Monthly Archives: October 2015

Bobbi Kristina

For about half a year now, the media has continued to cover Bobbi Kristina Browns case on life and death. Even months after her official death the media is continuing to cover the court cases that began in early June. This case reminds me of the Terri Schiavo case that we have discussed in class. The huge burden families face when their loved ones are in a coma, with no indications of waking up. Both cases show how a family can truly be teared apart when a young life is near death. Bobbi Krisitina because of her fame prior to her death brought much public attention to these challenges. Recently, a new piece of evidence was brought to the court case against her boyfriend Mr. Gordon. The evidence suggested that Mr. Gordon injected Bobbi Kristina with a a toxic mixture and then placed her body in the bath tube. This evidence if proven true can land Mr. Gordon in jail for murder.

It is interesting to see the change in this case since the beginning and how members of the family always believed that Mr. Gordon had a part in Bobbi Kristian’s death. In the Terri Schiavo case the family and her husband seemed to work together in a private matter when Terri first entered the vegetative state. Although, Michael was granted medical guardianship, her parents did not seem to have a problem with this until he wanted to remove her feeding tube. That was when the case truly became something that the media was interested in, especially when the Pope and Jeb Bush began to voice their opinions.

Both cases began to make me wonder the implications of having such a publicized death. In high school one of my classmates died during winter break our senior year in a car accident. In my town this was a highly publizied death and I always wondered if the girls family enjoyed the media, attention and out pour of grief and mouring that the community created or if they would have preferred a more private experience where they could grieve on their own in private. Something that made me upset about the situation was the school had buses for students who wanted to go to the funeral and people who didn’t even know her went to the funeral just to get out of class.

Bobbi Kristina and Terri Schiavo were both young women who had tragic death which were placed in the eye of the public for a long period of time. Being so publicized must have been very hard for both families and it makes me question when does the media become to much for people to handle. Will they ever respect peoples wishes to grieve in private without writing hateful articles about the different sides of the cases.


Pregnancy Loss

In her article, 7 empathy cards for someone who’s lost a pregnancy. Because it’s hard to know what to say, Laura Willard presents the idea of “[acknowledging] the loss of a pregnancy the way we [address] any significant loss.” This is an idea that we have recently discussed in class but this article gives new insight on how to help those who have come face to face with this type of loss. A miscarriage is something that as a society we have a hard time addressing because most people really just don’t know what to do or what to say to those who have faced this type of loss. I am sure that most people understand that this can be a painful and tragic situation but coming up with the right words to say to a couple or individual that has lost a pregnancy can be impossible at times. For this reason, Dr. Jessica Zucker has come up with empathy cards that could be given to those who have lost a pregnancy. These cards sum up the words that many of us have difficulty coming up with. They are suited to all kind of tastes and I love the idea because it really helps bring this problem to light. My personal favorite is the one that finishes off with “I may not always know the right thing to say, but I’m going to try. I love you like crazy.” It perfectly summarizes the “loss for words” problem that surrounds this topic but offers a good approach to ease into the subject.


According to the article, roughly 20% of pregnancies end in loss. That means that one in five couples or individuals face this. That is an overwhelmingly high statistic but to some extent, there is no working around it. As the article says, that’s just molecular biology, in other words, that’s life, or at least the consequences of trying to make it. These cards help “change the culture of conversation – and lack of it – around miscarriage, pregnancy loss, and stillbirth” and will hopefully inspire people to face it with a little more grace.

Link to article:


A Novel Popular Culture Perspective on Death

When thinking about a lot of the pop culture representations of death, I often think they are over-dramatized or not emotional enough. One of the television shows which I often cite as having the best representations of death is the HBO show Six Feet Under. I started watching Six Feet Under a few years after it went off the air when I was in high school, partially because I remember my father watching it when I was a child and being told to leave the living room when it came on because of the very raw images of death and the way in which death is dealt with on a daily basis. Because of its overwhelming theme of death in all forms, it is a difficult show to handle and comprehend for a child. As an adult watching the show, it is even still difficult to handle at points, but also interweaves the humor of life in with tragedy. It is a show all about death and interpersonal relationships, but also addresses the fundamental human experience and issue from a novel perspective. The premise of the show is focused on a family that owns a funeral home in Los Angeles and all of the family drama that occurs after the patriarch (the mortician) dies. All of his three children deal with his death in a different way and these first initial reactions to his death inform the entire course of the five season show.

The show is controversial in its constant images of death, but also in turn downplays the taboo-ness of death by addressing the issues inherent in the life experience straight on with a great level of honesty. Never before have I seen a scripted show that discusses death on such a philosophical and emotional level as Six Feet Under. Even the theme song and accompanying imagery contains images of cadavers, gravestones, and plant-matter wilting away. The whole show has an underlying tone of death with dark, subdued colors and lifeless images of LA streets. Each episode begins with the death of an individual who eventually ends up in the funeral home owned by the family and interacting with the people embalming them and preparing them for the funeral. Thus, the show poses an interesting paradox about how we, as humans, often feel that the dead are not completely dead and communication is often still possible with someone who is no longer living. The discussion between the dead and the mortuary workers allows the dead to be seen as more than the dead that they must prepare for the funeral. Also, the show presents the mortuary purposes that are often hidden from families and the public by showing what happens during the embalming process or the plastic surgery used to make the dead look more alive.

Death in popular culture, especially television, is often used as a plot device to end or further the storyline of one of the characters. Six Feet Under does not utilize this strategy in the usual sense, but rather uses death as a metaphor for life and emphasizes how the obsession with death and funeral practices consume one’s life if there is no acceptance of death. The inevitability of death is addressed so wholeheartedly in Six Feet Under that one cannot help, but to examine one’s personal perception of death and the death of family members. Unlike shows such as CSI that focus on the biomedical and criminal aspect of after death, Six Feet Under focuses on the philosophical and emotional which is a respite from the usual treatment of death as detached from life. I think that Six Feet Under provides an antidote to the views of death currently portrayed in a lot of television shows as violent or bio-medically defined.

Side note: Six Feet Under famously has one the most well crafted finales. In the spirit of not spoiling I will not reveal what happens, but if you want to see a beautiful ending to a TV show all about death look it up!

The Ambulance Wish Foundation

The Ambulance Wish Foundation is an organization based in the Netherlands, with a mission similar to that of the Make-A-Wish Foundation. The well-known Make-A-Wish Foundation grants wishes to kids with life-threatening and terminal illnesses. These wishes are often extravagant and sometimes seriously awesome, like when San Francisco was transformed into Gotham allowing a young boy to be “Batkid” for the day. The Ambulance Wish Foundation (AWF) grants slightly less eye-catching wishes, but I think they are just as heartwarming. The AWF was founded by Kees Veldboer, an ambulance driver. One day he was transporting an older patient and asked him if there was anything he wanted to see while they were out before taking him back to the white-washed walls of the hospital. The patient requested to see the Vlaardingen canal, so Veldboer let the patient sit outside the canal in the sun and wind until he was ready to leave. This event led to the foundation of the AWF.

The AWF brings peace and joy to people in their final days. The foundation believes “positive end-of-life experiences are far too important to pass up.” They have over 230 volunteers, including highly trained medical staff and custom-built ambulances, and they have fulfilled almost 7,000 wishes. The article I read regarding the AWF included photos of the patients fulfilling their final wishes. These photos are heartwarming in their simplicity. The AWF specializes in older people. These people have often lived full lives, so their wishes are much more simple than those of kids who have just begun to live. The wishes include things such as seeing a favorite painting, watching dolphins, standing on the beach, seeing a grandchild, attending a granddaughter’s wedding, visiting a best friend’s grave, or my favorite, enjoying an ice cream cone with a loved one.

(Photo from , author, Evan Porter)

Another wish came from a woman who just wanted to see her home one last time. She asked to be taken to her living room where she sat peacefully for hours, looking around, most likely reminiscing on the memories and experiences from her life that had occurred in one small room.

These wishes make you realize, as cliché as it is, the importance of the small things in life. As the author says, perhaps the things we will remember at the end of our lives won’t be the extraordinary moments and things, but the ordinary ones- “the wallpaper in the house we grew up in, a sunny day spent on the water, or those little everyday moments spent with the people we love most.”

While it is incredible to read what Make-A-Wish does, the simplicity and warmth of the AWF is equally heartwarming. After reading about the many elderly who spend their final days in a hospital or a nursing home, it was lovely to read about these final days which I’m sure, made for good deaths.

Amazing Grace Last Words

         The Kelly Gissendaner case has been in the media for almost two years now. I remember about a year ago signing a petition to not have her executed. On Wednesday the 30, Gissendaner was finally executed: the first female prisoner executed in Georgia in the last 70 years. This case was incredibly similar to the Terry Shaivo case because two sides were fighting over the life of a woman, and even the Pope got involved.

        Gissendaner was convicted of murder in 1997 for persuading her lover to kill her husband, though she did not commit the actual murder. The Pope, Kelly’s children, and many liberals around the country pleaded to not have Kelly given the death penalty while the family of her late husband prayed that the legal system would come through and put her to death. Much of the controversy around the case expounded from the fact that Kelly, throughout her many years in prison, Kelly converted to christianity and became very strong in her faith. She prevented women from committing suicide in prison, encouraged other women to turn their lives around, and created a theology study for other prisoners (helped some by Emory). Sadly, none of these people could help Kelly in the end and the Georgia government sentenced her to death anyway.

          While I could spend an extended amount of time discussing the ethics and effectiveness of the death penalty in America, (which I do not agree with) something even more interesting comes in to play when looking at the Gissendaner case. When Kelly was finally executed, not only did she sing Amazing Grace, but her final worlds were incredibly meaningful and representative of why people were fighting for her life. In a fit of tears, she exclaimed “and I love you Sally. And I love you Susan. You let my kids know I went out singing Amazing Grace. And tell the Gissendaner family I am so sorry. That amazing man lost his life because of me and if i could take it back, if this would change it, I would have done it a long time ago. But it’s not. And I just hope they ding peace. And I hope they find some happiness. God Bless you.”

There are many important parts of this speech. The idea of final last words is strong and here I think Kelly attempts to find some reception before she dies, and she also addresses the fact that her dying doesn’t change anything about the murder that was done, however she clearly very much wishes she could change the fact that the murder happened. It means a lot that in the moments before she was about to die, Kelly is hoping for the lives of the people that are putting her to death.

“I Had To Eat a Piece of My Friend to Survive”

On October 13th, 1972, the Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 crashed into the Andes mountain range in South America. There was a total of 45 passengers on the flight, and only 27 passengers survived the initial crash. Rescue parties searched extensively and after 10 days, the passengers were presumed dead and the search ceased.

Survivors desperately began to search for resources. These efforts soon became fruitless, as they continued to search on the snow covered mountain that lacked any natural vegetation or livestock. Under harsh weather conditions, the survivors were soon faced with a difficult and unforgiving choice. As a group, they made the collective decision to eat the flesh of their dead friends. Nando Parrado, one of the survivors states, “again and again I came to the same conclusion: unless we wanted to eat the clothes we were wearing, there was nothing here but aluminum, plastic, ice, and rock” (Miracle In the Andes: 72 Days on the Mountain and My Long Trek Home). 

"Survivors: Passengers shelter near the tail of the Uruguayan plane which hit a mountain shrouded in mist as it flew from Santiago to Montevideo."

“Survivors: Passengers shelter near the tail of the Uruguayan plane which hit a mountain shrouded in mist as it flew from Santiago to Montevideo.”

What I found interesting was that the surviving passengers were all Roman Catholics, and initially, they were against the act of cannibalism,  but soon realized it was their only means of survival. They began to justify their actions with bible verses and compared the act of eating their dead friends to the rituals present in the Holy Communion. By using religious context to condone their behavior, it decreased their levels of guilt and humiliation. Many argued that the pain experienced by their loved ones would be more severe than the act of dying itself.

One of the survivors of the crash was a second year medical student, Roberto Canessa, who had successfully managed to objectify the deceased loved ones into sources of protein and fat. My question is, at what point do your friends and colleagues transform into simple cadavers, despite extreme conditions? Every individual has the right to be buried with dignity and in accordance with their personal beliefs, because even in death, they still maintain their identity as a human being.

The City Museum of St. Louis: Perpetuating Life After Death

“Do not be too timid and squeamish about your actions. All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better. What if they are a little coarse and you may get your coat soiled or torn? What if you do fail, and get fairly rolled in the dirt once or twice? Up again, you shall never be so afraid of a tumble.” –Ralph Waldo Emerson

September 26, 2015 marked the four-year anniversary of the death of Bob Cassilly, a renowned sculptor, creative director, and entrepreneur-extraordinaire. His accidental death, at the age of 61, occurred while building his project Cementland. Cassilly was born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri—where he applied his active imagination and passion towards creating places in which joy can be shared and realized by the collective-individual.

Perhaps the crowning jewel of his legacy is The City Museum. Founded in 1997, this unique place serves all-ages as an urban playground dedicated to co-explorative, co-creational learning. The City Museum encompasses many pedagogical aspects—architecture, history, science, religion, culture, art, and various artisan crafts intermix for the sake of experimentation and fun.

On the airplane wing, The City Museum, St. Louis, MO. Photograph by Brianna Murphy.

On the airplane wing, The City Museum, St. Louis, MO. Photograph by Brianna Murphy.

Bob Cassilly’s death inspired his work companions, devotedly dubbed the Cassilly Crew, to maintain his legacy and just keep building. Bob Cassilly left a mark on the community of St. Louis—a mark that is a gift of perpetual opportunity to engage growth, learning, and understanding in a manner that provokes the imagination in the most remarkable of ways.

I first visited The City Museum in November of 2007, during an era of Bob Cassilly’s vitalized creation. Upon my recent re-visit in August of 2015, I felt shock and awe for the sheer amount of change that had taken place during the time in-between. The staff’s reaction is a story in and of itself. They took great reverence and pride in how their actions reflected the legacy of Bob Cassilly. Rather than swallowing the negative emotions whole, his death ignited a zest for carrying on with his dream and best intentions. The evidence: the perpetual construction, commitment, prosperity, and devotion of the community towards benevolent engagement represented by The City Museum.

Death is a complex process constructed through biological and socio-cultural definitions. The lines that connect these processes of meaning-making become arbitrary as we delve further into the processes of death itself. Ultimately, the way in which we die is intimately linked to how we live. When we ask what constitutes a good or bad death, we expose how the concept of death is known and shaped by predispositions and expectations. Bob Cassilly’s sudden and unexpected death was bad, but the good of his life is exhibited through all that it inspires. His death prevails through what he chose to make with his life.