things that you all love to do together?’ And one of the things that we talked about was food and how much food is a core part of their family culture.” Since their family already did a Zoom session every Sunday, Burney-Scott suggested that they make a dish that everybody in the family loves for their meeting. “Then, when you come to the Zoom call, y’all eat together and honor this person or these people who’ve made their transition,” Burney-Scott says.

End-of-life doulas also help their clients navigate and find support within a racist healthcare system. A 2017 study from Academic Emergency Medicine on implicit bias revealed that White patients were favored, especially by White doctors. Coronavirus has been two times as likely to kill Black and Latino people than White people. In June, Arthur was a panelist for a talk where she and other Black death doulas, along with grief and funeral professionals, discussed the implications of a “good death” in a racist society. More than 2,000 people signed up for the webinar, which touched on the “implicit bias that exists against Black workers, Black deceased and patrons of their families.” “I don’t know how many times I’ve heard people say that racism or race should not be a factor in how we care for people at the end of the day,” says Arthur. “But in order for us to effectively care for people in the afterlife, we have to honor the reality of their lived experience. That includes race, their physical ability, [their] ability to hear, color, sexual orientation, gender identity, and every little part of themselves. We’re honoring a life, so we have to look at the whole life.”

Burney-Scott has been helping members of the Black community process continued grief after the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery and amid continued police brutality and the Black Lives Matter movement. “Grief is not an emotion that is mutually exclusive to physical death,” says Burney-Scott. “So what I have found is that there’s been an unrelenting nature to the grief that we’re all experiencing right now with the pandemic, with COVID-19, but also with racism and white supremacy.” Burney-Scott has been looking to her spiritual background to provide support for others. “My role in that has been to provide instructions and support around how to create your own altar, how to open your space and yourself up to either meditation, prayer, or conversation with your ancestors to ask for support for these families who have experienced the unimaginable,” she says.

More than ever, it’s been necessary for doulas to focus on possibility and opportunity as a way to keep their clients comforted and connected. Still, the challenges of limited physical interactions and restrictions due to COVID-19 have transformed their jobs. In the meantime, end-of-life doulas are doing everything they can to be there for their clients.“We support and empower,” Arthur says. “Why? Because we don’t want people to feel alone in the process. How? We show up.”

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Humans in the Near East Cremated Their Dead 9,000 Years Ago

Archaeologists found the charred bones of a young adult in the ancient Israeli village of Beisamoun

The charred shoulder blade of a young adult who was cremated in northern Israel some 9,000 years ago. The bone contains the embedded point of a flint projectile.

By Alex Fox

Some 9,000 years ago, a young adult in what is now Israel survived a spear or arrow to the back, recovering from the injury only to die under unknown circumstances some months or years later. Shortly after the individual’s death, their body was arranged into a sitting position and burned in a pit at Beisamoun in Israel’s northern Jordan Valley.

Now, reports Ruth Schuster for Haaretz, archaeologists have identified traces of this ancient funerary rite as the Near East’s earliest evidence of cremation. The researchers’ analysis of the remains, which date to between 7031 and 6700 B.C., are published in the journal PLOS One.

Burying the deceased underground was the dominant funerary practice for millennia, says Fanny Bocquentin, an archaeologist at the French National Center for Scientific Research in Paris, to Michael Marshall of New Scientist. Prior research suggests Neanderthals buried their dead as early as 70,000 years ago.

The advent of cremation may have signaled a shift away from ancestor worship, which encouraged the living to care for “the dead for a long time,” according to Bocquentin, and house their remains nearby. Comparatively, cremation was a faster, less involved process.

“This is a redefinition of the place of the dead in the village and in society,” says the archaeologist in a statement.

Bocquentin and her colleagues excavated the U-shaped burial pit, which measures 32 inches across and 24 inches deep, in 2013. They unearthed 355 bone fragments, the majority of which were charred, reports Laura Geggel for Live Science. Per the team’s analysis, the cremation reached temperatures of around 1,300 degrees Fahrenheit.

The shards of scorched bone all appeared to come from a young adult whose sex and cause of death could not be determined. A half-inch-long sliver of flint, likely the point of a spear or projectile, was embedded in the skeleton’s left shoulder blade. It would have caused “severe pain but not necessarily impaired function,” according to the study.

The researchers found ash from the wood that fueled the funeral pyre but couldn’t ascertain whether the body had been placed beneath, on top of or inside the stack of wood, per New Scientist.

As Bocquentin tells Brooks Hays of United Press International (UPI), the emergence of cremation in Beisamoun is indicative of a cultural shift.

“In the periods prior to our discovery, funeral practices are often spread out over time, the deceased is buried, waited to decompose and then the grave is reopened, the bones are reorganized, the skull is removed, sometimes a face is plastered with lime on the dry skull, then the skull is re-buried in another grave with other people,” she explains.

Cremation, on the other hand, is quite efficient. “You don’t even wait for the decay process,” Bocquentin tells New Scientist. Reducing the time invested in interring the dead “could reveal a new relationship of the living with their dead, [and] of the living with mourning, too,” she says to UPI.

The archaeologists plan on continuing excavations at Beisamoun in hopes of better understanding this cultural evolution. To date, they have found 33 additional burials at the site. According to Live Science, some of the graves predate the remains detailed in the current paper. They showcase an array of interment styles, including single and double burials and “secondary” cremations that occurred after the corpse was dried out. Comparatively, the cremated young adult was burned before their body had begun to desiccate and decompose.

Beisamoun is the oldest known instance of cremation in the Near East, but evidence of the practice predates the newly cataloged site by some 2,500 years. In 2014, researchers detailed an ancient cremation in Alaska, where a dead child was lit aflame around 11,500 years ago.

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