Can dogs comprehend the meaning of death and do they grieve because of it?
Brandi Alexander was relieved when she got the news that her father’s cancer was in remission in 2003. Neither she nor her five siblings subsequently took the time to talk with their father about his final wishes in the event he became ill or died.
But in November 2010, Alexander flew home from Denver to New Orleans for Thanksgiving and learned that her father’s cancer had returned. Less than two months later, Ferdinand Alexander was dead.
“”When my father came out of remission, he declined very quickly and none of us knew what he wanted,” Alexander said. “I had never had a conversation with him. I had all of this knowledge about end of life things but I had never talked to my own father who had a terminal disease. He was remarried and his new wife was making all of the decisions.”
Alexander’s comments came at the conclusion of a forum entitled “The Journey Home: An African American Conversation,” in which senior citizen advocates, morticians, pastors, financial planners and even an emergency room physician came together at SunTrust Bank to talk about death, dying and end-of life choices.
“My father had six kids and we didn’t agree with his wife, who had the power of attorney. And instead of honoring his life we were battling about his death,” said Alexander, regional campaign & outreach manager for Compassion & Choices, an end-of-life advocacy group that used to be known as the Hemlock Society.
While talking about death and dying is almost taboo in the African American community, Daniel Wilson, national director of Compassion & Choices said, “We have to look at the whole spectrum of what end-of-life looks like, from the point of diagnosis to what you need to look for when you are choosing a physician to should I go to hospice.”
John M. Thompson, director of the D.C. Office on Aging, said, “In the District of Columbia we have 104,000 seniors and coming to an event like this is so important not only for the seniors but for their caregivers and the young to understand how to properly plan for the future.”
“Who’s going to be responsible for executing that will, if mom and dad dies?” Thompson said. “This is a chance to have a peaceful ending for mom and dad as they move on with life and live in harmony together.
Dr. Melissa Clarke, a local emergency physician, said, “I have been in too many situations where people have come in and based upon their age should have an advance health-care directive and it should be clear what should be done for them, but it’s not.”
Lynne T. McGuire, president of McGuire Funeral Service Inc. in the District, said that she wishes that she could have the opportunity to talk with families before someone dies. “It is bigger than just funeral planning. The whole end of life spectrum: How do I want to be cared for ? Folks are starting to talk about it, but we really do need documentation.”
For example, McGuire said the funeral home buried a woman who was 102 and learned too late that her husband who died 60 years ago, was buried at Arlington National Cemetery and there was space for her. “There was a grave reserved for her but it is too late.”
Tiffany Tippins, CEO of Impactful Wealth Solutions, said, “I think the biggest thing I see in planning for death is the lack of planning: Making decisions, letting someone know when you can’t speak for yourself and when you can act for yourself, what do you want to happen.”
The Rev. Thomas L. Bowen, assistant pastor of the Shiloh Baptist Church in the District, said in the same way couples are offered premarital counseling, pastors need to offer counseling before people leave this earth. “A lot of times we as pastors are the first responders. When death comes, people say, ‘Lord, what am I going to do,’ then they call the preacher and say, ‘what am I going to do.’”
Complete Article HERE!
The task of interpreting the symbols on a headstone or memorial is a daunting one. Although most of the symbols that you will see DO have a textbook meaning, it is quite possible that the headstone or memorial you are looking at was put there simply because someone liked the look of it. Therefore, it will have no meaning beyond the taste of the deceased or those left behind to morn. The point is that many people choose a memorial motif not for its textbook meaning, but simply because they like the ornamentation or design, because it feels “right” or appropriate.
Traditional Chinese funeral is an elaborate ceremony that involves a number of rites and rituals. However, the etiquette that needs to be followed during these ceremonies is worth noting.
By Rave Uno
The funeral or death ceremony is one of the most important rites of passage that virtually every human being has to go through. Funeral rites differ from country to country and from culture to culture, but all of them are unanimously aimed at ensuring that the soul of the deceased enters the afterlife without any hurdle. People have been following various funeral customs and practices from time immemorial, and we indeed have ample archaeological evidence to prove that certain patches of land served as cemeteries and that certain platforms were used particularly to carry out last rites on a person. Even today, there are a plethora of funeral rites and etiquette that cultures across the world follow, and it is indeed interesting to know that some of these are ages old, owing to the antiquity of the culture itself.
China is, without doubt, one of the oldest surviving civilizations of the world. People of today’s China value their age-old customs and traditions as much as they value advancements in technology and modernization. For the Chinese, the funeral rites are an important part, not only of their religious lives, but also social lives.
Chinese Funeral: Protocol to be Followed
Funeral rites occupy a very important place in the traditional Chinese society, and all the set rules and etiquette need to be very strictly followed. It is believed that the one who fails to adhere to the rules and etiquette of the funeral invites bad luck to his/her family. Traditionally, the Chinese people are known to host lavish funeral ceremonies for their deceased near and dear ones because elaborateness of the funeral ceremony determines the status of the family in the society. This Buzzle write-up features some of the important etiquette to be followed during a traditional Chinese funeral.
Colors to Wear
► Avoid wearing bright and colorful clothing, as such hues may symbolize moods, contrary to the one of mourning. Do not wear red; in China, it is associated with happiness.
► You can dress up in white clothes, but make sure that they are absolutely plain, with no designs at all. In fact, the deceased is also dressed up in a white robe.
► If the deceased lived up to the age of 80 or above, guests can wear a white attire bearing shades of pink or red. The Chinese believe that if a person dies at 80 or above, he/she lived life to the fullest, and had no desires left to be fulfilled. Therefore, such a death (if it is natural), calls for a celebration, and shades symbolizing happiness are acceptable to a certain extent.
During the Funeral
► The Chinese funeral involves a lot of rites which have to be completed properly. Traditionally, the period called “wake” precedes the actual funeral. Held either in the family home or local temple, this period lasts for several days, wherein family members and close friends are expected to bring flowers for the deceased.
► Though it is not customary, people generally also put banners with couplets about the deceased written on them, within the wreaths. Such a gesture shows that you are equally sad about the person’s death as his/her family.
► On the day of the funeral, all the guests are expected to give money in white envelopes (white is the color of mourning in Chinese culture) to the family members of the deceased. This can be directly handed over to one of the family members (or put into a donation box, if there is one), either on the day of the funeral or one day before.
► You can either write your name on the white envelope while you give the money or you can leave it blank; it is acceptable both ways.
► The amount that you may give varies, depending on the overall income of the family of the deceased, and also that of the guests. The amount of money also depends on the closeness of the grieving family with the guest.
► The minimum expected amount is 101 yuan (about $16), but there is no upper limit for the same. While enclosing money into the white envelope, ensure that you are donating in odd numbers.
► While the funeral is in progress, the members of the grieving family burn joss paper, also known as ghost money, to ensure safe passage of the deceased into the afterlife.
► Apart from joss paper, other miniature items such as houses, cars, televisions, utensils, etc., are also burned. It is believed that all these enter the afterlife with the deceased, so that he/she can lead a luxurious and a comfortable life, even after death.
After the Funeral
► Red, in Chinese culture, is the color of happiness. So, the distribution of red envelopes after funeral symbolizes the end of the period of mourning, and the beginning of a new start.
► As a marker of a fresh beginning, the guests are also made to consume a piece of sweet candy before leaving for their respective homes. Sometimes, the guests may also be presented with a handkerchief.
► It should be noted that the three items mentioned above viz., the envelope with a coin, the handkerchief, and the candy, should not be carried home by the guests. If done so, these items are believed to invite bad luck.
► It is also customary for the grieving families to present their guests with a red-colored thread, while they leave for their homes. This thread is believed to ward away evil spirits, and so, it should be taken home by the guests and tied to their doorknobs.
The Funeral Procession
► Once the elaborate funeral ceremony is over, a funeral procession to the final resting place of the deceased, the crematorium or the cemetery, is held.
► For this, a special band is hired and loud music is played until the place is reached. Traditional Chinese culture believes that evil spirits can be kept away by means of loud music.
► The other mourners are allowed to wear any shades, except the bright and bold ones, and it is also customary for them to wear a cloth band on their arms that signifies that they are mourning the death of their loved one.
► The arm on which the band is worn depends on the gender of the deceased. If the deceased is a woman, the band is worn on the right sleeve, and vice versa.
► More often than not, professional mourners are also hired; however, this is not mandatory, and depends largely on the financial status of the grieving family.
► The coffin, in which the corpse is laid, is kept in a hearse decorated with funerary wreaths and flowers.
► The children of the deceased walk in the front row of the procession, carrying a large portrait of their mother/father. They are followed by other family members and guests.
► Whether the deceased is cremated or buried, depends on the personal preference of the deceased himself/herself and/or his/her family. Both these practices prevail in the traditional Chinese culture, and both are equally acceptable.
It is worth noting that in Chinese culture, the funeral customs and rites vary from person to person, depending on the social status of the deceased and/or also his/her position in the family. They also depend on the age, marital status, and the manner in which the person died. So, while you prepare yourself to attend a traditional Chinese funeral ceremony, ensure that you have considered all these things so that you can follow the appropriate etiquette once you get there.
Complete Article HERE!
First appearing during the Spring and Autumn Period (722-481BC), hanging coffin is a unique funeral and sacrifice custom of the minority groups in southern China. People put the bodies of their ancestors into wooden coffins that were later placed in caves of precipitous cliffsides.
Most coffins were made with one whole piece of wood into various shapes. It was said that the hanging coffins could prevent bodies from being taken by beasts and also bless the soul eternally.
Famous Hanging Coffin Sites :
While hanging coffins can be found in many places in China, the strange thing is all of them only existed for a certain period in history. Those in Wuyi Mountain are the first appear in China, as early as in the Zhou Dynasty (1027-777BC) while those in Gongxian County of Southwest china’s Sichuan province are the most recent, which also marked the end of the hanging coffin custom.
The mystery of hanging coffins
Why did the ancient people bury the dead in hanging coffins?
According to historical records, the Bo people believed “Coffins set high are considered auspicious. The higher they are the more propitious for the dead”. Also, after experiencing years of wars and natural disasters, the Bo people dreamed of going somewhere peaceful and quiet after their death. That is why they chose to rest their bodies on the precipices with the mountains and rivers around, all peaceful, beautiful and quiet. The Guyue people, on the other hand, held a high esteem for high mountains, and believed the higher the hanging coffin was placed; the better they could be protected.
How did the ancient people do it?
So how did the ancient people, including the Bo people and Guyue people, do it? This question once caused heated discussion among experts . Some believe the coffins were lowered down with ropes from the top of the mountain. Some ought the coffins were put in place with wooden stakes inserted into the cliff surface as artificial climbing aids. Others feel that earth ramps were the answer.
Cui Chen, a curator of the Yibin Museum, who examined the three different ways the coffins of the Bo people could have been put in place, has this to say:
“Earth ramps might have been used but experts discount this solution due to the amount of labor required, which would have been difficult in an underpopulated area. A timber scaffold supported on stakes in the cliff might have offered a plausible explanation but years of investigation have failed to find even a single stake hole. On balance the third option of lowering the coffins on ropes from above had always seemed feasible and now cultural specialists have found the telltale marks of the ropes which were used all these years ago. And so this part of the mystery of the hanging coffins has now been resolved.”
During the later years of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), the imperial army cruelly oppressed the ethnic minority peoples of Southwestern China Sichuan and Yunnan Provinces. In particular, the Duzhangman and Bo Peoples fell victims of massacre. To escape their oppression, the Bo migrated to new locations. They hid their real names and assimilated with other ethnic groups. Like their culture they have disappeared but their descendents are still here for they are a part of us.
How the Guyue people hung the coffins onto the Fairy-water Rocks of Longhushan (Dragon TigerMountain) remains a mystery, since the hanging coffins are so dangerously located. Over the years, it has taken on a mystic air. Some people say the coffins were hung up with the aid from the immortals in the heaven, while others say there are invaluable treasures within the caves. Longhushan Administration Bureau once offered a 300,000 yuan ($US 36298) reward for solving the mystery, but so far no one has won the reward.
A Tasmanian exhibition of wearable paper art is exploring society’s unwillingness to talk about death.
Tasmanian artists are hoping to provoke important conversations about the end-of-life stage in an exhibition initiated by the palliative care sector.
Wynyard paper artist Ritchie Ares Dona creates his pieces from the pages of second-hand books.
“(I am) making a garment out of paper for a dead body,” he said.
His piece, called Eulogy, is being crafted from the heartfelt messages of Tasmanians who have lost loved ones.
“Some of them were writing letters as if the person were still living,” he said.
“Some of them are confessions.”
It is part of an exhibition to get underway in December called Paper Garments for the Grave.
Jenny Fuller from the Tasmanian Association for Hospice and Palliative Care hopes it provokes important conversations.
“(We’re) trying to get the community talking more comfortably about death and dying and end-of-life decision making,’ she said.
It was inspired by Melbourne designer Pia Interlandi, who helps people make real clothes for their own burials.
“Part of what I do is a ritual, and a moment that is deeply entwined in their lives. I feel really nervous,” she said.
Curator Kitty Taylor said the use of paper as a material had great significance.
“Paper is fragile, as is life, and we just really like those connections,” she said.
“And processes that we can do to paper to strengthen them, there’s a really nice analogy in that about life as well.
“Some are actually making their own garments, so as you can imagine that’d be quite an emotional experience.”
Complete Article HERE!
For more information about the exhibit visit the Burnie Arts & Function Centre, visit their website HERE!
An architect comes up with a surprising way to be productive one last time.
By Nina Shapiro
Katrina Spade started thinking about her mortality when she hit 30, while studying architecture at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. What would she want to happen to her body after she died? she wondered. A traditional burial was out. She didn’t like the idea of putting her body in a casket, “pumped full of formaldehyde.” “I guess I’ll be cremated,” she thought, envisioning her ashes being scattered in beautiful New Hampshire, where she grew up, or maybe over the ocean.
Then she started musing over the notion of a “natural burial,” a phenomenon that has caught on in the past 10 or 15 years, helped by its starring role in one episode of the popular mid-’00s TV show Six Feet Under. Bodies skip the embalming process and are placed into the ground wrapped in a biodegradable cover—a simple pine coffin, perhaps, or even a cardboard box. Spade liked the idea of getting “bodies back to the earth as quickly as possible.” The problem was that natural-burial cemeteries are usually located outside cities, where there is more land. And Spade considered herself a devoted city dweller, even in death.
Could there be an urban alternative? This, she thought, was a design problem. And, as an architecture student, design problems were her métier.
So began Spade’s work on what she calls the “Urban Death Project,” which turned into her thesis. Its central idea is so radical, so contrary to deeply ingrained notions about how we treat our dead, that she knows that one wrong word used to describe it will turn people off. But there’s only one plain way to put it: Our bodies would be composted. Turned to dirt, spread on gardens, used, as Spade sees it, for something “productive one last time.”
Radical or no, her vision—which she kept refining after graduating, moving to Seattle, and taking a design job with the nonprofit architecture firm Environmental Works—is getting some traction. Late last month, the New York foundation Echoing Green awarded Spade an $80,000, two-year fellowship that will allow her to work on the project full time and build a prototype in the Seattle area.
“We recycle everything, why can’t we recycle ourselves?” asks Nora Menkin, who has heard Spade talk about her idea. Menkin is the managing director of Seattle’s Co-Op Funeral Home of People’s Memorial, which seeks to provide affordable cremations and burials and help families explore alternatives to the norms developed by the heavily commercialized funeral industry.
Spade is not the first to float the idea of composting bodies, according to Lynne Carpenter-Boggs, a Washington State University agriculture professor who has long worked on composting projects. But, she says, “This is certainly the most serious and socially appropriate trial I’ve heard about.” By that she means that Spade’s project tackles not only the mechanics of composting bodies, but also our need to create meaningful ceremonies around death and to treat the remains of our loved ones with respect.
“I’m asking people to accept that we don’t all need our own space when we die.”
Spade, speaking by phone last week from Rhode Island, where as it happens she was attending a memorial service for her grandmother, explains that she sees one of her chief jobs as “making this an incredibly beautiful experience for people.” The model she has come up with, pictured in drawings that can be seen on her website, involves a four-story building that would have a series of ramps connecting each floor. The vertical model saves space; Spade envisions it needing no more than a plot of land suitable for a small apartment building. Crucially, though, the structure also plays a ceremonial role, as loved ones would walk the body up the ramps in ritualistic procession.
On the third floor, the family would pause and the body would be wrapped in linen. Spade envisions a “death midwife” taking the lead here. Death midwives, also known as “home funeral guides,” are another product of the movement to reclaim life’s end from the industry that has grown up around it, according to Menkin, who took a California workshop to train for such a role herself. Midwives clean and prepare the body for what comes next, often working with family members who want to help—the process that Spade sees happening on the third floor of her center.
Then, family members would walk the body up to the top floor. Here, they would lay the body on what Spade calls “the core”—the compost pile of bodies that would be mixed with wood chips and sawdust in a formula that fuels the decomposition process. Our bodies in themselves are a great start, full of “nutrients” that microorganisms love to eat, according to Carpenter-Boggs, who adds that it’s this feeding frenzy that produces the energy crucial to the process.
Spade acknowledges that this communal pile, rather than individual plots of land or a cherished urn, is a psychological leap. “I’m asking people to accept that we don’t all need our own space when we die.”
And what about the smell? Spade says that’s the first question she gets—a crucial one, because foul odors are a big problem at many composting facilities. Local composting giant Cedar Grove has faced community complaints about that for years.
Spade says she’s confident that won’t be an issue with her death centers, pointing to the process used to compost livestock animals. Carpenter-Boggs, who’s helped pioneer the practice at WSU with the university’s farm animals, explains that there are fewer fumes than at commercial facilities because animal composting doesn’t involve rotting garbage. Commercial faculties also sometimes use smelly manure as additives to the compost pile. That practice would be avoided when dealing with humans, says Carpenter-Boggs, who is working as an informal consultant to Spade.
The professor imagines the death centers, which would use neutral or even sweet-smelling additives, smelling “like a garden.” Indeed, Spade hopes city dwellers will treat her sites as if they were such, strolling through on their lunch hour, for instance.
Still, there’s no doubt she’ll have to overcome what Menkin calls “the ick factor.” The co-op funeral home director says marketing will be key.
Spade has got a start on that. She makes the environmental arguments for composting, noting that it won’t take up arable land, require “toxic” chemicals as embalming and burial does, or use the 30,000 cubic feet of natural gas that she says it takes to burn a single body. If some might bristle at that approach—Michigan funeral director Thomas Lynch quipped to The New York Times, writing about natural burials a decade ago, that one must now be a “politically correct corpse”—Spade also has a financial case. She says composting should cost far less than either burials or cremations.
Complete Article HERE!