On Sunday, July 13th 2014, Africa's Nobel Laureates in Literature balanced the eternal dance of life and death. On that day, Nigerian poet Wole Soyinka celebrated his 80th birthday with Presidents and paeans, even as South African author Nadine Gordimer passed away that night at age 90. Each, in their own way with words, took on the challenge of race and colour.
Post-operative Check: "It's okay that you don't remember me. My name is Shara, and I'm part of the surgical team. I'm checking to see how you're doing after your surgery. Do you know where you are right now?" [more inside]
"Why am I not constantly grieving?" The wonderful Roger Angell on love, loss, sex, death, time, and the view from age 94.
So, I calmly announced to my wife: “I’m going to build my own coffin. I just thought you should know.”
In 1986, Sandra Clarke was working as a staff nurse at Sacred Heart Medical Center in Eugene, OR when a dying man asked her to sit with him. She agreed but first needed to make her rounds and the man died alone in his room before she was able to return. Troubled, and feeling that she had failed a patient, she resolved to gather volunteers to stay with those who were alone and close to death. Ms. Clarke enlisted her entire hospital for a bedside vigil system to help ensure that patients would not be alone when they died. In 2001, Sacred Heart formalized the program as No One Dies Alone (NODA) and over the last decade, it has spread to hospitals across the US. "Susan Cox Is No Longer Here" offers us a glimpse into the NODA experience in Indianapolis. [more inside]
The Course of Their Lives. While much in medicine has changed over the last century, the defining course of a first year medical student's education is still 'Gross Anatomy.' This is their hands-on tour of a donated cadaver -- an actual human body -- and is an experience which cannot be replicated by computer models. When Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporter Mark Johnson came up with the idea of following a med school gross anatomy class for a feature story, his editor challenged him to make it different. So he chose to intertwine the students' stories with that of Geraldine 'Nana' Fotsch, a living future donor, as sort of a stand-in for the cadaver. (Via. This four-part series contains descriptions of a human dissection. Some may find it disturbing.) [more inside]
A Life-Or-Death Situation. "As a bioethicist, Margaret "Peggy" Pabst Battin fought for the right of people to end their own lives. After her husband’s cycling accident, her field of study turned unbearably personal." Via.
"In life, things happen twice if you're lucky. There's the father you get and the father you choose." [more inside]
On Wednesday, William Van Poyck was executed by the state of Florida for murdering a prison guard during a botched 1987 attempt to free an imprisoned friend. Poyck spent 25 years in solitary confinement on death row, during which time he wrote to his sister about his life in prison. Since 2005 she has published those letters to a blog called Death Row Diary. 'Poyck used to write about everything from the novels and history books he was reading and shows he watched on PBS to the state of the world and his own philosophy of life – punctuated by news of the deaths of those around him, from illness, suicide, and execution.' Excerpts. His final letter.
This past September, Jessica Ann Lum won a "Best Feature" award in the student-journalist category from the Online News Association, for her Master's project: "Slab City Stories." Less than four months later, on January 13, 2013, she passed away. She was 25. "Jessica loved to tell people’s stories. This is hers." [more inside]
The Boundaries of Life and Death is a lovely short animation inspired by the Edgar Allan Poe quotation;
"The boundaries which divide Life from Death are at best shadowy and vague. Who shall say where the one ends, and where the other begins?"[more inside]
Top five regrets of the dying. A palliative nurse who has counselled the dying in their last days has revealed the most common regrets we have at the end of our lives.
The Lives They Loved. The New York Times asked readers to send in a photo and short story of someone they lost this year.
Joyce Carol Vincent, 38, died in her North London flat in 2003; her skeleton was found three years later, on the sofa; the television was still on, and a pile of unopened Christmas presents lay on the floor. The story was mentioned briefly in the press, but then forgotten. Now, filmmaker Carol Morley has tracked down and interviewed people who knew her before she retreated and reconstructed her story, all the more tragic because of the deceptively promising life it showed. [more inside]
"Before I let go of my little boy, I needed to spend time with him. So I brought him home, and our journey began."
A year ago this August, 72 migrant workers -- 58 men and 14 women -- 'were on their way to the US border when they were murdered by a drug gang at a ranch in northern Mexico, in circumstances that remain unexplained. Since then, a group of Mexican journalists and writers have created' a "Day of the Dead-style Virtual Altar" Spanish-language website, 72migrantes.com, to commemorate each of the victims, some of whom have never been identified. The New York Review of Books has English translations of five of their profiles. [more inside]
Children Full of Life - grade 4 students in Kanazawa, Japan learn deep life lessons from their incredible teacher and from each other. I strongly recommend this as awesome, but one caveat: keep tissues handy. (5 parts, 40 minutes total, English)
Randy Pausch, who became famous for his "last lecture" after being diagnosed with terminal cancer, has died at 47. (previously) The last lecture video went viral in late 2007. Pausch became a minor celebrity and made a commencement address at Carnegie Mellon which also gained media attention. Homepage (currently being overwhelmed) and Wikipedia.
American audiences remember Akira Kurosawa as the genius of the samurai epic, a past master who used the form both to revise and revive Western classics - Shakespeare with Ran and Throne of Blood, Dostoevsky with Red Beard and The Idiot, Gorky with The Lower Depths - and to give splendid and ultimately immortal life to new archetypes, as in The Seven Samurai, Rashomon, Yojimbo. But Kurosawa also made films of his own time. His masterpiece, in fact, was the quiet story of a gray Japanese bureaucrat dying in post-war Tokyo, and of his attempt to do something of lasting good before he leaves. The film is Ikiru ("To Live"; 1952). [more inside]
"We all leave something behind, but it looked like Olive had left nothing." Olive Archer passed away after five years in a care home, five years that passed without a visitor. Concerned that Olive was an Eleanor Rigby the minister prepared for her service by making an appeal to the public to find if anyone remembered Olive. Friends were found. Sadly, she is not alone. Maybe she needed SagaZone.
Randy Pausch is a pioneer in virtual reality, a computer science professor, a Disney Imagineer, an innovative teacher, and the co-founder of the best video game school in the world. One year ago he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and after a long and difficult fight he's been given just a few more months to live. This week he gave his powerful, funny, and life-affirming last lecture to a packed auditorium at Carnegie Mellon University, entitled "How to Live Your Childhood Dreams". The WSJ's summary, and a direct link to the complete video of the lecture (2 hours, and unfortunately streaming WMV). Warning: hilarious jokes about dying.
Do You Want To Live Forever? [Google Video - Channel4 documentary] Aubrey de Grey is a genius, a weirdo and predicts the death of death. Don't miss his lectures and some interviews as well. Who is going to be the first immortal MeFite?
Voices of the Fallen: the war in the words of the dead-- In letters and journals and e-mails, the war dead live on, their words—urgent, honest, unself-conscious—testament to the realities of combat. What do they have to say to us? ... The result is a window on Iraq we have not had before: the bravery, the fear and the chaos of war, and the loves and hates and dreams and nightmares of the warriors. Things are incredibly busy, then they are not. The Iraqis are welcoming, then they are not. The war is going well, then it is not. The mission makes sense, then it does not. ... (video, audio, email, and text)
While there have been many posts on Mefi of blogs written by those affected by the Iraq War, I have not seen this one posted. No matter your stance on the war, your opinion of American soldiers, or the amount of other Iraq war blogs you've read, all I ask is that you at least read these few entries. I've used too many words already, when the journal does more than enough to speak for itself. A Soldier's Thoughts. (via) [more inside]
Meditations on: the poetic and profane; on silence; death; catastrophe; Cage — and yet more strangeness and beauty from David Ralph Lichtensteiger's travels within the world of 20th C. avant garde music and postmodernism.
1-800-SUICIDE loses govt. funding: Despite the fact that almost 2 million callers have reached help and hope over the last 8 years, and a government funded evaluation stating the benefits of 1-800-SUICIDE, the Substance Abuse & Mental Health Service Administration (SAMHSA), a division of Health & Human Services, has decided to create their own government run system where they would have direct access to confidential data on individuals in crisis. (SAMHSA has already scrubbed their websites of any and all LGBT information, and gay youth are 2-3 times more likely to commit suicide.) Save 1-800-SUICIDE website here.
Daniel Raeburn's story about his daughter's still birth is one of the most depressing things I've read in a while. Thankfully, there is a much happier update to the story. (via Kottke)
No Death Sentence for '20th Skyjacker' Moussaoui (he Newsfiltered), and as he was led from the courtroom, the defendant, who had looked for the last few weeks like he was campaigning for martyrdom, clapped his hands and said “America, you lost. I won.” (I had severely underestimated this character's skill at Political Theater) In spite of the final spit-in-the-face-of-the-US, MSNBC.com's Unscientific Instapoll has 51% saying it was the right decision, while CNN.com's Poll says 63%, and Foxnews.com's poll... is about tax cuts. Disclaimer: Yes, I do some writing for the Entertainment section at MSNBC.com, but the News department does not know I exist and doesn't want to. And newssite instapolls are so-o-o Web 1.0, I know, but still, what's with the non-outrage?
Rudolf Vrba-RIP --he escaped from Auschwitz with another guy, Wetzler, in April 1944 and got to Slovakia and Hungary, telling the world of the atrocities in the Auschwitz Protocol. Some Hungarian community leaders, however (Hungary was the only country that hadn't had its Jewish population deported yet), were busy making deals with Eichmann for safe passage away. In any case, the result was that about 1,700 Hungarian Jewish leaders, with their families and friends, ended up in Switzerland, while almost half a million unsuspecting Hungarian Jews ended up dead in Auschwitz. Vrba's report first alerted the world (including the Vatican, Red Cross, and US and British authorities) to exactly what was going on, and helped prosecute some who were tried later. ...Knowing perfectly well that it was the secrecy surrounding their actions that allowed the Nazis to herd unsuspecting Jews and transport them like sheep to slaughter, Vrba and Wetzler — as soon as they got in touch with Jewish community representatives in their native Slovakia — compiled a detailed report. They wrote about Auschwitz and what awaited Hungarian Jews once they arrived: immediate death by gassing.
The ashes of the recently deceased contains high amounts of nutrient rich phosphates, just perfect for sprucing up that garden of yours. On the iconic peaks of Scotland though Mountaineers have decided that enough is enough.
Death as we know it will die. If you wish to be a prophet, first you must dress the part. No more silk ties or tasseled loafers. Instead, throw on a wrinkled T-shirt, frayed jeans, and dirty sneakers. You should appear somewhat unkempt, as if combs and showers were only for the unenlightened. When you encounter critics, as all prophets do, dismiss them as idiots. Make sure to pepper your conversation with grandiose predictions and remind others of your genius often, lest they forget. Oh, and if possible, grow a very long beard. By these measures, Aubrey de Grey is indeed a prophet. The 42-year-old English biogerontologist has made his name by claiming that some people alive right now could live for 1,000 years or longer. Maybe much longer. Growing old is not, in his view, an inevitable consequence of the human condition; rather, it is the result of accumulated damage at the cellular and molecular levels that medical advances will soon be able to prevent — or even reverse — allowing people to go on living pretty much indefinitely.
“The real world is simply too terrible to admit; it tells man that he is a small, trembling animal who will decay and die." “The defenses that form a person’s character support a grand illusion, and when we grasp this we can understand the full drivenness of man. He is driven away from himself, from self-knowledge, self-reflection. He is driven toward things that support the lie of his character.” Words of Ernest Becker, here summarizing Gestalt therapy and his own existential perspectives in Growing Up Rugged.
"If time has to end, it can be described, instant by instant," Mr. Palomar thinks, "and each instant, when described, expands so that its end can no longer be seen." He decides that he will set himself to describing every instant of his life, and until he has described them all he will no longer think of being dead. At that moment he dies. In memoriam of Italo Calvino, who died exactly 20 years ago. "Calvino's novels" by his friend Gore Vidal. Calvino's obituary by Vidal, il maestro William Weaver's essay on Calvino's cities, Jeanette Winterson on Calvino's dream of being invisible, and Stefano Franchi's philosophical study on Palomar's doctrine of the void. More inside.
An Objective Legal Look (and more) on Schiavo-- As a Florida law blogger, I have created this page to help people understand the legal circumstances surrounding the Terri Schiavo saga. In my view, there continues to be a need for an objective look at the matter. There is an unbelievable amount of misinformation being circulated. Links to all court decisions, timelines, questions and answers (some shocking)...you name it. All the info available on this tragic situation.
Ghosts in the Machine. How many email addresses do you have? How many forums have you joined? How many people do you speak to online? Where does the trail of your Internet life take you--and what would happen to it when you die? MyLastEmail and DiedOnline haven't been available for a while now. Executors' jobs may get a lot more complicated.
The Meaning of Life according to various rather famous people (Dennett, Fukuyama, etc). I'm watching the Dennett video at the moment and it starts rather weakly, but, by midway through, is rolling along nicely. With topics like "being good without god" and "the anthropic principle" it struck me as relevant to a couple of recent askmefi threads.
Dennett: [pause] i guess i'll say it again, more slowly...
(oh, and the player interface is rather delicate - give it time to load and click play a few times...)
Dennett: [pause] i guess i'll say it again, more slowly...
(oh, and the player interface is rather delicate - give it time to load and click play a few times...)
How long til you buy the farm? • "The Living to 100 Life Expectancy Calculator© was designed to translate what we have learned from studies of centenarians and other longevity research into a practical and empowering tool for individuals to estimate their longevity potential." Wasn't this on a Futurama episode?
Life after death, interesting though short reading. Scientific materialism takes a slight beating? Maybe. Nice that somebody finally tested the low oxygen theory that's been flying around since the 70's.