A Debt That Can Never Be Repaid

On this Veterans Day, I would like to invite everyone to join me in thanking all the veterans that have so bravely put their lives on the line in defense of our country. Please put aside time to stop whatever you’re doing to honor the heroes that have made the ultimate sacrifice for our country.

Life is very busy for all of us, and it’s easy to get caught up in the many responsibilities that require our attention and forget what is happening in the world around us. That’s why it’s very important to take some time to reflect on the sacrifices made to protect our freedom and serve our country. And today is of course not only about those who lost their lives battle, but those who returned home and have had to struggle to return to life with the rest of us after everything that they have been through.

Veteran’s Day is an opportunity to count our blessings, and give thanks to all the brave men and women who have earned our undying gratitude, for our debt to them can never be repaid. However, one day really just isn’t enough to truly give these heroes the thanks and recognition that they deserve. The best thing that you can do to honor veterans is to “go beyond the holiday.” This recent CNN article provides ideas for ways to honor veterans throughout the year, not just on this one day of the year.

 

Ever Wonder What It’s Like to Die?

Last week, I talked about the various morbid museums that one could find when travelling across the United States. If you somehow didn’t find that creepy enough, than perhaps this new attraction in China would be fascinating to you. In September, Samadhi – 4D Experience of Death opened in China, and promises to provide thrill seekers (or simply curious folks) with a simulation of what it would be like to be cremated. It’s an amusement park game nicknamed “The Cremation Ride”, and in the game you try to stay alive throughout the course, and if you lose you lay in a coffin which then gets pushed into an “incinerator” that heats up to a sweltering 104 degrees using hot air and light projectors to create the experience of burning. However, even if you are the winner of the game, you still get the death experience – so, just like in reality, death is inevitable. After the faux cremation, you are sent into another simulator where you are reborn and wrapped in a soft cozy womb-like capsule, which is supposed to represent the afterlife.

It seems that the Chinese are quite curious about death as the ride has been well attended thus far. For many, the attraction is a means to help them re-prioritize their life, by getting a renewed appreciation for the life they currently have.

Death Museums – Planning a Morbid Cross-Country Road Trip?

For those that have a fascination with death and all things related, perhaps a cross-country road trip to visit death museums might be their idea of fun? They certainly are interesting, to say the least, with attractions such as a bullet-proof Range Rover hearse, a wide variety of skeletons, antique medical tools that will leave you scratching your head and perhaps shivering from head to toe, and so much more. Here is a list of the six death museums that I am aware of, and an overview of what a thrill seeker? could expect to see at these morbid museums.

Morbid Anatomy Library and Museum; Brooklyn, New York – In a hidden alley and industrial canal in Brooklyn, you’ll find this library and museum that showcases jars of formaldehyde, human skeletons, antiquated medical tools and dead animals dressed in cute little outfits. The museum also includes a library that has thousands of books, photographs, artworks and artifacts relating to medical museums, anatomical art, collecting, the history of medicine, death and society, natural history, etc.

Mutter Museum; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania – This world-famous medical history museum recently celebrated its 150th anniversary. The goal of the museum is to help the public understand the mysteries and beauty of the human body while appreciating the history of diagnosis and treatment of disease. In addition to the skeletons and medical devices is an impressive wax model collection featuring a woman with a horn growing out of her forehead and a woman known as the “Soap Lady,” whose corpse famously turned to a soapy substance called adipocere. There’s also a malignant tumor removed from President Grover Cleveland’s hard palate, a piece of tissue removed from the thorax of Abraham Lincoln’s assassin, John Wilkes Booth and the conjoined liver from the famous Siamese twins, Chang and Eng.

Indiana Medical History Museum; Indianapolis, Indiana – The museum is situated on the site of a century-old insane asylum. In the ‘Old Pathology Building’, opened in 1897, physicians studied the brains of deceased patients, many of whom were actually suffering from advanced stages of syphilis. Today, the museum features gruesome medical and autopsy equipment and a collection of human brains, with details on the various neurological injuries associated with them.

Museum of Osteology; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma – Featuring skeletons of humans, animals, birds and reptiles, special sections on forensic pathology and the skeletons of Oklahoma wildlife, the museum is operated by Skulls Unlimited International, a company that cleans animal and human skulls and skeletons and ships them to collectors and museums around the world.

National Museum of Funeral History; Houston, Texas – This museum showcases hearses from the ‘20s and ‘30s, including a bullet proof Range Rover hearse for the Pope that dates back to the 1980s, as well as a very ornate Japanese hearse. A coffin exhibit highlights coffins made from glass and ice, a replica of Abraham Lincoln’s casket, and many other interesting coffins from cultures across the world.

Museum of Death; Hollywood, California – This museum features Suicide Hall, the California Death Room and an exhibit devoted to execution equipment. The California Death Room focuses on deaths that happened in California, like the Manson murder and the Black Dahlia murder. Suicide Hall is everything from Heaven’s Gate to individual suicides like Kurt Cobain. The museum has had exhibits about exotic weapons, how to build a guillotine and how to build the little machine Dr. Kevorkian invented to kill people with.

Veteran’s Funeral Honors at Risk with Army Budget Cuts

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It is understood that the Department of Defense needs to prioritize their budget, but the idea that this could come at the expense of proper military funeral honors is disheartening and simply unacceptable. However, this is going to the case if the full budget for the military honors program isn’t reinstated. The “immediate impact of this budget cut is that over 6,900 funeral honor missions will be unfulfilled”, as U.S. Senator Kelly Ayotte stated in a recent article on this topic.

It would be tragic to have those that have dedicated much of their life to defending our country not receive the proper military funeral that they have earned. The army is currently looking for ways to address the budget shortfall for the Military Funeral Honors program, and I certainly hope that they find a solution. If not, it would be extraordinary if New Hampshire residents could band together to try to make up this deficit, to ensure that no veteran is laid to rest without the proper military send-off that they are entitled to. Would you donate to such a cause if a fundraising effort was initiated? I know, on a personal level, I certainly would.

Read the full article on this subject that was published earlier this month.

A Death Revolution?

Recently, I read a story about 30-year old Los Angeles undertaker, Caitlin Doughty, who sheds light on the fact that death is a subject that Americans choose to avoid. Instead, she feels it needs to be brought to light to create “death positivity” (as she calls it). I certainly agree that Americans find the subject of mortality to be taboo. They don’t want to think about death or truly accept the reality that everyone eventually departs from this world and that they should seriously consider what they want to happen to their body when that time comes. I relate to her concept, and feel that our culture surrounding death needs a facelift – one that would hopefully, eventually, shift people’s attitudes away from denial and into acceptance and deeper consideration of the subject and their options. Funerals have become more personalized in many ways, with so many ways to customize someone’s departure – however, the fact still remains that in most cases, there isn’t a great deal of family involvement, understanding of options, or acceptance of death in its truest sense.

Doughty interviewed with CBS News and discussed her thoughts on how to make facing death and processing grief a more “life affirming experience.” She shares some interesting opinions on the current state of the death care industry and people’s perceptions. I encourage you to take the time to read her interview: http://www.cbsnews.com/news/mortician-wants-to-start-death-revolution/

Returning your Body to the Earth – The Ultimate Gift upon your Departure?

Death may be natural, but modern burial actually is not: The steel and millions of acres of trees used for caskets and vaults, along with formaldehyde used in embalming, are part of the growing carbon footprint that is being left behind after death. And, although better for the earth in many ways, cremation requires fossil fuels, therefore still not completely eco-friendly. In today’s society, where we know that our lifestyles have a major impact on our environment, sustainable burial options are becoming more viable and appealing. But will the rituals around death be redesigned and accepted to become more sustainable overall?

For some earth-lovers, they can think of no better gift back to this earth than to turn their body into soil-building material for nearby farms and community gardens, so they literally become part of the city or town they lived in. For the past three years, Urban Death Project designer Katrina Spade has been working on a green alternative to allow for just that – a compost-based renewal system. Along with the environmental issues, the design also addresses the problem of space – since cemeteries in the U.S. take up about a million acres of land, and as populations grow, even more space is needed. The benefits are numerous, and the idea that we can be productive and help solve our environmental crisis – even after we die – is a concept that we hope catches on.

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Obesity Effects Both Life AND Death

We are all aware that obesity is a considerable issue in our society today, effecting people’s quality of life and our healthcare industry. However, it may not be realized that this also has a significant impact on the death care industry. Funeral and cremation providers are being forced to adjust their practices to accommodate the growing number of obese people that they are caring for. Often, people are surprised at how many different aspects of their funeral/final wishes are affected by obesity – and therefore are surprised at the additional expenses that are incurred as a result.

Here are some things to consider when planning final arrangements for someone that may be considered obsese:

Casket – Most caskets come in a “standard” size, therefore an “oversize” casket is required if the standard size isn’t sufficient. This oversize casket then needs an oversize vault, and the grave often needs to be dug larger to accommodate the larger casket and vault.

Transportation – When a casket is larger and heavier, special considerations are needed for transportation. Many funeral homes do not have a suitable vehicle and need to outsource alternate transportation, therefore incurring additional costs.

Cremation – Most crematory’s equipment is designed to handle a “standard” size body. For example, at our crematorium, we are not able to safely cremate someone that is over 600 lbs, as that is the manufacturer’s safety weight maximum.

Pallbearing and Lifting – Typically, funeral homes move around the deceased with manpower, but with someone that is overweight, that is a safety risk or impossible. In addition, a traditional funeral usually requires pallbearers to carry the casket. In these cases, a funeral home may utilize sophisticated lifting equipment and trolley equipment.

Body Donation – Some people wish to have their body donated for medical research upon their death. However, some programs have a body mass index maximum that cannot be exceeded in order to effectively use the body for research. A family from Maine recently learned this after their mother’s passing, when her body was rejected. http://www.wmtw.com/news/saco-family-shocked

Thirteen Years Later – 9/11 Pain and Grieving Doesn’t Go Away

9-11-memorial-never-forget-7Today, on the thirteenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, ceremonies have been taking place around the country to honor those lost in the attacks, and the many heroes that emerged. A solemn reading of the names. Moments of silence to mark the precise times of tragedy. Stifled sobs of those still mourning. Painful memories are still acute and forever lingering.

I don’t think any of us will ever forget where we were or what we were doing on September 11th, 2001. I was at Mt. Calvary cemetery in Manchester at a graveside service when one of the cemetery workers told me what happened. The priest doing the service actually made an announcement and said a prayer. I didn’t have a full understanding of the magnitude of the situation until I later began watching the news coverage and watched the events unfold. I was utterly captivated by the heart-wrenching events that were taking place before my eyes. And of course, I was only watching this through a television screen. I cannot even begin to imagine what the thousands of survivors and heroes saw, and the psychological impact that this has on people.

We know that grief is not something that “goes away.” Even under typical circumstances for death, grief lingers for quite some time, and never truly is gone. It is something that you have to learn to live with and cope with. In most cases, it is not disabling for someone. However, when grief from unexpected death is compiled with trauma from such a devastating and haunting experience, the result is often debilitating. I saw a report a couple years ago that stated that at least 10,000 police officers, firefighters, EMTs and civilians were suffering from PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder,) and in a kind of mass grieving, many of them have yet to fully recover. So on this anniversary, let us not only be reminded of the lives that were lost and the sacrifices of the first-responders — firemen, police, and emergency medical personnel — but also of the long-term impact of the tragedy on those who survived.

Helping Children Cope with Death

When a loved one dies, it can be very difficult to know how to help children cope with their loss – especially when it is their parent that they have lost. And when the adult is trying to work through their own grief, it makes it even more challenging to handle things in a constructive and appropriate manner. It can be helpful for children to see adults sad, although, adults need to try to keep their emotions from getting out of control, as this can make children feel insecure. The most important thing to remember is that children faced with loss need to feel safe and have constant love and support from the adults around them. They need to be talked to about death, and allowed to ask any and all questions that they may have.

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How much kids understand about death depends on their age, developmental level, personality and life experiences. Parents may feel powerless to make a child feel better. However, parents have a natural ability to soothe – even if they are sad themselves. This love and support, along with some carefully chosen words may make all the difference in how your child copes with death. I found a great article from the Child Mind Institute that provides some excellent advice for what to expect in children’s behaviors, how to go about conversations about death with children (both short-term and long-term following the death of a loved one,) and how to decide if the child should attend the funeral services or not.

Additionally, I found this personal story from Shelley Gilbert – a psychologist who was orphaned at the young age of nine years old – to be particularly moving as she addresses her experience as a bereaved child amid a “conspiracy of silence.” She drives home the importance of talking to children about death and letting them grieve, as opposed to sheltering them from the topic of death.

You Can Make a Difference – Suicide Prevention

Helping HandFollowing Robin Williams’ devastating suicide, everyone is thinking, Why? Why do people choose to take their own life, rather than hold onto hope, and make changes so that things will get better? For Robin Williams, it is incredibly hard for most to imagine how he could feel completely helpless and hopeless, when he had an uncanny ability to make everyone else around him laugh – and from an outsider’s perspective, seemed to have it all. I, like everyone else, was stunned and saddened when learning of this tragedy. This is a very blatant reminder of how real and serious depression is, and how all-too-often suicide warning signs are missed, even by the closest of family and friends. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death, with nearly 40,000 Americans taking their own lives each year. Of course that doesn’t include those that have attempted unsuccessfully. The numbers are staggering.

Unfortunately, we have dealt with many families coping with suicide. Typically, there are so many emotions that accompany their grief, including anger and guilt. Anger, because suicide is considered to be selfish in many ways (people don’t often understand the severity of depression,) and guilt because they feel as though they missed warning signs and could have done something to help. Depression is very real and very debilitating for those that suffer from the disease. In some cases, if people were better educated on the warning signs, they would have a chance at preventing a loved one from taking their own life. I found a great resource for assessing someone’s grief or depression that will help to shed light on the suicide warning signs and hopefully arm loved ones with the tools to help prevent such a tragedy. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention provides a comprehensive overview of risk factors, warning signs, and actions to be taken if you suspect someone may be considering suicide. I hope that you never need to utilize such resources, but if you do, that you find it very helpful.