Tag: Death

News from the Dead

On December 14, 1650, 22-year old Anne Greene was led up the gallows in Oxford. She had been charged with infanticide; after sleeping with her employer’s grandson, she gave birth to a child—one she insisted was stillborn—whose body had been found “covered…with dust and rubbish” in the outhouse where she delivered it.1 After praying and… Read more →

The Deathbed and the Sound of Rebirth

What is the soundscape of the deathbed? Most often, for Chinese Buddhists, it has involved the sound of human voices chanting the name of Amitābha Buddha. According to the core Pure Land scriptures, Amitābha vowed to save all those who called on him, ensuring that after death they would be reborn in his Pure Land,… Read more →

“Heroic Effort Beyond the Call of Duty”: Death Care Workers and the 1947 Texas City Disaster

On April 16, 2020, the New York Times published an op-ed about the challenges facing overwhelmed funeral directors around the country during the COVID-19 epidemic. In “hot spots” like New York, Detroit, and New Orleans, funeral home staff are working long hours to pick up and prepare the remains of those killed by the disease;… Read more →

To Let Die: COVID-19 and the Banalization of Evil

The course of the COVID-19 pandemic has shown a disturbing paradox as to how we deal with the disease. The two countries with the highest incidence and mortality statistics – the United States and Brazil – are the same places where there are large groups mobilizing against social distancing, mainly because of the actions of the… Read more →

Plastered Skulls: What can a 10,000 year old tradition teach us about coping with death?

Teaching about Death and Burial “Design your own burial” is an activity on my course syllabus. No matter how many times students see it on their handout and on the lecture screen, it takes them a minute to comprehend these words. Watching my twenty-something-year-old students think about their own mortality, their own death— sometimes for… Read more →

Straightened Up and Dying Right? Queering Puritan Deathbeds

When I was ten, I was present at a close family friend’s deathbed, an experience that sparked my lifelong curiosity about what happens when a person moves from this life into whatever might or might not exist beyond it. Hence my interest in the Puritans. Few folks have expended more time and effort trying to… Read more →

Dying Like the Savior, Dying Like the Saved

Sister Alberta Marie Hanley felt like Christ on her deathbed. Blood seeping into her eyes from a low platelet count, the twenty-six-year-old told Sister Mary Mercy that her head felt tight, like the crown of thorns must have made Jesus’ head feel. Hanley took her last moments to wonder if she had done enough for… Read more →

Heart Transplantation, Democracy, and Collective Forgetting in Contemporary Spain

Throughout my life, Spain – the country where I was born and raised – has been the global leader in organ donation and transplantation, a horn we toot frequently and proudly. We hear about this every time new data on organ donation becomes available, every time someone wants to make an argument about the goodness… Read more →

Weaving Wool into Death: Burial in 17th-Century England

The rituals we use to honor someone in death often reflect the way that they lived, from their religion to their favorite color. People have strong preferences for what will happen to their body after they die and what kind of funeral they want. Twenty-four percent of UK adults have already chosen which songs they… Read more →

What to Expect When You’re Expiring: Pregnancy and Death in Seventeenth-Century England

On October 12, 1622, a 26-year-old English woman named Elizabeth Jocelin gave birth to her first child, a baby girl. Nine days later, she died of puerperal fever, an infection of the genital tract — most likely from bacteria accidentally introduced by a birthing attendant during labor — that can cause fatal sepsis in postpartum… Read more →