Tag: Death

Screaming Over the Rubble: The Shifting Role of the Family in American Disaster Victim Identification

When the South Champlain Towers in Surfside, Florida, collapsed in the early hours of June 24, I shuddered to think about how many lives had been lost. Because of my research on the history of disaster victim identification (DVI), however, I also started thinking ahead to the recovery of the dead. I knew that the… Read more →

Irish Keens, Modern Grief, and the Digital Landscape of Mourning

In January 1833, an author known only as O’G published their musings on the Irish funeral cry, or caoine, in the Dublin Penny Journal. O’G described the cry as “the most singularly plaintive and mournful expression of excessive grief that could well be imagined.” In the article, O’G describes traveling the Irish countryside on horseback… Read more →

Alone, Together: Memory and Death in a Pandemic

“You’re lucky, then, that your mom died before all this began,” my friend said. “At least you got to be there. At least you got a funeral.” However starkly her words hung between us, I knew she was right. As shattering as it was when my mom died in Tucson four days before my sister’s… Read more →

Dead Babies in Boxes: Dealing with the Consequences of Interrupted Reproduction

One morning in June 2019, two city workers in Lyon, France, pulled a plastic bag out of the river that runs through the city center and found it contained the body of a “late term fetus or a newborn baby thought to be less than a day old.” Such occurrences have a long history in… Read more →

Burying the Dead, and Then Digging Them Up

About a week after my partner Clayton was murdered in 2015, I went back to his gravesite with one of his brothers to visit. The cemetery, located in the suburbs of Rio de Janeiro, was a peaceful place, with expansive lawns and even some trees that afforded much-needed shade near Clayton’s burial site. Clayton’s headstone… Read more →

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 →