My grandparents donated their bodies to science. I needed to know what happens after

— Jackie Dent’s grandparents’ body donation was hardly discussed until a chance conversation set her on a quest to find out more about the secretive world of dissection

‘I know the enormous contribution that the dissected have made to medicine … We are alive because of them’: Australian journalist and writer Jackie Dent.

By Jackie Dent

Dissection might not be a normal topic to contemplate but when both your paternal grandparents donate their bodies to science it does intermittently cross your mind. My grandmother Ruby’s body went to the University of Queensland in 1969 and my grandfather Julie’s in 1981. Yes, that was his name.

The fact that both my grandparents’ bodies were dissected for science has always lurked within the family. For years, I’ve seen it as a slightly intriguing thing, quietly spectacular. A radical but slightly weird postscript to their ordinary lives. I mean, why would anyone do that?

Over the years, their donation had been very vaguely discussed in the family but not overanalysed. Or analysed at all really. Nobody seemed to wonder much about what had actually happened to Julie and Ruby.

But one hot Sydney summer, everything changed. I was at my parents’ place and their neighbour asked us over for a Christmas drink. As we chatted over sparkling wine, one of the daughters updated us on her new job. She was working at a university and hospital teaching facility and mentioned that some medical students are no longer using full bodies for dissection. She also said that human arms and body parts were being shipped in from the US.

I was stunned. Why aren’t they dissecting full bodies? And why do they have to fly in arms?

She wasn’t sure.

We finished our drinks, said “Happy Christmas” and I went home perplexed.

Over the ensuing weeks, the conversation at Christmas niggled. Had Australians really stopped donating? But also, come to think of it, what happened to Ruby and Julie all those years ago? Did I really want to know? As a Harvard professor told the 1896 meeting of the Association of American Anatomists: “We know only too well that dissection is an abomination to the popular mind.”

What was I hoping to find out? I maybe wanted to know the gory details of dissection, the slicing and chopping but was nervous as I’m quite squeamish. I wondered what the anatomy lab looked like, who was in the room. I wanted to know if what had happened to their bodies mattered, what it meant to the students. Were they respectful?

Australian journalist and writer Jackie Dent at her home in Sydney, NSW, Australia.
‘I entered a world of embalming fluid recipes, mould on bodies and bandsaws.’

But their bodies went to the university so, so long ago, 50 years. How would I even find the people who were in the room back then? And would they talk? The whole business felt so secretive.

So I began tracking down old surgeons, doctors and technicians who were in the dissecting rooms in the period when my grandparents were there. At first, I thought I would just be dealing with dissection.

No way. That was just the start of it.

There was the possibility that one of my grandparents’ body parts ended up in an anatomical museum. I wasn’t sure if I could handle that. I read an old academic paper penned by an anatomist and surgeon studying the palmaris longus and balked at a photo – was that my grandfather’s hand?

I entered a world of embalming fluid recipes, mould on bodies and bandsaws. Whereas for centuries, embalming methods were kept secret, they are now shared more freely, and sometimes adopted into a dissecting room culture when a new anatomist or technician arrives with a good mix. There are today a plethora of recipes and techniques used to embalm the dead so much so that some say the field is more craft than science. Even in death our bodies are unique – our fat or time of death means we can each react differently to the same chemical formula. I learned from the British anatomist Prof Claire Smith that mould can sometimes form on a donor through a small spore that was already there or through a student or staff member sneezing. When using a bandsaw, human heads are frozen first to get a clean line through the middle of the nose.

By going into the past, I learned about contemporary anatomy. Some students find hands freakier to dissect than faces. While in parts of the world anatomists still use bodies left unclaimed in morgues, there is also a growing “humane” anatomy movement where students meet the families of donors or hold moving ceremonies for the dead when they have finished their dissection course. I delved into the history of body donors, a curious lot who donate for all sorts of reasons, which range from being helpful to avoiding a funeral as they disliked a particular relative. Body donation tends to run in families.

Anatomists once relied on the bodies of people who did not consent to dissection – executed criminals or the vulnerable whose bodies lay unclaimed in asylums, hospitals or poor houses. Thankfully, Australia has long been considered “gold standard”: donors in the labs filled out paperwork and consented to being there. While there are no national figures on numbers of donors, the University of Melbourne, for example, gets about 200 bodies a year, some of which are shared with other institutions. Australians are still donating.

The reason body parts are flown in is fairly straightforward. Sometimes 15 knees are needed for a surgical workshop and it is logistically easier to get them from a US body broker.

After spending time with dead donors at a surgical workshop, watching dissection influencers at work on Instagram, reading evocative dissection notes from 1540 and basically becoming an amateur dissection wonk, I now have a much better sense of “what happened” to my grandparents’ bodies.

The Great Dead Body Teachers by Jackie Dent cover

But I also know the enormous contribution that the dissected have made to medicine for the past 2,000 years or so. We are alive because of them. They should be better known in the history of science as a cohort who created a body of knowledge.

I also view my body differently. We are palaces filled with so many beautiful shapes and curves, all mirrored in nature: the leaf-like lobules in my breast, the atria centralis retinae in the eye is like a crack of lightning in the sky. I now get why some anatomists told me they enjoy dissecting. As the University of New South Wales’ Dr Nalini Pather said: “Some people do needlework, and some people do art. I like to dissect.”

And yet, will I donate my own body? Hmmmm. I’m still young. I’ve got a few years left to decide. For now, my main issue about donating my body? I imagine myself being cold in the dissecting room. I picture myself yearning for a jumper on my torso or a doona over my tattered corpse. Yes, it’s a silly line of thinking as being dead I wouldn’t feel the cold, but there you have it.

Complete Article HERE!

Rise in infant deaths hits Black families hardest, study finds

Black babies experienced the highest rate of sudden unexpected deaths in 2020 and nearly three times the rate of deaths among White babies.


A new federal study highlights a striking racial disparity in infant deaths: Black babies experienced the highest rate of sudden unexpected deaths in 2020, dying at almost three times the rate of White infants.

The findings were part of research released Monday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which also found a 15 percent increase in sudden infant deaths among babies of all races from 2019 to 2020, making SIDS the third leading cause of infant death in the United States after congenital abnormalities and the complications of premature birth.

“In minority communities, the rates are going in the wrong direction,” said Scott Krugman, vice chair of the department of pediatrics and an expert on SIDS at Sinai Hospital in Baltimore.

The study found that rising SIDS rates in 2020 was likely attributable to diagnostic shifting — or reclassifying the cause of death. The causes of the rise in sleep-related deaths of Black infants remain unclear but it coincided with the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic, which disproportionately affected the health and wealth of Black communities.

“Evidence does not support direct or indirect effects of the … pandemic on increased rates of sudden unexpected infant death, except for non-Hispanic Black infants,” said the study, to be published in the April issue of the journal Pediatrics.

The study’s authors, who call for further research into their findings, point out that the pandemic exacerbated overcrowded housing, food insecurity and other stressors, particularly among Black families — potentially leading to less safe sleeping practices, such as bed sharing.

Before the pandemic, overall infant mortality — including diseases, accidents and injuries, and unexplained deaths had been on a downward trend in the United States. Some of that drop can be attributed to the enormously successful campaign launched in the 1990s to encourage putting babies to sleep on their backs, as opposed to facedown when they may re-breathe the carbon dioxide they exhaled or suffocate in soft bedding.

Tracking and understanding the causes of sudden and unexpected infant deaths on a national scale has been challenging in part because of different local practices of reporting and investigating the deaths. Data based on death certificates is notoriously inaccurate, and the pandemic introduced further complications, including shortening the time overburdened examiners could devote to investigating individual deaths.

The CDC’s Division of Reproductive Health has tried to address those problems by setting up monitoring programs in 22 states and jurisdictions across the country and by working with medical examiners and coroners to standardize reporting procedures. The new study draws on that research.

“This study is using good quality data, putting what some of us have been doing on a local basis on a national scale,” Krugman said.

In addition, a shift in terminology has complicated the picture. SIDS, or crib death, refers to the sudden death of an infant under the age of 1, usually during sleep and for unknown reasons, though often related to suspected genetic or environmental factors.

That term has fallen out of favor among some medical examiners and coroners who have replaced it with the broader term SUID, or sudden unexpected infant death under the age of 1. SUID refers to the often sleep-related deaths of babies in which the causes include suffocation from being caught between cushions of a couch or strangulation beneath a sleeping parent as well as SIDS and other unknown causes. About half of SUID deaths are SIDS deaths.

>“It’s a terrible situation,” said Richard Goldstein, director of the Robert’s Program on Sudden Unexpected Death in Pediatrics at Boston Children’s Hospital. “There is so much inconsistency in what these deaths are called. That’s not tolerated in any other area of medicine.”

On average, about 3,400 U.S. babies die suddenly and unexpectedly each year, according to CDC data.

To examine racial disparities, researchers chose to use the overall SUID rate, which allowed for consistent comparisons that were not affected by the different ways medical examiners report infant deaths.

In 2020, the SUID rate was highest among Black infants (at 214 deaths per 100,000 live births), followed by American Indian or Alaskan Native infants (at 205 deaths per 100,000 live births), and nearly three times the rate for White infants (75.6 deaths per 100,000 live births).

Understanding the causes of those deaths, many of which are unobserved, is key to preventing them.

“We don’t know how to prevent SIDS,” said Michael Goodstein, a neonatologist at York Hospital in Pennsylvania, who said research is examining factors such as brainstem abnormalities and respiratory problems. “But we should be able to prevent suffocation deaths.”

Sharyn Parks, one of the study’s authors and a senior scientist at the CDC’s Division of Reproductive Health, said there are two clear messages to take from the study — the need for researchers to examine factors like poverty that make some families more vulnerable to poor health outcomes as well as the need for parents to remember the practical steps they can take.

“We want to continue emphasizing safe infant sleep practices, putting babies on their backs and removing all soft bedding,” Parks said.

Once it is available, data from 2021 and 2022 should provide a clearer sense of the role the pandemic may have played in widening disparities between different racial groups.

“We are getting more and more a sense that poverty and multi-factorial issues are really important for being able to protect children,” Goodstein said.

Complete Article HERE!

Moving Photos Capture People’s Final Moments with Their Pets

By Pesala Bandara

A photographer has set up a nonprofit which offers free end-of-life photo shoots for pet owners.

The Tilly Project was created by Portland-based photographer Lauren Smith-Kennedy in 2021 and began as a small Facebook group.

Now, the international non-profit has a database of over 1,400 photographers around the world who offer their services to grieving pet owners and capture the tender moments families share with their beloved animal companions as they say goodbye for the final time.

Lauren Smith-Kennedy | The Tilly Project
Lauren Smith-Kennedy | The Tilly Project
Lauren Smith-Kennedy | The Tilly Project

“This photography acts as a tool to allow families to navigate through their own grief journey while having tangible memories of their pet’s final stages of life,” Smith-Kennedy tells PetaPixel.

“Many times, scheduling this type of session can also allow the families to come to terms with anticipatory grief.”

Alexpressions Photography | The Tilly Project
2 Girls & Their Cameras | The Tilly Project
2 Girls & Their Cameras | The Tilly Project
Linked Hearts Photography | The Tilly Project
Mandy Houston Photography | The Tilly Project
Emma Beth Photography | The Tilly Project
Emma Beth Photography | The Tilly Project

Smith-Kennedy has shared some of the beautiful and moving images that The Tilly Project’s photographers have captured for pet owners across the globe.

Smith-Kennedy, who works as a director at a wildlife center, began The Tilly Project after she experienced her own loss when her cat Tilly passed away in a freak accident.

The traumatic experience inspired her to use her photography skills for a good cause and help others who were experiencing the loss of a pet.

Smith-Kennedy began offering free end-of-life photo shoots to other pet owners as a way to always remember their animals. She also began collecting the names and information of other photographers who were willing to offer the same service.

Tasha Sport Photography | The Tilly Project
Belay’s Paws In Motion | The Tilly Project
Kristin Cole Photography | The Tilly Project
Sweet Camellia Photography | The Tilly Project
Geli Visions | The Tilly Project
Lauren Smith-Kennedy | The Tilly Project

In less than two years, The Tilly Project went from being a Facebook group to a nonprofit and valuable end-of-life pet photography network that provides resources for pet loss and bereavement. It also serves as a support system for those who have lost or are about to lose a pet.

“There is a high demand for end-of-life pet photography — many families want that chance to celebrate and honor the lives of their pets who mean the world to them. Some weeks I will receive hundreds of inquiries,” Smith-Kennedy says.

“When I am doing my end-of-life sessions, I give lots of prompts instead of poses. I love to encourage those authentic, real moments that will then be turned into precious memories.”

Lauren Smith-Kennedy | The Tilly Project[/caption]

Individuals can sign up to become an affiliate photographer with The Tilly Project on the nonprofit’s website.

“We welcome photographers of all skill levels,” Smith-Kennedy explains. “We do require photographers to have an online gallery that displays their work so families are able to see this portfolio prior to connecting.”

She adds: “We have a mix of photographers who offer this service for free, and those who charge as they have a photography business.”

More information on The Tilly Project can be found on the non-profit’s website, Facebook group, and Facebook page.

Complete Article HERE!

Sky Burial

— A unique death ritual

The ancient death ritual called sky burial is still practiced in parts of Upper Mustang, like in Tibet, Bhutan and Mongolia

By Ravi M Singh

The evening in the dining room of the Mystique Hotel, Lo Manthang, buzzed wild—the noise so loud that voices needed raising. Packed almost to the gunwales by trekkers, cyclists, and motor-bikers, the crowd included us too—four cyclists, Khashing, our team leader, Shayeet, Diwas, and this scribe.

The heated room wore a festive ambience; everyone appeared in a back-slapping mood, and so we were—the vibe in the room was almost palpable. It was our last day in Lo Manthang, a 13-day cycling tour we did in 2018.

We were talking with an Australian cyclist group when my eyes clapped on Wangchhen Lowa, better known as Ram Gurung by all in Lo Manthang, sitting before the iron stove sipping Shyu Cha (Tibetan tea made from yak butter, salt, and tea). I brightened up and excused myself from my friends and the Aussies to join him for a chat.

With 20 years at ACAP (Annapurna Conservation Area Project), Wangchhen aka Ram, also co-owner of the hotel, seemed to know what’s what about Mustang and helped me with a wealth of information.

Following an exchange of customary pleasantries and more insight into the walled city of Upper Mustang, its inhabitants, rich culture, religion, and history, the topic, upon my curiosity, diverted to the ancient death ritual called the sky burial, still practiced in Upper Mustang.

With over two decades of experience in conservation, biodiversity, and flora and fauna of the Trans-Himalayan region, Lo Manthang, it was a privilege conversing with him.

Before touching upon the sky-burial issue, he briefed me on the vultures of Upper Mustang, which play a crucial role in the consummation of sky burials. They included especially the Himalayan griffons (Gyps himalayensis) and lammergeiers (Gypaetus barbatus), the bearded vultures.

“In recent years, the number of Himalayan vultures, especially griffons and lammergeiers, the bearded vultures in the Upper Mustang region, has declined disastrously,” said Wangchhen.

The Himalayan griffons survive on carcasses and carrion. They nest in high cliff edges and even deserted sky caves in Mustang—often sighted at Chhuksang, Yara, Ghemi, and other wind-ravaged arid cliffs.

Native to Mustang and other Trans-Himalayan regions like Dolpo, Humla, Jumla, and Manang, these highland carnivores are large birds and weigh from eight to 12 kg with a wingspan of 2.5m to 3m.

The Himalayan lammergeiers, a close cousin to griffons, too, scavenge like the griffons and live on high crags, but weirdly their diet comprises 90 percent bones (the marrow being their favorite). Almost as large as the griffons, if not bigger, they gobble up the shredded bones after the griffons pick them clean.

To honor the dead, funeral ceremonies and death rituals in Nepal vary from one culture to the other. Typically, the deceased body is largely either cremated or buried. In Tibet, singular to their culture, a death ritual commonly performed is a sky burial.

“Going by the legend, the concept of sky burial in Mustang has its roots in Tibetan culture, preserved in Upper Mustang for eons. Widely exercised to date in Tibet, countries like Bhutan and Mongolia, too, follow the ritual,” said Wangchhen.

Some three decades ago, the sky burial ritual ubiquitous in Mustang gradually declined following trappings of haphazard modernization, making inroads into the once pristine area.

“This funeral practice, widely performed in Tiri village in Kagbeni, suddenly ceased; it has been over 10 years since any sky burial took place there, but the ritual continues in a village called Dhamkar in Upper Mustang among the ethnic minorities called the Lowas (Gurungs, Bistas and Biswokarmas),” said Wangchhen. He sounded very convincing, as he has Lowa roots.

When someone from this community dies, a high Lama (priest) scrutinizes the deceased’s zodiac sign, astrologically juxtaposing it against five Tibetan Buddhist elements—the earth, water, fire, air, and the space—and determines the method for the departed’s funeral.

If the high Lamas decide to go for a sky burial, the funeral ceremony begins, accompanied by the beat of drums, cymbals, and dung chen (a Tibetan long-pipe horn). After the rites, the body is handed over to the monks assigned to behead the body, dismember the corpse, and hack it to pieces. The severed head gets buried, and the chopped-up pieces are moved to an elevated site to feed the vultures.

Curiously, the commotion lures vultures from great distances to assemble at the site and swarm at the chopped body tissues, jostling each other to grab their choicest piece. By performing this rite, the sacred vultures, an emanation of wisdom deities, transport the deceased’s soul to heaven—so believe the local folks.

Strange as it may sound, the vultures do not feed on the meat if the deceased were a sinner. The sky burial rite is nothing less than gruesome but a stark reality founded on Tibetan spiritual values.

“Based on Buddhist tenets and values, the philosophy behind the sky burial ritual is insightful and profoundly spiritual. When you die, your spirit leaves your body, leaving behind nothing but a mass of flesh and bones. If your worthless body can serve as a source of sustenance to another living being, it’s good karma to a noble cause,” said Wangchhen Lowa.

A dull boom of a gong, punctuated by the sharp clang of cymbals and the haunting wail of a long pipe horn, sounded from a nearby monastery as Wangchhen Lowa rounded up on the eerie account of Lo Manthang’s sky burial.

Complete Article HERE!

What Happens When You Die?

— Hospice Workers Share Conversations With Patients as They Near the End of Their Life

By Lyssa Goldberg

Talking about mortality can definitely be a frightening subject. But for some people, like those who work in hospice, discussing what happens when you die may feel like a more natural conversation to have. 

So, what does it feel like to be days from death? And what happens to you when you die? While some of these questions may never be answered, we spoke to several hospice care professionals across the U.S. to find out what they’ve learned from their patients in their final days as they prepared to make a transition from life to death. 

“Very few people are afraid of death. They’re afraid of dying, the process leading to death,” says Travis Overbeck, National Director of Patient Experience for Seasons Hospice.

Of course, no one truly knows what comes next, but some patients have a very clear idea of what they believe should happen once they die, says Overbeck. Hospice workers like himself get to explore their patients’ belief systems and ask them what they’d like their death to look like.

For instance, in the Buddhist tradition, there’s an expectation of silence at the time of death, according to Overbeck, and there should not be any wailing or grieving at the individual’s bedside so they can make their way peacefully into the next life.

“I’ve seen so many patients at the time of death. Most often, there’s this sense of peace and calm, and it’s really beautiful,” Overbeck says. “That’s why I do what I do. It’s all about bringing that peace and comfort to our patients at end of life.”

Here are some of the most common themes that have emerged from end-of-life conversations with hospice workers.

“Would you mind praying for me?”

Overbeck, a chaplain who sees patients of all faiths and backgrounds but practices Christianity himself, remembers his final conversations with a Jewish patient in her last days of life. She said, “I know you’re Christian, and I know I’m Jewish, but would you mind praying for me?”

“What would you like me to pray for?” Overbeck replied.

“I pray that when I die, it will be peaceful, and I will be comforted,” was the patient’s request.

After some conversation, they prayed together and the two hit it off. When Overbeck returned to the hospital the next day, the patient’s friend found him in the hallway. She told Overbeck that the patient had become unresponsive—but before she stopped speaking, the patient asked her friend to have Overbeck pray for her again if he returned.

Overbeck entered the patient’s room and, knowing that hearing is typically the last sense to go, he reintroduced himself and said, “I’m going to go ahead and pray for you.” He prayed again for peace and a comfortable transition. And at the end of his prayers, suddenly the patient began to talk.

“I’m going on a journey to a place I’ve never been before,” she started, “and everybody is sparkling, and everybody is smiling at me.” The patient died about 45 minutes later.

“I don’t care what belief system you are or aren’t. At the end of the day, that’s real. That was her experience,” Overbeck says.

Bringing life closure

Much of Overbeck’s work is dedicated to tying up loose ends and bringing his patients’ life to closure, whether that’s reuniting family members that have become estranged or ensuring the patient’s legacy is preserved. “There’s a process in dying,” Overbeck says. “It’s the opportunities to say, ‘I love you,’ opportunities to say, ‘I forgive you,’ opportunities to ask for forgiveness, opportunities to say, ‘Goodbye.’”

Overbeck recalls another conversation with a patient who was the CEO of a very large, well-known company. “Travis, I had it all,” the CEO told Overbeck. “I had the vacation homes. I was able to send my kids to the finest schools. We traveled the world. But at some point, I lost my focus. I began to value my job and my money more than anything else.”

Along the way, it cost him not only his marriage but his relationship with his kids. In fact, the patient had a grandchild he’d never even meet. Overbeck asked the patient for permission to reach out to his family. A few phone calls later, they were flying into town to visit the hospital.

Overbeck helped facilitate conversations between the patient and his family members, and while he acknowledges it wasn’t easy, he was ultimately able to bring them a feeling of closure. Most importantly, the patient was able to meet his grandchild for the first time. The patient died later that day.

“The biggest realization that I’ve had is that we all have a finite amount of time—it’s about how you’re going to live with that time,” Overbeck says.

Cultivating gratitude

Carolyn Gartner, licensed clinical social worker with Visiting Nurse Service of New York Hospice and Palliative Care, began practicing meditation and studying Buddhism around the same time she started pursuing social work.

Working in hospice care, she’s found her patients hold a perspective of gratitude and acceptance that parallels what she’s been taught through her meditation practice. “I feel my older patients really understand the idea of letting go, and not letting small things bother you,” Gartner says. “We get so caught up in the day-to-day, and I see my older patients are a good role model for how those things pass.”

Gartner works with a diverse array of patients throughout Brooklyn, from celebrities to patients in public housing. Recently, she and a chaplain from VNSNY Hospice went to visit a Jamaican patient who loves Bob Marley music.

The patient’s daughter told them that her mother had experienced a severe explosion of pain the day before, so Gartner prepared to handle the situation sensitively, thinking perhaps the patient wouldn’t want to listen to music that day.

When they walked in the door, however, the patient was wearing a big smile on her face and said: “Okay, ladies, when are you starting the Bob Marley?’”

“I do think that this work, almost every day, reinforces to me: We are energy. We are light. There is a spirit,” Gartner says.

At end-of-life, people like to reflect on their life story, Gartner says. Patients will take out old photos and share stories of joy and pain all in one session. Having studied screenwriting as an undergrad at New York University, Gartner uses these same storytelling techniques with her patients to learn and listen to their stories.

“My observation is that people will often die the way they live, so it’s really interesting to see how people process what they’ve gone through,” she says.

While the patients may seem ready to accept what comes next, Gartner says it’s the families who often need help coming to terms with it. VNSNY Hospice assists with the pre-bereavement process for family caregivers so they can see beyond the grief and enjoy the time they have left with the patient.

“Patients almost always know what’s going on in their body. It’s the family who doesn’t,” she says.

Seeing lost loved ones

Over the years, Kalah Walker, patient care administrator for VITAS Healthcare, has seen numerous hospice cases where the patients will call out to their loved ones who’ve passed, as if they’re seeing someone that everyone else cannot.

Often, they look out into the distance, and the hospice worker knows it’s the name of a family member who’s no longer with us. Generally, this happens within the last days of their life, Walker notes.

“You know what they’re seeing when they’re looking off into the distance…,” she said. “Once they do that, they’re able to let go.”

Sometimes, the patients will ask their hospice worker if they can see the family member too. Walker says it’s important to be there in the moment with them, agree, and allow the moment to happen as the patient is experiencing it. “There’s a nurse who gets to be there to bring life into this world, and we get to stand there and hold a patient’s hands or their family’s hands as a life leaves this world,” she says.

Walker says the real work with end-of-life care comes after the patient passes, however. “Hospice isn’t just about death and dying. It’s about learning about what’s really important in life and keeping those memories alive,” Walker said.

VITAS’ staff supports families who’ve experienced loss with programs like gifting them memory bears as reminders of their loved ones or butterfly release ceremonies. At the butterfly release ceremony, families will open a package and release butterflies into the sky, giving them a chance to reflect and experience a feeling of release themselves. “I’ve seen the butterflies sit there in the moment. You notice they kind of hover around, and it’s almost as if that butterfly is the loved one,” Walker says.


  • Travis Overbeck, National Director of Patient Experience for Seasons Hospice
  • Carolyn Gartner, licensed clinical social worker with Visiting Nurse Service of New York Hospice and Palliative Care
  • Kalah Walker, patient care administrator for VITAS Healthcare

Complete Article HERE!

An Indonesian Tradition Of Digging Up Dead Relatives For A Spirited Afterlife Ritual

Men carefully remove a coffin from a intricately carved burial chamber cut into a massive boulder in the village of Pangala, Toraja district of Indonesia, South Sulawesi Province.

By Vishal Arora

An ethnic community in Indonesia engages in a unique funerary ritual where the deceased are brought back to their families, some of them for a final smoke.

Photojournalist Garry Lotulung traveled to a mountainous region on the island of South Sulawesi, one of the more than 17,000 islands that form this archipelago, to capture the emotions that surround this ancient practice that a largely Christian community is still holding on to, and their perspective on life and death. This exclusive photo essay and video offers readers a first hand glimpse of this unique religious and cultural ceremony.

Lotulung, who is a consultant photographer for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, has 10 photos to transport us to the archipelago’s Tana Toraja region, where the Ma’nene tradition, pronounced “ma-NAY-nay,” is practiced.

The word “Tana” in the region’s name means “land.” And the people of this region are called Toraja, pronounced as “to-RRAH-jah,” which means those who are from mountains.

(Warning: The following photos show human remains that may be disturbing to some viewers.)

Preserved bodies are placed in the Sun to dry, allowing for the old clothes that had wrapped the body to be removed before continuing with the Ma’nene ritual. Pangala Village, Toraja district.

The Ma’nene ritual involves exhuming the corpses of deceased family members periodically, cleaning and re-dressing them. Some even place cigarettes in their mouths before returning them to their graves. They also take the opportunity to clean their relatives’ crypts while the bodies are out. It is a ritual that happens every three or even five years in August.

Partly premised on the belief that death is not the end, the ritual is held every three to five years in August, depending on what a family decided after the death of a relative. Lotulung was there last summer, but his excitement about documenting this ritual, which might be “the only one in the world,” has not faded away.

Out of those 10 photos, the following is what Lotulung called his favorite, capturing a moment at a cemetery where a family is gathered, full of emotion as they are “reunited” with their loved one, changing clothes of their deceased relative with great respect and care.

Relatives lovingly place new clothes on the body of a deceased relative. Pangala Village, Toraja district.

According to a post on the site Authentic Indonesia:

The procession of the Ma’Nene ritual begins with family members coming to Patane (a building that has some room to store several bodies) to retrieve the bodies of their deceased family members. Patane is a family grave that looks like a house. Then, after the body is removed from the grave, the body is cleaned. The clothes worn by the bodies of the ancestors were replaced with new cloth or clothes. Usually this ritual is carried out simultaneously by one family or even one village, so that the event is quite long. After the new clothes were put on, then the body was wrapped and put back in Patane. The Ma’Nene procession was closed by gathering family members at the Tongkonan traditional house to worship together.

Lotulung said the community holds lavish funerals, based on their age-old belief that keeping one’s ancestors happy may result in a good rice harvest. The spirit of the dead is believed to linger in the world until the death ceremony is held, and afterward, the soul begins its journey to Puya, the land of spirits, as per local beliefs, he explained.

At times, bodies remain in homes for extended periods after death as families save for funerals, which in some cases can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Relatives reverently place money in the coffin next to a mummified body. Pangala Village, Toraja district.

Torajans spend a lot of time and money on funerals and subsequent rites, believing that death is not the end and that not keeping ones ancestors happy may result in a poor rice harvest. It is also not unusual for bodies to remain in homes for long periods of time after death while families save for lavish funerals.

Fellow photographer Puta Sayoga wrote in The New York Times a few years ago:

For Torajans, death is a gradual and social process. The bodies of people who have recently died are kept at home and preserved by their families, sometimes for years, until the family has enough money to pay for a funeral. The spirit of the dead is believed to linger in the world before the death ceremony is held. Afterward, the soul will begin its journey to Puya, the land of the spirits. The longer the deceased person remains at home, the more the family can save for the funeral and the bigger and more expensive the ceremony can be. Elaborate funeral ceremonies can last for 12 days and include the sacrifices of dozens of buffalos and hundreds of pigs. Such ceremonies can cost as much as hundreds of thousands of dollars.

A report in The Guardian in Nigeria says that Toranjans believe the spirit of the person lingers and only finds peace in Puya, the land of the spirits, when a funeral ceremony has occurred. The practice dates back to a hunter named Pong Rumasek who was walking in the mountains and found a dead body in the Trojan mountains. The legend holds that the hunter cared for the body and dressed it with his own clothes — an act they believed brought him good fortune.

These views are certainly not compatible with Christianity, according to which death is a passage from physical life to eternal life in heaven or eternal separation from God in hell.

Even Islam – Indonesia is home to the world’s largest Muslim population – does not approve of what might be seen as ancestor worship. Muslims believe in the concept of qiyamah, or Judgment, that the soul will be judged by Allah according to one’s deeds and actions in life.

Family members surround the preserved body of a relative placed in the Sun to dry. Pangala Village, Toraja district.

“Today, Torajans are largely Christian, but their age-old funeral practices — which predate their conversion to Christianity — persist,” Sayoga writes in the Times. “Ma’nene’, for example, which is carried out three years (or more, depending on the family’s agreement), is meant to be a way to honor deceased relative. According to the belief, performing the rite will result in a better harvest in the following year.”

For Toraja Christians, both Protestant and Catholic, the retention of the ritual can be mostly about preserving an important part of their culture.

However, critics argue that the Ma’nene ritual is a form of cultural appropriation, as it is being commercialized and used as a tourist attraction, apart from involving animal sacrifice. They argue that the ritual has lost its sacred meaning and has become a way for the Toraja people to make money.

An elderly man poses for a photo with the bodies of his brothers and sisters. Pangala Village, Toraja district.

However, Lotulung disagrees with such criticism, responding to the complexity of the practice with empathy.

“I have a deep empathy for the Toraja people, as they still provide a proper place and show respect to their ancestors,” said Lotulung, whose work focuses on documenting social issues and environmental crises in Indonesia.

Every family buries their loved ones with as much honor as possible, and sometimes in ways that only they can fully understand, he argued.

A woman covers the body of her sister with new clothes. Pangala Village, Toraja district.

Lotulung could also connect and relate with the Toraja people. He said he couldn’t help but feel emotional while making these photos.

When the photojournalist saw a family pull a body out of a casket, he was “silent for a moment,” wondering whether anyone would ever get a chance to see or meet family members after their death.

“I felt emotional being around the graves. In that atmosphere, I could sense the sadness that follows the loss of a loved one,” he said. “For example, I saw a young woman standing in front of a cemetery and looking at a picture of her deceased mother with tears in her eyes.”

A woman covers the body of her sister with new clothes. Pangala Village, Toraja district.

As a photojournalist, Lotulung said he was careful about giving space to grieving families during the shoot. They appeared to be unaware of the fact that they were occasionally the object of tourists’ attention, he said.

He added that he witnessed a grandson who finally got to hug his grandfather’s body after changing his clothes. Amazed by what he saw, Lotulung thought, “Death helps us understand the reality of life.”

Family members carefully clean a mummified body before dressing it in new clothes. Pangala Village, Toraja district.

Lotulung stated that during his time in Toraja, he never received any information from the villagers about any call for a ban on the practice. He believes the Toraja people do not need attention from international media or tourists, and that they do this sincerely out of respect for their ancestors.

A man holds a traditional lamp inside a cave used as a tomb. Sandan Uai Village, Toraja district. Toraja district.

He also thinks this ritual will continue for much longer as it has been passed down from generation to generation and is deeply ingrained in their culture.

While tourists from Western countries may provide an impetus for such “unique” customs to carry on, members of the community will continue to cling to these rituals to show their respect for their ancestors, and also for fear of drawing their wrath, Lotulung concluded.

Complete Article HERE!

Quebec organ donors increase threefold after ‘steep rise’ in donations from MAID patients

— The proportion of donors who chose MAiD increased by nearly 15 per cent last year, according to Transplant Québec.

The proportion of donors who chose MAiD increased by nearly 15 per cent last year, according to Transplant Québec.

By La Presse Canadienne

Quebec saw a record number of referrals for organ donations in 2022, including a significant increase in donations made in the context of “medical aid in dying” (MAiD) cases, according to the latest annual report from Transplant Québec.

The organization announced Wednesday that the proportion of donors who chose MAiD increased by nearly 15 per cent last year. Most of the cases involved patients who had a neurological or neurodegenerative disease.

Transplant Québec noted that the number of donations made in the context of MAiD has tripled over the past five years. About 10 per cent of cases of MAiD in Quebec represent potential donors, a proportion based on diagnoses compatible with organ donations, which translates to the equivalent of 366 donors.

“This is not only an opportunity to increase the number of organ donors in Quebec, but also an incredible opportunity to see more people benefit from a transplant,” Transplant Québec director Martine Bouchard said in a statement. “In addition to increasing the number of transplant recipients through the generosity of their gesture, these (donors) also gave meaning to their condition by allowing other lives to be saved.”

In total, Transplant Québec received 854 organ donation referrals in 2022 and 483 people received organ transplants. The organization noted that 78 lung transplants were carried, an “unmatched” number, for the second consecutive year.

More than 170 donors in Quebec allowed 584 transplants to be carried out.

The waiting times for lung or kidney transplants has shortened considerably over the past 10 years, according to the report. As of Dec. 31, 2022, 913 people were on Transplant Québec’s waiting list.

In proportion to their population, Montreal, Saguenay—Lac-St-Jean and the Eastern Townships are the regions with the highest number of potential donors, according to Transplant Québec.

Complete Article HERE!