Temple University Photo Seminar 2014 3
Table of Contents I. Death Cafe............................................11 II. Antemortem Society...............................................23 III. Near Death Experiences...................................................33 IV. Talking to the Dead...................................................45 V. Talking About Death......................53 VI. Sentiments..................................................................59
Introduction... It is impossible to visually capture a person’s understanding of death. Comprehending it, coming to terms with it- it’s something that could potentially take years. The reason for this is that each individual’s experience is personal, internal and unique. Some struggle with the loss of loved ones, others with their own mortality. It’s hard not to think about or even fear something as inevitable as death. But what is there to be afraid of? For some it is the unknown. The circumstances of each person’s death are a mystery. There is no way to know how or when one will go, or what happens after. Heaven? Reincarnation? Something else? Others worry about those they will leave behind. When does one start putting together a will? How does it work? How is it updated over time? We were able to talk to some who unexpectedly faced death, some who became accustomed with death over the course of a lifetime, and those who were left fascinated by the idea of death afterward. These are just some of the points we came across while discussing the subject of death for this project. The people we met and talked to all had different perspectives, different experiences and different concerns. This variety made our jobs all the more interesting.
“ Life is pleasant. Death is peaceful. It’s the transition that’s troublesome.”
February 26th was a chilly Wednesday night.
Contrary to the weather outside, Le Pain Quotidien at 15th and Walnut radiated a warm and inviting atmosphere. The Death CafĂŠ was set-up in the back right corner of the restaurant, and there were already some people chit-chatting when we got there.
When the awkwardness of deciding what table of random strangers to sit at was over, Simcha and Rachel, the group coordinators opened up and explained the mission of the Death CafĂŠ. Everyone was asked to stand up infront of the group and tell everyone who you are and why you are at the Death Cafe. The group coordinators handed out papers with discussion topics and a list of quotes to help kick off the conversation.
The event is a global movement that provides an atmosphere in which you can engage in open and honest discussion about Death, they are NOT group therapy sessions. When Simcha and Rachel finished, each group of 4 to 5 strangers dove right in and began talking. The people were diverse, as was the discussion. Our group of five sat in different groups to ensure that we had different experiences. The room was buzzing with conversation and waiters and waitresses serving tea, coffee, and pastries. By the end of the event, friendships were created and everyone learned something from someone else.
At first, I wasn’t sure who to sit with. I decided that the group of women in the front looked nice, so I sat down with them.
One woman was a hospice nurse of 14 years, another was a member of a seniors group, and the last one was a women who was recently hired as a hand at a hospice after she volunteered there for 3 years when her husband died. We kind of just jumped straight in and talked a lot about dying. I found it easier to talk to strangers about this kind of thing. I learned a lot about the end of life and how people handle it. The experience was enlightening to say the least. I would definitely attend another Death Café event. Something that one of the women told me at the table is something I will never forget. She said, “Think of the worst thing that ever happened in your life and how you handled it. Did you run and hide from it or did you handle it head on? That’s how you will deal with your death.” -Phil Conine
Walking into Le Pain Quotidien, I was unsure
of what group of people I would encounter that participated in a Death Café. Would they be a table of black-wearing, gothic teenagers? Would they be a group of older people, leaving me to be the youngest there? Or would there be an interesting mix between young and old?
A group of 15 people met on the 26th of February and broke up into groups of three or four. The ages ranged from early 20’s to late 60’s. My group consisted of a woman named Ann Sawyer, two men named Steven Redden and Chris Westlund, Desmond and myself. Once Rachel Zeldin and Simcha Raphael, the event organizers, let us begin talking with our groups my group hit the ground running. I was pleased that my group was able to speak freely with each other and feel as comfortable as they did with me taking notes. I was noting their personal feelings and thoughts related to death and loved ones lost. We began discussing a commonality most of the group had seemed to experience in one way or another, Cancer. Ann, Chris and Steven had all lost someone to Cancer. The conversation took a turn towards how hard it is to see a loved one give into the grips of Cancer and how difficult it is to tell them that it is okay to give in. Ann lost her biological father to Cancer a few years ago, and had a hard time dealing with his loss. When she first heard the news, she told us that she had just laughed it off. Not believing it, she tried to carry on with her daily routine. When it really hit her that he had actually died, she talked about experiencing a moment of complete clarity and yet absolute panic. She shut off from the outside world until she found someone to talk to about it.
“When people are dying, we see exactly who we are. Our worlds begin to narrow, but at the same time they begin to expand in ways those of us still living cannot understand,” said Ann. I was left contemplating this thought for a while because as I watch my grandmother age, I begin to see her as she truly is. Her personality and characteristics are more raw and unhindered, and she has no inhibitions. I also realized her world, as it is narrowing to her room and her nursing home, it is also expanding to things I cannot or do not see. The Death Café really allowed me to hear points that resonated with me from complete strangers, and I thought that was really profound. It seems that our discussion revolved around having someone to talk to about death, which ironically is why we were all at the Death Café to begin with. Five complete strangers sat together, drank tea and coffee and discussed ways we learned to cope with death. I never felt so vulnerable when I began to relate the most significant loss in my life, yet I have never felt so accepted at the same time. Ann, Chris, Steve and Desmond all sat there and listened to everything I had to say, and afterward completely understood what I had gone through. The feeling of acceptance and understanding I gleaned from that night stuck with me. I would return to the Death Café, wherever it is in the city of Philadelphia, because I was interested in discussing something I had never been able to freely talk about with anyone before. -Marissa Nicole Pina
Steve lost his wife to lung and brain Cancer two years ago, and since then he has struggled with her loss. As a result a group that he met with for 10 weeks through the hospice care his wife had, began to meet weekly even after the 10 weeks were up. Steve leads the weekly lunch, as he feels it is important to have people to talk with about loss.
When I first sat down with my Death Café group, I worried that I would have nothing to talk about. At this point in my life, the only experiences with death I’ve had have been the funerals of my great-grandparents. They were sad, of course, but I never felt significantly impacted by them. I wanted to be able to share with my group though, experience the event like every other person there would. John, a 30 year old veteran, was the first to talk after our initial introductions. His opening line: “So, who has a bucket list?” I was immediately put at ease by this light start to the conversation. We talked for a while about the concept of a bucket list, things we absolutely had to do before we passed on. I remember John bringing up a interesting point, saying that the time people spend trying to come up with a bucket list is time that could be better spent actually doing things that would be on it.
When she returned to the room and her friends told her about the racket, inquiring if her son was upstairs exercising, she informed them that there was no one else home. The photo that had been knocked off of the wall was one of her late husband, so she believed that it was his spirit checking in, and letting her know that he was watching over her. By the end of the event we had discussed a huge variety of topics ranging from family funeral customs, to different burial methods, to skewed death statistics throughout history. What I got out of this is that there is so much to think about, so much to discuss about death. It’s sad that people think it’s too touchy of a subject to do that. Death is a part of life. It is inevitable. So why not discuss it? If it was more freely discussed, maybe people wouldn’t be so afraid of it. -Courtney Marabella
From there we moved on to the idea of time. How much of it do we actually have? There is no way to know exactly when you are going to go, how it will happen, if it will be the product of a spontaneous accident or a long illness. So how do you know when to start preparing? John shared that one of the main reasons he attends the Death Cafés is to gain more of an understanding about when to start drawing up the necessary legal documents, like a will. He said he always feel like he is too young to start, but that the more assets he acquires, the more he thinks he should start thinking about it. One of the more powerful moments was when another group member, an older woman who had recently lost her husband to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), shared an experience she had had shortly after he passed. She told us that she held weekly violin practices at her home with a few friends. One day when her friends were packing up their instruments, they heard loud thumping sounds coming from upstairs, as if a large man was doing jumping-jacks. The thumping was so powerful that it ended up knocking a picture off of the wall.
I was very excited to participate in the Death Café, I’m very interested in learning about people as a whole and the Death Café seemed like a great way to learn about people’s experiences with death. Since death is a topic that people aren’t usually overly eager to talk about, I thought that going to the café would be something uncommon and interesting. I’m happy to report that I was correct in this. After getting to the café, I met up with Simcha Raphael and later with Rachel Zeldin, both of who were very eager to help out with our project. I spent some time speaking with Simcha prior to the other participants arriving to learn more about the Death Café and Simcha himself.
ran a support group, and a younger man who was a veteran. The tremendous amount of diversity allowed for much to be learned in the relatively short time that we were all together, which I thought was really cool. I would be eager to participate in another Death Café event if I could at some point. I think that there is much more to learn from these events than can be experienced in only one hour-long session. -Harrison Brink
When everybody arrived and we broke up into groups, I was in the same group as Simcha and Rachel, which was good since they really kept the flow of conversation going. It was really plain to see that both of the organizers really cared about what they were talking about as well as the event itself. Also in my group were two women, Angie and Tremain, who were very eager to share their thoughts and experiences regarding death. The group dynamic was really good, I felt, as everybody was both sharing with as well as listening to everyone else. A really great environment was created that made it comfortable to share whatever was on your mind. There was definitely no worry of people passing judgment for what you said or believed, which made me feel free to say whatever was on my mind. There was definitely a therapeutic aspect to participating in the conversation. It was like I was finally able to let out bottled up thoughts and experiences that I’ve had and never really vocalized before going to the café. It was refreshing to talk about them in a setting where it was encouraged. Many of the people who came to the Death Café came for different reasons, there was a woman who came because she wanted to host a Death Café event, an older man who lost his wife and additionally
I must admit, I was not looking forward to participating in discussions at the Death Café when we made plans to attend. My mental image of a gathering known as the “Death Café” instantly made me think of a room full of people obsessed with death, expecting me to have the same enthusiasm and fascination with the topic, when I simply do not. Whenever I arrived and sat at a table and began discussion with these folks, however, it was actually quite the contrary. For starters, I have never been to Le Pain Quotidien, a café located in the heart of Center City Philadelphia at 13th and Walnut street. This café was very cozy and comfortable, and served quality teas and small snacks. The environment alone seemed to set the mood for the entire event; friendly, open, and casual, which is not what I was expecting at all, and already, I was feeling more confident about how the rest of the night was going to turn out to be. The event split participants into small groups of 3-4 per table. I chose to sit at a table that looked a little less crowded than the others so that I could get a more personal interaction with the group that I converse with, alongside a fellow student. The group consisted of a Woman who looked to be in her late 40’s maybe early 50’s named Ann Sawyer, and elderly man in his 70’s by the name of Steven Redden, and one other fellow by the name of Chris Westlund who appeared to be in his late 40’s, early 50’s as well. When I arrived at the table, the group was already in discussion. Steven was explaining how his wife had died from Cancer, and the way he told his story really made you feel for him. Instantly, I felt a connection to this individual and the rest of the group, because my family is currently struggling with Cancer as well. The fact that Steven and I had something in common made me feel comfortable enough to speak up about my family’s situation with cancer and death, and how I have learned to cope. After I told my story, our group learned that Chris also has a family member struggling with cancer. I learned right then and
there how common this disease is, and it made me realize that I am not alone in this, which was very enlightening. By the end of the time we had to share stories and discuss death, each of us in the group was able to share a story that had to do with death, and discuss how each of us coped with the situation, what we learned from it, and what we are doing now moving on with our lives. I actually wish we had more time to talk, but unfortunately, the time was up and we had to leave because they Café was closing. We exchanged email addresses and said our goodbyes. The facilitators of the event asked that we fill out a survey, which we did, and afterwards, I left. I left the Death Café with a feeling of relief, having been able to talk to someone about a situation I am going through and topic that I am usually not comfortable talking to anyone about. What makes the Death Café work is that it’s a room full of people who have had (or are currently having) experiences with death in some form or another, and are simply looking for people to talk to who may have had the same experiences, and would like to discuss it as well. I felt like it was almost meant for me to attend this event, because I left feeling like I gained something from it, beyond going for a class project. I think that the purpose of the Death Café, in some ways, can be easily misinterpreted as being something that it actually is not. I went in feeling like I was going to have the most uncomfortable, awkward experience, but I left enlightened, considering returning for another session. -Desmond Hester
â€œ The fear of death follows from the fear of life. A
man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time.
Antemortem Society Located in the north section of Philadelphia, Laurel Hill Cemetery is host to --- grave sites spanning over a 78 acre plot of land. Prominent figures in societyâ€™s graves can be found in the cemetery along with more common people. Though Laurel Hill has been dealing with fewer burials in recent days, about five per year due to space constraints, people are still drawn to the site because of the beauty of the landscape as well as the historical value. Right inside of the main entrance to the cemetery is a museum where people can go to learn about the cemetery and the people in it. People can also go and receive guided tours of the museum and the cemetery itself from Laurel Hillâ€™s staff. In addition to being a cemetery, Laurel Hill is host to a non-profit organization called the Friends of Laurel Hill Cemetery. As a part of this organization, young adults can explore the cemetery on guided tours and events.
â€œ No one can confidently say that he will still be living tomorrow.â€?
Near Death Experiences
Bethany Conrad and Rowan Conrad-Peterson
Imagine being seven months pregnant and being told you have to deliver the baby two months early or he would have a 50/50 percent chance of living. Now, imagine being induced and suddenly everything spins out of your control. Your nurses are running around screaming, and your whole world is closing in. What do you do? Bethany Conrad, 23, faced this exact situation only 10 months ago. She had a normal pregnancy leading up to seven months in, which is when she developed a condition called preeclampsia, which when left untreated can be fatal to both the mother and the child. Preeclampsia means the mother’s blood pressure has increased dramatically; there is too much protein in the body and the placenta stops working. Conrad was then admitted to the hospital, and within 24 hours was on the operating table ready to have a caesarian section. The procedure began like any normal C-section would, but once the nurses administered the spinal block the delivery took a turn for the worst. Conrad recalled the events following the medication, and it was clear that the entire room was sent into a panic. “My nurses were calling out Rowan’s heartbeat per minute, and for a normal baby its supposed to be 140, but as she was monitoring she called out 140, 120, 80, 40, and all of a sudden she screamed ‘Missy!’, who was my doctor…she didn’t even have time to scrub in,” said Conrad. As the nurses monitored Rowan’s dropping heartbeat, they hit the ‘Code’ button, to notify the hospital that a patient’s heart was failing. Conrad noted that once her doctor ran in, they were able to deliver Rowan in a matter of seconds. Meanwhile, Conrad herself was facing critical conditions. Her heart rate was dropping along with Rowan’s and as her baby was delivered, Conrad said the room went black. When she awoke, she noticed a defibrillator to her right and realized that the ‘Code’ button had been hit for her as well. Conrad had flat lined, and needed to be brought back using a defibrillator. I asked what she had seen, if anything, when she flat lined as the room when black. Conrad told me that she had told everyone previously she only saw black, but what she really saw was her best friend who had died a few years previously. He was just standing there telling her, “you can do this, you were made to do this.” Conrad and Rowan both experienced life on the precipice of death and because they were both brought back healthier than expected, she has faith that there may be something looking out for her and her baby. She has now been made into a believer, she believes that there is an afterlife and she doesn’t have to be afraid of it anymore. -Words by Marissa Nicole Pina
Near Death Experiences
Near Death Experiences
Near Death Experiences
“ Die before you die, so that when you die, you will not die.”
-Egyptian Book of the Dead
Talking to the Dead
Near Death Experiences
Believing in Paranormal Communication Sometimes, things happen that cannot be explained. An object goes missing and is found somewhere completely out of the ordinary, the television turns on suddenly without anyone touching the remote, a door shuts with no one pushing it. Some can shrug these thing off, chalk it up to some sort of weird atmospheric activity. Others believe these are the product of a spirit, a ghost, a presence, checking in to say hello, make themselves evident. According to a Gallup poll, 73 percent of Americans believe in some sort of paranormal phenomena. This “phenomena” falls into multiple different categories, such as extrasensory perception (41 percent), spirits or ghosts (32 percent), communication with the dead (21 percent), and spirits channeling into humans (9 percent). One of the main fascinations people have is communicating with the dead. Some use Ouija boards, some consult psychics and mediums, and some seem to have their own, personal abilities to communicate with loved ones who have passed, or other random entities. When it comes to the loss of loved ones, Dr. Camille Wortman, who studies grief with a concentration in sudden, dramatic loss, believes that communication can be source of comfort. In an article she wrote for PBS, entitled “Communicating With the Deceased,” she addresses claims by some experts that communication with passed loved ones is a sign of maladjustment or denial, that in order to move passed a death one must relinquish emotional connection to the deceased. She believes that no form of emotional cutoff needs to happen, and that communication can be a form of comfort and solace for people. These experiences make people feel that their loved ones are not gone forever, and that they’re content, wherever they are. These experiences can come in many forms. Some people see visions of their loved ones, others can have full on conversations with them. Many report feeling a strong presence, as though the person is in
the room with them, watching over them. Others see their loved ones come to them in dreams. She states a majority of people studied, 63 percent, have felt some kind of presence at one time or another. Those who can’t make this communication themselves, but still want to contact their loved ones, may find themselves consulting mediums. A medium is a person who is often used as a spiritual intermediary between the living and the dead. They can contact, communicate with, and express the feelings of the dead for their loved ones. Much like people who experience communication themselves, having a medium contact a loved one can provide comfort or put people at ease. However, there has been some backlash when it comes to mediums, psychics, or others who claimed to have these supernatural abilities. Skeptics think they are merely con-artists, stealing money from vulnerable people. Now, there is no evidence to support that all mediums and psychics are scammers, but there have been certain instances where people have been caught doing just that. In 2011, a Fort Lauderdale family who claimed to be psychics was prosecuted for allegedly scamming people out of 40 million dollars of the course of 20 years. These people were trusted clients, who thought they were being helped. Some of the acts committed included family members offering to get rid of a curses for a fee, and telling people that good things would happen if they “sacrificed” a sum of money, or that a loved one would come back to them if they paid off the family. Believing in the paranormal, in ghosts, in communication with the dead- it is something that can’t concretely be supported or refuted. People either believe or they don’t. There is no solid evidence for or against either argument. But if people are able to find comfort in the practice, who’s to say it’s bad? It’s like believing in an after life, reincarnation or Heaven. If it helps, it can’t really be wrong.
Talking to the Dead
Talking to the Dead
“ Death is the last enemy: once we’ve get past that I think everything will be alright.”
-Alice Thomas Ellis
Talking About Death
Talking to the Dead
Cancer Patients’ Deaths Affect Nurses Too Cancer has been engrained in our culture
for some time now. The relatively mysterious disease has become the second most common cause of death in the United States, following heart disease. There is no known cure for Cancer and according to the American Cancer Society, half of all men and one-third of all women in the United States will develop Cancer at some point in their lives. Patients who seek treatment for their Cancer have a hard road ahead of them, as well. Mallory Phillips, a radiologic technician studying to become a radiation therapist at Reading Health System, a group of hospitals in the Reading area, says, “Coming in for cancer treatments means being in pain and being very physically ill for months, being exhausted, being broke from medical bills, losing your job and being depressed. If you do not have anyone to help to support you physically, emotionally, spiritually and financially, you will give up and lose the battle. No one can do it alone.” With the odds seemingly stacked against them, it is easy to imagine that Cancer patients are put under tremendous amounts of stress by their situation. However, there is another group of people who are greatly affected by the disease, the nurses who treat Cancer patients. Nurses dealing with Cancer patients have a tremendous amount of pressure put on them because of the nature of their jobs. People depend on them to care for them, deliver the correct amount of medications to them, and even save their lives. However, not everybody can be saved and thousands upon thousands of people die every year of Cancer. More specifically, 354,189 people died in Pennsylvania from Cancer in the last ten years. For the nurses, the deaths of their patients, can be a sad but enlightening experience. Some of these patients have even become their close friends. “I develop amazing relationships with my patients. I never knew what courage was until I met patients who were dying of cancer,” explains Phillips,
“I do know patients who have died of cancer. I have known patients who died during their treatments. The one thing I can say is that I learned that sometimes things are out of your control and you have to accept it and make the most of it.” Each nurse tends to develop a special bond with patients, because the span of time they care for them can last for a couple of months to even a couple of years. According to most nurses, losing a patient never gets easier. “Losing a patient is probably the hardest part of the job,” says Laura Mackin, a surgical oncology nurse at Fox Chase Cancer Center, “I’ve had several patients pass but the first one was the hardest on me.” Many patients are a part of their nurses’ lives while they are being treated, and when they pass, they can leave a hole where they once were in that nurses’ life. Mackin recounts her experience with a particular patient she had, “We had this one patient who had pancreatic cancer. He was in his 60s and just a great man. His wife spent everyday at his bedside. His kids always visited and made sure he was comfortable. He suffered several complications and eventually his cancer got the best of him. He spent about two months on our floor and in that time most of the nurses came to think of them as friends. It was very hard when he passed and still many of us reflect on his time at Fox Chase.” Despite all of the death that the nurses deal with, they still allow their experiences to affect them positively. “You do have those bad days but you also have those great days when a doctor tells a patient that they are now cancer free.” Mackin said, “I’m always learning about the will of humans and how some can take a bad time in their lives and make it a learning experience. It makes me live my life to the fullest and to live with no regrets.”
words by Harrison Brink Contemplating Death
Talking About Death
Growing up with Death Angie Alpizar Junior MSP major at Temple University >>M: How have you been directly impacted by death or dying?
>>M: How do you feel about death now, what is your perspective on it?
>>A: Um, Well, my great-grandmother was the last one in my family, in Costa Rica; she would prepare bodies for the funeral. So when someone would die they would carry the body to her house and she would, like, wash them and dress them so they look nice. And they would a lot of times leave the bodies there overnight so my mom, was born in Costa Rica too, and she would grow up with like dead bodies in the living room that she would have to walk by whenever she went to the bathroom. Well I think its cool at least. And so I heard those growing up and then, I guess impacted, I don’t really know.
>>A: I’m not scared about death at all. I do believe in an afterlife, and I don’t know I don’t think its something that worries me. I don’t live my life concerned about like, when I’m going to die or what’s going to happen afterwards.
My dad died when I was a freshman in high school. But we didn’t have the closest relationship, like I didn’t know him too well. So, I mean, yeah I had a parent who died but not like um, one that was in my life so. Its not, I don’t want to say it’s not that impactful because that sounds cold but kind of.
>>M: Anything else you would like to add about death? >>A: I think that I would never want to be buried. I think um, I tell my mom all the time that I’m going to have her cremated and me and my sister are going to divide it and throw her ashes wherever. But, I don’t think, I think its just kind of a waste being buried because I never go see my dad or any other relatives. I don’t visit their graves at all. I think you can remember a person without having to physically visit a place where all the graves are. transcribed by Marissa Nicole Pina
>>M: How did you learn about death and dying, what lead you to be interested in it? Did your mother talk to you extensively about your past? >>A: I think I only learned about my family’s history in preparing bodies probably when I was a teenager. But I remember when I was four my mom had a miscarriage. And afterwards, I remember one morning she pulled me to her room and read me this book about death to help me understand. So I think that was the first time I ever had a talk about what dying means.
Talking About Death
â€œ I learned early to keep death in my line of sight,
keep it under my surveillance, keep it on cleared ground and away from any brush where it might coil unnoticed.
Talking About Death
Courtney Marabella... Death, in my family, is a drawn out thing. When someone dies, you spend two days at the house, with other family members, eating, making arrangements, reminiscing. Then there are the wakes. I’ve never really understood the point of a wake, why it’s necessary to be in a room with a dead body for hours on end, but it’s what we do. Usually, there are two or three wakes. Then there is the funeral, a church service, you go to the cemetery, and then there is the repass. All of the times I’ve experienced a death in the family, this has been the formula. Maybe my family is old fashioned. We just have certain way of doing things. Every wake has been at the same funeral home, every service at the same church, every repass at the same restaurant. It’s weird to think about death, funerals, loss, as a formulaic thing, but for some families it can be.
This has really been my experience with death so far.
As far as thinking about death, I guess I try to be rational. I mean, it’s inevitable; no matter what I do, it is going to happen. It only seems logical to come to terms with it, accept it, not dwell on it. And I have, for the most part. I don’t really worry about dying, or how I’m going to die. I figure, when it happens, it will happen. There is no controlling it. Now, that’s not to say that I’m always completely rational in my thinking. I do have my crazy fears sometimes. Whenever I board a plane, I literally have to drug myself to calm my nerves. I know it’s one of the safest modes of transportation, but something about being in a metal tube, thirty thousand feet in the air screams, “you’re going to die” to me. I guess my strongest feeling about death concern my family members. I’ve never really lost anyone super close to me, and the thought of it scares me to death (no pun intended). In all seriousness, I can come to terms with dying, myself, but thinking about loved ones dying isn’t really something I can handle. And again, it’s one of those things I know is going to happen at some point; but it scares me more than anything. But what can you do? Living by the corny clichés seems to be the way to go. Spend time with the people you love. Do fun things. All of that good stuff. Forget stupid fights you’ve had with friends or siblings. Text your parents goodnight. Tell them you love them. Send silly pictures of yourself to siblings. Pet your dog for an extra minute. Whatever you need to do to be at peace with how you’ve left something, just in case something happens. It just seems right.
Desmond Hester... Death, to me, is something that almost seems unreal when you experience it for the first time in your life. Whether it’s the death of a parent, grandparent, sibling, friend, or any loved one, I don’t think you fully understand the finality of death until you experience it first hand. When I experienced the death of a loved one in my life for the first time, I had a hard time believing that person was really gone. In my mind, I felt that I could still pick up the phone and call this person, but when reality sets in, it could really be hard to handle at times for me. But after experiencing death for the first time in life, I feel like other deaths you experience become a little easier to handle. You understand that death is the only thing guaranteed in life, and that eventually, you will die is well. Again, for me, this is something that was hard for me to swallow, knowing that one day I am not going to be on this Earth any longer; it takes time to accept this, and when you do, I think you begin to appreciate life a little more. I don’t like to think about death, and I usually don’t like talking about death much either. However, I feel like it is necessary in some ways. When you understand and accept death, at least more than you have in the past, to the point where you can have an open discussion about it, I think it becomes a little less scary, and more realistic. Life is amazing in general, I try not to take anything for granted, knowing that my days are limited, and I hope that this project can help others understand and accept death a little more, like it has done for me.
I had somewhat of an interesting childhood
in that I wasn’t really taught what death was. My mother was raised Catholic and my father was raised Protestant more or less, so I knew about the concept of Heaven growing up, but it wasn’t hard-pressed into my mind as a child. My parents wanted their children to grow up more with their own individual beliefs rather than their parents’. As a result of this upbringing, I wound up coming up with my own theories about what happened when a person died. As a child, I always liked the idea of reincarnation, that basically your soul left your body when you died and entered the body of a newborn human or animal. I fairly frequently thought about what it would be like when I died when I was growing up. I wondered if I would be able to stick around and see how everybody I knew who was still alive was doing or if I would just wake up as someone else and not remember who I used to be or, what is most unsettling to me, if it just ends with nothing. It’s hard for me to imaging life ending and that being all for you. Life seems like such a profound thing that it feels to me that death should just start a new chapter, rather than to end the story outright. Outside of my head, death has also been a strange thing. I have been very fortunate and lost only one of my grandparents this far into my life. My maternal grandmother died of Cancer when I was in the third grade. Having her leave my life seemingly forever was a transition of sorts for me as a child. It was like I had become somehow less innocent. I was no longer invincible; people I had known all my life and loved could now die and there was nothing that I could do about it.
She had been battling Cancer and diabetes for a long time and she honestly seemed invincible. One day, my mom told me that she was in the hospital and frankly, I thought very little of it. A few days later, we went and visited her. She was in a lot of pain and couldn’t really talk much. I still assumed that she would just get better. I left the room to go to work with a casual goodbye kiss, as if I would just see her again the next day or week or whenever. That night, she died. The experience was another jolting one for me at first, she seemed like she would be around forever, sitting in her chair at Thanksgiving, knitting. But the next Thanksgiving, her chair was empty. A funny thing happened after her death, though. At her funeral, though everybody was sad that she was gone, it actually felt like a happy occasion. Everyone was happy to see one another and it was like a family reunion. It was a rare occasion where people at a funeral actually did celebrate someone’s life rather than mourn their death. I think that this is because we all knew that she had lived a very full life and that she had lived it the way that she wanted to. In short, she was ready to die. She was a very Christian woman and I think that she passed away certain that she would be welcomed into Heaven. And if there is a Heaven, I’m sure she was welcomed. I think that when it comes to my loved ones, I take a lot of comfort in their faith. Both my grandmother and my aunt lived Christian lives and I think that they were comforted by that in the end, and it makes me feel better that they had some kind of comfort when they passed, though I am not at all religious.
The next time I dealt with a very significant family death was when my great aunt passed away. Sentiments
Marissa Nicole Pina... Death. A word that for some is full of pain, sorrow, or even depression. For other people death
could mean something hopeful, peaceful, or final. When we talk about death, it’s usually in a quiet manner, so as to not upset anyone. This project really helped me to see that Death is nothing more than a natural, normal thing and we should treat it as such. I’ve been touched by death in a couple of ways; as a matter of fact no one is an exception. We’ve all experienced death in one-way or another. Within the last few months, I’ve lost my greatgrandmother who at 100 years old was such an influential person in every member of my family’s lives. I’ve had friends try to end their life, and I’ve had a friend who succeeded in his efforts to commit suicide. It was my junior year of high school, four years ago, and on a Monday morning in school it was announced over the loud speakers that George, one of my closest friends, had died. It was all so surreal, hearing that my friend had died alongside the rest of my high school where to half of the student body, they had no idea who he was. I was completely crushed and at the same time I had hoped it was a mistake, that it wasn’t my friend. When I had arrived at the English class we took together, that was when I finally realized this wasn’t a mistake. My teacher and a guidance counselor sat in front of all of us, and with teary eyes and choked voices; they told us he had committed suicide. I don’t remember much of the rest of the day because I had just sat there crying. I pulled myself together only to fall back apart in my mother’s arms when I got home from school. I had tried to forget about that day but when I started this project with the Death Café, I had to talk about it. I hadn’t talked about his death in almost four years and it was startling how upset I was after all this time. Since I have seen so many friends and relatives struggle with depression and suicidal thoughts, I have never really been able to move past it. I learned recently that my Aunt had actually committed suicide as well. Suicide is such a tragic and open-ended death. I was left thinking what was it that I could have done? What could I have said or did differently? Of course, there is really nothing I could have done. When someone is struggling so much with something, there often times is no way to see it or to help him or her. I struggle to understand how one could want to end their life so hastily. I can barely think about the idea of my own death. In a way I guess you could say I fear it. I am only afraid to die because I do not want to leave my loved ones behind, I don’t want to not accomplish anything before I die, nor do I know for sure what will be waiting for me once it all goes black. I take comfort in knowing that death is inevitable and inescapable for all. If there is an afterlife of some sort, maybe I will be able to see them again. And when it’s my time, I guess I’ll know for sure.
Death really scares the hell out of a lot of people. At this moment in my life, I am
not afraid of death. After all, death just means that my body will cease to function. My body will die, not me. My energy will remain and my spirit will forever be a part of the universe. If you live your life in fear of God and the Devil, then you most certainly will not have a peaceful death and afterlife. God is a part of everything in this universe and when I die, my energy will be a part of God too. Just as I can feel my grandfatherâ€™s energy when I hear a record he used to play, you will be able to feel my energy when something sparks a memory of me. Death does not mean you are gone forever. To me, it is just like being born. You are forced out of the world you know and cast into a different reality.