Monthly Archives: April 2018


The Living Dead

While avoiding starting my homework, I was watching clips on YouTube from different TLC TV-shows. I quickly fell down the rabbit hole of watching clips from the Untold Stories of the ER and one particular video title stood out to me: “Girl with ‘Walking Corpse Syndrome’ Thinks She’s Dead!”

Intrigued, I clicked on it.  Although poorly acted, the case presented was very interesting. It was about a young woman who believed she was dead and consequently refused to eat. She had Cotard’s Syndrome: a mental illness in which a person believes that they are dead, decaying, non-existent, or have lost internal organs or blood.

It was first described in 1880 by neurologist Jules Cotard who was presented with a patient known as Mademoiselle X who did not believe certain parts of her body existed.  She believed she did not need to eat and explained that she was condemned to eternal damnation. She died of starvation, which unfortunately is a common consequence of the illness due to patients believing they do not need to eat. Cotard’s is described in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th Edition) as a type of somatic delusion that involves bodily functions or sensations. Although not outlined in detail in the DSM, an individual is more likely to be afflicted with the disorder if they have schizophrenia or experience psychosis, neurological illness, another mental illness such as depression, brain tumors, or migraine headache.

The syndrome normally exists in three distinct stages. The first is the germination stage, in which depressive and hypochondria symptoms appear. The second stage is called the blooming stage, in which delusions of negation start appearing. The last stage is the chronic stage, in which the patient suffers prolonged severe delusions and chronic psychiatric depression. All three stages severely impact the patient’s ability to care for themselves, leading them to neglect their physical health and personal hygiene.

The syndrome can have severe impacts on a person’s interactions with the world; their negation of self often comes with a distorted view of the external world. For example, a patient described in the article “Betwixt Life and Death: Case Studies of the Cotard Delusion” was hospitalized in 1990 because he believed that he was dead. His mother took him to another country after he had been discharged. He believed that he was being taken to hell. He had lost touch of where he was in the world and he interpreted external sensory output differently. The weather which was hotter in the country they were visiting was seen as a reason to confirm that he was in hell. Because of the extremity and rarity of Cotard’s Syndrome, it is often hard to diagnosis and therefore treat, so the patient often suffers with the symptoms for an extended period of time.


Funeral Rituals: The Death of a Dog

“Just this side of heaven is a place called Rainbow Bridge. When an animal dies that has been especially close to someone here, that pet goes to Rainbow Bridge. There are meadows and hills for all of our special friends so they can run and play together.” ‑ Anonymous

This was the quote etched into the condolences card my family received after our dog passed away last November. We lost more than a pet — we lost a member of our family.

I had arrived home on Tuesday morning for Thanksgiving break, one of my favorite times of the year because it was a rare occasion of gathering with relatives and friends to eat turkey, stuffing, and cornbread but also traditional Chinese and Taiwanese dishes. However, that same evening, my dog suddenly collapsed and passed away.

In the moment of her death, my mother and father were devastated. They cried, wailed and clung onto her body, trying to shake her awake. Beside them, my younger brother sat stiffly with an emotionless face. I immediately stood up and searched the house for gloves, sheets, trash bags and cleaning supplies. My parents tearfully urged my brother and I to say our goodbyes, and my mom insisted on cutting a lock of her hair and keeping it.

In the following days, we cancelled all Thanksgiving plans, and we managed logistics for cremation plans in order to take care of the body. My mother refused to throw out her bed, toys, and items, and she would speak to a photo of my dog as if she were still there. My father, a few days after her death, set out some apple slices (her favorite) and some water, saying that spirits of family always return to visit a few days after their passing.

When I initially researched dog burials, I was surprised by 1. The fact that they existed, and 2. The amount of pet cemeteries there were in close proximity. My family ended up asking our veterinarian to help take care of the body, we as needed a place to keep her over Thanksgiving. He asked us if we wanted an autopsy, but my parents said no, as they did not want to harm her physical body and hurt or disturb her spirit. The vet set us up with a nice pet funeral home that helped cremate our dog. My mother chose an urn, which included an impression of her paw print out of a few different options.

We loved our dog like another family member, so we went through a grieving process as if we lost a human family member. Through this experience, I realized that there are many parallels in psychological and emotional impact, feeling of loss, and rituals for humans and pets.