Category Archives: News Items

How Will The Haitians Grieve Their Loved Ones

This blog posting is courtesy of JoAnne at Heartache to Healing

The grief in Haiti is unimaginable; we have all seen the visual images of the death and destruction. CNN has reported that a government official said the death toll from the January 12th 7.0-magnitude earthquake may exceed between 100,000-200,000. The exact number is unknown and may remain unknown.

About 3 million people — one-third of Haiti’s population — were affected by the quake, the Red Cross said.

In addition to the physical suffering, there is the grief.  Grief is the normal and natural emotional response to loss.  I learned through some research* that the majority of the people are Catholics or Protestants, whose practice is to provide last rites to the dead and a proper burial.  The main Cathedral in Port Au Prince has crumbled; there will be no prayer vigils and no funeral masses for the dead.

There is an Afro-Creole view called Vodou (Voodoo) which is also practiced in Haiti.  The belief is that people are born and people died and this is simply the cycle of life, death and rebirth.  When the body dies the spirit moves on.  The belief is that the spirit moves through the water.  Looking into the water then, you see the land of the recent dead where the soul goes and it is said they stay there for a year and a day floating and resting. Then they are brought up in a ceremony and released to go on to God.

Vodou is actually helpful in that it functions as a social support network, through community congregations.  Every person in the tradition has access to spirits that govern the realm of death.  The spirits escort the people into the realm of death.  The belief is that death is part of life to be laughed at and death is something that takes everyone in the end.

Rituals are important to healing from grief; they offer a sense of being connected and offer the opportunity to let out emotions.   It seems the Haitian’s are being robbed of the basic burial rituals and mourning the dead in traditional ways will not be possible because so many bodies have been buried in mass graves.  Many families will never know where there dead lie.

My hope is that they find comfort in their religious belief’s, and with those family and friends that a have survived.  What can we do to let them know they are not alone and offer comfort? How can we offer hope to people in a situation that appears so hopeless? Except for offering prayers, I don’t know.  But if I find some answers, I will let you know.  If you have suggestions, let us know by commenting below.

*Elizabeth McAlister, Associate Professor of religion at Wesleyan University


Death leaves online lives stuck in limbo

NEW YORK (AP) W hen Jerald Spangenberg collapsed and died in the middle of a quest in an online game, his daughter embarked on a quest of her own: to let her father’s gaming friends know that he hadn’t just decided to desert them.

It wasn’t easy, because she didn’t have her father’s “World of Warcraft” password, and the game’s publisher couldn’t help her. Eventually, Melissa Allen Spangenberg reached her father’s friends by asking around online for the “guild” he belonged to.

One of them, Chuck Pagoria in Morgantown, Kentucky, heard about Spangenberg’s death three weeks later. Pagoria had put his absence down to an argument among the gamers that night.

“I figured he probably just needed some time to cool off,” Pagoria said. “I was blown away when I heard the reason that he hadn’t been back. Nobody had any way of finding this out.”

With online social networks becoming ever more important in our lives, they’re also becoming an important element in our deaths. Spangenberg, who died suddenly from an abdominal aneurysm at 57, was unprepared, but others are leaving detailed instructions. There’s even a tiny industry that has emerged to help people wrap up their online contacts after their deaths.

When Robert Bryant’s father died last year, he left his son a USB flash drive in a drawer in his home office in Lawton, Oklahoma. The drive contained a list of contacts for his son to notify, including the administrator of an online group he had been in.

“It was creepy because I was telling all these people that my dad was dead,” Bryant said. “It did help me out quite a bit, though, because it allowed me to clear up a lot of that stuff and I had time to help my mom with whatever she needed.”

David Eagleman, a neuroscientist at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, has had plenty of time to think about the issue.

“I work in the world’s largest medical center, and what you see here every day is people showing up in ambulances who didn’t expect that just five minutes earlier,” he said. “If you suddenly die or go into a coma, there can be a lot of things that are only in your head in terms of where things are stored, where your passwords are.”

For more of this facinating article by PETER SVENSSON of The Associated Press, you can read it here.

A Greener Resting Place

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Eckhard Kennerer came up with the concept for Life Art’s cardboard coffins 5 years ago. Three years was spent in developing and perfecting the product, and it was necessary for the product to pass all the relevant safety and regulation checks before it could be used in the industry.

In 2005 the industry (composed of funeral homes and funeral directors) were not at all keen to embrace another cardboard coffin concept. Conventional caskets for the deceased are beautifully polished wood-finished with elaborate handle designs, interiors and fastenings, which are not at all cheap: no wonder funeral directors were well used to hearing from customers “I’d be happy to be buried in a cardboard box!” Ironically, cardboard coffins do not work out that much cheaper than a basic wooden coffin, but there is satisfaction in knowing though that these coffins are made from 90% recycled paper and biodegrade much more quickly in the earth.

They are also suitable for cremation, which makes up 80% of metropolitan funerals, in that they use up a lot less energy. LifeArt is unique not only in that it makes “environmentally friendly” coffins, but also that these containers can be personalised and creative – with artistic images representing the deceased life and interests able to be adorned on the coffin’s exterior. Workers at LifeArt feel that this is a positive, warm and therapeutic way of dealing with an otherwise difficult, traumatic and dark time.

For more information, click on the picture above to watch the video.

Maybe grief isn’t so bad afterall


Regardless of how well we look after our health, it is a given that we will die one day. By caring for our bodies we can enjoy good health for as long as we live but we will not live on this earth forever. We all know this and yet death is  a subject many people avoid thinking or talking about.

When someone we know and love dies it is normal to feel sad and to grieve for that person. There are many different ways in which people do this. Many cultures have rituals and ceremonies around death to help those who remain behind to come to acceptance and closure.

The vast majority of people will do exactly that in their own way and in their own time-if we let them. More recently there has been ,as part of a general trend to medicalize normal human emotions, a tendency to see grief as some form of illness which requires some form of treatment.

It is interesting then to see a new book, ”The other side of sadness” which has looked at the path of many people through grief. The finding is that 85 to 90% of people cope and adapt in their own way and time without any form of treatment including formal counseling.

Is this really surprising?  People have coped with death since the beginning of mankind. Whilst counseling has a role for some people, the majority will do just fine with adequate time and the support of friends and family. When facing grief we need to be able to both enjoy memories of the god times coupled with sadness that there will be no more good times with the deceased.

What sometimes makes it tricky is that there can be mixed emotions. This too is quite normal. We might be angry or have unresolved conflicts with the person who has died. It is seen as inappropriate to be angry with someone who has passed on but the fact that they have does not in itself mean that suddenly the issue you had with them has died.  It means though that you must now come to terms with it without the other person. Sometimes we need to shake our fist at the sky or stomp our feet to release the emotion. This is not for everyone but has a valid role for some.

The key in all this is that grief is a normal human emotion. It is not a disease, which requires treatment. It is a reaction to an event such as the passing of a loved one. It is no more abnormal to feel grief in this situation than to feel joy on winning lotto yet no one would suggest counseling after the latter.

Some people will benefit from counseling if they are getting “stuck” and find themselves not able to move on with their lives. However just the knowledge that what you are experiencing is normal ,and that in most instances will be a stage from which you emerge is an empowering start point.

For more information on Dr. Joe, you can visit his website here.

Rear Vision’s Palliative Care podcast

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First broadcast by Radio National in may, 2009, this palliative care podcast covers it’s short history and practive throughout the world. Rear Vision tracks the history of this approach to dying from its origins in Britain to Australia, where the world’s first professor of palliative care was appointed.

The transcript is available here, or you can listen to it directly here: 

Did you know that…


The most expensive funeral so far was that of Alexander the Great. It would cost about $600,000,000 in today’s money.  One of the reasons was the building of a road from Babylon to Alexandria, big enough move a jewel studded hearse the size of a small building which was pulled by 64 horses.

Smoking, obesity ‘grow as world threat’

kidsTobacco and obesity are overtaking hunger and infectious disease as leading causes of death and illness across the developing world, an Australian expert has warned.

As globalisation had lifted millions of people out of poverty, Dr Paul Kowal said free trade agreements had allowed the rapid movement of processed food and tobacco products into the world’s poorest nations.

Many developing countries now faced new and mounting health threats from the expanding availability of fast food, soft drinks and cigarettes, he said.

“To increase development in a country, they are forced to open up to transnational corporations including tobacco corporations,” Dr Kowal said of the trend emerging in the world’s developing nations.

“And there is a clear correlation between the local presence of a tobacco company and increasing tobacco uptake.”

Dr Kowal holds a position on a research committee within the World Health Organisation (WHO) and is also a Senior Research Fellow at the University of Newcastle.

He spoke to AAP on Tuesday after he addressed the International Conference on Realising the Rights to Health and Development for All underway in Hanoi in Vietnam.  Dr Kowal pointed to WHO estimates that, if trends continue, there will be more than eight million tobacco-related deaths a year by 2030, 80 per cent of them in the developing world.

In 2000, the number of overweight and obese adults in the world exceeded the number of underweight for the first time.

Dr Kowal said Indonesia was a classic example of a developing country that had levels of smoking and obesity “increasing as the gross national income per capita increased” while India, China and many South-East Asian countries were on a similar path.

He said tobacco companies were known to tailor their marketing efforts in developing countries to try to reach those in the population that had not traditionally smoked – women.

They also worked to sidestep advertising bans through the sponsorship of sporting teams or by selling cigarettes “by the stick”.

Vietnam, which has one of the world’s highest rates of smokers at 56 per cent of men and two per cent of women, has moved to ban smoking in indoor public places from January next year.

Another speaker told the conference that Vietnam spent about $US77.5 million ($A84.47 million) each year on health care to treat tobacco-related diseases such as lung cancer and heart disease.

“Smoking kills, that’s pretty clear, and it has overtaken infectious disease in a lot of lower-income countries yet there is still a misconception there that infectious disease is rampant,” Dr Kowal said.

“In fact, we’re seeing a double burden of disease – non-communicable disease from risk factors like induced poor eating habits or smoking uptake is becoming a bigger and bigger problem.”

Health experts at the conference are calling on governments to increase tobacco taxes, ban tobacco advertising, improve education about tobacco-related diseases, adopt global and legally-binding codes, and limit market access to transnational corporations.

via AAP