World’s first animal hospice in remote Scotland where good old dogs go to die

Alexis Fleming, author of new book No Life Too Small, lives with a brood of more than 100 dying animals. She opened the Maggie Fleming Animal Hospice in honour of her dog Maggie

Alexis gives animals peace and happiness in their final days

By Susan Griffin Millie Reeves

In a remote part of Scotland, Alexis Fleming and her motley crew of dogs, sheep, pigs, and birds, are enjoying the good life.

Aside from the expected chaos of a 100-plus animals on site, it’s a place of tranquillity, contentment and happiness, and that’s despite the fact that death looms large in these parts.

Fleming runs the world’s first animal hospice, a place where animals, many of whom have experienced brutality at the hands of previous owners, can live out their last days in peace and in Fleming’s words, ‘have a good death’.

“If we accept life then we have to accept death. It’s one inevitability, and it can actually be a really beautiful thing. It’s going to happen, and we’ve all got it inside of us to make someone’s death a lovely thing. It’s a gift to be able to do that, so that it can be faced with dignity and acceptance,” says Fleming, 40, who opened the Maggie Fleming Animal Hospice in honour of her beloved dog, Maggie.

Alexis with Maggie in 2010
Alexis with Maggie in 2010

In her new book, No Life Too Small, Fleming recalls how the pair first met after she came across an online ad by accident.

The photograph of a brindle bullmastiff ‘small and skinny’, and ‘hauntingly sad’ caught her attention but it was the accompanying wording that sealed their fate.

Bought for breeding, 10 out of 12 of the puppies had died, so ‘it’ was of no use and the girlfriend was beating ‘it’ up – ‘10 months old. £100’, the ad stated.

Fleming wasn’t in a position to care for a dog, but she couldn’t turn her back.

“I had to turn my whole life around but it’s just what I had to do. It was never a debate,” says Fleming, who provided Maggie with a safe and happy home, and likewise Maggie supported her new owner as she battled a chronic illness.

So, it broke Fleming’s heart when Maggie died of lung cancer on a vet’s operating table seven years later.

Digger was also in Alexis' care
Digger was also in Alexis’ care

Although Maggie was ill, it was unexpected and Fleming was beside herself that she wasn’t there at the end, but then the idea of opening a hospice occurred to her.

“It was a ridiculous idea really because I’d been very ill and going through such horrible grief at losing Maggie, but the thought was there, and was always going to niggle until I did something about it.”

The hospice opened in 2016 and Fleming has welcomed a host of old, terminally ill and abandoned characters through its doors over the past few years, including lots of canine pals such as George, Osha, Annie, Bran, B and Digger.

“I’ve never known a dog to wag a tail at me and be lying about it. Dogs are very emotional and pick up on your feelings, so, if you have happy dogs around you, you know you’re hitting the target. It’s a lovely thing because they are dependent on us, and knowing you’re making someone really happy makes me satisfied and happy,” says Fleming.

“It’s a very deep but simple relationship. I’ve got the same relationship with sheep. They very much get into your heart and your soul. I can’t imagine life without any of them.”

Baggins the Great Dane knew when it was time to go
Baggins the Great Dane knew when it was time to go

Baggins, a Great Dane, is one of the most recent residents to have passed away.

Before arriving at the hospice, he’d been left on his own in a garden without shelter, and almost starved to death.

“He was a kleptomaniac, spent his days winding folk up, knocking them over and thieving and thinking he’s the most hilarious guy in the world. He had an absolutely brilliant time here, but one day he looked at me and said I’m done, and I said ‘okay pal’. The vet came and he left really peacefully.

“I’m devastated, I miss him so much and always will but I’m so happy for him because it was a beautiful death, and it’s possible for that to happen,’ says Fleming, who has learnt to accept what she can and can’t control so it doesn’t become overwhelming.

“Some of the animals have been through traumatic situations, but there’s nothing I can do about their past, it’s all about what I can do for them now.”

It’s not just dogs who enjoy Alexis’ care

And although people often presume she wouldn’t want to get too close to her residents to prevent greater heartbreak, the opposite is true.

“You’ve got to know someone really well to know when they’re saying ‘I’m done’ and then face that,” explains Fleming, who makes a deal with every new arrival.

“I say to them, ‘There will come a point where you don’t want to be here anymore, you’re fed up and had enough. Tell me and I promise I’ll listen’, and then we don’t think about it again. That’s the way I find that helps me and them the most. We know that day will come, and I’ve made a promise and I can’t break it but until that point, we just enjoy it. It’s just about enjoying it while they’re here.”

Alexis' new book

Although friends and family stop by to help, Fleming runs the hospice primarily by herself, which often means 20-hour days, but despite the exhaustion, she wouldn’t have it any other way.

“A friend of mine said it doesn’t matter where you go here, there’s a happy face smiling at you and it’s true. It has been a real slog at times, and there have been times when I’ve wanted to chuck it all in and stamped my feet and thrown Hobnobs in the pond but it’s an amazing way to live being surrounded by happy folk. I mean, it’s not perfect, folk die and it’s traumatic and horrific at times but overall, we’re all really content and it’s just a great way to live.”

Complete Article HERE!

Canadian researchers build end-of-life predictor tool to support palliative care

The RESPECT calculator predicts frail people’s survival to assist caregivers in deciding about end-of-life care and services.

By Mallory Hackett

Understanding the trajectory of someone’s death to provide appropriate end-of-life care is a complicated process that the researchers from Project Big Life, a Canadian health calculation research group, hope to make easier with their Risk Evaluation for Support: Predictions for Elder-Life in the Community Tool (RESPECT).

The RESPECT calculator predicts frail people’s survival to assist caregivers in deciding what type of care and services they may need at the end of their life.

“Knowing how long a person has to live is essential in making informed decisions about what treatments they should get and where they should get them,” Dr. Peter Tanuseputro, physician-scientist at Ottawa Hospital, investigator at Bruyère Research Institute and a developer of RESPECT, said in a statement.

“As a person gets closer to death, the balance shifts from having curative care as the primary goal, to care that maximizes a person’s quality of remaining life.”


In its validation study, the RESPECT calculator predicted a six-month death probability of 10.8% for the older adult cohort used in the study. The probability of death ranged from 1.54% in the lowest risk group to 98.1% in the highest risk group.

Survival time varied from 28 days in the highest risk group to over 8 years in the lowest risk group.

The top predictors of mortality were declines in a person’s ability to carry out activities of daily living, such as hygiene, using the toilet and mobility. The researchers found that these factors were more indicative of a person’s deterioration than chronic diseases they have.


The researchers used population data over a six-year period derived from the Resident Assessment Instrument for Home Care (RAI-HC), a multidimensional clinical assessment used for care planning in the home setting in Canada. They collected data from more than 491,000 older adults between 2007 and 2013.

The majority (65%) of the cohort was female, and the average age was 79.7 years.

In addition to the data collected from the RAI-HC, which includes nearly 400 measurements, the calculator considered predictors such as physical functioning, cognitive impairment, sociodemographic factors, biological diseases, self-reported measures of health and recent symptoms.


Nearly every country in the world is experiencing a growing population of older adults, according to the United Nations. In 2019, there were 703 million people worldwide 65 years or older. That figure is anticipated to double to 1.5 billion in 2050, meaning that one in six people in the world will be aged 65 years or over.

The aging population places pressure on countries’ elder support systems, requiring new models to be created to care for this growing population segment, the U.N. says.

Digital health is poised to help end-of-life care with players like Papa, Spacetalk and Lively creating solutions for seniors. There’s also been a number of M&As in the space including Connect America’s acquisition of Royal Philips’ Aging and Caregiving (ACG) business and Amedisys’ purchase of Contessa Health.


“The RESPECT calculator allows families and their loved ones to plan,” Dr. Amy Hsu, investigator at the Bruyère Research Institute, affiliate investigator at The Ottawa Hospital, and faculty in the Department of Family Medicine at the University of Ottawa, said in a statement. “For example, it can help an adult child plan when to take a leave of absence from work to be with a parent or decide when to take the last family vacation together.”

Complete Article HERE!

Planning Death Has Gone Digital

— Inside the Apps That Prepare You for Loss

Since the start of the pandemic, more people are downloading apps that help users process grief.


Lucy Clay, 26, was at work when her phone buzzed with a message from her mother. Her dad was seriously ill, and doctors had raised the possibility of discontinuing treatment. Lucy was thrown into a cycle of anticipatory grief – and she turned to technology to help her with the waves of anxiety that she was experiencing, and to prepare herself for the next stage of her father’s palliative care. 

“It’s been incredibly comforting to know that there is a resource that you can access anytime you need it, day or night,” she told Observer. “When things are really bad, I can’t bear the thought of having to explain what is happening. There’s no substitute for having a human sit with you in the horror, but sometimes the silence of technology is a welcome alternative to the well-intentioned friend.”

For Lucy, who is herself a funeral director, the idea of death is a part of everyday life. Yet her career could never prepare her for the reality of caring for a terminally ill parent. After all, losing a loved one is an overwhelming experience. Family members and friends are often expected to deal with the vast administrative burdens that come with death at a time when they desperately need to grieve. And although death eventually comes for all of us, a surprising number of people have no real plan in place for when the end of their life approaches. Data suggests that although 90% of Americans think that talking to their loved ones about end-of-life logistics is important, only 27% have actually done so.

Enter the end-of-life industry. Over the last few years a plethora of apps and services, like those used by Lucy, have sprung up that promise to ease the process of planning for death. Whether it’s noting what healthcare that you’d like to receive, recording memories so that a curated legacy is left behind, or uploading important documents, there are plenty of options on offer. Some target a specific aspect of the death planning process, such as Safe Beyond, which allows users to record messages for the people that they leave behind to access after they pass. Others, such as leading end-of-life planning app Cake, offer a more rounded approach, guiding individuals through everything from writing a will to planning an eco-friendly funeral.   

Lucy now uses a range of apps that provide solace in an incredibly difficult time and help her to understand how best to manage a parent’s end-of-life journey. For her, the timing of technology’s increasing popularity when it comes to grief and end-of-life care was crucial. She describes the experience of looking after an extremely sick parent as feeling forgotten about – services and contact with care teams was limited due to COVID restrictions, and she found herself finding comfort, information and community in digital spaces instead. It’s a pattern that’s been seen across the industry, as online apps and services have seen a boost in their subscriber base over the course of the pandemic.

Liz Eddy launched end-of-life planning app Lantern in 2019 after struggling with the death of several family members. Months later the pandemic hit, and Eddy found that the app was flooded with users, an increase of 450% within two months. 

“It was bizarre timing,” she says. “Obviously, we had absolutely no idea that the pandemic was coming, but within a month of launch we were starting to hear about COVID.”

What surprised Eddy the most about her inflated user base was that most new sign-ups weren’t people approaching the end of their life, or even at an age when individuals usually start to consider making plans for their death (only around 14% of Americans under the age of 30 currently have a will). In fact, the Lantern team found that the majority of new members were between the age of 25-45, a much more significant proportion of their user base than they had seen pre-pandemic.

“People are aware of their mortality and the need for pre-planning, but very few people actually do it,” she explains. “Something like COVID gives people an immediate reason… it’s a reminder of how unpredictable life can be.”

Someone who is finely attuned to how important technology can be when life takes an unpredictable turn is David Kessler. David lost his twenty-one-year-old son suddenly several years ago and found himself embroiled in a logistical nightmare when trying to close his late son’s bank account. He discovered Empathy, an app that claims to streamline end-of-life bureaucracy and promises to automate some of the more complicated aspects of the post-death process. David, who now works as a grief expert, was so impressed by how technology could reconfigure end-of-life planning and processing that he ended up joining the Empathy team, where he now works as the Chief Empathy Officer.

“There’s no denying that COVID has made grief a more prevalent topic,” he says. “Loss has no demographic. It affects everyone at some point in their life… technology can’t promise to take the pain away, but it can hold your hand through the process whilst also offering guidance in the often unknown terrain of grief.”

In a world where much of our lives take place online, it seems only natural that death should find its own digital niche. The pandemic has boosted an already burgeoning industry, causing younger generations to reflect deeply on what they want to leave behind. Mark Taubert, a palliative care doctor who has been working throughout the pandemic told us how apps can prompt his patients to think about preferred places of death or make their wishes known ready for when they are too unwell to communicate. He describes the relationship between technology and end-of-life care as deeply complex, acknowledging that the way that we manage grief is influenced by the people around us, society, and our own experiences – and that the pandemic has been crucial in prompting us to consider how technology might play a part in both life and death.

“Technology can nudge us into asking the right questions about what we’d want towards the end-of-life, but it can’t help us answer those essential questions,” he says. “There are sites, videos, and apps that talk very openly about choices we might face at the end of our lives, and it seems like these are prompting people to take control and actually tell their clinicians what they would and wouldn’t want. I hope that technology pushes us further into that openness and peer-supported patient empowerment.”

For Lucy, who is now living with her parents so that she can play a more active role in her dad’s care, the support of her colleagues and family has been crucial, but she says that without technology she would have felt “a whole lot more lost”.

“Technology and apps help me sit in the waves of anxiety that come with knowing that someone you care about is suffering,” she says. “Sometimes I feel like I’d do anything just for some rest from the distress. In a time when most of my usual relaxation and distractions techniques have failed me, technology has helped me to find solace.”

Complete Article HERE!

We Are the Flowers in the Garden

By Margaret Meloni

Once while I was visiting my mother, she looked out of the window and saw some strangers wandering around in her backyard. She opened the sliding glass door and asked, “Can I help you with something?”

Sheepishly, one of the visitors replied: “We heard about your garden and we just wanted to take a peek.”

My mother had a beautiful English garden. It was her pride and joy. I know for a fact that on the morning that she died, she had worked in her garden. Which is exactly what she would have wanted. Sometimes, when I visited, we would walk through the garden together. She would give me a tour; while pulling a weed or two she would teach me which plants should be near one another, and what to plant to stave off intrusive insects or aggressive vines. She carefully cultivated each section of her garden, paying regular, focused attention to what was or was not working and adjusting as needed. I view her garden and her work as an analogy for our own spiritual practice.

“I don’t envision a single thing that, when undeveloped & uncultivated, leads to such great harm as the mind. The mind, when undeveloped & uncultivated leads to great harm.”

“I don’t envision a single thing that, when developed & cultivated, leads to such great benefit as the mind. The mind, when developed & cultivated, leads to great benefit.”

“I don’t envision a single thing that, when undeveloped & uncultivated, brings about such suffering & stress as the mind. The mind, when undeveloped & uncultivated, brings about suffering & stress.”

“I don’t envision a single thing that, when developed & cultivated, brings about such happiness as the mind. The mind, when developed & cultivated, brings about happiness.” (AN 1: 27–30)

We are like the flowers in the garden. We require careful cultivation. To grow in our practice, we need to place ourselves in an appropriate environment, surrounded with the right companionship, placing regular, focused attention through learning and meditating and following the Noble Eightfold Path.

During our garden tours, Mom would often cut back or completely remove a dead or dying plant. On more than on occasion she said to me: “There is a lot of death in the garden.” Her tone was very matter of fact. Her statement came from a place of this is how it is.

Mom never let gardening deaths and disappointments get the better of her. She had a very good understanding of the expected lifespans of her plants. She was not completely surprised if a raccoon dug up her bulbs, or if a passing deer bit the head off of a flower, or if a plant seemed to randomly die. Occasionally she would express annoyance at the raccoons and the deer, and disappointment when a plant did not work out, but she did not dwell on it.

Mom gardened with non-attachment. With a complete understanding of horticultural impermanence, she did not avoid using a flower that would bloom quickly and then fade away. She would showcase that flower. Finding a way to surround it with plants that would allow it to have a brief moment of stardom. Then, the surrounding plants would have their turn. And eventually, they too would disappear. Within the context of her garden, Mom understood the truth of aging and death. She knew that once planted, a flower would bloom and then die.

“The aging of beings in the various orders of beings, their old age, brokenness of teeth, grayness of hair, wrinkling of skin, decline of life, weakness of faculties — this is called aging. The passing of beings out of the various orders of beings, their passing away, dissolution, disappearance, dying, completion of time, dissolution of the aggregates, laying down of the body — this is called death. So this aging and this death are what is called aging and death. With the arising of birth there is the arising of aging and death.” (MN 9.22)

We are like the flowers in the garden. Once we are planted and begin to grow, we will die. And others around us will die. Take a look at a garden, or a park, or a forest. There might be tall and mighty trees that are more than a hundred years old. Then there is a flowering ground cover that shows up in early spring and fades away with the summer heat. There are rose bushes, which last several seasons. And, perhaps, tulips or daffodils that pop up once a year; they have one bloom and they are done. We do not know who that seasonal ground cover or the ancient tree will be.

Do not let the concept of impermanence discourage you. When the meaning of impermanence is misunderstood, it can push you toward nihilism. Some develop an attitude of “if nothing lasts, why bother?” If my mother had taken this point of view, she would have missed out on all the joy she felt while gardening. Her neighbors would have been denied the opportunity of walking past such beautiful scenery.

Go all in. Instead of avoiding experiences in life, learn the most you can from those experiences. Instead of avoiding relationships with others, be fully in those relationships, without attachment. Learn from the present moment because it will be gone. Don’t think, “Why bother? This will not last.” Do think: “This opportunity will not be here again. Let me really be in this moment and let it be my teacher.” Like my mother with her garden, be skillful in how you cultivate your practice and your mind. Be aware of death. And let it encourage you to live.

What arises, ceases. With each passing moment, even the strongest, sturdiest tree becomes closer to death. Today, petunias might be blooming, yet they will wilt under the hot summer Sun. It is not about if we and our loved ones will die, it is when.

Complete Article HERE!

Why I believe in the concept of a ‘good death’

‘There comes a time, I suggest, at which the end needs to be accepted and embraced – with dignity.’, writes Paul Monk.


Two recent essays and an opinion piece in this newspaper have expressed grave concern about the wave of euthanasia legislation being passed in Australia. The essays were by medical specialists Haydn Walters and Marion Harris and staff writer Jamie Walker. The opinion piece was by Angela Shanahan. As a survivor of a long battle with cancer, I write to take issue with crucial aspects of their arguments.

I am a Fellow of the Rationalist Society of Australia, which supports sound VAD (voluntary assisted dying) legislation. I am also a member of the steering committee for the cancer school for patient education and empowerment at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre. On several grounds, therefore, I am implicated in this debate. My cancer was melanoma, so I ­literally have skin in the game.

Walters and Harris argued that “the pro case is a simplistic appeal for autonomy” and, more pointedly, that “suicide has never been an acceptable solution to any problem, even if it is quick, easy and cheaper than care. Such actions impact all of us.”

Walker wrote with evident concern that, with the passage of these laws in state after state, “we as a society are entering uncharted territory”.

Shanahan wrote fiercely that VAD would send doctors into ­hospitals to kill.

The other lines of argument, conversely, are based on special pleading. Opponents of euthanasia – a word based on the Greek for “good death” – insist that legalisation of it will lead down a slippery slope to involuntary ter­mination of afflicted lives or, at the very least, to unnecessary ­suicides. All the above writers line up on this position.

But such an argument implies that the voluntary nature of euthanasia isn’t the problem. What is feared is involuntary termination or poor judgment on the part of stranded or afflicted people. If so, then it is precisely autonomy that needs to be accentuated. Opponents of euthanasia can’t have it both ways. What is it to be, insistence on autonomy or denial of it?

If, as Jamie Walker put it, we are “entering uncharted territory”, we’d best get busy charting it. There are now many case studies overseas and a rich literature on the subject. The territory is by no means as uncharted as Walker appears to believe. But there is every reason to explore it further and to deepen our collective understanding of what is at stake.

A splendid recent exploration of the matter is Katie Engelhart’s The Inevitable: Dispatches on the Right to Die (Atlantic Books, London, 2021). It is impossible to read her reflections without coming to appreciate both sides of the debate and the irreducible dilemmas and complexities entailed in euthanasia. Her case studies are poignant and often excruciating, but she hasn’t written a polemic, whether for or against euthanasia. She charts the territory.

It is equally clear that the Walters/Harris line of defence is problematic. Rather than asserting that we are not entitled to autonomy in end-of-life choices, they would have done better to argue that we need to educate for and facilitate authentic autonomy in such matters. Quite plainly, that is what opinion polls show a majority of people want, which is why state after state has come around to passing legislation permitting euthanasia under closely defined conditions.

The word euthanasia has been disowned by some, in favour of “voluntary assisted dying” (VAD) or “dying with dignity”. Opponents such as Walters and Harris prefer the expression “physician-assisted suicide/euthanasia”, or PAS/E. There’s a history to this. But, perhaps because of my classical education, I don’t have a problem with the term euthanasia. It seems to me entirely appropriate that we should desire and seek a “good death”, rather than a lingering, incapacitated, painful one. There comes a time when saying “Enough, no more!” is both dignified and appropriate.

The question that ought to exercise us, I submit, is not whether this is desirable, but how to facilitate it, while minimising abuses or ill-considered decisions.

Over the course of more than a decade grappling with recurrent and then metastatic melanoma, I was often given to pondering this subject and it was clear to me that I would want the option of calling it quits under certain circumstances and that, importantly, this seemed a natural right. Walters and Harris assert that suicide is never an appropriate solution. Really? They must know, given their fields of expertise, that cells die based on a programmed process called apoptosis – they reach their use-by date and give up the ghost.

Cancer cells are those that refuse, as it were, to accept the rules of the game. We need to naturalise dying as human apoptosis, instead of prolonging physical life under any and all circumstances by any means possible.

One of my favourite case studies in suicide, as distinct from VAD or PAS/E, is the great Carthaginian general Hannibal, in 182 BCE. He was then the age I am now. He had devoted his life to war with the rising power of Rome. Defeated, he sought other allies, other means, but these, too, had been thwarted and the Romans were coming for him.

Hannibal could have awaited them and suffered capture, humiliation and execution, or he could have tried fleeing and hiding. He had had enough, however. In dignity and pride, he swallowed poison and died. He didn’t require legislated permission or a doctor’s authorisation.

There have been other cases in history. ­Socrates took his hemlock. Was that inappropriate? There comes a time, I suggest, at which the end needs to be accepted and embraced – with dignity.

Why should a lucid and dignified option not be available to us, when we have concluded that “the Romans are coming”, at last, for us? The question, surely, is not whether it should be, but how to make possible authentic autonomy in the face of end-of-life ­dilemmas. If our new legislation seems inadequate for one reason or another, let it be amended. But let’s frame our approach around apoptosis and autonomy, not fear and patient disempowerment.

Complete Article HERE!

Falling in Love While Navigating Grief

Caitlin Fitzmaurice and Richard Thompson met a few months after Ms. Fitzmaurice’s mother died. Their relationship soon became a reminder that joy can be found amid sorrow.

By Emma Grillo

During their first date, at a gallery in Manhattan in November 2019, Caitlin Wynne Fitzmaurice and Richard Lathen Thompson broached the topic of grief. They had matched on the dating app Hinge a week earlier and at the gallery, Ms. Fitzmaurice mentioned that she was from California. When Mr. Thompson asked if she went back often, she answered honestly — her mother had died from cancer eight weeks earlier, and she had spent the three years before her death going back and forth between New York and California in order to spend time with her.

Ms. Fitzmaurice wasn’t sure how Mr. Thompson would react, and was surprised when he told her that he had lost his father to cancer. He shared how hard it was for him when his father died, and how sorry he was for her loss.

“He didn’t nod away from it,” Ms. Fitzmaurice, 35, said. “Right away I appreciated that he didn’t change the subject.”

Mr. Thompson, 37, suggested that they continue their date at a restaurant nearby, and over tapas they learned how much they had in common. They both studied French in college and taught English abroad after graduation.

“Pretty early on I was like, Oh, wow, this guy is definitely someone I want to see again,” Ms. Fitzmaurice said.

The next night they both left work early to meet up for drinks in Greenwich Village, and kept in touch when Ms. Fitzmaurice went back to California for a week to spend Thanksgiving with her family. When she returned, Mr. Thompson helped her carry a Christmas tree up to her apartment. A month later, he helped her carry it down to the curb, much to the chagrin of her superintendent, who was not impressed with the amount of dead pine needles they tracked through the lobby.

“The pine needles exploded over everything,” Mr. Thompson said. He helped Ms. Fitzmaurice clean up the elevator and lobby, which only confirmed her suspicion that he was “a good guy.”

In January 2020, Ms. Fitzmaurice was planning to return to California to attend a memorial ceremony for her mother. Even though they had only been dating for about two months, she asked Mr. Thompson to come to the service with her.

“Having gone through this process of grieving with my own father, I just knew that it was really helpful to have the support of someone close to you through this process,” Mr. Thompson said. “Whether or not we were gonna be life partners or just friends, I knew I wanted to be there for her for this difficult moment. It was a huge step, and I’m really glad I did.”

The service was a bonding experience for the couple, and their budding relationship was a welcome source of hope for Ms. Fitzmaurice’s friends and family.

“Nothing would have made my mom happier than for me to have a partner at the service,” Ms. Fitzmaurice said. “To have him at the service was a really hopeful thought for our family and friends, to see that life continues on, and there can be a lot of joy along with sorrow.”

After the ceremony, the couple returned to New York and planned a ski vacation in Salt Lake City in early March 2020, but just as they arrived, ski resorts began to shut down because of the coronavirus. Mr. Thompson suggested they spend a few weeks with his family in Kansas City before returning to New York. Weeks turned into months, and the couple relished the time they got to spend living with Mr. Thompson’s family in his childhood home.

Ms. Fitzmaurice, who is the senior director of culture for ViacomCBS in New York, moved back to New York in August, where she is currently pursing an M.B.A. at Columbia. Mr. Thompson, who is a senior associate for the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, returned in September, and moved into Ms. Fitzmaurice’s apartment a few weeks later. In November 2020 he proposed to Ms. Fitzmaurice in front of a socially distanced group of friends and a live jazz band in Central Park.

“She makes me feel really fulfilled through her vulnerability and affection,” Mr. Thompson said about Ms. Fitzmaurice, who plans to take Mr. Thompson’s last name. “She’s got a lot of grace and optimism that I really cherish.”

The couple were married on May 27 at Hamel Family Wines, a winery in Sonoma, Calif., before 12 family members. Dr. Erin Rhae Biller, a minister with the Universal Life Church, a naturopathic doctor and a friend of the family who cared for Ms. Fitzmaurice’s mother when she died, officiated.

Complete Article HERE!

Pagan BURIAL RITUALS of ancient Russia

By Georgy Manaev

From ancient times, different peoples living on Russian territory practiced a wide variety of burial rites. There were the Slavic kurgans, the underground house tombs of Altai, the above-the-ground burials of Siberian peoples, and many more.

When Christianity came to the Russian lands in the 10th-11th centuries, it meant changing or outright erasing the Pagan traditions previously active among the many different peoples that inhabited the territory of modern Russia. With the development of the Russian state, Christian Russians conquered and subdued the lands to the East – the Urals, and then Siberia.

Christianization of the newly conquered territories was an inseparable part of the process of conquest. And Christian burial rites slowly replaced indigenous ones. Still, archaeological and historical sources managed to preserve a wealth of information about how the various peoples of Russia buried their dead before Christian burial rituals started prevailing. Let’s take a brief look at the variety of these indigenous burial rites.

Above-the-ground burials

An above-the-ground burial found in a Russian forest
An above-the-ground burial found in a Russian forest

It appears that above-the-ground burials were practiced among the peoples of Russia long before Christianity. Russian folk tales have preserved echoing mentions of such rituals. Baba Yaga, the evil witch, lives in a hut standing on chicken legs deep in the forest. This hut has no windows or doors, and Baba Yaga has a “bone leg” – apparently, here the tales describe an above-the-ground burial, a carcass interred into a wooden casket, placed on wooden pegs.

A “hut on chicken legs,” in Russian folk tales – the house where Baba Yaga, an old witch, lives. Notice the similarity between the hut and the above-the-ground burial

The Mokshas, a Mordvinian ethnic group living in Central Russia, are known to have practiced burying their shamans this way. Later, during Russia’s christianization, most such gravesites were destroyed, but the burial practice itself remained in use in Siberia for centuries to come, as the Russian state was slow in conquering and controlling Siberia.

The Moksha women in traditional clothes, circa 1900
The Moksha women in traditional clothes, circa 1900

The Nenets people are the largest ethnic group of Siberia. In their view of the afterlife, a human’s soul after death continues the way of life it led during its lifetime. So, it was very important for the Nenets people to bury their dead fast. On the next day after death, the body was transported to the graveyard site using deer.

The Nenets graveyards were usually located on hilltops. After the body was brought there, it was placed inside a wooden casket along with tools, weapons and other things the deceased might need in the afterlife – all these things were bent or broken beforehand so that they could be used in the afterworld. The deer that transported the body were sacrificed at the place of the burial. But it was not a burial in the strict sense, because the Nenets didn’t bury their dead – the frozen northern land did not allow digging deep holes, so the casket was covered with brushwood and left on the site. The villagers didn’t maintain the graves either – the bodies were left to decompose naturally. If infants or children died, their bodies were hanged in sacks on the tree branches, a kind of ‘sky burial.’

Ethnographer V. Vasilyev and a Yakut above-the-ground burial in Yenisey region, Siberia, 1905
Ethnographer V. Vasilyev and a Yakut above-the-ground burial in Yenisey region, Siberia, 1905

The Buryat people, who live in the Baikal region and nearby, also practiced above-the-ground burials. They dressed their dead relatives in their finest clothes, laid them on the ground with weapons, tools and elements of horse harness, and then covered them with earth, stones or brushwood. They tried to place the body where wild animals are found, so that the soul could quickly go to its ancestors.

The Altai house-tombs

The excavation of a Pazyryk burial. Logs of the underground

In the 1990s at the Ukok plateau in the Altai Republic of Russia, vast burial grounds were discovered by Russian archaeologists. The barrow-type burials, or kurgans, as they are called in Russia, belong to so-called Pazyryk culture – the ancient Scythian society that inhabited the territory in the 5th-4th centuries B.C.

The most notable find was the so-called ‘Siberian Ice Maiden’, a tattooed shaman woman buried with six sacrificed horses and a lot of treasures. But it was just one of many burials where the body was astonishingly well preserved because of the waters that inundated the burial sites and then froze, preserving the graves’ contents embedded in ice.

The scheme of Pazyryk burial chamber: the state of the burial when it was discovered (L), the reconstruction of the burial chamber (R).
The scheme of Pazyryk burial chamber: the state of the burial when it was discovered (L), the reconstruction of the burial chamber (R).

The Pazyryk kurgans were indeed houses made for the dead. A full log cabin was placed underground, with a separate room inside for housing the body. Fully dressed, it was placed in a log casket, and around the casket, the belongings needed for the afterlife were placed – horses, harnesses, carpets, weapons, and even carts and chariots. Of course, only noble and wealthy Pazyryk were buried in such an expensive and complicated kind of way.

Slavic kurgans

An ancient kurgan in Teplyi Stan, Moscow
An ancient kurgan in Teplyi Stan, Moscow

A kurgan is a type of tumulus (burial mound) constructed over a grave. Mostly, kurgans were constructed for the wealthy and noble people – warriors, princes and so on, and were usually just small steep hills formed over the gravesite. Kurgans spread into much of Central Asia and Europe during the 3rd millennium BC.

“The funeral feast over Oleg the Prophet,” by Viktor Vasnetsov, 1899. Note the relatives of Prince Oleg mourning on top of the freshly created kurgan, while Oleg’s warriors and friends drink and mourn below.

There are still a lot of Slavic kurgans in Central Russia, but all of them are now just kurgan sites – during the long history of their existence, all visible kurgans have been looted in search of treasures. Still, we know how kurgan burials were performed.

A group of kurgans near the Meglino Lake, Novgorod region, Russia
A group of kurgans near the Meglino Lake, Novgorod region, Russia

A kurgan could be constructed quickly by bringing a mass of earth together and surrounding the foundation with stones or wooden logs. The body of the deceased was dressed in the best clothes, and a funeral feast was held, along with the cremation of the body. The remains were then interred inside the kurgan and covered with earth and stones. Along with the body, weapons, armor, household utensils, money, and other items could be interred. No tombstones or other signs were placed atop Slavic kurgans.


A dolmen near Zhane river, Krasnodar region, Russia
A dolmen near Zhane river, Krasnodar region, Russia

Dolmens, ancient megalithic tombs, are so old that we don’t even know the cultures they originated from. Dolmens date back to 3000-2000 B.C. In Russia, most are located in the North Caucasus.

Created from sandstone and limestone, dolmen tombs usually have four walls and a roof. A hole is cut in one of the walls, most likely for placing the body inside the closed chamber. Stone stoppers would then be used for closing these holes. Dolmens could have been covered with earth kurgans, also.

No traces of kurgans or human remains inside the dolmens were found, because of the very old age of the structures. But we can be sure they were used as tombs: they are astronomically oriented, with some clearly used as family crypts, and others as sanctuaries.

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