At 2:38 p.m. on September 9, 2013, Jeremy Fowler posted a picture of his family wearing bicycle helmets while standing in front of the split-rail fence of a horse corral in nowhere New Hampshire. The reflection of their washed out skin bespoke the 2.0 megapixels of Jeremy’s flip phone camera. It was a strange image to arrive on my Facebook newsfeed, a pixilated tribute to Jeremy’s father who died 48 hours earlier. It was Jeremy’s last photograph with all of family members present, a gesture of quixotic solemnity in a medium where the earnest so often do not belong.
He accompanied the picture with this status: “Yesterday my dad unexpectedly went to be with the Lord, we’re glad that he’s in a far better place than we are but we will miss him so much, plz pray for our family during this difficult time!” To date, the post has received 62 likes and 33 comments from some of his 459 friends. Most have said things like, “God be with y’all!!! We have and will continue to pray.”
Death, typically such a huge taboo, was now a subject fit for Facebook, with all its abbreviated spellings and exclamation marks.
Read more. [Image: 55laney69/Flickr]
At the beginning of each semester at Kean University in Union, New Jersey, students are registering in droves for one of their school’s most popular courses. The Death Class: A Story About Life, a new book by journalist and Atlantic contributor Erika Hayasaki, takes an inside look at the class—“Death in Perspective,” taught by Dr. Norma Bowe—that has drawn such a large waiting list that students may wait up to three years for a seat.
Read more. [Image: Steve Helber/AP Photo]
In 2005, Steve Jobs told a class of graduating students at Stanford University, “for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: ‘If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?’”
The idea that we should live each day like it was our last isn’t new, of course, and is supposed to inspire us to, you know, go sky-diving, Rocky-Mountain climbing, and the like. But how would you live this day if it wasn’t your last, but rather the 19,718th-to-last? Or the 8,657th?
A new watch called Tikker claims to have created a way to calculate approximately when, according to its creators, a person is likely to die, and then to input that date into a wristwatch. The idea is that being constantly reminded of his or her own mortality will nudge the wearer to live life to the fullest.
Read more. [Image: Tikker]
Every year cemeteries across the U.S. bury over 100,000 tons of steel and 1,500,000 tons of concrete from coffins and re-enforced vaults. Green burrials are all about reconnecting death and nature, reducing exorbitant costs, and sparking an environmental paradigm shift.
My mom died on July 18, 2013, of pancreatic cancer, a subtle blade that slips into the host so imperceptibly that by the time a presence is felt, it is almost always too late. Living about 16 months after her diagnosis, she was “lucky,” at least by the new standards of the parallel universe of cancer world. We were all lucky and unlucky in this way. Having time to watch a loved one die is a gift that takes more than it gives.
Psychologists call this drawn out period “anticipatory grief.” Anticipating a loved one’s death is considered normal and healthy, but realistically, the only way to prepare for a death is to imagine it. I could not stop imagining it. I spent a year and a half writing my mother a goodbye letter in my head, where, in the private theater of my thoughts, she died a hundred times. In buses and movie theaters, on Connecticut Avenue and 5th Avenue, on crosswalks and sidewalks, on the DC metro and New York subway, I lost her, again and again. To suffer a loved one’s long death is not to experience a single traumatic blow, but to suffer a thousand little deaths, tiny pinpricks, each a shot of grief you hope will inoculate against the real thing.
A boundless black terror is how I imagined life without my mom. The history of grief, or what we know of it, is written by its greatest sufferers and ransacked with horror stories, lugubrious poetry, and downward-spiraling memoirs plunged in sadness. For some people, the death of a loved one is truly life-stopping, and I worried it would stop mine.
This simulation shows the world filling up, from an eerily omniscient vantage.
A new Tumblr compiles self-portraits taken at funerals and shared with the world. Here are a few, interspersed with more traditional efforts at celebrating life and reflecting on mortality.
Last Friday night, onstage at a Los Angeles venue known for featuring indie bands, a goateed historian in a vintage purple corduroy suit and silver silk shirt beguiled a room packed with artists, writers, scholars, morticians, and other curious observers, with his research into bejeweled skeletons from the Roman Catacombs.
The topic of the night was death, but not in a horror-filled, Halloweeny way. The gathering drew an intellectually hip and increasingly death-conscious crowd of mostly 20 and 30-somethings, who had waited in a long line outside of the Bootleg Theater to get in. They sipped bottles of La Fin Du Monde and plastic cups of Populist beer from the Eagle Rock Brewery, and perused copies of the Lapham’s Quarterly death issue between cabaret acts, which included a soulful shaggy-haired death gospel singer, a writer of death and obscure history, and a funeral director.
The weekend-long Death Salon also featured presentations on decomposable garments for the grave, discussions on feminism and the funeral industry, and a Saturday night death soiree in Silverlake with “funerary treats,” like cupcakes topped with edible tombstones. The event was part of a recent surge of people trying to demystify death through social and educational gatherings, one that is spreading across the U.S. and beyond with death dinners, death cafes (talking death over tea and cake), and waitlisted death-related classes on college campuses.
Read more. [Image: Elli Papayanopoulos]