I first saw the story on Twitter. Dr. Ben Janaway, NHS psychiatrist, educator and mental health advocate, posted a photo of himself at the gym — but this was not the usual workout selfie. His jaw set, his face grim, Ben explained that turning pain into physical activity helped him to grieve.
I have followed Ben for a while, though we aren’t personally acquainted outside the digital stratosphere. We both have interests in health access and social justice, and Ben — himself a doctor — is open about his own struggles with mental health. …
It’s a wistful image. The unknown woman seems pensive, gazing reflectively into the foreground. Her head rests upon lace, possibly her own handiwork, and behind is a shelf of small vials, the homemaker’s apothecary. She is graceful, quiet, restive.
In truth, the woman is dead.
The picture (below) was taken postmortem, her body poised under the direction of memento mori photographers using the daguerreotype processes (iodine-sensitized silvered plate and mercury vapor).
Why go through all this trouble? The nineteenth century saw a sudden and increased interest in public cemeteries and mourning rituals of all kinds (such as brooches made of…
A procession makes its way along a high ridge in the mountains. Dressed in bright colors, a group of Buddhist mourners beat hand-held drums by turning them side to side in rhythm. The steady plok-plok is accompanied by the ringing of bells and the singing of chants that echo in the thin air of high altitude.
Above them, as if in expectation, soar a host of griffin-vultures. This slow-marching party and its feathered heralds head for a sacred cliff at the roof of the world; for this is Tibet, and this is a sky burial.
For most Westerners, the idea…
Death is not a thing, but things: a process of emotions, states of being, suddenly shifting relationships, the buzz of needful activity, an empty chair, a dialed number that doesn’t connect. In the clutches of grief, death may seem like a single event, the running down of a curtain beyond which none of us can see — but it is also a path, a journey, a process.
Knowing this more deeply can help us to grieve.
In 2015, I published a book. It began like this:
“A wake,” my mother said. “To sit with the dead.”
We were on our way to West Virginia, to an unremarkable two-story colonial where my grandfather’s remains had been washed and laid out for viewing. It had been raining all night, but apparently no one in this homey funeral parlor had been sleeping. They’d been sitting up with the body. Sitting up — with the body — all night.
There are no good adjectives to describe my feelings about this. I was seventeen and grieving, but I wasn’t horrified. Shocked…
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