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Questinia On May - 1 - 2010

The man on the motorcycle is dead.  He was twenty-two, a motorcycle enthusiast, murdered and from Puerto Rico.  His wish was to be embalmed and posed this way and his wish, like the wish of another murdered twenty-four year old in this country (posed standing upright in his mother’s living room for three days), was upheld.  The secret to all of this, said a funeral director, is in the “special embalming”.

However bizarre this may seem, the practice of posing dead people in various tableaux is not new.  It was popular in the Victorian Era when family members couldn’t afford cameras and wanted their dearly departed to be immortalized, although it was also practiced by the wealthy.  It is suggested that upon Prince Albert’s death, Queen Victoria went into such an intense period of mourning that grief, now in vogue,  became literally showcased in the bereaved mainstream.  As a practice,  it can be seen as an extension of memento mori (“remember you will die”), a practice of inserting images of the dead in paintings and sculpture on tombs as well as on cathedrals.  Christianity embraced this sentiment as it is especially moralizing and wishes to teach the woeful idea that life is short, tempus fugit, and you better not sin.

Although creepy through modern eyes, it must not be forgotten that death was a frequent visitor in homes at this period.  Infant and childhood mortality were common and children saw death as a part of life.  Today, death and children are kept as remote from one another as possible as lost ones release their spirits in hospitals and nursing homes.

All of the people in the photographs, save a few, are dead.  The deceased were held upright using special stands with clamps, their eyes propped open or pupils painted unconvincingly on the photographs. The girl at the top of the article is a fourteen year old in her wedding dress.  Her name was Margaret Rose.  The bottom image of a man and child, ostensibly father and  son, are both deceased.

Categories: History

Written by Questinia

In the medical arts in NYC

157 Responses so far.

Click here to leave a comment
  1. Khirad says:

    Unto Ashes -- Funeral March for Queen Mary; of Purcell, Clockwork Orange fame, reinterpreted in even colder tones:


  2. kesmarn says:

    The amazing Tim Eriksen:


    • Questinia says:

      He is great. It’s funny how this type of tune and it’s delivery does seem to mitigate some aspect of the “big sleep”. Shocking image at the end!

      • kesmarn says:

        Yes. Not the standard image of a PhD candidate in ethnomusicology. 😀

        He plays about five instruments and can do that Tuva dual-voice singing thing, too. I’m very jealous.

  3. Chernynkaya says:

    On a lighter note! Woody Allen, “Sleeper”

    (Fast forward to 3:06)


  4. Chernynkaya says:

    *** WARNING-- GRAPHIC CONTENT****

    This whole thread is a keeper. (Not that what I am about to write will make add to that excellence but I just want to re-participate.)

    So in another lifetime I was a biomedical illustrator. There is actually a certification program for that, and I took some classes at UCLA. For our final drawing, we had to illustrate the circulatory system. Our instructor suggested we go to a butcher and try to obtain a cow’s heart in lieu of the human kind. I tried to do that, but was told by a couple of butchers that they are required to slice up the cow’s heart to look for any parasites. Hmmm, what to do?

    I got on the phone and called some medical departments at the university, saying that I was a student and explaining my assignment. In no time, I walked into some brain research office and the guy in charge listened to my spiel and said, “Come with me.”

    We walked down a few hallways and just before he pushed open some double doors he turned to me and asked, “You’ve been in here before, right?”

    “Oh, sure”, I said, having no idea where we were.

    As you may have guessed, it was the morgue. Thank God, I didn’t start to giggle, as is my pattern when I get nervous. It was amazing-- not at all what I expected. There was row after row of what I can only describe as giant steel breadboxes. Actually, gurneys with stainless steel domes over them.

    He opened a couple until he found a cadaver that still had an intact heart. None of these bodies was untouched-- it was the end of the semester and the medical students had pretty much messed them up. But here’s the thing-- they looked no more human to me than does meat. They were preserved; no blood or gore at all. I’m sorry if this causes nausea, but that’s the truth-- or maybe just my way of dealing with my first encounter with a cadaver.

    Anyway, he reached into the breadbox-type encasement and gave me a heart. It was smaller than I thought but he reminded me-- it’s fist-size.

    Before he put it into my art box, he looked at me and said he knew I would treat this with the utmost respect and that I would honor the person who had so generously donated his body. I assured him I absolutely would. Also, I was to return it to him for disposal.

    What an experience. I took it home for dissection the next day, but my then-husband freaked when he saw it in the refrigerator. And I had a very hard time dissecting it, but I did get an A in that class. No one else had used a real heart-- no one even tried.

    Sorry if that was too gross!

    • LiseLives says:

      Fascinating story Cher -- very cool about the consciousness toward retaining the ex-live one’s (cadaver’s) respect & very debrouillard (a great French word for which there’s no real English translation, but) meaning : figuring it out & solving it) ….of you to have gone to the actual source.

      I think I’d have a hard time seeing the dead, esp. chopped up !, but in the way you describe it, it might seem much more clinical & less macabre than it sounds --

      & I agree : a keeper of a thread !

    • Khirad says:

      That actually didn’t gross me out. It’s pretty much the blood, gore, and actual scalpel work that does.

      I also really appreciated that he put importance to respecting the person it came from.

      Still, I have more years to deal with this, but I still can’t deal with having my body cut up like that.

      I know my shyness will be of no concern then, but imagining it… just takes me to Poescapes.

      The weird thing would be the refrigerator. Actually, it was all pretty weird. But, weird is interesting!

      I know what you mean about the fist thing. You know it, but still. Never held an actual one though… that would probably give me weird dreams too, like the Telltale Heart or something.

      Thanks for the warning though.

      I’m a contradiction -- drawn to the funereal and vampires, but get squeamish with blood, and when a friend tried to show me the morgue in Oregon Health and Science University, I totally chickened out and got pale.

      I can’t figure myself out sometimes…

      • LiseLives says:

        LOL -- this made me laugh because I guess we always remain contradictions in a way --
        I keep thinking I have solid views on many things, esp. those that affect me personally, but then, I’m also apt to change my mind occasionally --
        With regards to gore, I’m right there with you and (though I’m not particularly proud of this) 🙂 I can also get grossed out by “too much human” in live folk, meaning, if it’s gross (body odor, bad breath etc.), I get disgusted easily.
        Another admission : I wasn’t cut out (no pun intended) to be a nurse or doctor at ALL !
        Have no bent toward clinically delving into human bodies, except in that fun way 😉

        As for my body parts when I’m gone ?
        Have at ’em, but a disclaimer : don’t laugh at my freckles, moles or wrinkles -- otherwise, I want my body back !

        • Khirad says:

          That’s two of us that weren’t cut out (!) for the medical field (especially surgery).

          Yes, I’m with you on the body odor and general hygiene. I don’t always judge someone by it (I was stinking the other day with the humidity and airport nightmare when I caught wind of myself) -- but if you have access to a shower, -- take one. I know I couldn’t wait to.

          Donating is the right thing to do. What will I need anything for? I can’t explain it, I just maybe don’t like to think about it -- and perhaps maybe I should think more about the person I could help instead, like a non-selfish person.

          The thing with my body parts is that I could also try donating my lungs and liver as a joke? 😆

    • kesmarn says:

      Cher, that was not at all gross! When I take the final nap, I think it would be a great consolation to know that a medical student or medical illustrator was going to make some legitimate use of my “parts.” What else would they be good for at that point?

      That said, I have to admit that I find the photos with this article inexplicably creepy. Possibly because — unlike the learning process of dissection or the artistic process of depiction in medical illustrations — these seem to have little or no “redeeming value.” Or if they do, I guess I’m too thick to get it. Maybe they were, in some way, consoling to the survivors. But somehow, for myself, I must say I would be completely weirded out by posing for a photo with a standing, embalmed family member beside me. Just me…

    • Questinia says:

      Not gross! By the end of first year in med school, we were eating lunch with our cadavers. I only ventured tea and Drake’s coffee cakes. It’s really the formaldehyde that is gross.

      By the time the cadavers are up for dissection, they are kind of a greyish brown and pickled.

      You had the privilege of holding a human heart. That can never be gross!

      Should we call you Mme Netter? 😉

  5. Khirad says:

    I too was once fascinated with this, Q. By the way, ever heard of these guys? What was ancient is now New Age, go fig.

    http://www.summum.org/mummification/process.shtml

    • Chernynkaya says:

      That just seems so egotistical, no?

    • Questinia says:

      I never knew one could be mummified these days, commercially. That it takes 90 days intimates cost. I do like the idea of being encased in bronze. I would love the patina!

      • Khirad says:

        These guys I found out about from this:

        http://rawstory.com/news/2008/Surpeme_Court_to_hear_Ten_Commandments_1111.html

        Turns out, I pulled down a copy I have of the Kybalion, and was right, Their Seven Aphorisms are drawn from this book I picked up at a local book sale and stashed in the back of my bookcase near other crazy crap (why I pick up this stuff, I don’t know, it’s a compulsion).

        Now me, and everyone will think it horrible, would -- if money were no object -- have a fabulous mausoleum, housing family and everything. To me it’s art, and having visited old graveyards, many crumble and are forgotten in time, anyway. I used to think of it as wasting space, but I think of graveyards as parks, in a way. During a stressful day, the graveyard can be the most peaceful place to be, and a great place to reflect. I would also have benches and encourage people to sit on them (I love people that have marble benches in lieu of a traditional stone).

        I love epitaphs, what people choose as their final words. What they choose to represent themselves.

        Yes, the practice of burial is ancient, and in its Christian form ridiculous (I think the same God that created you could do it over again without a body or fragments of bones). But, I still see myself being buried, though it’s not a religious thing, and does go against my sensibilities like others mention when choosing cremation (the zirconium is another option that is pretty cool).

        Come to think of it I’ve never gotten to my copy of the Book of the Dead… I should study up in preparation for the weighing of Anubis and so I know the correct incantations (the ultimate secret society passwords).

        But yes, patina is always an extra plus! I want the sarcophagus with fancy painting, gold and jewels too! 😆

        Talk about a fabulous way to spend the afterlife!

  6. Chernynkaya says:

    Whoa there Q and Lise! The baby is the one still living, right? You’re so right-- we look mahvelous!

    • Questinia says:

      No, both father and child are dead.

      • Chernynkaya says:

        Oh god, that’s a tearjerker!

        • Questinia says:

          I can’t imagine being the wife.

          Segue-ing into your Photoshop piece, I could see how retouching becomes a hyper-ideal spin on what can be, on the face of it, a very painful reality. The more one is able to look at the ultra-processed (embalmed really) and get lost in it, the more remote the crude “Photoshopped” people, like the ones above, seem.

  7. LiseLives says:

    O/T : I got stuck here in the office, watching the Correspondent’s dinner --

    You guys HAVE to watch it -- President Obama is in top form funny !

  8. KQ says:

    I never understood the whole displaying the dead body thing myself.

    My wife and I decided we would both be cremated and turned into lab made diamonds. All that’s left over is carbon and some salts anyway. We both think trying to saving a dead body is just a waste.

    I don’t now if you ever caught one of Dr. Boden’s “Autopsy” series episodes where this freak named Dr. Carl Von Cosel kept” his lover’s dead body for decades. There were signs it was “violated” regularly as well.

    http://hbopayperviewespanol.com/autopsy/episode/episode_6_the_strange_obsession_of_dr_carl_von_cosel.html

    • Chernynkaya says:

      Did anybody see this exhibit? It was actually awesome.



      • Khirad says:

        I’m squeemish at the sight of blood, and that was an informative, but incredibly uncomfortable exhibit to go through for me. Plus, the ethical thing seemed exploitative to me (though none were the dissidents, they said, at least one was of a German woman who drowned herself before the waivers legality). I had bad dreams for like a week.

        But, for those studying anatomy, it’d be cool. All I could think throughout was who their mothers, sisters, etc were, and with the young athletes, what untimely demise they had to have met. I couldn’t help but imagine the story of their lives. In the state I saw them, they were so anonymous. I know this was their wish, but I just couldn’t disassociate and compartmentalize cold science from humanity.

        This is why being a doctor was never even entertained by me, ever. I don’t have that ability.

        • Questinia says:

          You’d be surprised how desensitized one becomes. By the end of the year, we were having lunch next to our cadavers.

          I could never get used to the buckets of hands and feet though.

    • Questinia says:

      Wow! Reminiscent of Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily”.

  9. LiseLives says:

    Yes indeed -- that’s what tears & grieving are all about --
    I wouldn’t want to experience life without even its most grave set-backs. Utopia doesn’t exist & if it did, we might not have been afforded the wisdom to develop empathy & compassion.

  10. LiseLives says:

    If I were sent such a picture after death, I’d have a strong urge to draw a Groucho nose or Alfred E. Newman face on them ….& think of them smiling, happy & vital in life 😉

  11. Questinia says:

    Often these photographs were turned into “cartes de visites” and sent to distant relatives. Perhaps to relatives who never saw their kin alive.

  12. whatsthatsound says:

    What a topic, Q, and such strange photos! Wow! In Japan, it is customary for immediate family members, including the lil’ones, to sleep in the same room, alongside the deceased, until the funeral. By our thinking, we might assume it is to impress upon people the transience of life, but I am pretty sure the Japanese don’t see it that way at all. I think it’s more the feeling that the deceased person has not fully made the transition, and wants to have his/her family around until that happens. So although it might, and frequently does, scare the children, it’s not really about them, but about the needs of the departed. On the other hand, as a foreigner, it’s probably more accurate to confess that I don’t fully understand the practice,

  13. Kalima says:

    Good Lord Q, I’d rather just be stuffed and mounted!

  14. LiseLives says:

    Note the interesting photographic treatment in the background of the album cover once you click on it --

    Blood, Sweat & Tears -- And when I die ….

    Embedding not allowed but a good soundtrack --

  15. escribacat says:

    What a fascinating story. I couldn

  16. javaz says:

    Oh WOW.

    This is just too much for me, and maybe it’s part of the Native American Indian in me that makes me so superstitious about death, and then add to that what I am dealing with right now, well, this is just too much.

    It could also be the Germanic roots since my mother was freaked about death and then I’m sort of paranoid and definitely nuts anyway.

    But what do you think about King Tutankhamun and them flying his remains everywhere and putting him on display?

    And didn’t James Taylor write a song about the Iceman that they found and how wrong that was?

    And wasn’t there a movie starring Brad Pitt -- Billy the Kid or Jesse James(?) -- and then there’s a song too about him being shot in the back?
    And how they put him on ice and did a traveling show?

    And all the gory glory photographs of Bonnie and Clyde that were circulated?

    And then John Dillinger and something about his penis?

    And then there’s Rasputin, and they actually have his penis pickled and you can look that up on the Net.

    I prefer stories about giving a person new shoes and how those shoes change a person’s life for the better.

    (this connection is even worse than mine at home!)

  17. PatsyT says:

    Those pics totally creep me out and it’s not even Halloween!
    I’ll have to stick to this dead guy


    • LiseLives says:

      The concept of Dracula is definitely a juicy morsel -- there are many parallels / metaphors for Dracula in our lives, but I won’t go into that now --
      I especially liked the Nosferatu film --


      • Khirad says:

        Don’t get me started on vampires… I could devote a whole music night to the undead with lugubrious ease.

        And yes, I’ve brooded over the symbolism and psychology of vampires across the world, past and present.

        Ever see “Let the Right One In”?

        I’m a vampire snob. I am a veritable No Twilight Zone.

        Sorry preppy teen girls, but you’re totally stealing the misfits’ scene, and I doubt they’ve ever heard of Poppy Z. Brite; someone true to the scene.


  18. Chernynkaya says:

    Kind of tangential, but this post also reminds me of a famous (notorious?) LA coroner, Dr. Thomas Noguchi--the “coroner to the stars.” He is most famous for performing autopsies on Marilyn Monroe, Robert F. Kennedy, Janis Joplin, William Holden, John Belushi, Natalie Wood, and Sharon Tate.

    Anyway, he used to love to prowl around hardware stores and hold various objects in his hand to try to imagine the damage they could inflict on the human body. You gotta love a guy so dedicated to his work, right?

    • LiseLives says:

      I can’t imagine the quality of life coroners must have --
      Got to have a macabre sense of things to be able to do that, day in, day out & does rather change the simple act of shopping at a hardware store --
      Same as gynecology : Me ? I could never have sex with a gynecologist ! & I mean that !
      Imagine how clinical they must be & unromantic, when they see & delve in to that girlthang every day !! 😆

      • Chernynkaya says:

        I have had the same thought about gynecologists. Never!

        • javaz says:

          Cher! Your new pic looks like Jennifer Aniston!

          What about the doc that does the colonoscopy?

          And it even turns me off about teeth cleaning people -- what a gross boring job.

          Anyone that deals with body parts, forget it.

          I prefer shoes.

          • LiseLives says:

            Agree with everything you say -- although (can I admit this here, since it’s a really um ‘private’ place) ?
            I’d prob. enjoy being fitting-room attendant for jock straps :mrgreen:

  19. LiseLives says:

    Q -- You opened up quite a can of worms with this post --

    Gee, maybe that wasn’t the right way to put it ? 😆

  20. Questinia says:

    Dead Man Ridin’


  21. LiseLives says:

    Cher : “I have had two women friends just a few years older than me commit suicide this past two years. I am in awe of them. I don

    • Khirad says:

      I never liked the cowardly and selfish line about suicide out of despair.

      From someone who has been there (in this mental state), you really believe that the world would be better without you. That you can only screw up and make things worse for your loved ones. That you’d be one less person wasting air. In the end though, my attempts were not done with the finality of someone who I think really wanted to go through with it. It was more that I had wished I had never been born, than that I wanted to take my life…

      And yet, in reality to mentally healthy loved ones (or as healthy as any of us are), the effect is a waste. Someone who may have never gotten treatment, or to whom treatment was not successful (99% usually have comorbidity with S.A. of some kind, as well -- I was no exception).

      But, either way, I find it preposterous that suicide is still seen as a crime in any case. I take a libertarian stand here. How can it be illegal to decide what to do with your own body? In practice, of course, it’s more complex than that, but I’m speaking of vague principle there.

      Certainly, without a doubt, in the cases cited above, and especially with the terminally ill, I can’t even begin to understand the so-called problem.

      • kesmarn says:

        Khirad, I think it’s hard for people who have never been there to understand just how dark a place it is…that place where ending one’s own life seems reasonable and even logical.

        My mother was 12 or 13 when she woke up, smelling the unmistakable odor of natural gas in her home. Her mother and three siblings were asleep.

        My grandmother had been widowed very suddenly not long before. It was during the Depression. She couldn’t imagine how she would be able to support her family--especially since she was already dealing with a hearing impairment. So she closed all the windows after the kids were asleep and turned on the gas. A court of law today would probably put her in prison for that.

        But my mother must have wanted to live. She wanted her family to live. She threw open all the windows and turned off the gas. When she raised the issue with her mom, the response was that it was “an accident.”

        My grandmother and her children somehow made it through the Depression and she lived to be 87. She saw 10 grandchildren come into the world after that awful time, and even some great grandchildren.

        If my mother hadn’t awakened that night, there wouldn’t be a kes at this keyboard tonight. Those decisions that seem so “logical” at the time, turn out to be something altogether different later. But then, you already know that.

        And yet…and yet, I totally understand how my grandmother felt the night she closed those windows. My mother never did.

        It’s a very dark place to be.

      • Questinia says:

        Khirad, did you read that article, I believe it was in the New Yorker some time back, about people who jumped from the Golden Gate Bridge and lived? The survivors said that as soon as they let go of the railing, they realized everything could have been worked out.

    • Chernynkaya says:

      Lise, I feel as you do about suicide-- It is no sin and can be a very loving and generous act. Neither of my friends were in those circumstances, but I still see their acts as in many ways courageous.

      One woman was about 70, and had no family, other than some very close friends (I was not one of her closest) who felt she was like family. Her career had recently ended and she had no health insurance, and felt her future was all downhill. She was in good health BTW, but let’s face it, no one keeps their health.

      The other woman was my niece’s mother. She had mental health issues and was left with health problems following an operable brain tumor several years earlier. She committed suicide the day her last available disability check came from the state of California.

      I feel that both these deaths were because of our lack of safety nets in the US. Both these women feared getting old with no insurance. Both were alone. I am furious about it. Literally trembling with rage at the Blankfeins and the rest of the robber barons and Republicans who reward corporate greed and inhumanity at the expense of these two women and millions of others who are the detritus of the machine.

      • LiseLives says:

        Those 2 instances speak of an atrocious void in “the safety net’ you mentioned. Outrageous !
        I would open my doors, set up beds, provide food etc., to up to 10 people at once, if anyone I knew (& trusted) was ailing & needed the comfort of a warm place & human nurturing.
        Inconvenient ? Very slightly & not enough to be bothered about, compared to the value of the gift in the giving & the receiving --
        These things are practically free & near-effortless to give.
        I feel very sad for how alone these 2 women must have felt -- it didn’t have to be that way ….

        • Chernynkaya says:

          Yes, Lise-- you are a real mensch. Had we known, those of us who knew them would have too, I am certain. The problem is the other side of the equation-- They wouldn’t have been able to take that love and generosity and would have felt a burden. Honestly, I don’t know that I could have either, but I am not proud of myself for being too proud.

          • LiseLives says:

            You’re 100% right -- some people are too proud (is that it ? or ….) to receive simple human compassion & help --
            & to be honest, I’m with you : had I been on the opposite side of that help, I might have retreated to do my thing, without letting anyone know --

            Interesting revelation : I’m right there to dish out help, but would find it most uncomfortable to admit to needing it --
            Complicated scenario ….

        • LiseLives says:

          Okay, an edit : 5 people -- not enough room right now for 10 :mrgreen:

  22. Chernynkaya says:

    Hey, Q-- sorry for the sweet story! Somehow, I thought the saccharine aspects would be tempered with the black comedy of the trash can. But, all in all, it was more saddening than darkly funny. I am really not so tough after all.

    • Questinia says:

      This guy got me thinking. It would be kind of neat, if one wanted to suicide (and who doesn’t sometimes), to stage one’s death such that it would tell a story.

      People would have to do some detective work in order to find out what happened. Personally, I’d go the “death by mentos, coke and bath bombs in the tub” route.

    • LiseLives says:

      Dark comedy def. has its place -- otherwise, some things could be indulged in a most heart-breaking way & I see that as ….unpractical.
      Grieving is important, don’t get me wrong. But after that release, I believe in moving on. Moving on gets back to the equally important acknowledgment of life ….

  23. LiseLives says:

    Q -- A fascinating post --
    It’s bizarre for modern-day standards alright, but when you think about it, there are still so many rituals that are still commonplace that will someday seem equally Gothic & strange --
    I remember prob. the mid-60’s when we were kids, we moved to a large house in New Westminster, Canada -- a house that my dad set about remodeling from top to bottom --
    In the attic, we found 3 framed pictures very much like the bottom one you posted : 3 different baby photos, all of whom had died, likely of polio, within months of their births. Inside the frames were dried roses -- it was sad beyond belief & spooked me for years after ….
    A couple of years earlier, I remember the big news in the neighborhood : the house up the street was hosting an open-house, a memorial for their youngest child (who also died of polio), where the casket was open for all to view & give their blessings. My young brothers & I went in & saw the real face of death in a child for the first time -- haunting memories, reminding us that in our lives, there’s always that awareness that ultimate death is an integral part of living ….
    I always appreciate a post such as this, Q -- anything that opens up dusty corners of our psyches is fascinating stuff IMO 😉

    • Questinia says:

      Thanks Lise. It took some getting used to. I visited a dozen or so sites and by the end I was relatively enured.

      What did you do with the photos from the attic? I wouldn’t blame you if you got rid of them

      • LiseLives says:

        I don’t remember what we did with the photos -- I’d imagine my parents prob. threw them away --
        I do remember that they tried to shield us from morbid events like this, but kids are quite hardy I think, when it comes to handling those early signs that life isn’t a fairy tale at all --

  24. choicelady says:

    Questinia -- VERY interesting if creepy! Thanks for confirming a report I’d heard once on NPR that Americans are the only people that think death is optional. I’d seen an exhibit at the Strong Museum in Rochester, NY about our weird post-mortem practices. People used to make jewelry -- brooches, necklaces, bracelets -- out of the hair of the dead. And WORE it.

    It’s SO hard to accept the hole in the fabric of our lives that is left when someone we love dies! But we’re only a cut above very primitive people who wore the bones of their loved ones (or victims of their wars) and sometimes the teeth.

    My very non-believing father could not accept my mother’s death. He, a life long atheist, began “seeing” her -- she came to talk with him in his nursing home. He asked me how he would ever find her among the billions and billions of people who had died. We had an amazing discussion of life after death, mostly my assurances that he could find HER because she’d already found HIM. I was making most of this up since -- who knows? Anything at all???

    These embalming and display issues, however, are not reflections of the survivors but of the person who died. This is an ages old reflection of our own fears of “after” AND our horrendous narcissism. “I’m gonna live forever…everyone will remember my name.” So if and when we accomplish little that is itself memorable, we find ways to keep our Selves front and center. Damned if you’ll forget ME! In your FACE, Dude!

    It’s pathetic but understandable. None of us wishes to be of no consequence, do we? And yeah -- I’m one of those people who irrationally thinks death is optional. Keep a good, positive hold on life, and you will not need to die! And you will look great while still living! I know better intellectually, but…

    However, I’ve left NO instructions to be stuffed and displayed. Be grateful I have some rationality left!

    • escribacat says:

      Love that story about your father, CL.

      • choicelady says:

        Thanks, e’cat. When he died a year later, I was very upset. I’d not been close to my mother but was to him. I went out on my front porch to sit and cry, and I SWEAR I heard my mother call his name, and I FELT him grin that grin that I loved that he got when he saw her. Oh, I know -- I needed that. But I don’t care. It made me feel better. Hope it’s true!

    • LiseLives says:

      LOL -- I too, will leave no instructions except :
      Cremate me, dump the ashes somewhere practical & then party in honor of my ‘livingness’, not my death --
      I want nothing special to happen for me, ’cause if I’m gone, I’m gone 😉

      • Questinia says:

        I’m thinking “Hefty” in black with red drawstrings.

        It’s so sexy and violent!

        “Hefty, Hefty, Deathty!”

        • Chernynkaya says:

          Speaking of that, several years ago my next door neighbor (an elderly guy with advanced prostate cancer) went missing. His wife was distraught, naturally, and a couple of us walked around the block to find him.

          It was then that another neighbor had the inspiration to notice the big, plastic trash receptacle provided to homeowners by the city.

          Well, there he was-- a suicide. He had considerately shot himself after climbing in the trash can, so as not to leave a mess for his wife. It was heartbreaking, but truly, they were the neatest couple.

          • LiseLives says:

            What a very cool hombre, really --
            I think after spending as many years alive as I have (heh) I’ve become practical : about life, about emotions, about death & all things dramatic, sad & over-wrought ….
            It is what it is : if death looms (not too far) ahead, handle it quick & try not to make those left behind feel worse for it --
            A toast to the empathetic, practical elderly man then !

            • Chernynkaya says:

              Lise-- that was so well articulated, and very close to my own views on the subject. I am basically resigned and ready.

              I have had two women friends just a few years older than me commit suicide this past two years. I am in awe if them. I don’t think I have the courage (or maybe just not the despair.)

              EDIT-- Just re-read that and it reads as if I am contemplating that-- I am not! 🙂

            • LiseLives says:

              Cher, see up above, where there’s more room : ) --

            • Questinia says:

              I think he was being passive-aggressive.

              What could he possibly think any of his survivors would feel about it?

          • Questinia says:

            He probably knew he’d catch hell from his wife otherwise.

            Amazing, what must have gone on in his mind just before…

            • Chernynkaya says:

              I’ve wondered about that-- what went through his mind-- many, many times.

              I don’t think his wife would have been any more angry at him for messing up the house then she was for him killing himself, but he must have realized how upsetting it would be to clean up the blood and stuff. It was, I’ve since thought, very practical. But the image of him climbing in with his gun and all-- so sad!

            • Questinia says:

              Cher, I was hoping it wouldn’t be sweet like that!

            • Chernynkaya says:

              Lise-- I have to agree with you, although his wife didn’t see it that way, and if she eventually realized it, she never said.

            • Chernynkaya says:

              Q-- I think they did get along-- they were married for over 30 years, and had no kids. They both had hobbies they shared and loved their cats.

              The house they bought next door was their first-- they had saved many years to get it and they loved-- no, doted on-- that house and yard. But who really knows?

              I think his cancer was the reason.

            • Questinia says:

              Did the couple get along? Because what he did was certainly making a statement.

            • LiseLives says:

              Agree, that part is sad, because it’s so alone ….
              Still, it was ultimately a very kind act --

        • LiseLives says:

          LOL ! I like it ! That’s it then, a Hefty party, with a Hefty bag o’ ashes as the centerpiece 😀

          & 😆 yes, verrry sexy !

          • Questinia says:

            To get practical: Throw in a bunch of ice and keep the beer and soft drinks in with me.

            You can keep the bottle opener in my mouth for easy finding.

            • LiseLives says:

              LOL !!
              Bottle opener in mouth seems like a very good (and practical) place indeed --
              I add : throw in all the empty bottles (champagne must be included) -- then ditch it all in a big dumpster when it’s all over 😉

            • Questinia says:

              Brava! Leave it to a Canadian to have the most eco-friendly and practical solution.

              I guess Hefty is actually not that eco-friendly…

    • Questinia says:

      You’re right. No where did this practice flourish more than in America.

      I knew a very reasonable, non-woo woo oncology nurse who said no matter what health cancer patients were in, when they saw what were evidently very vivid hallucinations of their dead loved ones come to see them, they crashed and died shortly thereafter. “Shortly” meaning a few days.

    • LiseLives says:

      ChoiceLady, you conjured up something else for me -- when you mentioned the narcissism that is made apparent in death :
      I’ve noticed that that tendency toward narcissism (in life) is actually becoming a bit healthier among (many, if not all) people in this modern society (esp. among Liberals, who tend to be accepting of people based on individual character, more than on ‘old family’ credentials).
      I can remember in my youth that ‘family roots’, ‘family legacy’ was noteworthy :
      Ie : if you came from a ‘good’ family, if your parents, grandparents, ancestors were ‘important’ people, it was generally KNOWN !
      There was a tendency to ‘leak’ one’s family jewels, and anyone who came close to being ‘blue-blooded’ or the equivalent, was somehow more ‘of note’ just because of that.
      Now, ‘coming from a good family’ is something that rarely comes up, nor should it -- to exhibit narcissism for the accomplishments of one’s ancestors is to play on an uneven field.
      No matter what one’s heritage is, noteworthiness is deserved for an individual’s character & accomplishment in the HERE & NOW.
      The playing field is more level now, than it was even in my youth.

      • choicelady says:

        Lise -- yes and no. No because I see so much of it (well, this IS California) that I despair, but yes because younger people NOT born in wealth seem much better integrated into the society they make. There is an energy about shared experiences and values that does seem to transcend the superficial and ultimately entirely personal. But then -- do look around at young people who are entirely into looks and material rewards, who make slackers older than they appear energetic. It’s kind of depressing.

        I think it’s probably NOT something we can generalize by class, race, age, sex -- people are all different. I REALLY hope you’re right and that we’re finding community once again!

        • LiseLives says:

          I agree that there are still some ridiculous ‘status symbols’ that are unfortunately alive & well (def. more so, in California) ….but I can remember even back in high school, some stigma for those born on the wrong side of the tracks : levels of elitism vis-a-vis some people, just because of the family they came from --
          Blood lines & family legacy is now hardly ever a component of how we view others --
          & the young will hopefully ‘come into their own’ in that sense --
          I hold out a lot of hope for this generation of (esp. Liberal) youth ….

  25. Chernynkaya says:

    Questinia-- that is so bizarre. I love stuff like this. I have been to cemeteries in South American countries and elsewhere, and I have noticed that on the headstones there are photos of the deceased--eyes open and unsmiling. It took me a while to realize they were dead, the photos taken postmortem. That practice is so foreign to me-- and to most Americans nowadays I’d guess. As a Jew, it’s even stranger; we bury our dead within three days tops and use no embalming fluid. The dead are considered unclean-- at Jewish cemeteries, there is even a water tap outside the gates so that we can rinse our hands after a funeral. (This ancient practice stems from the time when we had contact with Egyptians. It is a reaction against their practice of mummification and their rituals involving death.)

    I am fascinated by thanatology and the various rituals of different cultures, and never heard of this one! Thank you!

    • Questinia says:

      Thank you for your comments, Cher. If you love thanatos, and who doesn’t (I call it deathie-poo), then you may like:

      http://thanatos.net/ : although I think one has to pay to get in.

      “Now I lay me down to sleep” is a group of photographers who go around taking pictures of dead and dying babies in their parents’ arms.

      “Sleeping Beauty: Memorial Photography in America” is $1,100 new.

      Getting buried and looking at death appear to cost. It has far outweighed pornography.


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