Have you ever had to use the emergency spare tire on your automobile? It’s smaller than your regular tires, and you have to change your driving habits when you rely on this emergency “donut” tire. Experiencing grief and mourning is a lot like driving around on your emergency donut spare tire. Consider: You have to […]
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Likely for millennia, there have been stereotypes associated with people interested in learning about death. Death-talk was often viewed as something for people who wear all black and worship the devil. Newsflash: Everybody dies. Wealthy, working poor, newborn, elderly, queer, cisgender, vertically challenged, statuesque, Latinx, South Asian, agnostic, Muslim… even you. But if death happens to everyone, why are so few people willing to talk about it? Is it the fear of the unknown? Faith doctrines that advise against it? Or social stigma tied to death and dying?
In the summer of 1984, I made my debut in this world three months prematurely. My early arrival resulted in months in the hospital and over 40 surgeries and counting. As a sick child, I had no choice but to ponder death. While my parents made sure that my childhood was filled with whimsy and joy, my mortality was often at the forefront of my mind. A medical oddity with a visible tracheostomy scar and paralyzed larynx, I was often outcasted by classmates. I daydreamed more often about the dress I would wear in my casket than my wedding dress, which caused me to feel further isolated from my peers.
Throughout my formative years I occasionally met others like myself who were miracle babies or otherwise medical mysteries, but I rarely voiced my innermost morbid thoughts. I suppose I felt that as a young, curvaceous, Black, suburban, Christian girl I had no license to discuss death. I assumed it was a subject better left to my math mate with her rail thin frame, pale white skin, and crushed velvet dresses.
My sophomore year of high school, I met one of my best friends, Elly*. She also had a some health issues early on in life and at 13 she was diagnosed with Marfan Syndrome, a rare disease affecting the body’s connective tissue. For years, we didn’t speak much about her condition; her symptoms were not obvious to the uneducated eye. Plus, we were too busy passing notes and talking about our crushes in code. After high school, we attended the same university, during which time we grew apart (because everyone who warned us that best friends should not be college roommates was right).
Junior year, I discovered via social media that she underwent emergency open heart surgery to repair her aortic dissection and replace a leaky valve. Shortly thereafter, I ran into her on campus and we quickly reconciled our relationship. Around the same time, both sets of our parents were either diagnosed with major illnesses or experienced catastrophic medical emergencies, and together we began to experience the loss of several friends and classmates in various ways in a relatively short amount of time. The culmination of these events opened the door for us to talk about life and death for the first time in our friendship.
Our discussions ranged from the deep and somewhat ethereal, like what life after death is like, to the more practical, like whether or not people should tag dead friends on social media as though they are still living. We did not always share the same thoughts and ideology about death; Elly’s earthy spirituality did not align with my Christian-Judeo faith. But despite our different perspectives, we kept the conversation going.
I lost Elly in 2018 to complications of Marfan. Understandably, her death shook me. She was truly as close to me as a sister. But it was upon her death that I realized, in addition to being my best friend, she was my Death Buddy: the one person I could talk to about absolutely anything without fear that she would judge me, find me weird, or rush to change the subject — even if the subject was death. I notice now that when someone new dies, be it a celebrity stranger or a close loved one, I still reach for my phone to get her feedback and then realize she won’t be able to provide me with a response.
Following her death, I’ve tried broaching the topic with others with no real success. So I am now on the quest for a new Death Buddy. Someone with whom I can talk about a very serious topic in a relatively matter-of-fact manner. If you are interested in finding your own Death Buddy, I suggest you look for someone who:
The search thus far has not turned up the best results. Some potential candidates know how to balance the dark with the light through levity and laughter, but aren’t great at respecting my boundaries and beliefs. Others are willing to be frank and open with their opinions, but have a tendency to judge my thoughts and understandings. Then of course, there are those who fit most of the criteria, but we do not know each other well enough yet to have earned each other’s trust.
I guess the new breaking news story for me is that every relationship won’t meet all of my needs. In fact, most will not but having at least one person you can count on to help you navigate death conversations is important. In fact, talking about death is even healthy! According to a 2016 HuffPost article by physician Supreeya Sarup, D.O., “In accepting that our days are limited we are able to value our today, and this is why I believe it is crucial we start talking about death now.” Death positive movements like Death Salon and End Well echo Sarup’s sentiments and actively seek to normalize end-of-life discussions by integrating them into our everyday lives.
Valuing my today is something that, despite my constant consideration of death over the years, is not something that I always embraced. For far too long I allowed the nearness of death to limit my endeavors. Whether it was staying inside during a fresh spring downpour, fearful that my rain-soaked socks would somehow lead to a fatal cold if I decided to dance in the rain, or rarely venturing far from my handful of go-to menu items for fear of unwittingly consuming my fatal last meal, I lead a life that was cloaked in careful and cautious behavior.
However, the last several months I have made it a point to take risks. From taking a biking tour through San Francisco (after not having ridden a bike for 20 years) to treating my tastebuds to new things (my latest adventure is kombucha!), I am finally stepping outside of my personal cocoon in order to live a more fulfilled, enriched life. I may not jump any bases or dive any cliffs anytime soon, but every day I wake up is another day that I get to choose to truly live. If it takes talking about death to finally experience life, then that is a conversation I am willing to have as often as I can.
Aisha Adkins is a writer, caregiver, advocate, graduate student, and speaker based in Atlanta, Georgia. A graduate student at Georgia State University’s Andrew Young School, this authentic storyteller is driven by faith, inspired by family, and eager to use her talents to affect positive social change. She is a full-time caregiver for her mother and founder of Our Turn 2 Care. When she is not a doting daughter and agent of change, she enjoys classic film, live music, and nature.
If you enjoyed this piece, please consider supporting our work. Your contribution goes directly toward running The Order, including resources, research, paying our writers and staff, and funding more frequent content. We’d love to keep pushing the funerary envelope in 2018. Visit our Support Us page, for a variety of easy ways to contribute.
Everyone Deserves a Death Buddy: The Value of Death Positive Friendships post syndicated
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Hip Hop, country, rock, pop â¦ no matter what genre of music you like, Houstonâs sure to have a nightclub where you can dance like nobodyâs watching. With some of the most popular DJs in the South spinning hits from around the world, Houstonâs club scene rivals those of other big cities across the country. So if youâre ready to get down (or turn up), check out these options to help you paint the town red.
A Guide to Nightclubs In Houston post syndicated
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When Prince Don Carlos, the son of the most powerful man in the world, took a bad fall, it was feared that the festering wound on his forehead would bring his short life to an end. It was 1562, and if anyone had the means to save someone from the clutches of death, it was Philip II of Spain, the king of the Empire where the sun never set. He gathered the most eminent doctors and anatomists around his son’s bed, yet none of them were able to find a cure. Since science had failed, the royal confessor resolved, perhaps they should seek help from Heaven.
The king was a devout Catholic, known for his “holy greed for relics”: his collection, which he kept close to his bedchambers, included 12 whole skeletons, 144 heads, and thousands of bones from all known saints, except three. However, their alleged healing properties, a deeply-rooted Christian belief, didn’t work on young Don Carlos. Instead, the king’s confessor, Bernardo de Fresneda, suggested they seek the intercession of local miracle-maker Fray Diego de Alcalá. Since he had been dead for a hundred years the friar couldn’t perform a miracle in his living presence, but perhaps his corpse would.
At the orders of the king, Fray Diego’s sarcophagus was opened so his mummified remains could be brought to the prince’s room, where they were ceremoniously laid next to him. Days later, Don Carlos finally woke up. He told his father that he’d dreamed of Diego, who said he would live. His miraculous recovery was attributed to the relics’ sacred power, and the friar was later canonised.
The image of the 18-year-old prince sharing his bed with the shrivelled corpse of a man yanked out of the grave at the king’s orders is nothing short of shocking, but it wouldn’t have been an unusual sight in the court of the Spanish Habsburgs. In 1619, 57 years after the episode of Prince Don Carlos, Philip III, the successor of Philip II, fell gravely ill when he travelled from Portugal to Madrid, and had to be tended in the town of Casarrubios del Monte. As death loomed close, a procession brought from Madrid to his bedside the incorrupt body of Isidore the Labourer, an 11thcentury farmworker known for having performed several miracles in his lifetime, but yet to be a saint. His mummy, also considered miraculous, had been mutilated twice, according to oral tradition: the first time in 1381, when Queen Consort Juana Manuel demanded one arm, but returned it on the spot, since she was suddenly struck “with a paroxysm”; the second time, in the 15thcentury, when a servant of Queen Isabella bit off one of its toes as she pretended to ceremonially kiss its feet. Isidore’s body, lain next to Philip III, allegedly revived the king, and his canonisation, initiated by Philip II, was completed in 1622.
In 1641, when Queen Mariana of Austria went into labor, the bodies of both Diego and Isidore were brought to her chambers as she gave birth to the sickly boy who would become the last of the Spanish Habsburgs, Charles II, known as “The Bewitched”. We now know that his innumerable health problems were the consequence of several generations of inbreeding, however, Charles II believed himself hexed, a concern also shared by his court and subjects. Seeking relief, he became a regular bedfellow of both mummies, and was also the beneficiary of the third mutilation of Isidore’s body, when a locksmith pulled out one of its teeth so the king could keep it under his pillow.
No remedy, heavenly or otherwise, was able to solve the fertility problems of Charles II. His first wife died after ten years of marriage without having produced an heir. His second wife, Maria Anna of Neuburg, was chosen because of the extraordinary fertility that seemed to run in her family: her mother having given birth to twenty-three children. Sadly, this didn’t exempt Maria Anna from being treated for a problem that was more than likely rooted in her husband’s condition. She was subjected to copious blood-letting and aggressive fertility treatments, leaving her so debilitated that the doctors feared for her life, but she recovered after lying next to Isidore’s remains. As a measure of gratitude, she commissioned an urn of silver, where the saint’s body is still stored.
The custom of sharing beds with Isidore’s mummy didn’t fade with the demise of Charles II. The saint’s thaumaturgic powers also protected the following dynasty, that of the Bourbons: Maria Luisa of Savoy, Charles III and his wife, Maria Amalia of Saxony, who all welcomed his body into their royal chambers.
Catholics still venerate relics, and, occasionally, some of them are brought to the beds of the infirm. We find it easier to accept when these relics are fragments of clothing, bones, or even skulls or limbs, but our modern culture has had such little contact with dead bodies that the idea of sharing a bed with a mummy is unimaginable. Did the Habsburgs have to overcome a revulsion towards corpses to lie next to the remains of these saints? Perhaps they did, but instead, regarded it as a privilege they were able to enjoy solely because of their royal status.
The Christian belief in the resurrection of body as well as soul implies that all bodies are sacred, touched by the divine through incarnation and resurrection, so venerating mortal remains is considered natural. Relics which hold the power that the saints had once channelled when they were alive, aren’t merely a symbol of the divine, but an embodiment of it. Lying next to these remains, in their own private rooms, was unattainable for regular people. Yet, for the Habsburgs, this was an act of faith, a powerful reminder of both their own mortality and the hope for an afterlife, as well as an expression of their great power and their privilege.
Maria J. Pérez Cuervo is a UK-based writer who specialises in history, archaeology, art, myth, and mystery. Her work appears regularly in Fortean Times, Mental Floss, and Daily Grail. She tweets @mjpcuervo.
If you enjoyed this piece, please consider supporting our work. Your contribution goes directly toward running The Order, including resources, research, paying our writers and staff, creating videos, podcasts, events and funding more frequent content. We’d love to keep pushing the funerary envelope in 2019. Visit our Support Us page, for a variety of easy ways to contribute, or become a patron on Patreon for exclusive content and rewards.
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When you have the cremated remains of people and pets, there’s a new option for keeping them at home or putting them in a cemetery.
via Tumblr Creative Urn Towers Offer New Options for Cremated Remains
My family owns a funeral home and I am married to a funeral director. Raising 2 kids while taking care of the dead provides for an interesting family life. I like to do crafty things with bright fun colors to keep our life happy and light in my down time.