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]
With an aging population and extremely limited urban space, one company is even planning a huge IPO.
You’ll probably be fine. Just stay inside, don’t try to build anything, and get a job at a law firm.
For a week last month, Scott Simon, the popular radio host of NPR’s “Weekend Edition Saturday,” stayed by his mother’s side in a Chicago hospital as she died. She ate and slept little, and spent her final nights singing show tunes with Simon and holding his hand. “We can get through this, baby,” she told him at one point. “The hardest part will be for you when it’s over.”
I know these intimate details because I, like more than a million others, followed Simon on Twitter when news that he was sharing his hospital experience went viral. From July 22 to 29, @nprscottsimon tweeted about everything from the kindness of ICU nurses to the hassle of finding something comfortable to sleep on to his mother’s tear-inducing deathbed wit.
Read more. [Image: AP Photo/Ed Andrieski]
This Spring we learned of 32-year-old Russian multimillionaire Dmitry Itskov’s determined 2045 Initiative, which involves “mass production of lifelike, low-cost avatars that can be uploaded with the contents of a human brain, complete with all the particulars of consciousness and personality.” The mid-century goal, in which Itskov seems confident, is meant as a step toward immortality.
David Segal in The New York Times put to paper the reaction of many: “Are you insane?”
Still almost three-quarters of American predict that by 2050, “artificial arms and legs will perform better than natural ones.” A substantial majority also believe that by that point we’ll have cures for most forms of cancer. And fully 25 percent of Americans think that by mid-century, the average person will live to at least 120.
Read more. [Image: Press Trust of India/AP]
Patients, families, and health professionals all intend to do the right thing. We genuinely want to care for the gravely ill and do what we can to make their experience as comfortable and meaningful as possible. Many of us simply don’t know how to do it. What should we do? What should we say? What should we avoid saying and doing? Left alone in a state of denial, many of us might cloak the whole experience in fear and embarrassment. But given the right support and guidance, we can shine.