Category Archives: Death

Aunt Barbara

 

She was always her voice, a timeless southern drawl that caught your attention, rarely raised in anger but often seeped in laughter or surprise. I should have more easily forgotten that she witnessed the part of my life I consider to be the most base. It was a perplexing part of my life to know someone so kind in all the ways people should be good could be capable of looking sideways; only as an older person did I even begin to see how foolish much of my insistence toward oversimplification stripped her of her own individuality. She, like me, lived her life with the gifts she had available; unlike me, she did it with more openness.

It is without rancor that I say that she mounted an offensive for family, always being the cohesion against the twin foils of her siblings who provided either raucous debauchery or aloof superciliousness. When I changed my name almost 3 decades ago, it was she who demonstrated one of the deepest wounds, though she of all people knew in her compassion-filled heart that my motivation was one of self-preservation.

She lived a great life, even when tempered by my strangely fluid definitions. Laughter, family, and even tragedies came and went; and yet, her sense of humor tempered every peak and valley. She stayed in the small hometown that both defined her and amplified her. Such a small place of diminishing returns certainly will be less bright without her.

If this world were to have more of her, there would be more happiness and more hands on shoulders, and even more glasses of iced tea in the summer. (Because while iced tea wouldn’t cure your ills, it would always give you something to enjoy in life, if someone were there to accompany you as you drank it.)

The video was taken in her yard on a July day some 21 years ago, out on the edge of Monroe County, in a place almost everyone speeds through to get from one place to another.

Not her.

She was always where she needed to be, just as she is now.

Her voice lingers on the edge of highway 49, though, evoking the gentlest reminder that so many great moments can be found where you are.

I can hear her voice now, drawling out a slow and welcome ‘hey, y’all.’ .

Overmorrow

I had to dive into a digital haystack to find a word that had slipped from my grasp, one that someone once convinced me was sorely lacking in English.
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The word is ‘Ikstuarpok.’ It’s an Inuit word; when loosely translated means, “the act of waiting so anxiously for someone to arrive that you go to the window every few moments to see if they’ve arrived yet.” Those lucky enough to have cherished pets probably witness this frequently, as pets aren’t equipped to differentiate between permanent departure and a quick trip elsewhere and back home to safety.
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It also aptly describes the human emotion we feel after a tremendous loss. Despite a certainty that the person we anticipate will never again cross the threshold, we can’t stop ourselves from physically and mentally peering out, hoping against all rational hope that somehow, we are wrong. I’m certain it is very common, as it is usually expressed as the longing to hear someone’s voice for even one more minute or to spend one singular day with someone we grieve.
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We see resemblances in faces at the grocery store, hear a laugh that echoes through time, or catch a snippet of a melody that pushes us into the undeniable memory of the someone who forever eludes us. Harshest still, our treasonous minds lull us into a dream wherein we believe and feel the person who is no longer with us. Waking, we feel the agony of loss as if it were occurring again, the wound once again ripped open. No matter the pain, though, we relish the slight agony of loss, so powerful are our minds at recapturing memories.
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There’s also an English word that has sorrowfully departed our language: ‘overmorrow.’ It’s a word that means “the day after tomorrow.” It has an additional meaning. It evokes the hope and faith of a future in which we no longer feel the urge to look around, to jump up the window, or to see a face that is not there. We know that tomorrow will also hold surprise and wonder and perhaps we will be content to remember with love and fondness anyone no longer with us.
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Overmorrow.
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I wish it were overmorrow for some of my friends and that their windows were already full of sunshine, whether they peer from within or not.
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Arkansas Funeral Care and Comments


Warning: Serious Comments… Arkansas Funeral Care is in the news in Central Arkansas. They are a “reduced cost” funeral home and have helped many families. If you aren’t familiar with what happened, you can search for it easily in the news.

My mom’s funeral was arranged through them in September 2013. Even though I wanted mom to be cremated, my sister had cared for mom the last weeks of her life. Since she was making the decisions, it was her choice to bury her instead of cremation. I’m in no way criticizing my sister for her choices because she was doing what she thought was the best. My mom and I had a horrendous relationship the last year of her life up until she was diagnosed with Stage IV cancer. My sister stepped in and made all the decisions for her care and her remains. She chose burial over cremation.

Even though I’m known for my commentary, I reluctantly admitted back at the time that mom looked absolutely terrible during the viewing. It wasn’t because she had battled cancer, as I’ve lost a few close family members to cancer – as have we all. Whoever had prepared her either lacked the skill, time, or interest in masking her condition. I felt sorry for the other family members, knowing that they were in a terrible position of having to mouth the words of condolences that are appropriate to funerals. We were all thinking the same thing – that mom should not have been prepared for a viewing in that condition. In some way, though, I will admit there was even honesty to the way she looked. Most people aren’t accustomed to seeing viewings like that, though. For anyone who has seen the movie “The Green Mile,” the scene in the basement walkway wherein Tom Hanks answers the warden’s question of “What the hell happened up there?” with the quip “An execution” reminds of the situation everyone was in. What would have been the other option at that point? Any change would have resulted in awkwardness and unanswerable questions, too.

At the time, I was glad that the pallbearers were literally pallbearers. Arkansas Funeral Care employed no lifters or mechanical devices. The pallbearers lowered mom with long slip ropes into the ground on the edge of the swamp and at great risk of plummeting into the grave themselves. Honestly, I thought it was a nice reminder of our connection to death. To me, it seemed a more honest way of burying someone. The funeral home did it to cut costs and toward that end, I can’t criticize. Most people haven’t seen someone being lowered into the ground by human hands. The gentleman who came out on behalf of Arkansas Funeral Care handled himself with professionalism and I think he held up well in comparison to many other funeral homes.

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Over the years, I’ve become more and more vocal about my preference to cremation over burial. The expense is secondary to the logic and appeal of cremation. But craziness such as that alleged to have occurred in Jacksonville is exactly the ongoing reminder for people to at least consider cremation – not just for the cost, but for the lessening of the burden on families.

As I read the news, I also felt sorry for some of the other funeral homes who will be hurt needlessly by the goings on at their competition. Many can and do work with families and sometimes help people without profit. Those good places are going to be looked upon with more suspicion, when so many already distrust the funeral industry. We play to our own fears. It’s okay to ask tough questions but try to remember that no funeral home can do well if their reputation is tarnished.

Use a funeral home you know and trust and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Among the questions I hope you ask are those about cremation.

10102013 Almost All Things Should Have a Transfer Requirement Upon Death

I would like to change the way we own things in our society. Apart from the side effect of encouraging people to be more responsive to their own lives, it should also simplify the ridiculously complex legal issues surrounding our passing.There’s no reason to fail to simplify so many things that make death and dying so complicated. If we were ever to endeavor toward such a change, the lawyers might object, but we can figure out a viable way to satisfy most people’s concerns.

I would  revise automobile titles so that a “transfer upon death” would be required to be listed on each title, removing arguments about vehicles from the equation when someone dies. The same would be true for real estate. Anything with a registered title would indicate “transfer upon death,” and not be subject to our archaic laws related to wills and estates. “Payable upon death” declarations for bank accounts, stocks and bonds would also be required; again, exempt from the death process.

For most things, it would be impossible to own or register something without clearly delineating how the item should be handled when the original owner dies. Once, when I mentioned something similar to this, a clever person responded by saying that we should pass a law indicating that if you don’t indicate a person to inherit, everything will be donated to the IRS for sale. He said this should be enough of a kick in the pants for most people to become motivated to followup.

Without writing 100 pages regarding the details, I think that the general spirit and idea are profoundly good ones. As with all things important, it is complicated to address. But should it be addressed? Yes.

06052014 Please Don’t Say This…

“He’s at peace…”  “He’s in a better place…”  “He was a good man…”

I would rather have my carcass loaded with dynamite and detonated on live television than have the traditional inanities uttered after I’m gone, especially if untrue. (Please televise it on Fox news as a sort of beyond-the-grave satire if you choose the detonation method.)

Feel free to speak ill of me after I’m gone – if you have legitimate grievances about how I behaved toward you. If you think I was a nefarious bastard, please say so. If I am guilty of an offense, the truth is not weakened by you saying so. My ears won’t shrivel from your comments. I’m sure that you’ve noticed that no one’s motives are gauged honestly while we are alive. It is foolishness to expect that once we are gone that the same craziness, gossip, and outright insult won’t follow you to the grave. Each of us has our own multitude of opinions about everything and everyone and the truth is that we all judge other people, even if we don’t voice it. Whether you like to call it “judging” it or not is a matter of semantics. Much of the disinclination to speak ill of the dead derives from the hope that we will not be complained about once we are gone. After decades of observation, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that most of the people I’ve been around, watched and listened to have very specific opinions about people who pass. Most seem to maintain the social norm of not being actively vocal during the traditional mourning cycle.

(“It’s generally considered bad form to take a bullhorn to a funeral. ” – X )

But the opinions of individuals remain, layered under a blanket of social acceptance.

Each person has a spectrum of opinions about himself or herself – we are different people to many other people. I have one relative who will undoubtedly be lauded as a great, religious woman, whereas my personal opinion about her is much more harsh. When she passes, it will not be my isolated and personal opinion that lasts; at least, probably not. The fact that our paths don’t merge frequently is even more reason to discount the negative opinions of people in your life – they matter no more in death than while you are alive. My pious relative’s reputation won’t suffer due to my minority opinion. Her opinion that I’m an ass won’t affect my reputation, either.

If I’ve not used my time here appropriately, don’t feel saddened or express remorse. I’ve had a great, long life, even if cut short by a burning meteorite falling from the sky tomorrow morning on my way to work. (Although, dying on the way to work would be a horrible legacy, much like falling over at some hideous place such as Kohl’s or Bed, Bath and Beyond.) Each day has been of my own choosing, with each hour and minute used deliberately and in full realization of how fleeting and precious our time is. If the meteorite hits me tomorrow, don’t stop and waste your time wondering why my time was cut short. Instead, stop in amazement of how dumb we get sometimes, forgetting that time is the most precious commodity and that one person can live more in twenty years than some people live in seventy. I wasn’t promised any length of time and what I did with the time I was given was my responsibility.

I don’t mean to diminish the heart-felt words of others who can express themselves easily after someone dies. I’ve know a few people who are masters of the spoken word, those rare people who can describe a cow pasture while convincing you it would be a great idea to sleep under the noonday sun in the middle of one. Social decorum is generally desirable, but I’m not so sure that it is what is best for us as a species – not all the time.

Most people seem to need the traditional platitude patter and commentary that pervades services and gatherings after a death. In my case, I would love a joyous sharing, even if not all the content is glowing and positive. A service anchored in truth is much more desirable. We’ve all been to the funeral where the evil sister is sitting in the corner, cigarette dangling from her lip, mumbling invoked words of hatred toward the deceased. We all talk about it at the fringes of our overlapped conversation. Everyone had their own ideas about the departed and it is weird to me personally to categorically reject its presence and effect on  everyone. Better to air it out and learn to respond to the awkwardness collectively.

Everything I write in this blog is a feeble attempt to badly describe what’s going on in my head. That, too, changes, much like a series of sunsets. (Each individual sunset, although strikingly different, can still be recognized as a sunset.)

 

Death Vultures Want Your Stuff

When someone dies, why is it that some people focus immediately on what the person has when he/she dies? Instead of being concerned about the people left behind, the “death vultures” shift into a market mentality and begin to imagine what they might get out of the occasion. Or worse, begin to imagine what “should” be theirs.

My wife gets credit for getting the “death vulture” phrase stuck into my head.

There’s 2 ways to look at “death vultures.” The first obligates us to realize that the dead aren’t needing their stuff anymore and that discussion about their stuff isn’t harming the deceased in any way whatsoever. It’s just a practical concern. The second way we might look at, and judge, I might add, the death vultures is to note how impersonal and selfish the attitude is.

I’m assuming that a normal person (whoever that might be) would look at death vultures with disdain and contempt.

Once the funeral dust settles, the focus shifts to cars, houses, pictures, jewelry, money – anything that is left.

If a person has a legitimate claim on what should be his or hers after someone they know or love dies, then he or she must decide how crassly they must insist on getting it. Personally, I’d be more likely to just shake my head and walk away if arguing or refusals surfaced about my the stuff I was laying claim to. Even if it were something very personal or worth significant money. On the other hand, if a family member was simply being evil about it, I would at least consider being evil in response – and not waste my time with guilt about it, either.

The reality is that very few things are worth worrying about once the person you love has died. My main wish is to have access to pictures to scan – and give back so that everyone can enjoy. Everything else is just stuff. People need to stop fooling themselves into thinking we are here forever. Our stuff piles up, we die, it goes to people we love and once those people die it becomes junk or forgotten.

I did decide, however that the death vultures should wait until the close family members of the deceased bring the subject up and especially not to mention their wishes for stuff until after all the funeral-related activities are done.

Funerals

No one can be certain as to what goes on inside your head. Not your motives, fears, nor perspective. Try as we might to get close to other people, each of us still has our own filters in place to foolishly attempt to control how we seem to other people. The same is true with our attitudes at funerals: each of us tends to judge critically other people’s behavior, attendance and attitudes at funerals, while being forgiving toward ourselves.

A decision I’ve made is that I no longer will feel so responsible or attentive toward the “shoulds” of other people’s ideas about whether I should attend a funeral or viewing.

Only I know whether I appreciated, loved, or admired another person. It’s my choice to celebrate, observe his or her passing or think about someone who has died in the manner I choose. It doesn’t have to be taken as an insult to someone’s legacy if I observe a death differently than you think I ought to. The deceased has no opinion on the matter, in my opinion. I’m just one person, a person whose opinion doesn’t really signify much when weighed in the balance. I would rather someone spend time with family and friends looking at pictures, eating, telling stories, and sharing another person’s life than I would to have them obligated into the traditional viewing and funeral process.

I’ve grown so weary of being concerned about the “ought-to” factor with funerals. If I choose to not attend either a viewing or a funeral, it means that I’ve used my own personal criteria to come to this conclusion. Your “shoulds” and guilt-inducing words or behavior are your own responsibility. I’ll take your reasoned words into consideration if they are graciously tendered, but at the end of the day it is my life to do with as I wish, even if it involves me not participating appropriately in funerals.

Not that I am getting a traditional funeral, but I wouldn’t want someone to attend who felt apathetic or even resentful about me. Sometimes, people get upset that a certain dress code isn’t followed, flowers aren’t bought, thank-yous are forgotten, someone isn’t mentioned in the obituary or funeral program and so forth. 

Don’t twist my words. I don’t mean to convey that I will be rude or inconsiderate. Quite the contrary. What I want to get across is that each of us can and should decide how and if we each will be involved with a specific person’s funeral. We should not take our participation lightly nor callously disregard the feelings of those we love. I’ve noted a lot of funeral-related anger and venom hidden in the veneer of social obligation and guilt. The people I admire don’t browbeat or use coercive words and guilt to push someone into attending or observing funeral services.

We should take a long moment to honestly evaluate just how willingly we have been involved in viewings or funerals in our lives when we shouldn’t have. I don’t want to ever hear “You really should go” (or “shouldn’t go,” either) anymore.

Keep in mind as you read this poorly-written exposition that I personally don’t “get” most funerals. Burial is strange to me. Viewings are strange to me. Not uncomfortable- just strange and alien. I don’t need to hear words of spiritual comfort. Each of us is tasked in our lives with our own spiritual guidance and we certainly have our own minds made up about where we go when we die. I would much rather be a part of gatherings of friends and family, sharing memories. The traditional rituals for me are devoid of the meaning so many other people seem to be able to derive from them.

(I keep forgetting to mention that funerals as we know them are a recent invention. They haven’t “always been done this way” as many mistakenly insist. It is folly to use a traditionalist argument in regards to viewings and funerals. )

06072013 Euthanasia, Right to Die (From 2013)

Before reading, you should read the basics on euthanasia, doctor-assisted suicide, etc. It is easy to assume an understanding of what is being discussed.A recent case in Indiana involving a hunter who fell from a tree and was revived from sedation to make a decision about ending his own life brought this to me again. (He chose to die despite just having become a father.)

Striving for clarity and conciseness, I see no problem overall with euthanasia. Anyone who is aware of himself and choosing (or having chosen) to end his own life should be able to do so, independent of society’s ability to deny him the ability. I certainly don’t agree with any religious arguments which attempt to deny a person the ability to end his or her own life. Each person and family has the right toward self-determination. Having said that, my right trumps my family if a disagreement ensues.

After years of thought, I still have no moral argument that would persuade me that society is harmed by an individual choosing to end his own life in certain circumstances. We tend to offer more compassion toward our animals and pets than we do our fellow human beings. Unlike most people, I’m not limited to believing that only medical issues are grounds for choosing one’s own death, either. As with all defensible arguments, my beliefs are based on anyone choosing her or own death must be mentally capable of making such a decision or of making one in advance of circumstances arising, much like a living will.

(I’m always confused by the death penalty advocates who scream and wail about the necessity of killing criminals who balk at the suggestion that euthanasia is sometimes a worthwhile policy to support. They tend to stretch and exaggerate to include forced euthanasia as an objection. A reasonable middle ground is usually difficult for them to grasp.)

How Doctors Choose To Die

I’m specifically not speaking from my personal work history but rather generalizing from what I’ve seen in life. With my family and friends who have passed, the doctors who earn my greatest respect are the ones who will speak plainly and honestly about a person’s expectations and longevity. Almost without exception, these doctors have told me that they would not choose further treatment or excessive efforts for themselves or for their loved ones. Recognizing this and acting on it is not to be taken as a lack of respect or love for your loved ones; rather being able to make hard choices is the utmost in admiration in my opinion. It is possible to be both supportive and uplifting without being unrealistic. I see no reason that I can’t take it one step further and have someone end my life peacefully if I have made that choice clear. The last few weeks of many of the deaths I have witnessed have been anything but tranquil. We must live our lives prepared to pass out of existence, whether we enjoy the idea or fight it tooth and nail.

Passive euthanasia evidently is very common. In these cases, treatment is withheld. No direct action is taken to end someone’s life. I know that people can’t agree on the differences between passive and active euthanasia and voluntary/involuntary euthanasia. Without getting caught in the sinkhole of wordplay, I’m referring to someone’s right to end his or her own life, regardless of the semantics people enjoy using to complicate the issue. Should we do everything possible to extend someone’s life? How much is too much? Should cost ever be a factor? If not, who pays?

As for the entire “unfinished business” argument that many people try to use to dissuade people from being able to end their own lives, I think it is utterly without merit. Each of us has the right to chart our own course without concern for the interference of other people’s viewpoints. Each of us lives our lives from our own mental window. Thus, only you or I should be determining whether we feel our life is ending at the appropriate time.

If I have made arrangements to be allowed to die in certain circumstances, I would like to be able to make that decision. If my loved ones have made a similar decision, it should not be a public spectacle that occurs when I can do as they ask no matter how difficult it is for me. Our ability to leave when we wish to is one of the fundamental choices we have in life.

You can be certain that my general sense for me personally is that I would choose to die rather than degenerate slowly and inexorably, becoming a costly and prolonged coda to my own life.

Scott Adams Dilbert Blog Post

If You Die Today, Imagine For A Moment Where Every Single Thing Must Go

This idea makes minimalism all the more attractive, doesn’t it?

It’s one thing to imagine leaving your stuff to a specific friend or loved one, knowing in general where it might land once you’re gone.

It’s another to think so long about this and to conclude that almost all of it is going in the trash. Not donated, not relegated to someone who can make use of it – but in the landfill.

Granted, much of your stuff won’t immediately go to the trash because people feel mostly guilty about doing that. It will go in boxes or in a pile in someone’s garage, attic, or storage. After a respectable time being piled up, it will be noticeably in the way and discarded.

It’s useful to note that much of it won’t be used because it duplicates what your friends and loved ones already have. Everything else, though, most of what you think is important, is simply toast waiting to be burned.