Author Archives: Bridget Maureen Cashman

Taylor Werkema- October Baby

This past week we were talking about the problematic death of the unborn.  Recently, I watched a movie that explored how someone would deal with learning that she was born through a failed abortion.   The movie is called October Baby.  So yes this is the perfect time to talk about this.  In the movie, the main character Hannah has just started college and is suffering from a number of conditions including epilepsy, asthma, and depression.  After a traumatic collapse during a performance Hannah meets with her parents and a doctor.  This is where Hannah learns she is not only adopted but that her biological mother tried to abort her.  Hannah decides that she needs to find her birth mother in order to move on with her life.  After a tumultuous encounter with her biological mother Hannah tries to get a better understanding of why her adopted parents went about adopting her.  She finds out that her mother lost twins at 24 weeks.  After this they had seen an adoption request at the pregnancy crisis center where they ended up getting Hannah.

This movie brought up the very interesting dimensions of problematic death of the unborn.  Hannah from the perspective of the unborn that almost didn’t exist allows the viewer to explore how an unborn might feel.  Hannah’s biological mother allows the viewer to see the perspective of the mother who chooses to end the life of her baby.  Finally, the movie explores the loss a mother feels after the loss of an unborn child and how she can cope and move on.  This movie, although offering a very religious dimension, offers a very interesting perspective of our recent class topics.


Taylor Werkema-How to Die in Oregon

In 1994 Oregon became the first state to allow physician assisted suicide.  Through a measure called the Oregon Death with Dignity Act, terminally ill patients were allowed to end their life though medications prescribed by physicians.  This documentary explores the background to the law and then it follows the story of several patients that are going through the Death with Dignity process.  The documentary is a really charged telling of the lives of these terminally ill patients and their loved ones.  The patients range from the elderly to middle age persons suffering from a terminal illness.  This is interesting story because it is very different from the documentary The Suicide Plan we watched in class.  This documentary intimately shows the emotional side of physician-assisted suicide.  The main difference is the people in the documentary focus more on the control physician assisted suicide gives the person over their death, and in turn life, rather than the relief of pain and suffering.

Although the film is clearly sympathetic to the agenda of physician-assisted suicide, it does do a good job of showing the vast amount of good that this program can do through the lens of several different patients experiences.  I recommend this to anyone who has an interest in physician-assisted suicide and end of life care.


Taylor Werkema- We need a heroic narrative for death

In this inspirational Ted Talk, Amanda Bennett, a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, explains her journey with the death of her husband and what she learned through it.  Ms. Bennett explains first her life with her husband and then his death.  Her husband and her lived a life full of travel and adventure traveling all over the world as they both worked and wrote abroad.  She then speaks about how he became ill with cancer.  Much like how they lived their lives, both confronted death with an attitude of conquering this new adventure.  Unfortunately, this attitude of unrelenting hope and conquering led to the denial of the actual act of dying.  Finally, after three rounds of remission, when her husband died Ms. Bannett was not prepared for it and this quick death in a hospital bed did not seem to match the heroic narrative of their lives.

Ms. Bennett then calls for a more heroic narrative for death—a death that allows a person’s life to be manifested in his or her death.  Although having a death that is reflective of one’s life is not a new concept, referring to the concept of a “good death” as seen throughout history, it seems we have lost that in modern Western culture.  This video is a moving and powerful story of how the living need a narrative for death to match the narrative of their loved ones’ lives.  If you have 20 minutes free this would be a great watch.

Delicious Corpses

Marina Abramović , a famous performance artist who now lives in New York, is a prominent figure in the art community.  To understand her work I had to first understand performance art. Basically, it is a form of art that incorporates real personal emotions and interactions usually in the forms of public performances and videos. In one interview, Abramović , who self-identifies as the grandmother of performance art, stated that a performance artist never hesitates to cut or harm his or her own body for the sake of the artistic message because the body is only a canvas. Most of her work consists of very unusual public acts, including nude performances with skeletons and interacting with museum visitors in a previously constructed display, like a large table.


In regards to this class, Abramović’s most relevant art performance was at the MOCA Gala LA in 2011. The event was set up with a large stage in the middle of the room with oval-shaped banquet tables stationed around it, each set with plates and place settings to instruct guests where to sit.  Though this set up seems traditional, it was the details of the event that Abramović used to send her artistic message.  All servers wore long white coats similar to a doctor’s white coat and each table had a centerpiece either of a skeleton or of a live actor’s head (a hole was cut in the table for the actor to stick his or her head through). For the actors in the tables, I believe they were instructed to act as lifeless as possible. I say this because the footage of the event shows the actors staring at guests with “dead” facial expressions.


After guests were seated, the live performances began. This part of the event included different performances by varying artists, along with Abramović’s reading from a section of her manifesto about the role of the artist in society as an entertainer and a selfless teacher. After this reading, Blondie took the stage and performed her song, “Heart of Glass.” As her performance came to an end, shirtless men brought out two large planks each carrying a large object draped in an opaque shroud. When Blondie finished her song, Abramović came on stage and unveiled the objects. The objects were life-sized naked corpses that each resembled one of the artists on stage. It turns out they were cakes. After handing Blondie a knife, the two artists moved to her own replica cake; Abramović, a brunette, moved to the brunette cake and Blondie moved to the blonde one. Each performer proceeded to stab the woman cake in the heart and hold up handfuls to the audience.  It was this action that struck me the most.


Would simply cutting the cake not send a sufficient message? The stabbing act was extremely unsettling for me, and the video of the event made sure to include the reactions of the celebrity guests. The video of the event ends on an image of the devoured woman cake with the serving knife sticking out of its chest; a very unsettling image due to the life-like appearance of the woman cake’s face and the color of the cake.


During this large dinner event, which doubled as a performance art piece, I believe that the corpse cakes were meant to symbolize an artist’s body of work. This is a great example of the symbolism that a corpse can have. Because it is an inanimate object, it innately represents victimization and helplessness. Does this mean that Abramović wished to state that she felt viciously devoured by her audience and fans? But doesn’t she enjoy being an entertainer? Why else would she choose that career? Maybe this was meant to symbolize that she wanted herself to be consumed by her audience, which would mean the corpse cake simply represented herself and her dreams.

Overall, the performance succeeded at evoking profound emotions from the audience, including myself. Abramović’s belief that an artist’s body is a canvas was brought to a new level with the cutting of the cake. I can imagine the discomfort that guests would have felt while eating a cake that was so human-like, which I’m sure Abramović understood. The whole event was raw and unusual, which art should be. Her message was stark and I applaud her methods of pushing the envelope.







How Close is Too Close?

Yesterday I watched the TLC show My Strange Addiction after getting home from our Death and Burial class. My timing has never been so perfect. The episode that was on was about Casie, a 26-year-old widow who became addicted to eating her dead husband’s ashes after his premature death. According to Casie, she first tasted his ashes when after spilling some on her hand. Instead of washing the remains off, she decided to eat them so as not to waste them. Ever since that moment, Casie has eaten a total of one pound of her husband’s ashes. The most interesting part of the story is that Casie sought help from the TLC show because she understood that the ashes would run out eventually. She feared that the total loss of her husband once the six pounds of his ashes were completely consumed would be too much for her to handle.

This case is extremely interesting because the thought of the physical harm that the ashes could cause to her body is overshadowed by Casie’s intense need to be close with her late husband. As many of us know, human ashes include many toxins, including carcinogenic formaldehyde, which is used to preserve the body for funeral rituals before the actual cremation. Surely a part of Casie always knew that eating her husband’s ashes was not healthy, regardless of the extent to which she understood this. However, when asked about this possible physical harm, Casie expressed that she never worried about it. To her, the ashes could never be as harmful to her body as the death of her husband was to her soul.

Casie’s story offers a few ideas to think about. Firstly, why did Casie feel that she needed to eat her husband’s remains? In her interviews, Casie repeatedly talks about how she feels a bond with her husband that she has missed. But this would only be in her mind. I don’t think that there can be any physiological explanation for the happiness that eating her husband’s remains brings to Casie, other than a possible high from the chemicals. Secondly, at what point did Casie realize she needed help? It is actually extremely admirable that Casie was able to understand that she needed help. I could imagine that someone in such a sad emotional state would have the insight to seek help!

In Casie’s case, the grief of her lost loved one never came to an end. As we have discussed before, societies have burial rituals in order to transport an individual who has lost a loved one from a state of extreme grief and bereavement to a state of acceptance. Whether it was due to the inability of her society or herself to facilitate a successful burial ritual for her husband, Casie’s grief was never brought to a close. It is possible that after her husband’s cremation, Casie did reach a state of understanding and acceptance. However, after tasting her husband’s ashes, all acceptances were shattered. In the end, Casie was treated for a mental illness and was prescribed anti-depressants and talk therapy sessions.

This is not the first time that such a case has been discussed. There are multiple articles online about spouses who choose to eat their dead partners’ cremated remains. Most of them say it is because their grief is allayed because of the act. Would there still be a reason to treat these individuals for a mental illness if these remains did not pose a physical threat? Is it really that bad to want to eat your dead partner?





Finally about the Walking Dead

The Walking Dead has been a hit TV show for the past four years. While I have watched it religiously, the theme of death in the show never stood out to me before. There have always been themes of staying alive and sticking together as a group, but the zombie as a character had never been discussed. The show is based around the main character, Rick Grimes; an ex-sheriff who wakes up as a patient in an abandoned hospital and quickly learns that he is in the middle of the zombie apocalypse. For three full seasons, Rick has lead his group into different battles and through a variety of adventures while simultaneously trying to avoid being bitten by a zombie. Although at least one zombie has been present in each episode, these undead characters and their hunger for human flesh have been a side-story to the drama and strife between “survivors.”

The episode that aired this past Sunday was the season premiere for Season 4. In one of the opening scenes, a bunch of the children from the group are standing by the chain-link fence that encloses the group’s camp. As they stand and giggle at the zombies struggling against the fence to get in, one girl starts to name the zombies and encourages the other children to remember the names. At the same time, Rick’s son, Carl, storms up to the group of children and yells at them for naming the zombies. He states that they can’t have names because they aren’t people anymore. They are dead. The young girl replies that they are still people because they walk and are hungry but they are just different types of people now. This is the FIRST time during the show that the zombies have been discussed in a non-violent and contemplative manner.

A bit later in the episode, a few individuals from the group decide to go on a grocery run at the nearest corner shop. While they are there, several zombies break in to the building and start attacking them. The cinematography during this scene is unlike any that has been used in the show before. Instead of filming different shots far enough to include the zombie and the “living” person it is attacking, the camera focuses on the zombie’s missing limbs as they move to illustrate their animated death. I believe that this focus on the animation of an incomplete and rotting corpse forces the viewer to re-evaluate what it means to be “living.”

The past three seasons, which have been marked by drama between the “survivors,”  has included infidelity, murder, racism and deception… But has always seemed a bit average. However, this new focus on the zombies as the “living dead” instead of soulless animals is sure to bring a new layer to the show that will make the fourth season new and inventive.