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Posts Tagged ‘dying’

Wandering the graveyard

In aging, behavior, culture, History, life, travel, urban life on June 22, 2012 at 1:11 am

Near the house I’m sitting in Vermont is a town with a small graveyard with some early stones. Early, of course, is a relative term in a nation as young as the United States.

I wandered there at sunset, the sun low and pearly in the sky. I was sweaty and sore from a major workout at the gym, feeling as alive and strong as I have in years. What better time to contemplate one’s mortality?

I always notice the same things in graveyards dating from the 18th. or 17th. century here — people who died at, then especially, a ripe old age in their 80s or 90s, but a large number of young wives in their early 20s and their tiny babies, some dead within a few days or weeks of their birth.

How must have life, and death, felt like then?

Women died in childbirth. Their babies died of a host of diseases for which modern medicines were far distant in the future: smallpox, scarlet fever, diphtheria, pneumonia, influenza. Doctors, if one even lived anywhere nearby, arrived at whatever speed their horse and muddy, icy or snowy roads allowed them — after being hastily summoned by someone riding, rowing or running at top speed to find them. Even then, they had only a limited armamentarium in their black leather bag.

Husbands might — as one man did in this cemetery I visited — have three or four wives in their lifetime.

How much more familiar and intimate the spectre of (early) death must have been.

Where I live, in a northern suburb of New York City, I was for many years puzzled by many small graveyards I’d spy as I turned back onto the highway. They’re shaded by thick, old trees, bordered with stone walls and a wrought-iron gate. I wrote a New York Times story about them, (how I often satisfy my curiosity about something), and discovered these had once been on family farmland, long since sold off, the graves left behind.

It’s so easy to forget who came before us and what their lives, and landscapes, were like. Early graveyards are a useful reminder.

Their marker stones are often very beautiful, with a skull or an angel, and deep incised script in red sandstone or white marble.

My husband is a Buddhist and wants me to cremate him and spread his ashes at our favorite lake in Quebec. I should choose the same method as, with no kids, I can’t see anyone going to kneel at my grave. My ashes, similarly, are probably best scattered into a Canadian lake from the back of a canoe, to the haunting cry of a loon.

If my husband dies before I do, who will even take care of my disposal and estate? Serious stuff I still have to decide and write into a longer and much more detailed will.

I have no idea where my grandfathers are buried, or my paternal grandmother. My maternal grandmother, a grande dame who squandered much of her considerable wealth, was cremated. My mother buried her ashes in a silver Russian tea caddy (what else? where else?) in a Toronto park. Yes, illegally. I have no idea where exactly…but I wave to her whenever the subway car passes through the Rosedale station, nearest to the park.

My maternal great-grandfather, a prominent businessman in Chicago in the late 19th. century, has a gorgeous mausoleum I hoped to visit when I was there last year, but ran out of time. At least I know he’s still there.

Do you ever visit cemeteries to which you have no personal attachment?

Why?

When Your Husband Wants His Brain Frozen After Death — But You Don't

In behavior on July 11, 2010 at 12:08 pm
The skull and crossbones, a common symbol for ...

Image via Wikipedia

So turns out there a number of men who want their bodies or brains preserved after they die — so they can later be thawed out for a whole  new life…later.

Is this weird? Is this what you plan?

My sweetie, being a devout Buddhist, thinks about death a lot and wants to be cremated and has told me where to spread his ashes. I live in terrified denial of mortality (see, can’t even type the words “my mortality” without my stomach hurting) and figure no one would visit my grave anyway so probably best not to have one and where would my ashes go? A favorite spot like…France. Or the Saks shoe department.

Read this and tell me what you think:

Premonitions of this problem can be found in the deepest reaches of cryonicist history, starting with the prime mover. Robert Ettinger is the father of cryonics, his 1964 book, “The Prospect of Immortality,” its founding text. “This is not a hobby or conversation piece,” he wrote in 1968, adding, “it is the struggle for survival. Drive a used car if the cost of a new one interferes. Divorce your wife if she will not cooperate.” Today, with just fewer than200 patients preserved within the two major cryonics facilities, the Michigan-based Cryonics Institute and the Arizona-based Alcor, and with 10 times as many signed up to be stored upon their legal deaths, cryonicists have created support networks with which to tackle marital strife. Cryonet, a mailing list on “cryonics-related issues,” takes as one of its issues the opposition of wives. (The ratio of men to women among living cyronicists is roughly three to one.) “She thinks the whole idea is sick, twisted and generally spooky,” wrote one man newly acquainted with the hostile-wife phenomenon. “She is more intelligent than me, insatiably curious and lovingly devoted to me and our 2-year-old daughter. So why is this happening?”

Dying Blogger Eva Markvoort, 25, Killed By Cystic Fibrosis, Her Memorial Service Streamed Live Friday

In Health, Media, women on April 28, 2010 at 10:28 am

A powerful story, from CNN:

“Hello to the world at large,” she said in the video. “To my blog, to my friends, to everyone. I have some news today. It’s kinda tough to hear, but I can say it with a smile.” Propped in a hospital bed, Markvoort sat surrounded by her family. “My life is ending.”

Markvoort had cystic fibrosis, an incurable disease that causes mucus to accumulate in the lungs. For nearly four years, she narrated an unvarnished blog about life with a terminal disease. Even when it appeared unlikely that she would receive a second double lung transplant, the 25-year-old continued to chronicle life on her blog….

Markvoort started her blog in 2006 because hospitalized patients with cystic fibrosis were isolated because of infection. Alone in her hospital room at Vancouver General Hospital after visiting hours, she sought to connect with other patients by finding them online.

The blog’s name 65_RedRoses, originated from her childhood inability to pronounce cystic fibrosis; she, as have many other children with the disease, called it “65 roses.” Markvoort added the word red because it was her favorite color.

Markvoort was the subject of a Canadian documentary also called “65_RedRoses.” It showed her harrowing experiences with the disease: violent coughing, vomiting, IVs, the painful procedures that made her scream.

I have a soft spot for VGH because my mom spent six weeks there recovering from a six-hour neurosurgery that removed a four-inch-wide tumor from her brain. I found tremendous skill and compassion from their staff, from their warm social worker who comforted and helped me through it to her plain-spoken surgeon (and his son, a fellow MD), to her lovely physical therapist.

Dying has always been a pretty private affair. If sharing their end with millions of strangers offers comfort, what other remaining choices do the dying have?

In the same style that she had allowed her readers (who were often strangers) into her life, Markvoort’s family plans to hold a memorial service that will run in a live stream on her blog at 7 p.m. ET Friday.

“She indicated that she thought it would be a cool idea if whatever we did, was made available for her online blogging community,” her mother said.

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