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kottke.org posts about death

Honoring Ruth Bader Ginsburg

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 23, 2020

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg lying in repose on the portico of the US Supreme Court building

That’s the flag-draped casket of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg lying in repose on the portico of The Supreme Court Building. From the Washington Post (link is mine):

Her casket was placed on the Lincoln catafalque, built for President Abraham Lincoln’s casket in 1865, and surrounded by an arrangement of the justice’s favorite flowers, including white hydrangea, freesia and white tea roses.

Members of the public can pay their respects until 10pm today and from 9am-10pm tomorrow. On Friday, her casket will be moved to the US Capitol, where she will become the first ever woman to lie in state there.

Washington National Cathedral Bell Tolls for 200,000 Covid-19 Victims

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 21, 2020

In the next day or two, the official number of people who have died from Covid-19 in the United States will pass 200,000 (the actual death toll passed 200,000 back in July). To mark the grim occasion yesterday, the Washington National Cathedral tolled its mourning bell 200 times in remembrance, once for each 1000 people who have died.

We toll this 12-ton bell for every funeral held at the Cathedral. Funerals mourn the loss, but they also celebrate the lives of our loved ones, and point us to the hope of resurrection.

This gesture cannot replace the lives lost, but we hope it will help each American mourn the toll of this pandemic.

The tolling goes on for more than 19 minutes and you hear a number of deaths equal to 9/11 every 17 seconds. I recommend listening as long as you are able, to remember those who have been lost, and to inspire action so that 200,000 more Americans don’t have to die before this is all over.

See also A Time Lapse World Map of Every Covid-19 Death from back in July.

Grief and Witness in a Pandemic Ravaged Country

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 02, 2020

For Vanity Fair, novelist Jesmyn Ward writes about losing her husband just before the pandemic descended on America. She begins:

My Beloved died in January. He was a foot taller than me and had large, beautiful dark eyes and dexterous, kind hands. He fixed me breakfast and pots of loose-leaf tea every morning. He cried at both of our children’s births, silently, tears glazing his face. Before I drove our children to school in the pale dawn light, he would put both hands on the top of his head and dance in the driveway to make the kids laugh. He was funny, quick-witted, and could inspire the kind of laughter that cramped my whole torso.

It’s not long, but make some time for this one.

“The Morning You Die, I Don’t Want to Be There”

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 20, 2020

From Dr. Anna DeForest, a devastating article — a prose poem almost — in The New England Journal of Medicine: The New Stability.

This is the day you start to turn. What we suck up from your lungs turns frothy pink and then the frank red of blood. We don’t know if your heart is finally failing or if the virus has destroyed so much tissue that this is necrosis, hemorrhaged in your lungs. There are tests, but no one willing to run them — you are too sick, and you have never cleared the virus. No one would ever want to be what you are now: a hazard, a threat, a frightening object on the edge of death. We try not to touch you. We construct our plans for saving you around staying as far away from you as possible.

I tell your husband about the blood. It’s true that nothing else has changed: your struggling lungs, with help, still take in air, your heart, with help, still brags along. “But she is stable,” he asks, barely a question. Why do I lie? “Yes,” I say, “for now.”

DeForest wrote this in early May as Covid-19 cases peaked at her hospital in New Haven. The country and its leaders ignored this and now cases are spiking in many hospitals all around the country now. Just some sniffles, though, nothing to bother anyone about.

A Time Lapse World Map of Every Covid-19 Death

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 08, 2020

From January to the end of June, over 500,000 people died of confirmed cases of Covid-19. In order to demonstrate the magnitude of the pandemic, James Beckwith made a time lapse map of each Covid-19 death.

Each country is represented by a tone and an expanding blip on the map when a death from Covid-19 is recorded. Each day is 4 seconds long, and at the top of the screen is the date and a counter showing the total numbers of deaths. Every country that has had a fatality is included.

As was the case with the pandemic, the video starts slow but soon enough the individual sounds and blips build to a crescendo, a cacophony of death. The only way this could be made more ominous & upsetting is by including the first song off of Cliff Martinez’s Contagion soundtrack as a backing track. As Beckwith notes in the description: “It is likely a sequel will need to be made.” (via open culture)

Mass Covid-19 Death in Brazil

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 26, 2020

My God, this aerial photo of dozens of recent graves in the Nossa Senhora Aparecida cemetery in Manaus, Brazil:

Brazil Covid-19 graves

The photo is one of several from In Focus’s look at the Thousands of Burials Across Latin America. Brazil has 1.2 million confirmed Covid-19 cases, second most in the world (but only half the total of the US) and 55,000 confirmed deaths, though the number is likely much higher when you take excess mortality rates into account. Way back in April, when the reported death toll in Brazil was only (only!) ~3300, NPR reported on the mass graves and modified funeral procedures that were necessary due to Covid-19 and the Brazilian government’s disastrous response to it.

Yet the coronavirus has introduced a new kind of horror. The Nossa Senhora Aparecida cemetery has begun using backhoes to dig mass graves.

This has become “the only option” because it is “humanly impossible” to dig the required number of graves, says Viana, who runs a funeral company and is president of the Syndicate of Funeral Businesses in Amazonas.

According to Viana, the city’s daily average of deaths has risen from 30 to more than 100. The mayor’s office confirmed to NPR that there have been 340 burials just in the past three days. In most cases, the cause of death was listed as unknown, said a city hall spokeswoman.

City authorities are in little doubt that COVID-19 victims account for most of the spike. This means the virus is taking a far deadlier toll on Manaus than the official count of 172 virus-related deaths suggests. The reported death toll throughout Brazil is 3,313.

Video footage has appeared online showing the collapse of Manaus’ burial services and public hospitals. In one, corpses lie on beds in a hospital alongside live patients undergoing treatment. Another shows a line of vans waiting to deliver bodies for burial at the Nossa Senhora Aparecida cemetery.

The many layers of trauma from the pandemic are going to resonate for decades in places like Brazil and the US. Decades.

What To Do About Our Collective Pandemic Grief Before It Overwhelms Us

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 26, 2020

For That Discomfort You’re Feeling Is Grief, HBR’s Scott Berinato interviewed David Kessler, who he calls “the world’s foremost expert on grief”, about what we’re collectively feeling as we deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.

HBR: People are feeling any number of things right now. Is it right to call some of what they’re feeling grief?

Kessler: Yes, and we’re feeling a number of different griefs. We feel the world has changed, and it has. We know this is temporary, but it doesn’t feel that way, and we realize things will be different. Just as going to the airport is forever different from how it was before 9/11, things will change and this is the point at which they changed. The loss of normalcy; the fear of economic toll; the loss of connection. This is hitting us and we’re grieving. Collectively. We are not used to this kind of collective grief in the air.

HBR: You said we’re feeling more than one kind of grief?

Kessler: Yes, we’re also feeling anticipatory grief. Anticipatory grief is that feeling we get about what the future holds when we’re uncertain. Usually it centers on death. We feel it when someone gets a dire diagnosis or when we have the normal thought that we’ll lose a parent someday. Anticipatory grief is also more broadly imagined futures. There is a storm coming. There’s something bad out there. With a virus, this kind of grief is so confusing for people. Our primitive mind knows something bad is happening, but you can’t see it. This breaks our sense of safety. We’re feeling that loss of safety. I don’t think we’ve collectively lost our sense of general safety like this. Individually or as smaller groups, people have felt this. But all together, this is new. We are grieving on a micro and a macro level.

And what can we start to do about our grief?

Understanding the stages of grief is a start. But whenever I talk about the stages of grief, I have to remind people that the stages aren’t linear and may not happen in this order. It’s not a map but it provides some scaffolding for this unknown world. There’s denial, which we say a lot of early on: This virus won’t affect us. There’s anger: You’re making me stay home and taking away my activities. There’s bargaining: Okay, if I social distance for two weeks everything will be better, right? There’s sadness: I don’t know when this will end. And finally there’s acceptance. This is happening; I have to figure out how to proceed.

Acceptance, as you might imagine, is where the power lies. We find control in acceptance. I can wash my hands. I can keep a safe distance. I can learn how to work virtually.

Kessler recently came out with a new book called Finding Meaning: The Sixth Stage of Grief.

I wrote a bit about grief a couple years back in this post How Do You Help a Grieving Friend?

One of the odd things about getting older (and hopefully wiser) is that you stop chuckling at cliches and start to acknowledge their deep truths. A recent example of this for me is “the only way out is through”. As Devine notes, in this video and her book It’s OK That You’re Not OK, there’s no shortcut for dealing with pain…you have to go through it to move past it.

See also a collection of resources for dealing with death compiled by Chrysanthe last year. (via laura olin)

Update: Trouble Focusing? Not Sleeping? You May Be Grieving by novelist R.O. Kwon:

Other people who couldn’t stay home were going to work every day — many without the option, the privilege, of doing otherwise — while here I was, home, and I couldn’t, of all things, write. Yes, there’s a pandemic, and yes, I felt by turns anxious, furious, and terrified, but it’s 2020 in America, and I’ve felt quite anxious, furious and terrified for a while. The inability to work, though, was new.

But then it occurred to me, as I ate another astringent chip, that this lassitude, the trouble focusing, the sleep difficulties, my exhaustion: Oh yes, I thought, I remember this. I was grieving. I was grieving in early March, I’m still grieving now, and chances are, you are, too.

(via @_chrysanthe)

Going to the Movies with Jackie Kennedy

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 20, 2019

Carly Simon’s recent piece in the New Yorker about going to the movies with Jackie Kennedy (an excerpt of her book Touched by the Sun: My Friendship with Jackie) was unexpectedly moving. And funny. And thoughtful. Trying to avoid seeing anything related to Oliver Stone’s JFK — “scarier, even, would be a two-minute trailer for ‘JFK’ inserted before the feature-length film we’d gone to see” — the two opted instead for Warren Beatty’s mobster flick, Bugsy.

Every time a shot sounded on the screen — and the film was plenty violent — she reacted physically, dramatically, her body mimicking the victim’s.

How do you deal with trauma like that when society keeps reminding you of it, not only generally (with gunshots in movies) but specifically, with blockbuster conspiracy movies that depict in detail the exact moment when your life was torn apart? And how can you be a good friend to someone who suffered from PTSD (and perhaps never recovered)? How do you assure her that you’re a safe harbor for her thoughts and feelings, that you’ll help insulate her without isolating her?

P.S. Somehow, in everything I’ve read/seen about the Kennedys over the years, I’d never heard that Jackie had given birth to a premature baby boy named Patrick in August of 1963. The baby died 39 hours after his birth. Her husband was assassinated just 105 days later. I… Jesus.

Departing Gesture

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 31, 2019

At the Sebrell Funeral Home in Ridgeland, MS (just outside of Jackson), they perform funerals and cremations for people with HIV/AIDS, some of whom have been abandoned by their families because of their disease or sexual orientation.

In almost one-third of the AIDS-related deaths serviced by Sebrell Funeral Home, the family or next-of-kin will either abandon the deceased entirely or refuse to accept the cremains.

HIV/AIDS is a growing problem in the American South, due to social stigma, poverty, and decreased access to healthcare. In this short documentary, we meet Trey Sebrell, who thinks of caring for all deceased people, no matter who they were in life, as part of his mission as a funeral director.

Euphemisms for Death Collected from Obituaries

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 16, 2019

Writer Rachel Monroe recently shared a bunch of “odd synonyms for ‘died’” that her mother collects from obituaries. Here’s an excerpt from her charmingly handwritten notes:

Died Synonyms

Among the highlights:

(via @tedgioia)

The Mosquito: Humanity’s Greatest Enemy

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 13, 2019

For the New Yorker, Brooke Jarvis reviews Timothy C. Winegard’s The Mosquito: A Human History of Our Deadliest Predator.

It turns out that, if you’re looking for them, the words “mosquitoes,” “fever,” “ague,” and “death” are repeated to the point of nausea throughout human history. (And before: Winegard suggests that, when the asteroid hit, dinosaurs were already in decline from mosquito-borne diseases.) Malaria laid waste to prehistoric Africa to such a degree that people evolved sickle-shaped red blood cells to survive it. The disease killed the ancient Greeks and Romans — as well as the peoples who tried to conquer them — by the hundreds of thousands, playing a major role in the outcomes of their wars. Hippocrates associated malaria’s late-summer surge with the Dog Star, calling the sickly time the “dog days of summer.” In 94 B.C., the Chinese historian Sima Qian wrote, “In the area south of the Yangtze the land is low and the climate humid; adult males die young.” In the third century, malaria epidemics helped drive people to a small, much persecuted faith that emphasized healing and care of the sick, propelling Christianity into a world-altering religion.

And then there’s this:

In total, Winegard estimates that mosquitoes have killed more people than any other single cause — fifty-two billion of us, nearly half of all humans who have ever lived. He calls them “our apex predator,” “the destroyer of worlds,” and “the ultimate agent of historical change.”

Two other recent reviews of the book: In ‘The Mosquito,’ Humans Face A Predator More Deadly Than The Rest (NPR) and The mosquito isn’t just annoying — Timothy C. Winegard says we’re at war (LA Times).

How It Feels to Almost Die (and Come Back to Life)

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 11, 2019

Many years ago, Christen O’Brien had a massive pulmonary embolism and it almost killed her. In a Medium post from January, she shared her personal experience about what it felt like to almost die.

Realizing that I was dying was like being pushed into a pool. You have no thought but to hold your breath and start swimming. It was the most out of control I’d ever been in my life, yet the only option was to succumb peacefully. I could hear the percussion of my heart beating wildly, recklessly. My breath only reached my trachea now, its pathway closing in rapidly. My palms spread open to the sky, just as my dog moved to stand over me. I am here with you, I am here to protect you.

She is an angel, I thought with that same clear certainty.

She moved her body next to me, and I looked up to the sky in what I thought would be my final moments.

The clouds.

The clouds.

The clouds.

Recently, she wrote a follow-up called How It Felt to Come Back to Life.

Coming back from death showed me that the journey of life is not what we often believe. On the surface, it appears as a journey outward — toward things, people, organizations, achievements. But in truth, it is a journey inward — toward the soul. Toward becoming who you actually are, no matter how far outward you may have to travel in order to discover that all the answers are within you, where you belong.

It would be easy to misread this post as a celebration of near-death, but that’s not O’Brien’s intent. Don’t get it twisted: almost dying is not a stable way of experiencing bliss or contentment or soul-closeness (and YMMV anyway). Her point is more that in this modern world we do not know ourselves well enough to live fully and completely. But as she says, “coming back to life is not something that requires a close brush with death” — it’s something we can all do.

Resources for dealing with death

posted by Chrysanthe Tenentes   Apr 03, 2019

On the topic of death (a natural part of life we don’t often talk about), the website Modern Loss has extensive resources for many types of loss. Some places to start:

How To: Write a Sympathy Note

Don’t Talk About How “It Gets Better”

How To: Be A Good Listener

Modern Loss’ Grief Reads

On Grief and Social Media/Technology

Related: How Do You Help a Grieving Friend?

A Last Lesson: Buddhist Teacher Thich Nhat Hanh’s Return Home To Vietnam

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 13, 2019

Thich Nhat Hanh became a Buddhist monk in Vietnam in 1942 and became known over the next few decades as a teacher and peace activist during the Vietnam War, at one point urging Martin Luther King Jr. to publicly denounce the war. For his activism, Nhat Hanh was denied entry back into Vietnam for nearly 40 years.

Thich Nhat Hanh Mlk

Now 92 years old, world-renowned as a spiritual leader, and ailing from the aftermath of a stroke he suffered in 2014, Nhat Hanh has returned to his original temple in Vietnam to live out his final days.

The monk’s return to Vietnam to end his life can thus be seen as a message to his disciples. “Thay’s intention is to teach [the idea of] roots and for his students to learn they have roots in Vietnam,” says Thich Chan Phap An, the head of Nhat Hanh’s European Institute of Applied Buddhism. “Spiritually, it’s a very important decision.”

Vox’s Eliza Barclay interviewed Phap Dung, one of Nhat Hanh’s senior disciples, and asked him what his teacher might be trying to say by returning to Vietnam.

He’s definitely coming back to his roots.

He has come back to the place where he grew up as a monk. The message is to remember we don’t come from nowhere. We have roots. We have ancestors. We are part of a lineage or stream.

It’s a beautiful message, to see ourselves as a stream, as a lineage, and it is the deepest teaching in Buddhism: non-self. We are empty of a separate self, and yet at the same time, we are full of our ancestors.

He has emphasized this Vietnamese tradition of ancestral worship as a practice in our community. Worship here means to remember. For him to return to Vietnam is to point out that we are a stream that runs way back to the time of the Buddha in India, beyond even Vietnam and China.

Miniature Replicas of Japanese Kodokushi (“Lonely Deaths”)

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 10, 2018

Dying alone in Japan is so common that they have a term for it: kodokushi (“lonely death”). Miyu Kojima works for a company that cleans up apartments after people die and for awhile now, she’s been creating miniature replicas of some of the rooms that she’s cleaned. Note: some of these images might be a little disturbing.

Kodokushi Kojima

Kodokushi Kojima

Kodokushi Kojima

Kojima has been working for the clean-up company for about 4 years and explains that she cleans on average 300 rooms per year. To preserve and document the scene, the company always takes photographs of the rooms in case relatives want to see them. However, Kojima noticed that the photographs really don’t capture the sadness of the incident. And while she had no formal art training, she decided to go to her local craft store and buy supplies, which she used to create her replicas. She sometimes uses color-copies of the photographs, which she then sculpts into miniature objects. Kojima says that she spends about 1 month on each replica.

The Fable of the Dragon-Tyrant

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 24, 2018

From CGP Grey, an animated version of philosopher Nick Bostrom’s The Fable of the Dragon-Tyrant.

Seeing that defeating the tyrant was impossible, humans had no choice but to obey its commands and pay the grisly tribute. The fatalities selected were always elders. Although senior people were as vigorous and healthy as the young, and sometimes wiser, the thinking was that they had at least already enjoyed a few decades of life. The wealthy might gain a brief reprieve by bribing the press gangs that came to fetch them; but, by constitutional law, nobody, not even the king himself, could put off their turn indefinitely.

Spiritual men sought to comfort those who were afraid of being eaten by the dragon (which included almost everyone, although many denied it in public) by promising another life after death, a life that would be free from the dragon-scourge. Other orators argued that the dragon has its place in the natural order and a moral right to be fed. They said that it was part of the very meaning of being human to end up in the dragon’s stomach. Others still maintained that the dragon was good for the human species because it kept the population size down. To what extent these arguments convinced the worried souls is not known. Most people tried to cope by not thinking about the grim end that awaited them.

For many centuries this desperate state of affairs continued. Nobody kept count any longer of the cumulative death toll, nor of the number of tears shed by the bereft. Expectations had gradually adjusted and the dragon-tyrant had become a fact of life. In view of the evident futility of resistance, attempts to kill the dragon had ceased. Instead, efforts now focused on placating it. While the dragon would occasionally raid the cities, it was found that the punctual delivery to the mountain of its quota of life reduced the frequency of these incursions.

Bostrom explains the moral of the story, which has to do with fighting aging:

The ethical argument that the fable presents is simple: There are obvious and compelling moral reasons for the people in the fable to get rid of the dragon. Our situation with regard to human senescence is closely analogous and ethically isomorphic to the situation of the people in the fable with regard to the dragon. Therefore, we have compelling moral reasons to get rid of human senescence.

The argument is not in favor of life-span extension per se. Adding extra years of sickness and debility at the end of life would be pointless. The argument is in favor of extending, as far as possible, the human health-span. By slowing or halting the aging process, the healthy human life span would be extended. Individuals would be able to remain healthy, vigorous, and productive at ages at which they would otherwise be dead.

I watched the video before reading Bostrom’s moral and thought it might have been about half a dozen other things (guns, climate change, agriculture, the Industrial Revolution, racism) before realizing it was more literal than that. Humanity has lots of dragons sitting on mountaintops, devouring people, waiting for a change in the world’s perspective or technology or culture to meet its doom.

The last living human link to the 19th century is gone

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 22, 2018

For the past few years, because of my interest in The Great Span of human history, I’ve been tracking the last remaining people who were alive in the 1800s and the 19th century. As of 2015, only two women born in the 1800s and two others born in 1900 (the last year of the 19th century) were still alive. In the next two years, three of those women passed away, including Jamaican Violet Brown, the last living subject of Queen Victoria, who reigned over the British Empire starting in 1837.

Yesterday Nabi Tajima, the last known survivor of the 19th century, died in Japan at age 117.

Tajima was born in a village on Kikaijima on August 4, 1900. She had 9 children and more than 160 descendants, including great-great-great-grandchildren, according to the Gerontology Research Group (GRG), which verified her date of birth.

At the time of her death, Tajima was 117 years and 280 days old, making her the third oldest person in recorded human history. She said that her secret to longevity was eating delicious things and sleeping well, but she also enjoyed hand-dancing to the sound of the shamisen.

Tajima was born at a time when Emperor Meiji ruled Japan as the nation rose from an isolationist feudal state to become a world power. William McKinley served as president of the United States and Victoria was the Queen of the United Kingdom. The world’s population was just 1.6 billion.

Tajima was already 45 years old when World War II ended…amazing. According to the Gerontology Research Group’s World Supercentenarian Rankings List, the oldest living person is Chiyo Miyako of Japan, who will hopefully turn 117 in a week and a half.

Philip Seymour Hoffman, addiction, and being “all in”

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 14, 2017

In the latest issue of Vogue, Mimi O’Donnell reflects on the death of her husband, Philip Seymour Hoffman, his addiction, and their family.

The first time I met Phil, there was instant chemistry between us. It was the spring of 1999, and he was interviewing me to be the costume designer for a play he was directing — his first — for the Labyrinth Theater Company, In Arabia We’d All Be Kings. Even though I’d spent the five years since moving to New York designing costumes for Off-Broadway plays and had just been hired by Saturday Night Live, I was nervous, because I was in awe of his talent. I’d seen him in Boogie Nights and Happiness, and he blew me out of the water with his willingness to make himself so vulnerable and to play fucked-up characters with such honesty and heart.

I remember walking into the interview and anxiously handing Phil my résumé. He studied it for a few moments, then looked up at me and, with complete sincerity and admiration, said, “You have more credits than I do.” I felt myself relax. He wanted to put me at ease and let me know that we would be working together as equals. After the meeting, I called my sister on one of those hilariously giant cell phones of the time, and after I had raved about Phil, she announced, “You’re going to marry him.”

Option B: building resilience and finding meaning in the face of adversity

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 25, 2017

Option B

Two years ago, Facebook COO and Lean In author Sheryl Sandberg lost her husband to an unexpected death. The loss left her bereft and adrift. Grieving hard, she struggled to figure out how to move forward with her life. The result of her journey is a book co-authored by Adam Grant called Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience and Finding Joy.

After the sudden death of her husband, Sheryl Sandberg felt certain that she and her children would never feel pure joy again. “I was in ‘the void,’” she writes, “a vast emptiness that fills your heart and lungs and restricts your ability to think or even breathe.” Her friend Adam Grant, a psychologist at Wharton, told her there are concrete steps people can take to recover and rebound from life-shattering experiences. We are not born with a fixed amount of resilience. It is a muscle that everyone can build.

Option B combines Sheryl’s personal insights with Adam’s eye-opening research on finding strength in the face of adversity.

Jessi Hempel’s piece on Sandberg is a good overview on the book and that period in her life, particularly in relation to Sandberg’s return to work and how that changed leadership & communication at Facebook.

Every year in late May, Facebook gathers its policy and communications team for a day-long retreat. Employees fly in from satellite offices in Germany, say, or Japan. It’s a chance to address problems, and set strategy for the year to come.

Sandberg always speaks, but that year Caryn Marooney, who was then in charge of technology communications, remembers everyone told her she could skip it. She insisted on coming anyway. As 200 people looked on, she began telling the group what she was going through, and how it was. “There were a lot of tears. It was incredibly raw, and then she said, “I’m going to open it up to Q and A,” Marooney remembers. People spoke up.

Talking about her situation allowed Sandberg — and the entire team — to move past it and transition into a productive conversation. Having acknowledged the proverbial elephant in the room, they could all focus on the work at hand. “I think people think that vulnerable is soft, but it’s not,” said Marooney, as she described Sandberg’s tough approach to business questions that followed. “It was a blueprint of what we saw from Sheryl going forward.”

Sandberg has also started a non-profit “dedicated to helping you build resilience in the face of adversity — and giving you the tools to help your family, friends, and community build resilience too.”

See also Sandberg’s Facebook post about her husband’s death and her NY Times opinion piece How to Build Resilient Kids, Even After a Loss.

One afternoon, I sat down with my kids to write out “family rules” to remind us of the coping mechanisms we would need. We wrote together that it’s O.K. to be sad and to take a break from any activity to cry. It’s O.K. to be happy and laugh. It’s O.K. to be angry and jealous of friends and cousins who still have fathers. It’s O.K. to say to anyone that we do not want to talk about it now. And it’s always O.K. to ask for help. The poster we made that day — with the rules written by my kids in colored markers — still hangs in our hall so we can look at it every day. It reminds us that our feelings matter and that we are not alone.

Welcome to the only show in town

posted by Tim Carmody   Apr 21, 2017

achewood - only game in town.png
[From Achewood, by Chris Onstad]

It’s never good when someone calls you on the phone to tell you that someone you love has died. It’s like those scenes on TV shows where the police or the White House are rushing to notify the family of the deceased before the news breaks so that they don’t learn about it from the television.

I’ve had it happen for three people in my life who weren’t close friends or family members: George Carlin, Steve Jobs, and Prince. In each of those cases, someone heard the news first and thought of me. This may be the sweetest and most melancholy kind of kindness. Today, it’s been a year since Prince died.

Prince made music for as long as I was alive. His self-titled album, made when he was still a teenager, was released the week before I was born. My mother, who loved Prince as much as I did, listened to “I Wanna Be Your Lover” over and over again when I was in utero. Prince and his music were Facts of the Universe, like the ancient Greeks believed in Zeus and his thunderbolts.

The only star as big and bright was Michael Jackson, and you couldn’t go into your room and put on headphones to listen to Michael Jackson’s dirty songs where nobody else could listen. It was a different kind of intimacy and intensity.

Michael Jackson’s and Whitney Houston’s deaths felt different: a Kaddish for lost dreams in childhood, a renewed awareness of how fragile these larger-than-life figures always were. Lou Reed’s and David Bowie’s deaths felt different: mourning my teenage self, my teachers and heroes. Prince’s death was like losing the love of my life.

The web has an unusual and still-evolving relationship with death and mourning. People have always used it to memorialize people they loved, and to learn more about them. (One of my first contacts on the web was someone looking for information on a relative with my first and last name who went missing in action in Vietnam.)

But the systems of the web were slow to catch up. Social networks built to stalk college classmates only gradually learned how to deal with members’ deaths. Who owns or can access your virtual assets and information after you die?… It depends. The mechanisms we’ve built aren’t built for this. Hopes for the Singularity aside, there’s no disrupting death.

We are inventing new rituals of public mourning online. And when it comes to death, rituals may matter as much or more than network topologies and the law. In many ways, these rituals replace older ones we’ve lost. Grief once expressed in public via mourning clothes, black armbands, and semi-public funerals is now being hashed out on the web.

“I really believe that a lot of these social media mourning rituals are popping up because people aren’t able to mourn in public spaces the way that they used to,” says Candi Cann, an assistant professor at Baylor University and author of “Virtual Afterlives: Grieving the Dead in the Twenty-First Century.” “People have this need to be recognised as grievers.”

We can’t always be with family, scattered across countries and continents. We can’t always confide in old lovers, our relationships fraught and fractured. We can’t take off from work to curl up and cry in private without consequence. We can’t all make pilgrimages to leave votive offerings and memorabilia at the sites of death.

But we can tell friends and strangers how we feel. We can point them to the things this person made that changed our lives. We can let them know, friends and strangers both, that it is okay for them, for us, for all of us to feel, to mourn the person and what that person meant. To mourn the part of us that will never be the same without the other person’s presence exerting a magnetic pull on us from across the planet.

(With thanks to Anil Dash)

Bill Hayes adored Oliver Sacks

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 27, 2017

The Guardian has an entertaining and touching excerpt of Bill Hayes’ memoir Insomniac City about his moving to New York and his relationship with Oliver Sacks. Even though Sacks had little interest or knowledge about popular culture — “‘What is Michael Jackson?’ he asked me the day after the news [of Jackson’s death]” — he became part of it, and so he and Hayes travel to Iceland to dine with Björk and run into the actress and model Lauren Hutton at a concert.

[Hutton] overheard Oliver talking to Kevin about his new book, Hallucinations, which was coming out in a couple weeks. Lauren leaned across the table and listened intently.

“Hey doc, you ever done belladonna?” she asked. “Now there’s a drug!”

“Well, as a matter of fact, yes, I have,” and he proceeded to tell her about his hallucinations on belladonna. They traded stories. Eventually she began to figure out that this wasn’t his first book.

“Are you — are you Oliver Sacks? The Oliver Sacks?” Oliver looked both pleased and stricken.

“Well, it is very good to meet you, sir.” She sounded like a southern barmaid in a 50s western. But it wasn’t an act. “I’ve been reading you since way back. Oliver Sacks - imagine that!”

Oliver, I should note, had absolutely no idea who she was, nor would he understand if I had pulled him aside and told him.

Fashion? Vogue magazine? No idea…

The two of them hit it off. She was fast-talking, bawdy, opinionated, a broad - the opposite of Oliver except for having in common that mysterious quality: charm.

See also My Own Life, a piece about the cancer diagnosis that would eventually take Sacks’ life.

Over the last few days, I have been able to see my life as from a great altitude, as a sort of landscape, and with a deepening sense of the connection of all its parts. This does not mean I am finished with life.

On the contrary, I feel intensely alive, and I want and hope in the time that remains to deepen my friendships, to say farewell to those I love, to write more, to travel if I have the strength, to achieve new levels of understanding and insight.

This will involve audacity, clarity and plain speaking; trying to straighten my accounts with the world. But there will be time, too, for some fun (and even some silliness, as well).

Sacks dictated the piece to Hayes “nearly verbatim” and is very much worth a re-read. (via @tedgioia)

What happens when Queen Elizabeth II dies?

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 16, 2017

Queen Elizabeth II

When Queen Elizabeth II dies, who knows how a Brexit-addled Britain might react. She’s ruled now for 65 years; so long that three of her Prime Ministers were born during her rule. That’s why the Palace has a plan (known as “London Bridge”) for announcing her death, “its ceremonial aftermath”, and the ascension of Charles to the throne.

More overwhelming than any of this, though, there will be an almighty psychological reckoning for the kingdom that she leaves behind. The Queen is Britain’s last living link with our former greatness - the nation’s id, its problematic self-regard — which is still defined by our victory in the second world war. One leading historian, who like most people I interviewed for this article declined to be named, stressed that the farewell for this country’s longest-serving monarch will be magnificent. “Oh, she will get everything,” he said. “We were all told that the funeral of Churchill was the requiem for Britain as a great power. But actually it will really be over when she goes.”

Unlike the US presidency, say, monarchies allow huge passages of time — a century, in some cases — to become entwined with an individual. The second Elizabethan age is likely to be remembered as a reign of uninterrupted national decline, and even, if she lives long enough and Scotland departs the union, as one of disintegration. Life and politics at the end of her rule will be unrecognisable from their grandeur and innocence at its beginning. “We don’t blame her for it,” Philip Ziegler, the historian and royal biographer, told me. “We have declined with her, so to speak.”

This is a great piece, full of interesting details and observations throughout. Like that George V was euthanized in time for the morning paper:

“The King’s life is moving peacefully towards its close,” was the final notice issued by George V’s doctor, Lord Dawson, at 9.30pm on the night of 20 January 1936. Not long afterwards, Dawson injected the king with 750mg of morphine and a gram of cocaine — enough to kill him twice over — in order to ease the monarch’s suffering, and to have him expire in time for the printing presses of the Times, which rolled at midnight.

And that radio stations are equipped with a emergency system:

Britain’s commercial radio stations have a network of blue “obit lights”, which is tested once a week and supposed to light up in the event of a national catastrophe. When the news breaks, these lights will start flashing, to alert DJs to switch to the news in the next few minutes and to play inoffensive music in the meantime. Every station, down to hospital radio, has prepared music lists made up of “Mood 2” (sad) or “Mood 1” (saddest) songs to reach for in times of sudden mourning.

They’ve got this planned out to the second…no detail is too small:

It takes 28 minutes at a slow march from the doors of St James’s to the entrance of Westminster Hall.

British royals are buried in lead-lined coffins. Diana’s weighed a quarter of a ton.

(via @oliverburkeman)

The Gates Foundation Annual Letter for 2017

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 17, 2017

Each year, Bill and Melinda Gates write a letter about the work they’re doing with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. In 2006, Warren Buffett donated more than billion to their foundation, which effectively doubled its available resources. This year’s letter from the Gateses is addressed to Buffett and details the return on his investment so far.

Bill: If we could show you only one number that proves how life has changed for the poorest, it would be 122 million — the number of children’s lives saved since 1990.

Melinda: Every September, the UN announces the number of children under five who died the previous year. Every year, this number breaks my heart and gives me hope. It’s tragic that so many children are dying, but every year more children live.

Bill: More children survived in 2015 than in 2014. More survived in 2014 than in 2013, and so on. If you add it all up, 122 million children under age five have been saved over the past 25 years. These are children who would have died if mortality rates had stayed where they were in 1990.

Bill calls saving children’s lives “the best deal in philanthropy”. Melinda continues:

Melinda: And if you want to know the best deal within the deal — it’s vaccines. Coverage for the basic package of childhood vaccines is now the highest it’s ever been, at 86 percent. And the gap between the richest and the poorest countries is the lowest it’s ever been. Vaccines are the biggest reason for the drop in childhood deaths.

Melinda: They’re an incredible investment. The pentavalent vaccine, which protects against five deadly infections in a single shot, now costs under a dollar.

Bill: And for every dollar spent on childhood immunizations, you get $44 in economic benefits. That includes saving the money that families lose when a child is sick and a parent can’t work.

Vaccines. And Now my kids don’t die.

The ABCs of Death

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 09, 2017

I know, I know. This is a car commercial and it’s morbid and at this moment in time it’s not really that funny, but it caught me at just the right time today and I laughed harder at this than I have at something in several weeks. So I guess even ad agencies are capable of enabling righteous acts (or at least inappropriately hilarious acts) these days?

Patton Oswalt: “I’ll Never Be at 100 Percent Again”

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 27, 2016

The actor and comic Patton Oswalt lost his wife earlier this year to an unknown cause.

This was, Mr. Oswalt said, the second worst day of his life: “The worst is when I told my daughter the next day.”

He paused his rushing monologue, his voice lowering as he skipped over that awful memory to one from the next day, when Alice mentioned “Inside Out,” the Pixar film peopled with characters representing a girl’s emotional states. “I guess Sadness is doing her job right now,” she said.

Oh man, what a thing. How do you even deal with that? I’ve had some sad, low days over the past three years, but nothing compared to what Oswalt’s going through.

Update: Oswalt has been talking about his wife’s death and the aftermath in appearances and his updated stand-up material.

“If they would call it a numb slog instead of a healing journey, it would make it a lot fucking easier!” Oswalt said. “Because when they call it a healing journey and it’s just a day of you eating Wheat Thins for breakfast in your underwear, it’s like, ‘I guess I’m fucking up my healing journey.’ But if they would say you’re going to have a numb slog, instead you’d go, ‘I’m nailing it!’”

He went on to say that when he would sometimes tell his wife that “everything happens for a reason,” she would tell him, “No it doesn’t.” Ironically, he said, she ended up proving her point to him “in the shittiest way possible.” He added, “She won the argument in the worst way!”

(via @austinkleon)

Update: Oswalt writes about becoming a single parent after the death of his wife.

It feels like a walk-on character is being asked to carry an epic film after the star has been wiped from the screen. Imagine Frances McDormand dying in the first act of Fargo and her dim-bulb patrol partner — the one who can’t recognize dealer plates — has to bring William H. Macy to justice.

I can’t do it. I can’t do it. I can’t do it. I want to tune out the world and hide under the covers and never leave my house again and send our daughter, Alice, off to live with her cousins in Chicago, because they won’t screw her up the way I know I will. Somebody help me! I can’t. I can’t. I can’t.

I could barely get through this piece without losing it. Every single fear and anxiety I have is now channelled through my parenting. If this is what it feels like for me — and I am lucky to have time away from it and an amazing parenting partner — I cannot imagine what this feels like for a truly single parent like Oswalt.

Update: Oswalt and actress Meredith Salenger have announced their engagement. Congratulations to them!

“By the time you read this, I’ll be dead”

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 05, 2016

John Hofsess helped eight people die and just before he died late last month at an assisted death facility in Switzerland, he wrote this piece.

I was horrified anew in 1999 when the gifted conductor Georg Tintner, who was dying from a rare form of melanoma, jumped from the balcony of his 11th-floor apartment in Halifax to end his agony. Many Canadians would hear such news, shake their heads, utter a few sympathetic platitudes and move on. But I couldn’t just sit back and wring my hands. That year, I went from advocating for assisted suicides to facilitating them. Let’s not mince words: I killed people who wanted to die.

(via nextdraft)

Woman escapes hired killers, shows up at own funeral

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 05, 2016

Noela Rukundo, whose husband had only recently paid to have killed, showed up at her own funeral.

Finally, she spotted the man she’d been waiting for. She stepped out of her car, and her husband put his hands on his head in horror.

“Is it my eyes?” she recalled him saying. “Is it a ghost?”

“Surprise! I’m still alive!” she replied.

Far from being elated, the man looked terrified. Five days earlier, he had ordered a team of hit men to kill Rukundo, his partner of 10 years. And they did - well, they told him they did. They even got him to pay an extra few thousand dollars for carrying out the crime.

Now here was his wife, standing before him. In an interview with the BBC on Thursday, Rukundo recalled how he touched her shoulder to find it unnervingly solid. He jumped. Then he started screaming.

What a story. As @tcarmody says, “I like to imagine Bezos grinning and salivating over this story like Charles Foster Kane”.

Clearing retired cells may extend life

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 04, 2016

“I’m looking at a picture of two mice. The one on the right looks healthy. The one on the left has graying fur, a hunched back, and an eye that’s been whitened by cataracts.”

What’s the difference? Well, scientists at the Mayo clinic used a process to remove senescent (or retired) cells from one of them. And that process leads to mice who age better and live longer. As one researcher not connected to the study explains:

The usual caveats apply — it’s got to be reproduced by other people — but if it’s correct, without wanting to be too hyperbolic, it’s one of the more important aging discoveries ever.

Who died in 2015?

posted by Susannah Breslin   Dec 23, 2015

The New York Times Magazine has published its annual death roundup: “The Lives They Lived.”

rowdy-roddy-piper.jpg

Rowdy Roddy Piper:

With Andre, Piper asks if it’s true that Big John Studd body-slammed him. No, Andre says, it isn’t. Piper, neck veins pulsing, suggests that even he could body-slam him. Interview over. Andre grabs Piper’s shirt, uses it to fling him across the room and walks off the set. Piper, red-hot with rage, screams, “You think you’re tough?” He stares into the camera and does an Incredible Hulk pose that shows off his terrifying trapezius muscles. “You ain’t nothing!’” You have never seen a man so committed to seeming to have lost all control.

Little Rascal Jean Darling:

Still, she said, her childhood wasn’t unhappy, just different. “A lot of people say their childhood was stolen,” she wrote in a 2014 interview on Reddit. “Mine was never stolen, I just worked a lot! I might have had more fun if my mother hadn’t spent all my money, but that’s it!”

Glenn Ford:

From then on, Ford lived in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, in a concrete cell the size of a bathroom. Three hours a week, he was allowed outside to exercise, but even there he was alone and in a cage offering less freedom than a dog run. For his last seven years in prison, Ford refused to even go outside. He called the exercise pen “ridiculous.” Being in a solitary cage outdoors was more like a taunt than a respite.

Only two people born in the 1800s are still alive today

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 17, 2015

The two oldest living people in the world, American Susannah Mushatt Jones and Italian Emma Morano-Martinuzzi, were both born in 1899, making them the last living human links to the 1800s. The USA Today profiled both women back in June. Here are the oldest people in the world right now:

Susannah Mushatt Jones; 6 July 1899; 116 years, 134 days
Emma Morano-Martinuzzi; 29 November 1899; 115 years, 353 days
Violet Brown; 10 March 1900; 115 years, 252 days
Nabi Tajima; 4 August 1900; 115 years, 105 days
Kiyoko Ishiguro; 4 March 1901; 114 years, 258 days

Since it includes the entire year of 1900, the 19th century has four total survivors. A couple more years and our living connection to that era will be gone.

Update: Susannah Mushatt Jones died in May 2016, leaving Emma Morano-Martinuzzi as the oldest living person as well as the last person alive who was born in the 1800s.

Update: The NY Times, reporting on Jones’ death, contains a small error (italics mine):

Mr. Young said Ms. Jones’s presumed successor is a 116-year-old woman from Italy named Emma Morano. Ms. Morano, who was born in November 1899, is the last person alive who is verified to have been born in the 19th century. The next-oldest American, Mr. Young said, is “only 113.”

Morano-Martinuzzi is indeed the last verified person to be born before 1900, but there are two others (Violet Brown and Nabi Tajima) who were born in the 19th century. Since the first century AD began on Jan 1, 1 (and not 0) and ended on Dec 31, 100, each subsequent century follows the same pattern. So the 19th century includes the year 1900 (but “the 1800s” do not). If you’re interested enough to read further, Stephen J. Gould wrote a whole book about this issue back in 1997 called Questioning the Millennium. Anyway, a little pedantry to annoy your loved ones with.

Update: Emma Morano died on April 15, 2017, aged 117 years, 137 days. She was the last documented human born in the 1800s still alive and the fifth oldest person ever.

She cooked for herself until she was 112, usually pasta to which she added raw ground beef. Until she was 115, she did not have live-in caregivers, and she laid out a place setting for herself at her small kitchen table at every meal.

That leaves Violet Brown and Nabi Tajima as the last two living humans born in the 19th century.

Update: And we’re down to one last living link to the 19th century…Violet Brown has died at 117 years old.

In an interview with the Jamaican Observer to celebrate her 110th birthday, she said her secrets to living to such an old age were eating cows feet, not drinking rum and reading the bible.

“Really and truly, when people ask what me eat and drink to live so long, I say to them that I eat everything, except pork and chicken, and I don’t drink rum and them things,” she said.

(via @robertsharp59)