Author Katy Butler’s new book, “Knocking on Heaven's Door: The Path to a Better Way of Death,” which chronicles her mother’s decision to opt against end-of-life medical treatment, is available today. A preview of Butler’s book appeared as the Saturday essay in the Wall Street Journal and serves as the perfect primer. (She also wrote about her father's struggles at the end of his life to die the way he wanted in the New York Times in 2010.)

While Butler offers a touching personal perspective, she also confronts the concept of “dying well” on a grander scale, estimating that “medical overtreatment costs the U.S. health care system an estimated $158 billion to $226 billion a year.” She also asks tough questions about what people say they want at the end of their life and what they actually want. “Why don't we die the way we say we want to die?” she asks. “In part because we say we want good deaths but act as if we won't die at all.”

We could recount the whole article, because it’s that compelling, but you should click over and read it for yourself.

Photo Source: Santa Ana History

One of the main complaints about the funeral industry and funeral homes is they are technological dinosaurs. Death certificates are typed out on timeworn typewriters, files exist only in tangible form in metal cabinets, and plans made face-to-face.  Clients (that is, you and me, when someone has died), who are used to accomplishing tasks immediately on our iPhones, cannot understand why important documents can’t simply be emailed to us instantaneously. It seems unfathomable to have to wait four weeks to receive additional death certificates. How can these companies still use typewriters?

Recently, there’s been a big push to bring the funeral industry into the 21st century. Companies and independent owners are learning that to compete for customers, they ought to, at the very least, have a useable Website. Otherwise, how could a customer know about their services, or even their location? Nobody takes the time to physically visit places anymore! Some homes have gone further, offering other amenities such as online obituaries. Brilliant! Nobody reads newspapers anymore-- death notices should be online. These are all fantastic additions to the death-care industry.


I think we should all take a minute before enthusiastically responding “Yes!” I agree that it’s crucial for every company in this day in age to have a legitimate Website. I worry, however, about a historically slow-moving industry jumping into technology. What’s the big deal you might ask? Well, something like this could easily happen.

“Funeral Home Sent Grieving Kin…”

Clearly, the directors at this funeral home did not intend for the client to receive this email. Regardless of how you feel about the funeral industry, I feel confident saying this was either a horrible mistake or an evil prank perpetrated by a sick individual. The funeral home claims their email was hacked. But what if they didn’t have an email account to begin with? What if they only contacted their clients through regular mail?

I know this is an isolated incident, which is getting attention for its salacious nature and pending lawsuit, but let’s think about the possible repercussions. What if inappropriate photos are posted on Instagram, twitter or Facebook? Should everyone be allowed to comment on obituaries? What if a resentful ex wants to voice his or her feelings about the deceased? Who should be the gatekeeper? The funeral industry deals with customers at their most sensitive moments. In this industry mistakes cannot be made; there are no second chances.  So, do we really want to push them to be more vulnerable? Or are these just growing pains the funeral industry must bear while it catches up with the rest of society?

Football season is coming to an end. If you’re a dedicated fan like me you’re a bit sad knowing there won't be anymore games for a while on our beloved Sundays…and Monday nights…and Thursday nights. They're a limited resource so we do everything in our power to enjoy them to the fullest.

Some truly dedicated fans show their loyalty not only all year round, but forever! While working in the funeral industry, I buried a number of clients either wearing the jersey of their favorite quarterback or with team hats placed next to them. While this might not seem like a big deal, or be thought of as frivolous, the implication can be quite meaningful. Some people have chosen their teams for eternity and always want to be remembered that way.

But for some super fans, merely being sporting paraphernalia is not enough…

This man opted for one of the most unique wake I’ve ever seen. Apparently, his passion could not be confined to inside the coffin. Yep, that’s him in a recliner.

Photo Source: Urlesque

Other families, who want to embrace their loved one’s passion but stay within the parameters of a standard funeral, opt for a more acceptable amendment to the wake: football-themed flowers.

Photo Source: Welch Flowers

Lastly, there are those truly dedicated who literally take their loyalty to the grave, with a football-themed headstone!

Photo Source: Stone Garden

Although some of these decisions might seem extreme, your feelings may change once you hear the voice on your television shout: “ARE YOU READY FOR SOME FOOTBALLLLLLLL?”

Please let me know here how you feel about including sports-themed aspects into a funeral.

When someone has a "cardiac event"—that is, if someone suddenly passes out and their heart stops—calling 911 and administering CPR is the go-to method for trying to resuscitate them. But what's the proper way to administer CPR? To help people do CPR correctly, the American Heart Association made use of the Bee Gee's "Stayin' Alive": at 100 beats per minute, it's the ideal rhythm for re-starting a stopped heart. And now we have Community's Ken Jeong to help us really remember the beat.

via MetaFilter

MemoValley, a site whose mission is to allow people to share memories of their departed loved ones, mentioned us in a recent blog post about "preparing for death with help from the startup world." Here's what they had to say about Everplans:

A very structured web-site which takes the user through all the necessary steps to plan a good exit from life. Interestingly, a lot of these steps are not obvious ones and you realize it is much better to deal with them now rather than leaving them to your dear ones.

Thanks! Best of luck MemoValley in keeping legacies alive in the digital realm.

What do the most die-hard college football fanatics do when they, um, die? Keep the school spirit going for eternity by being buried in a college themed casket.

To kick off the season right, we’re honoring the top 10 ranked schools with their casket equivalent, which are real things you can actually buy.

1. Alabama Crimson Tide (University of Alabama)

(Photo Source: Collegiate Memorials)

This allows you to roll tide…literally. (Sorry about that. We’ll try to make the rest of the captions a little better. But we ain’t making any promises.)

2. Ohio State Buckeyes (Ohio State University)

(Photo Source: Flickr)

Don’t forget to emphasize the “THE” whenever saying Ohio State. We have no idea why but football players say it this way and it sounds cool.

3. Oregon Ducks (The University of Oregon)

(Photo Source:

The greenest casket on the list, by far. We’re not sure about the environmental impact, but these guys are green and quite sharp with embossed wings and neon rails.

4. Stanford Cardinal (Stanford University)

(Photo Source:

Stanford is in California, and should not be confused with Stamford, Connecticut, which has no team. Connecticut does have UCONN, but they’d only make this list if we were including the top 8,000 ranked teams because they’re not very good.

5. Georgia Bulldogs (University of Georgia)

(Photo Source: Eye On Sports Media)

The cuddly Bulldog mascot alone might even make non-fans consider one of these caskets.

6. South Carolina Gamecocks (University of South Carolina)

(Photo Source: Collegiate Memorials)

Let the history lesson begin: The Gamecocks get their name from American Revolution war hero Thomas Sumter, who employed fierce fighting tactics against the British after they burned down his house.

7. Texas A&M Aggies (Texas A&M University)

(Photo Source: Trevino Smith Funeral Home)

What’s an Aggie, you may ask. It’s a student at Texas A&M. It’s that simple. Moving on…

8. Clemson Tigers (Clemson University)

(Photo Source: Collegiate Memorials)

Another university from South Carolina cracks the top 10. The vibrant orange and purple is sure to make any occasion festive

9. Louisville Cardinals (University of Louisville)

(Photo Source:

And we have another cardinal in the top 10 as well. But unlike Stanford, this is a sassy angry looking cardinal, which are clearly the coolest cardinals of the avian world.

10. Florida Gators (University of Florida)

(Photo Source: Collegiate Memorials)

The U of F make the top ten by the skin of their alligator teeth.

Bonus Team! Duke Blue Devils (Duke University)

(Photo Source: Collegiate Memorials)

Duke fans should order these early since your football seasons are always over before they start. The good news: March Madness is right around the corner!

What do you think about college-themed caskets? Are they cool? Thoughtful? Insensitive? Tacky? Let us know.

Bear—Augustus. Peacefully entered into eternal hibernation at his home on Tuesday after brief yet courageous battle with complications from thyroid tumor on Tuesday, August 27th. “Gus,” as his friends and fans knew him, was born in Toledo, Ohio in 1985. His career blossomed when he moved to the Big Apple in 1988, to become the resident polar bear ambassador at the world-renowned Central Park Zoo. For the following 24 years, (longer than the average Polar Bear lifespan) Gus educated and entertained over an estimated 20 million fans. An avid swimmer, he was known for his obsessive daily swims. Gus was blessed with more than just a prosperous career; he also found true love. Gus was pre-deceased by Ida, and sadly never fully recovered from his loss. Although animal therapists came to try to attempt to treat his depression, many who knew him believe that Gus had actually died of a broken heart.

The family requests that funeral services remain private.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Wildlife Conservation Society.


The dry wit of New Yorker cartoons takes on the toughest topic of all: death. We picked out some of our favorites. Check them out below.

via The New Yorker

Last year, I was getting my MBA in London. There, I met Oded, a pastry chef from Israel, who would become a dear friend to me. Each week, Oded and I would take a break from our studies and spend Sundays in the kitchen. As he measured out ingredients, I would anxiously write the recipe in my notebook, hoping to be able to recreate his yummy concoctions when I no longer had my teacher near me. 

Often, we would speak about how recipes are passed down through generations. I told him that right before my father passed away I was able to make his famous chopped liver with him (and write down the recipe, of course). Now, I bring my father’s chopped liver to all the Jewish holidays, thrilled to feel that, in some way, my dad is still present. 

Oded then showed me a picture of a famous gravestone he’d seen in Poland. He translated the engravings for me: it was the recipe for “Grandma Ida’s Nut Cookies.”  Apparently, friends and family had always asked Ida for her cookie recipe and she wanted to be sure that her family continued to bake the cookies after she was gone. 

I love the idea of using the gravestone to memorialize a recipe! And what a wonderful legacy! An epitaph of a few words rarely does justice to a life well lived. By leaving friends, family, and even strangers this recipe, a bit of Grandma Ida will remain forever. Oded and I never got around to making Grandma Ida’s nut cookies, but we’ll always have the recipe.

Coimetrophobia is the official term for a fear of cemeteries. This word doesn’t describe those who have a mere dislike of cemeteries, but rather those for whom cemeteries bring on an actual negative physical reaction. The symptoms of coimetrophobia may include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Dizziness
  • Sweating
  • Nausea
  • Shaking
  • Heart palpitations
  • The inability to speak or think clearly
  • A full-on anxiety attack!

Not your common side effects! So why does an inanimate place elicit such strong emotions? What can someone suffering do to accept this as simply a final resting place and understand that there is nothing to fear?

To be fair to those who suffer from this phobia, cemeteries have a bad reputation. Most of us are first exposed to cemeteries in the movies, where cemeteries serve as backdrops for terrifying scenes. Whether zombies are coming up from below the ground or ghosts are flying around headstones, we learned not to enter a graveyard alone!

In the modern era, cemeteries have been moved away from urban life, which means that most of us aren’t interacting with cemeteries on a daily basis—a reality that only serves to make cemeteries seem more foreign, strange, and scary. By distancing ourselves from cemeteries, we’re blocking ourselves from realizing that the image in our minds (zombies, ghosts, etc.) is has nothing to do with the reality of the cemetery. Therefore, this creepy image of the haunted cemetery remains in many minds and only perpetuates the irrational fear.

Now, that last part is important: this fear is irrational. Cemeteries will not hurt you! I learned early on, “You only fear that which you don’t know.” So, go and “know” cemeteries!

If taking a trip to a cemetery seems too daunting (or simply too weird) of a task, then start off easy: Google image “cemeteries.” (I tried this myself before suggesting it; there are actually some really beautiful images online!) Once you’ve gotten comfortable with the images, take the big leap and go to a cemetery. You can do it!

Once you’ve walked though the peaceful space, you will learn that there is nothing to fear. Cemeteries are tranquil and lush with all sorts of beautiful greenery. Take a few minutes and enjoy them and be thankful that you’ve overcome your fear.