Scott Simon, host of NPR's Weekend Edition Saturday, has been sitting with his mother in a hospital Intensive Care Unit during her final days. He's been chronicling their time together on his Twitter feed with grace, humor, and heartbreaking honesty.
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For as long as I can remember, every night when my dad would arrive home from work and turn the handle on the apartment door, my family’s 100-pound black Labrador, Maggie, would run full speed ahead towards it and launch herself onto him. It was her (slightly slobbery) way of welcoming him home. After my dad got sick, though, we decided we had to put an end to the ritual.
When he returned home from the hospital, weak from the blasts of chemotherapy he’d received, we were concerned that Maggie would knock him down. So I entered the apartment first and held Maggie by the collar, hoping I was strong enough to restrain her. As dad walked in I tightened my grip, ready for Maggie to fling herself at him. And Maggie did use all her might to break free from me. But then something amazing happened: she walked over to dad and started linking his fingers. She was gentle and restrained and yet still full of love. And from then on dad’s loyal four-legged companion remained by his side at all times, sometimes even nudging the port in his chest with her cold wet nose.
We thought Maggie was incredible—so intuitive! So understanding! And, to be fair, she was. But my family was not alone in our magical experience of our dog’s capacity for love and comfort when my dad was sick. She was a dog, and canines in general are impressive; in so many ways, dogs just know. And because they are such extraordinary creatures, they’re hired not only to assist the physically impaired (guide dogs for the blind, for example), but also to help those who are in need of emotional and psychological support.
Over 40 years ago, a nurse named Elaine Smith noticed the positive reactions that hospital patients had to a chaplain’s Golden Retriever who would go on rounds with him. Smith started taking dogs to nursing homes, where the dogs brought both companionship and comfort to the elderly. In 1976 she founded Therapy Dogs International, a volunteer organization that helps certify comfort dogs, known as “therapy dogs,” and makes them available to people who need them.
Now, dogs are welcomed in hospitals and in therapeutic settings, where they recognized for bringing happiness and psychological comfort. After the school shooting in Newtown, CT, a team of Golden Retrievers was brought into the classrooms to soothe the children who witnessed the tragedy. And after the Boston bombing earlier this year, dogs were brought to visit the victims in the hospital.
Dogs have the instinctive ability to sense when a person is in need of love and affection, and also to provide it. Maggie didn’t know any of the details of my dad’s illness, but she did know that he needed love—and she gave him that, fully and selflessly.
What if cellular death doesn't happen all at once, with an organism's cells dying simultaneously, but rather in a wave, with death spreading from cell to cell? A new study recently published in the journal PLOS Biology proposes this very idea—and suggests that scientists may be able to stop this "cellular death wave" before the entire organism has died.
David Gems at the Institute of Health Aging at University College London, who led the study, explained:
“We’ve identified a chemical pathway of self-destruction that propagates cell death in worms, which we see as this glowing blue fluorescence traveling through the body. It’s like a blue grim reaper, tracking death as it spreads throughout the organism until all life is extinguished.
“We found that when we blocked this pathway, we could delay death induced by a stress such as infection, but we couldn’t slow death from old-age. This suggests that aging causes death by a number of processes acting in parallel.
"The findings cast doubt on the theory that aging is simply a consequence of an accumulation of molecular damage. We need to focus on the biological events that occur during aging and death to properly understand how we might be able to interrupt these processes.”
A few weeks after my father died, long after the funeral and shiva were over, it hit me that my dad was really gone. Since I’d lost a piece of myself (metaphorically), I thought I would add a bit (literally): I would get a tattoo in remembrance of my beloved dad.
I went to announce my decision to my family; I was so proud to tell them that I was a willing to endure the pain of hundreds of tiny needles to have my dad’s initials, B.M., forever displayed on my body. My mother responded, “B.M.? Really, Elizabeth? You are going to have ‘bowel movement’ written on you? Are you going to have it on your bum? You’ve lost your father, don’t lose your mind.” Mom won that round, and 6 years later I’ve yet to get my father’s name as a tattoo.
But lots of other people do. While I’m still not completely over the idea, I’m not really a tattoo person, and it’s probably never going to happen for me. But everywhere I go—on the street, on the subway, at the coffee shop, and especially online—I see people with memorial tattoos. After spending more than a little time perusing selfies online, I’ve come to the conclusion that, while some people have gotten tattoos that are true works of art, others probably wish they had a mom like mine to convince them to hold off.
Here are some of my favorite memorial tattoos for dads that I’ve found recently:
I’m fixated on and fascinated by memorial tattoos, and in the coming months I’m going to be writing more about memorial tattoos and sharing more photos that I find. If you have a memorial tattoo, I would love to see a picture and hear the story behind it. Please share in the comments below.
Public speaking is really hard for most of us. Speaking at a funeral, when emotions are heightened, can feel even more challenging. But whether you're delivering a eulogy or reading a poem or prayer, know that you can do it! To help, I’ve put together a few helpful tips to help you successfully speak at a funeral or memorial service.
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It's official: Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Cambridge (aka Kate Middleton) has given birth to her internationally anticipated baby. And it's a boy, delivered at 4:24 GMT.
Considering how buttoned-up everything is at Buckingham Palace, it's likely that new parents Kate and William won't dawdle in completing all the New Parent Estate Planning Tasks—writing a will, purchasing life insurance, setting up trusts, and naming a power of attorney. And if you're a new parent (or a not-so-new parent who just hasn't gotten around to it yet), we'd like to encourage you to get your estate plan in order, too. Cheerio!
Marcus Daly is a former wooden boat builder who took his skills and became a casket maker. Daly crafts exceptionally personalized and beautiful caskets, but what separates them most from others is the love and respect that he puts into each and every casket he makes.
This soft-spoken craftsman preaches the importance of carrying the casket and physically “shouldering the burden.” He feels that by making burial “too convenient...we’re depriving ourselves of a chance to get stronger so that we can carry on.” Daly notes that by physically holding the deceased and committing them to the ground you are not only offering a final helping hand to the person who died, but also helping yourself to move past the loss.
My takeaway from this video, and a strong belief that I've held for years, is that we as a culture should take a more active role in funeral rites and rituals. I agree with Marcus Daly: by bringing ourselves closer to the people we love who've died we may find inner peace and strength.
A viewer of my videos wrote in: "I'm going to a Catholic wake for the first time. Will there be an open casket? What if I'm too nervous to look at the body?"
The death of a celebrity is often a complicated emotional experience for many people. Though we didn't really "know" the person, many of us feel strong connections to our favorite stars. And for young people, these feelings of attachment may be even stronger.
Glee star Cory Monteith was found dead this weekend in a Vancouver hotel room. There are lots of rumors online about the cause of death (possibly drug-related) and many poeple are mourning him on Twitter. If you have kids—young children, tweens, or teens—who are Glee fans, there's a good chance they've already heard the news, and might be taking it hard. Here are three tips for how to help your kids deal with the death of a celebrity:
1. Acknowledge what your kids are feeling. Anger, sadness, confusion, fear, and frustration (among many others) are all natural emotional responses to a death. Even though you may not feel affected by the loss, acknowledge that your kid does. This will let your kid know that it's okay to feel these ways, and will create a space where your child will feel comfortable expressing his or her feelings.
2. Make sure they understand who died. Depending on how young your kids are, there may be some confusion over who died: Cory Monteith, the actor, or Finn Hudson, the character he played on Glee. You might explain to your kids that even though the actor is gone, they'll always be able to watch the character he played.
3. Participate in your kids' mourning. Some kids may want to watch a marathon of Glee episodes, others may want to comb the Internet for pictures of the actor, and others may want not to think about the loss at all. However your child is expressing his or her feelings, try to be there with your kid. You might not have the stamina for 3 hours of Glee reruns, but letting your child know that you're interested in participating in his or her experience can go a long way to making your kid feel safe and comfortable.
As the Muslim holiday of Ramadan arrived this week, I found myself thinking about Ramadan and funerals. Ramadan, which falls every year on the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, is a month-long observance during which Muslims fast and pray during the day in an effort to increase their focus on the teachings of Islam. Because Muslims have many rules around funerals and caring for the dead, and because there are so many rules around how one should behave during Ramadan, I wondered what happens when death and Ramadan intersect. Fortunately, I have many Muslim friends who were willing to (patiently!) answer my questions.
Question: Is it more holy to die during Ramadan than at other times?
My Internet searches temporarily convinced me that if a person dies during Ramadan it’s considered to be very holy. But when I spoke to my friend Mohammad he informed me that this is just a myth. He explained that according to Muslim belief, Allah doesn’t favor any of his followers, and so he wouldn’t make some holier than others by allowing them to die as more holy than others.
Question: Can a Muslim funeral be held during Ramadan?
Muslims believe that the body should be buried as soon as possible after the death has occurred. This holds true even if the death happens during Ramadan.
Question: Could a Muslim travel to attend a funeral during Ramadan?
Muslims are expected to attend services at a mosque every day during Ramadan, which can seemingly make traveling difficult. But Muslims may in fact travel, so long as they pray five times a day as they normally would at home. And if a person is traveling during Ramadan, he’s actually exempt from the daily fasting (though he should fast for the number of days he missed after Ramadan is over to make up those days).
Question: Can a Muslim attend the funeral of a non-Muslim?
Some strident believers may feel that simply entering a place of worship that is not a mosque is sinful, and that showing respect for one who didn’t follow The Prophet Muhammad would be wrong. My friends, many of who are devout Muslims, unanimously disagreed with this attitude. All said that they would show respect for their friend by attending the funeral, and don’t believe in any way that attending the funeral of a non-Muslim would displease Allah.
Question: So, is there any difference in funeral rituals if the death occurs during Ramadan or if it happens any other time of the year?
Answer: Yes, but it’s a small one.
After the person who died is buried, the family gathers at the home of the deceased (or a close family relative) for the next three days. Typically friends and family visit the home between roughly 8:30am and 10:00pm. In that time, the guests are usually served food and drink while they pray for the person who died. During Ramadan, however, guests arrive at the home hours later and stay much later (sometimes even until 2:00 am). And because Muslims fast during the day during Ramadan, guests will not be offered food or drink until after sundown.
For more on Muslim funeral traditions, please check out our article Muslim Funeral Traditions. And Ramadan Mubarak to everyone!