A day, or more, in the life of a funeral director

Tuesday, 9 December, 2014

Medium writer Eric Puchner trails Caleb Wilde, a sixth generation Pennsylvania based funeral director, as he goes about his work… I have no idea why I find this so fascinating.

So when I had the opportunity to meet Caleb Wilde, some perverse part of me jumped at the chance. Here was someone whose whole world was death, 24-7, and yet he seemed to be doing okay. He wasn’t distracting himself – just the opposite. He worked with dead people and their grieving families all day and then blogged about it. On his days off, he was getting a graduate degree in something called Death, Religion, and Culture. He even claimed that Death was his “muse.” If someone was going to tell me how to look oblivion in the eye in order to make my peace with it, or at least stop being so fucking scared of the dark, here was the guy.

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Musicians who die at 27, is there a connection other than age?

Wednesday, 28 May, 2014

Kurt Cobain, Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, and Amy Winehouse, are among rock musicians who died at age twenty-seven.

It may be an unfortunate instance of chance, though many people could be forgiven for wondering if there was a connection of some sort, or that there was something about being that age. Zachary Stockill, writing for PolicyMic, finds there were some similarities in the way these musicians lived, that may have contributed to their deaths at such a young age:

There’s a strange trend in the club members’ relationships, too. Pain attracts pain, and drug abusing musicians often attract, either willfully or not, other drug users into their lives. Most members of the 27 Club were romantically involved with other drug users at the time of their death. Jim Morrison’s girlfriend lied to police when her boyfriend died as a means of covering up her own drug abuse, adding to already-intense speculation surrounding the demise of the Doors frontman.

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“Death Wooed Us”, photos of suicide spots by Donna J. Wan

Tuesday, 13 May, 2014

Photo by Donna J. Wan

A sobering collection of photos, titled Death Wooed Us, taken from well known suicide spots along the coast of California, by US photographer Donna J. Wan.

Via Feature Shoot.

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In the end, illustrated by Roz Chast

Tuesday, 11 March, 2014

Morbid, yet still somehow fascinating… US cartoonist Roz Chast’s comic book style depiction of her parent’s final years.

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Might we achieve immortality through our possessions? Possibly…

Wednesday, 12 February, 2014

Might we attain a degree of immortality through the possessions we leave behind after we die?

It’s one of the questions US photographer Andrea Tese poses through her INHERITANCE collection, being images of her late grandfather’s belongings, such as shoes, books, tools, gardening equipment, and kitchenware.

It’s not an idea I entirely subscribe to, living as I do out of carry-on luggage seemingly, but it’s a thought provoking notion nonetheless.

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Is it easier for New Zealanders to fake their own deaths?

Wednesday, 8 January, 2014

A new year, a new start… by faking your death? Don’t get your hopes up though. Very few people succeed in starting a new life by ceasing to be one person, and assuming the identity of someone else that they’ve created.

Apparently though New Zealand citizens, who can reside legally in Australia for, I believe, indefinite periods of time, have an edge in this regard however, thanks to a combination of privacy laws, and the fact they – seemingly – don’t have to pay taxes here:

For Verzi, fake-dying professionally means having a new, hard-to-trace identity ready. “It seems like the US has half the privacy laws we have so it’s much harder to disappear there. Actually, the hardest people to track are New Zealanders because they come here [to Australia], and they don’t vote or pay taxes and then they go home. It really helps if you’re a Kiwi.”

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I doubt that our lives are merely the sums of our possessions

Thursday, 12 December, 2013

This piece I read on Kottke last week had me wondering about the way we… measure someone’s achievements, success, or net worth, upon their death.

In October US comedian and author David Sedaris wrote about the suicide of his youngest sister, Tiffany, earlier this year. Judging from her will, Tiffany appeared to have become estranged, to some degree, from her family, but it was Sedaris’ reference to his late sister’s possessions, or lack thereof, that caught my eye:

Compared with most forty-nine-year-olds, or even most forty-nine-month-olds, Tiffany didn’t have much. She did leave a will, though. In it, she decreed that we, her family, could not have her body or attend her memorial service. “So put that in your pipe and smoke it,” our mother would have said. A few days after getting the news, my sister Amy drove to Somerville with a friend and collected two boxes of things from Tiffany’s room: family photographs, many of which had been ripped into pieces, comment cards from a neighborhood grocery store, notebooks, receipts.

In response, Michael Knoblach, a friend of Tiffany’s, chastised Sedaris in an article he wrote for the Wicked Local Somerville. Among other points, Knoblach wished to make clear that Tiffany’s estate amounted to more that just two boxes of belongings:

I found David Sedaris’ article, “Now we are five,” in the Oct. 28 New Yorker to be obviously self-serving, often grossly inaccurate, almost completely unresearched and, at times, outright callous. Some of her family had been more than decent, loving and kind to her. “Two lousy boxes” is not Tiffany’s legacy. After her sister left with that meager lot, her house was still full of treasures. More than two vanloads of possession were pulled from there and other locations by friends.

Tiffany may have been troubled, but it is clear her life had value far beyond her possessions, regardless of their quantity.

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A crowd sourced funeral for a World War II veteran

Tuesday, 19 November, 2013

Harold Percival was a British World War II veteran who lived a solitary, though happy, life. He’d neither married, had children, nor any close friends, but thanks to social media and newspaper advertising campaigns, following his death recently at age 99, more than five hundred people attended his funeral, held on Remembrance Day, in Lancashire.

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On the gravity of perishing swiftly in open space

Monday, 14 October, 2013

Alfonso Cuarón’s latest sci-fi feature Gravity sees the lives of a group of US astronauts, working in Earth orbit, threatened after a satellite explodes. Faced with their dire predicament, a dwindling oxygen supply, and next to no prospect of rescue, what might you do?

While it’s hardly any consolation, death in a vacuum, from a lack of air, doesn’t sound all that painful, should it come to that:

Jonathan Clark of the Center for Space Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine thought over the dilemma for us, and, assuming there is no chance of rescue, he’d go for the exposure option. “In a vacuum you take a few breaths and you’re unconscious within probably 10 seconds,” explained Clark, who has served as a Space Shuttle Crew surgeon and is the Red Bull Stratos medical director. “You’re totally out. It’s not like you’re suffering.”

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One day my tweets may be coming to you from the great beyond

Wednesday, 9 October, 2013

Another reason to be mindful of the way you conduct yourself over social media channels… one day, in the not to distant future, all that you were online may be used to create a digital avatar that will mimic you in as many ways possible, after your, shall we say, analogue self, shuffles off this mortal coil.

First, you upload your photo to Lifenaut, and it uses this image to create an animated avatar – complete with blinking eyes and moving lips. Then you teach the service about yourself, answering a long list of questions and taking a few personality tests. And, yes, you connect the service with your Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram accounts, creating a time capsule of your social media data that the Foundation hopes will further mold the personality of your avatar.

Potentially descendents, that could include family members who come along decades, or longer even, after your demise, would be able to interact with… you in real time. Now there’s a thought to behold.

That aforementioned phrase “in the not to distant future” would likely be something my avatar, if I ever create one, will utter frequently. That, likewise, is a thought to behold.

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