There are just somethings that we do not like to talk about. Like how often you wear the same pair of socks, or how you take phone calls while sitting on the toilet, or how we all are dying. Talking about death is not the most comfortable point of conversation. It is so much a problem that there are millions of books, arties, and movies on just talking about death. While these might be very helpful, they also seem to leave us wondering about the little things. Like what is dying like?
This is where Claire and The Clairity Project come in. Claire Wineland is an 18-year-old girl with Cystic Fibrosis. Cystic Fibrosis is a genetic disease that causes a thick buildup of mucus in the lungs, pancreas, and other organs. It clogs up airways, traps in bacteria leading to infection, and prevents the body to function correctly. Throughout her entire life Claire has been told that she is going to die. It has become a normalized facet of her everyday life. About 2 years ago she started making YouTube videos to share her personal story of living with a terminal illness and coping with dying. Her witty and lively personality shines through when she talks about that it is like to be dying. The way she talks about the subject of dying goes against the hush-hush nature of most conversations of death.
I find Claire and her openness as a refreshing change and someone I can relate to. Growing up my dad was diagnosed with an acute chronic case of pancreatitis. He has been hospitalized more time than I can count and almost died a few times. I and my family have normalized the entire process to the point where we can make jokes. To many people making jokes about death may seem completely wrong. Yet, I see it as a way of being about to openly accept dying. I think the way that Claire can openly talk about her illness and dying is a way of accepting death. She is showing others that it is ok to talk about death and being sick. These topics do not need to be such a taboo.
Videos to check out:
- My Life Expectancy https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mHfKs6n-mOo&t=1s
- What It’s Like to Be in A Coma https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xrT9XRyDDaE&t=90s
The Clairity Project 2015, My Life Expectancy, YouTube video. Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mHfKs6n-mOo&t=1s
The Clairity Project 2015, What’s It’s Like To Be In A Coma, YouTube video. Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xrT9XRyDDaE&t=90s
Wineland, Claire. The Clairity Project, Facebook Page. Available from: https://www.facebook.com/ClairityProject/
A couple of weeks ago in bed I watched an HBO documentary called “Boy Interrupted” which tells the account of Evan Perry, an adolescent fifteen-year-old boy who committed suicide. This film initially interested me because it was produced and directed by his parents after his death. The film tells the story of Evan’s life and the reactions of his friends, family, and relatives. I found it to be extremely interesting specifically because Evan was so young and throughout the film, it is evident that some psychological problems were present. I watch this during our “suicide/assisted suicide” unit and thought that this documentary can apply very well. One can see truly how one boy can be shaped so much by his surroundings that he would want to end his own life. In the end, Evan killed himself by jumping out his window of his bedroom on the sixth floor of an apartment building down an airs haft onto the concrete below. I greatly advise that you take a look at this film, even if you don’t watch the whole thing. It is very interesting to see first hand the psychological and mental implications that could result in suicide.
The website for this film can be found here:
On November 20, 2012 in Puerto Rico, famed boxer Hector Camacho was shot in the head in a drive by shooting while traveling with a friend. The bullet penetrated his jaw, fractured two vertebrae and severed his carotid artery restricting blood flow to his brain; he also suffered a cardiac arrest during the first few hours of his hospitalization. The next day he was declared brain dead by the physicians present effectively ending all hope that he could make a full recovery. The doctors then recommended that he be taken off of life support, a recommendation that his mother endorsed. Camacho died on November 24, 2012 and was laid to rest in New York City on December 1.
However, not everyone in Hector’s family was supportive of the decision to remove him from life support. Hector’s eldest son, Hector Jr., opposed his grandmother’s decision to remove his father from life support stating that “He is going to fight until the end. My father is a boxer.” Other relatives as well as friends of Camacho were also unsure of whether or not to remove Camacho from life support. One friend and fellow professional boxer Victor Callejas remarked that “If there is still hope and faith, why not wait a little more?”
The death of Camacho and the dispute over whether or not to end life support for him shows that despite what scientific evidence tell us, despite what professional doctors know and despite what we have learned throughout the semester in this Death and Burial Class, there is always going to be a debate over life support and whether or not brain death is truly the end. Even though we know about brain death and the fact that a person cannot recover if the brain is dead, we should not be so quick to look down on people who doubt the evidence of brain death with contempt. It is understandable why these people might be hesitant to pull the plug on a loved one. For almost everyone, losing a loved one is one of the most traumatizing experiences they can go through; furthermore, losing a loved one who still looks able to potentially function and recover is even more traumatizing. Even though we should raise awareness of brain death, due to the fact that people are reacting normally to the state of their loved ones, we shouldn’t blame people for being hesitant to pull the plug on a brain dead relative.
Because of this, every person in this class should make it their goal to help raise awareness of brain death is some way shape of form. By doing this, we can at least help make sure that people are more understanding of brain death and what it means for their loved ones
On November 1, 2012, Emory hosted the Send Silence Packing exhibit. As I walked to my last class of the day, I came across many backpacks dispersed about the Quad. As I got closer, I saw that there were personal letters or notes written by friends and relatives, telling a short story of the tragic loss of their loved one to suicide. With each step I took along the sidewalk, I viewed the letters of other deceased college students. Lifting my head, I realized that these people were once students just like me, stressing out about classes, but something about their situation made their only solution suicide. Suicide falls closer than we expect. The 1100 backpacks represented the students who have taken their own lives in the past year alone. For more information go to: http://news.emory.edu/stories/2012/10/er_send_silence_packing/campus.html
Suicide has left a mark on our younger generation. It is interesting that although it is so prevalent, its stigma makes it a subject not openly discussed. It is such a difficult topic that many suffering from depression do not seek help. However, a mental health issue must be handled appropriately. Furthermore, there is no “type” or person who commits suicide. At a school of diverse students, this issue should top priority because anyone of any background can suffer from mental illness.
This silent epidemic is taking our loved ones away from us. The worst thing to do when dealing with an epidemic is nothing. The lack of attention and effectual solutions to this problem produces incessant reports of suicide throughout the country. Therefore, it continues, spreads, and will continue to do so until we as a society take preemptive steps to avoid this last resort and help the people who are in this situation.
Something has changed that has caused problems to be so unbearable that the only answer is death. It is especially problematic because with this exhibit, the victims are college students. The stress of college can be intimidating. Not only do students concern themselves with academics, but also work, paying for school, approval from parents and professors and friends, their future and career. Although college is supposed to be the best four years of your life it can also be the worst and last years of a student’s life. There have been strategies to help depressed students, but how far have we come to where suicide is not statistically significant?
The final installment of the Twilight saga was released on November 16, 2012 in U.S. theatres. The film centers on Bella’s half- vampire half- human daughter, Renesmee Cullen, who is in danger of the Volturi for a false allegation. The Cullens gather support from other vampire clans to protect Renesmee to prevent a bloody vampire war. Breaking Dawn Part Two presents interesting elements of vampire lore that are undoubtedly connected with death: death as a sex symbol and a lesson on how to kill a vampire.
Sex sells in pop culture, and Breaking Dawn definitely made this point clear. From Tayler Lautner’s rock hard abs to close ups of Kristen Stewart’s full lips; from passionate love scenes to sex jokes, Twilight symbolizes the sexuality in death. That is to say, the characters themselves are symbols of sex. The highly attractive cast reminded me of other vampire movies, from Coppola’s Dracula (1992) to Dracula 2000 (2000) produced by Patrick Lussier to Stephen Sommers’ Van Helsing (2004) which similarly casted sexy actors and actresses. Furthermore it reminded me of Dr. Stutz’ previous blog post from early November, “Can I please have a look at the coffin with the hot chick black reaper?” and Sarah Hampton’s recent post on Vladimir the Impaler: the media is “sexifies” objects of death, making death more pleasing, enticing, and approachable.
Breaking Dawn pt. 2 presents an interesting element regarding suicide: you die to become immortal. It is a sacrifice for rebirth. Bella exemplifies this resurrection most clearly when she is bit by Edward to become a vampire. As a result, she not only gains immeasurable strength and good health, but her daughter, Renesmee, is born a vampire-human hybrid. Renesmee is special, because she is not an Immortal Child, or a child that was bitten by a vampire. Instead, Renesmee is born biologically. Here, again we see how our generation humanizes vampires, changing the old traditional stories of bloodthirsty vampires to the possible existence of half human half vampire entities.
The film also comments on what we understand as the death of a vampire. Supposedly immortal beings, it is agreed that vampires can be killed by sunlight or a stake through the heart. The film disregards death by sunlight and also illustrates a new method. We have seen from the first episode of the Twilight Saga that vampires sparkle in sunlight instead of burning into ashes. Furthermore, decapitation becomes the method for survival in the film. Team Cullen, aided by their alliance with the wolves, takes on the Volturi in a gruesome battle where the heads literally snap and roll. I find this very interesting, because vampire films have illustrated how humans can kill vampires, but I have never seen vampires kill vampires. Lastly the decapitations made me think of how the living suffer and the dead do not: mortals sometimes experience painful deaths whereas the vampires (technically dead), die instantly and definitely at the detachment of their head.
This article published in the New York Times looks at the discovery of and research on a very simple organism that seems to be immortal. Could the study of these jellyfish help us learn how to evade death? If so, should that be an avenue we pursue?
This week in class, we read an excerpt from one of Philip Gourevitch’s gripping book We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families about the genocide in Rwanda. His testimony of visiting the Nyarubuye Church after the massacre initiated a bigger discussion of what is ethically acceptable when it comes to using actual human remains to bear testimony of atrocities to commemorate events in the past, and also to assure that nobody ever forgets or questions the authenticity of this history. Andrea shared with us her family’s images from a visit to Auschwitz, a site that remains not only a ruin of a painful past, but also provides actual evidence against Holocaust deniers today. It is hard to argue against such tangible facts on the ground. Then a friend of mine, Petter Linde, who also happens to be an archaeologist, sent me an interesting link to an article by BBC News, that reveals a similar discussion about the ethics of photographing and displaying images of the dead from World War 1, entitled Fallen Soldiers: Is it right to take images of bodies?
Is it acceptable to show images like this from WW1, or is it ethically so problematic that the benefits of bearing witness of these horrific events do not compensate for the humiliation and lack of sensitivity and respect for the dead?
Documenting the dead – to create a record, to support testimonies of atrocities, to communicate what most of us are unable to put into words – has long been business as usual for journalists. But we see that today this is becoming increasingly questioned by both the public and by authorities. I understand the visceral reaction to photos of dead people, and I feel sympathy for those who feel that this is in some way undignified or at least questionable. But at the same time we must then also ask ourselves where to draw the line? Is it not equally, if not more problematic, to publish images of living people in conflicts – those who may still be suffering, or whose lives may be at risk because of the exposure. Is it not more objectionable to capture the images of starving children or wounded soldiers, than of dead ones? Of course, this immediately gets very complicated and probably we must resort to an uncommitted “it depends”. And yet, without testimonies like this, would the world community care, even less take action?
The image of the naked Phan Thi Kim Phuc in 1972 raised awareness among the American public about the reality on the ground in Vietnam and the effects of the use of napalm bombing for thousands of civilians.
Without images like that of Phan Thi Kim Phuc the American public may have felt differently about the Vietnam war.
But the question remains: how far should we go to use the bodies of the dead to tell our stories? Do their voices to some extent still speak through the materiality of their bodies, or, are we simply exploiting the raw effect these gruesome images have to make our own points and further our own agendas?
Liv Nilsson Stutz
The good people at Polish coffin manufacturer Lidner do not hold back when it comes to marketing their products. After all, funerals are a business, and to make it in a cut-throat world, you may have to find your niche. Lidner decided to spice things up. With a calendar. But not any old calendar – one with semi-naked ladies posing with the coffins. This is quite a leap from the way the company presents itself and its products on their restrained website emphasizing tradition, craftmanship and quality. How would you feel about buying a coffin from a company that markets their products with a well endowed Oktoberfest girl straddling the product, a black lingerie + military hat wearing vixen breaking into the coffin with a sledge hammer to retrieve booze, or simply with a classic make out shot (but on a coffin)? Classy!
“We wanted to show that a coffin isn’t a religious symbol. Its a product” says Zbigniew Lindner, the firm’s owner in an interview published by the Daily Mail. That sex sells is not news for most of us, but it is very forward in the coffin business. And while Lidner’s choice of marketing has caused outrage in the Catholic Church, it may actually be good for business.
This is one of the most fascinating and tasteless products I have seen in years. Yet – and maybe because of it – it raises very interesting questions. We agree that while funerals are important rituals, they are also a business. Every step of the way the people who make a living burying our dead must make some kind of profit. So while we prefer not to think about that aspect of the service, we all know about it and agree to accept it. So why does this upset us? Feminist critique aside (and while I have plenty of it, I will hold my fire this time), is it worse to market a coffin with sex than it is to sell any other product that way?
We expect the business of dealing with our dead to be dignified, respectful…and definitively asexual. But if you want to market a product, sex may actually appeal to customers. The associations of death and sex are well documented in art and literature since at least the 17th century, and in folk tales that are even older (think Snow White). Marquis de Sade may be the most notorious of writers exploring this field, but as intentionally provocative as his writing was, his work found a readership in a cultural context that accepted the exploration of these connections we today find so repulsive. Our culture no longer dwells on intercourse with the dead, but sex and marketing may never have been more explicitly connected. In a sexualized capitalist society, can we really expect death to be protected from eroticized marketing strategies?
Liv Nilsson Stutz
Several months ago I saw Gus Van Sant’s 2011 movie Restless for the first time. I admit I was originally drawn to it because Henry Hopper, Dennis Hopper’s son, was playing one of the leads and I was curious as to what the son of director and costar of Easy Rider fame would bring to the big screen. As I watched, however, my attention was drawn to the presence of death in the film and the differences in the way those who have to face their own passing and those who have to face the death of a loved one deal with it.
Restless follows the story of two young adults, Enoch and Annabel, who both have had more than their faire share of experience with death. After meeting at a funeral Annabel was attending and Enoch crashing, the two develop a relationship. However, because Annabel is suffering from a brain tumor the two are only projected to have three months together, during which time they are forced to come to terms with Annabel’s imminent death.
Annabel has a calm understanding of her situation right from the beginning, while those around her are much less accepting and are sometimes even frustrated by her seemingly blasé way of talking about her own death. Throughout the film it’s clear that living with the constant presence of death, whether in the form of another patient’s funeral or her own prognosis, has drastically changed her view on life. At one point while talking with her sister, Annabel says that only having three more months doesn’t really both her since in the large scheme of things the existence of humanity itself is just a small speck on the universe’s timeline. Many times she also mentions that there’s a type of songbird that thinks it dies every time the sun goes down and sings in happiness every morning when the sun rises because it realizes it’s still alive.
Enoch on the other hand was never able to properly grieve the death of his parents, resulting in unresolved anger and an inability on some levels to deal with death. Though at first it seems he’s accepted that his girlfriend only has 3 months to live, it becomes clear later on that what seemed to be acceptance was really denial. The final half hour of the film focuses on his coming to terms with Annabel’s approaching death, partially facilitated by his interactions with his “ghost friend,” a kamikaze pilot called Hiroshi with whom he talks and plays battleship.
While rewatching the film this week there were two points in the film that especially made me think of discussions we’ve had in Death and Burial this semester. About halfway through the film Annabel mentions that she’d like to donate her body to science. Enoch is very unhappy with her decision and states that he doesn’t like the idea of people cutting her into pieces and “putting her eyes in jars.” This made me think about the potential effect on family members when someone decides to donate their body to science or for organ donation. Do most people consult their loved ones before making that decision? Should loved ones have a significant say, since in the end they’re the ones who are really affected by what happens after death? Later on in the film Enoch and Annabel rehearse a “death scene” they’d prepared for Annabel. She’d planned out precisely how she wanted to die. This reminded me of the way medieval good deaths were organized and also how some people plan out their funerals ahead of time to the last detail. I did find it somewhat odd that she was planning out her death scene, not her funeral, though this does go back to the importance, even today, of the moment of death in how an individual’s death is viewed. Many films contain death-related material, but not many flat out address it as Restless does. Often when a film’s focus is death the film is somewhat confrontational, while Restless managed to introduce and discuss the concept in a surprisingly open and comforting way.
Imagine going to your sister’s house to investigate a possible intruder. After a brief struggle with the intruder, you fire your weapon and the intruder collapses. You immediately pull off the mask of the intruder only to find that the intruder is your son. This seems more like an urban legend than actual reality but this is just what happened in Connecticut last month. Jeffrey Giuliano who lived next door to his sister hurried to his sister’s house one night after receiving a frantic phone call that someone was trying to break into her house. Upon walking outside, he saw the intruder, who was holding a knife and quickly discharged the firearm after an intimidating confrontation. Unbeknownst to him it was Tyler Giuliano.
Grieving is a natural part of losing a loved one but with grief comes several other emotions. Accidental death is traumatic. It conjures feelings of guilt because the question of prevention seems to arise. Guilt is an expected stage of grief but it takes a more profound role when one assumes the responsibility for someone’s death. In this case, Giuliano’s accidental murder of his son is most traumatic because it could have been prevented.
Who was at fault? Was it the teen’s mistake because he pretended to burglarize his aunt’s home and charge toward his father in an intimidating way? On the other hand, was it the father’s fault for taking things into his own hands and not letting the police handle the problem? One thing for certain is that a life was lost at an unfortunate cost. A little prank cost Tyler Giuliano his life; and Jeffrey Giuliano’s attempt to protect himself and his sister cost him his son’s life.
I think that this is a tragic event. Not only did Jeffrey Giuliano lose his son but also he has lost his peace of mind. I can only imagine the emotions running through his mind. Guilt, sadness, depression, even thoughts of suicide may be issues that he struggles with for the rest of his life. Death is already hard to deal with. Adding guilt or responsibility to the death of a loved one makes it even more difficult to carry on. How will he carry on? I assume that Jeffrey Giuliano will seek counseling to help overcome the extreme feelings of guilt. The worst part of this entire situation is that there will always be unanswered questions. This tragic event does however serve as a warning for others who think of playing similar pranks.