Category Archives: Living History

How one priest helps reassure the dying

vatben2I have probably been in the presence of around 25 dead bodies. The first time was a bit scary – or at least I thought it would be. The reality is that once someone has died they are just not “there” – quite different from them being asleep or comatose. Inevitably it invokes a sense of sadness, personal vulnerability, and even awe.

As a priest I spend time with people who are still mentally alert and aware they are dying. My job is to help them come to terms with their death and their faith. My experiences have highlighted that people fight incredibly hard when it comes to death: the body just refuses not to breathe.

Sadly, I have noticed even those who worship regularly have a built-in resistance to preparing for death. Several people in their late 80s have asked me not to talk of death because “it is too depressing”. But being scared of death is astonishingly far from the Christian tradition. The 6th-century monk and religious leader St Benedict tells his brethren to “keep death always before your eyes”. He doesn’t mean people should go around being morbid, but they be aware of their own mortality and live accordingly.

lghtben2It seems to me that a denial of the inevitability of death means that so many things are not sorted out: goodbyes not said, wills not written, funeral arrangements unmade. It increases the stress at the very point when the bereaved cannot cope. I believe with greater openness and less collusion, death could be handled so much better.

This article was originally published by New Scientist on 10 October 2007 by Lucy Middleton.

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Tweeting about cancer

Picture 2We are huge fans of the Australian Cancer Research Foundation.  In fact, we donate $10 when someone creates (and pays for a minimum 1 year) a Lifebook through livingyears.com/acrf, but I digress.

I was just over on their site (you can find it here) and read this blog post on patients that are turning to social media tools to help deal with the tribulations of battling their devastating disease.

I strongly suggest you head on over for a read of this very heartwarming story.

Celebrate Life

This is a wonderful post that I recently came across and it must be re-posted with all credit to Paul Seiple who wrote it.  He has a great blog so you should should check it out here.

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I usually reserve my little space for pop culture ramblings but this month I want to take a different direction.

Over the past few months celebrity deaths have dominated the news. When your favorite singer, actor, or director passes away you cannot help but feel like part of you passes with them. This is mainly due to all the good times you shared with them even though they do not know your name.

When Michael Jackson died, memories of a past Halloween in which my family (excluding me, I was thirteen and too cool to participate) dressed the part and acted out the Thriller video in our front yard rushed through my mind. Being a music lover, I was sad that we lost one of the greatest figures in the music world, but I was also sad that the years have caught up with my family and no longer can they morph into dancing zombies. But then thinking of my dad jumping out from the bushes dressed like a bloody mummy and scaring kids brought a smile to my face. Don’t worry; kids loved our house on Halloween. They still do, the scaring may have died down but the candy is till top notch.

Recently John Hughes passed away. I was a teenager in the 80’s when Hughes’ films were all the rage. It’s safe to say that with The Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, and Pretty in Pink Hughes was a pioneer in the teen flick genre. To this day, Weird Science remains one of my favorite movies. When I read of Hughes’ death it brought back memories of gathering with my friends to watch these films. Once again, I was sad that the entertainment world had lost one of the greatest directors of my time, but I was also sad that I no longer can gather with my friends and partake in a movie with such ease. Then I thought about me and my friends sitting around imitating a drunken Anthony Michael Hall in Weird Science and I smiled.

Over these last few months, death has also taken several people away that at some point in time were a part of my “real world.” In May, an ex-girlfriend passed away from cancer. Even though I had lost touch with her over the years, we shared many memories. As I was reading about the latter years of her life I learned that as she stared into the face of mortality she stayed strong. “Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass. It’s about learning to dance in the rain,” was her favorite quote. Her tenacity to remain positive is a lesson we all should learn.

The quote also sums up the life of another friend that recently passed. I met Mike Jones close to thirty years ago when I moved onto “the block.” (That’s what we all called our neighborhood, it wasn’t original, I know. But we were kids, cut us some slack.) I can’t recall ever seeing Mike without a smile on his face. And believe me, Mike had reasons to be negative. While the rest of the neighborhood kids rode their bikes and played football, Mike couldn’t. He was in a wheelchair. Mike never looked at his life in a negative light. He viewed his life as an opportunity. An opportunity to experience everything he wanted. And he did. Mike loved baseball. He got to work with the Danville Braves. He wanted to find a girlfriend. He did, and it turned into one of the most loving relationships I’ve ever witnessed. Mike was that person that made you a better person for knowing him.

I have many fond memories of Mike. One that sticks out is his love for wrestling. As a kid, I loved wrestling as well. I remember discussing the latest feuds on Georgia Championship Wrestling with Mike while I waited for his brother John to get ready to go outside and play. As John and I went outside Mike returned to his Atlanta Braves game with a smile on his face. He never let the fact that he couldn’t do everything the other kids could wipe that smile from his face. Mike faced many hardships throughout his life but through them all he celebrated life.

Celebrating life is something we all should do. No matter what obstacles are tossed in your life path, rejoice in the fact that you are alive.

Now if you will excuse me, I am going to watch “Wildfire” Tommy Rich battle it out with the Masked Superstar. I’m sure Mike would approve.

“Love is stronger than death even though it can’t stop death from happening, but no matter how hard death tries it can’t separate people from love. It can’t take away our memories either. In the end, life is stronger than death.”

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Did you know that……

2578883565_3ed6f4af08Buddhists believe that the dead are reborn at higher or lower planes of existence, depending on merits they have built up in this life and former lives.

A Vietnamese family meets with the monks at Khuong Viet Buddhist temple in Lørenskog. The atmosphere is serious, but not depressing. Together, they will try helping the soul of a recently deceased relative to gain clarity and peace in the spirit world, so that it can find its way to an rebirth in this world.

A large photograph of the dead person is displayed at a memorial altar beside the Buddha figure near the entrance to the temples ritual area. Flowers, candles and incense are all placed at the altar, together with offerings of fruit, cookies, soup and rice.

The temples spiritual leader recites from holy texts – sutras – that can help the dead. Other monks play wood blocks, bells, gongs and drums. The relatives of the dead person pray in front of where the photograph is displayed.

Ringing of a large bell further inside of the temple helps to summon the spirit of the deceased. The spirit then receives assistance from the living through instructions on how to orient itself in the spirit world. The ritual must be done so early after death as possible to hinder that the spirit becomes confused in its new existence, and loses its ability to find its way.

Buddhists believe that the dead are reborn at higher or lower planes of existence, depending on merits they have built up in this life and former lives. To enter death in a positive state of mind in the company of monks and family members can contribute to rebirth on a higher level.

In Buddhist philosophy, the word ‘samsara’ refers to a state where nothing remains the same – everything is either developing or decaying. Samsara has three aspects for Buddhists: suffering, change and the lack of an eternal self. This aspect of change throughout all of ones life helps people to accept that there is no eternal ‘essence’ in us, and the processes of change continue also after our physical death.

When a human understands samsara completely, it is as if a flame has been extinguished. One has achieved nirvana. This is the goal of all Buddhists. By achieving nirvana, a cycle is broken, and the spirit is not reborn again after death.

Buddhism has no dogmatic rules for what kind of care the body of the dead person should be given, aside that the process should be handled in a worthy and respectful way. The deceased may be cremated or buried, depending on the wishes of the family. White clothing and white headbands are symbols of mourning during the ceremony.

Death in the 21st Century

Picture 1Death isn’t always something we always want to face up to but we know that it will certainly come knocking one day. People have been dying for many years now, so what can we unravel from the experience of passing on?

As techniques of keeping people alive improve the grey areas surrounding the definition of life become murky. When does death officially or clinically occur and what role does technology play in the process? In a world saturated by celebrity and public lives, what are the effects of the media’s portrayal of death and how does this affect the nature of grieving?

In this talk at the State Library of Queensland, a group of mortal scholars gathered to present their views on taking the ultimate dirt nap.  To watch this fascinating talk click here for the video, or click on the podcast below to listen to it in full.

This story was first broadcast by  ABC Fora on 7th August, 2009.  Many thanks to the ABC for allowing us to re-publish.

Days with my father

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We recently came across photographer Phillip Tolendano’s latest project where he has taken photography, memoir, chronicle, and diary and evolved them together into a beautifully honest photographic journey. In “Days With My Father”, he tells the story of living with his father’s dementia following his mother’s sudden death.

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Toledano writes simply and thoughtfully about his father’s condition, in ways both light-hearted and heart-breaking. Its loveliness is borne of its grace and truth; he’s not layering drama or trying to make anything seem like what it’s not. He’s sharing without adding any extra gild or lacquer, and sometimes that’s the hardest path of all.

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My dad is an amazing storyteller.  I’ve loved listening to him for as long as I can remember, and I’ve always taken pride in his Oscar-winner performances.  If he’s in a bad mood, I’ll ask him to tell me a story.  He embraces the role with such gusto, that his gloom dissipates instantly.  Here, he’s telling one of my favourites:  The Italian Fishmonger.  The man would say to my father, then a mischievous ten-year old kid:  Don’t squeeze the fish-it makes the eyes bulge!”

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Holding Sacred Space and Marking Rites of Passage

Meredith-bio2Meredith and her husband, Steven Foster, co-founded Rites of Passage Inc. in 1976 and The School of Lost Borders in 1981 – pioneering the methods and dynamics of modern pan-cultural passage rites in the wilderness, and “field therapy”. The essence of their work is captured in articles, chapters, an award-winning documentary film, and books that include: The Book of the Vision Quest, The Roaring of the Sacred River, The Four Shields: The Initiatory Seasons of Human Nature, and Lost Borders: Coming of Age in the Wilderness.

Since Steven’s death in 2003, she continues both nationally and internationally to guide and train others in this work, while also founding, with Dr. Scott Eberle, a new arm of Lost Borders entitled “The Practice of Living and Dying”. In this partnership with Scott she hopes to crack open the taboos surrounding death, and to help restore dying to its natural place in the cycles of living.

In this podcast, Meredith Little shares her personal journey into the natural world, where she guides people through rites of passages. Camille and Meredith share their personal experiences around grief and loss and Meredith’s offers insights on death and dying after sharing her pan cultural wisdom with an international audience.

Listen to her podcast here.