A sensible analysis of the Marlise Munoz case

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Marlise & Erik Munoz

Erik  & Marlise Munoz

When Marlise Munoz was fatally seized by an apparent pulmonary embolism, certainly all professionals working in end-of-life and bereavement care could appreciate the awful experience about to unfold in the lives of her husband, family members and friends. What no one could have anticipated, however, was the two months of horrific burden laid on their backs.

With all of the political maneurvering and legal posturing that has taken place, there has been “more heat than light.” But Dallas Morning News columnist Jacquielynn Floyd, cuts right to the heart of the matter in this insightful article. Perhaps her most stirring comment: “But the freakish, dystopian hell superimposed on their loss was an inhumane synthesis of factors outside their control: obscure and misinterpreted law, cover-your-butt bureaucratic paranoia and hysteria surrounding reproductive politics.”

I have read few analyses of this case that shed more light on the need for sanity. Click here to read Floyd’s article.

Roger Ebert did not LOSE his battle with cancer

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Like the media’s treatment of most high-profile deaths, Roger Ebert “lost” his battle with cancer. In a provocative article, Michael Wosnick rejectsRoger Ebert this common metaphor, suggesting that even though Ebert died, he did not lose. If one has to have winners and losers in disease processes, a principle to which Wosnick objects, then Ebert actually WON–not because he persistently evaded death but because he so-clearly embraced life, even while dying. This is important food for thought and reminds us to take care in the metaphors we all use.

Click here to learn more about Ebert and the way his life was honoredthrough his funeral at Chicago’s Holy Name Cathedral.

Do Funerals Matter?

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Do Funerals Matter

Routledge has just published Bill Hoy’s new book, Do Funerals Matter? The Purposes and Practices of Death Rituals in Global Perspective. Learn more about the book and get your 18% discount off the publisher’s list price ($ 31.95 instead of $ 37.95 until April 1) here.

This volume details Bill’s five anchors of death rituals present in every society studied–both in the contemporary world and throughout history.  About this new book, Kevin O’Neill (University of Redlands) wrote, “Bill Hoy’s remarkable book combines elements that one would not expect to find coexisting happily within a single cover. It introduces a five-part template for performing proper grief rituals that proves extraordinarily useful, then extends this study to include knowledgeable discussions of the death rituals of many cultures. It is remarkable to find so many topics covered with such proficiency and competence in a single volume, and funeral and grief professionals will benefit from his suggestions. I recommend this book without a single reservation.”

Harold Ivan Smith, author of Borrowed Narratives wrote, “Do funerals ‘matter’ anymore? Bill Hoy resoundingly answers ‘Yes!’ in what I think will become the definitive book on the topic. Hoy blends his personal experience with ritual as a minister, a clinician, and a mourner with a vast palette of research. I thought I knew a lot about funerals, but this book kept me reading and it has strengthened my appreciation for the elements of a good funeral. Rare among academic books, this one is a page-turner!”

Learn more about Do Funerals Matter? (and order your discounted copy!) today here.

 

Learning How to Die

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You would think after nearly 30 years, I would get used to this. It has been my honor a thousand times or more to walk alongside a dying person as he or she said goodbye here, but this one is different. My pastor is dying.

Just a few weeks ago, Debbie and I shared a meal with Mike Toby, reflecting on what kids are up to, talking about ministry and simply enjoying the sweet savor of friendship over a meal of Carinos pasta. Last semester, Mike spoke to my pre-med students at Baylor and we had made a plan for him to speak to both classes again in the next couple of weeks. Yesterday, he shared a labored message via video with the congregation he has loved for 35 years, charging us with words for the future.

Physical life for him is short and he declares it clearly in this video. But let me say what I hear echoing here more clearly. This is a dying man’s testament to faith, to the life he is confident waits ahead of him beyond death, and the sweet message of gratitude to the congregation he has led for 35 years. I invite you to listen to what he says.

I remember the excitement in his face when I told him over coffee at Gerick’s one morning that I was joining the medical humanities faculty at Baylor. I recall the sweet times of coffee or lunch or simply hanging out over the five years Debbie and I have been blessed to call Mike, “Pastor.” Even when teaching from a familiar passage of scripture, Mike has always had the gift of mining a truth I had never seen.

The people of our church and our community will miss him. This man who has so fervently helped us learn how to live, now is God’s gift in teaching us how to die.

Ever Vigilant

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Even with the approach of Hurricane Sandy’s fierce downpours and howling winds, The Old Guard stands ever-vigilant at the Tomb of the Unknowns in Washington’s Arlington National Cemetery. The soldiers of the 3rd Infantry Regiment faithfully guard the tomb through the heat of summer and the cold of winter.

In spite of the cemetery being closed and no tourists to view the changing of the guard, the soldiers of the 3rd Infantry keep up their faithful watch. Captain Owen Koch told USA Today, “Miserable is what we sign up to do as infantrymen. They do it every day, in the heat of the summer and the dead of the winter. I expect we’ll be able to keep soldiers out there the whole time.”

The vigilance of the Old Guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns reminds all Americans of the protective faithfulness of our men and women in uniform who honorably place their lives in harm’s way every day. Take a moment today to say thank you to someone you know who currently serves or who has served to protect our freedoms.

Even Elephants “Get It”

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When Lawrence Anthony, the beloved curator of a private South African game preserve died last spring, South African news outlets reported that two herds of his beloved elephants made their way to his home and spent a couple of days reverently paying their respects. Similar to the North American ritual of holding a wake or offering calling hours at the funeral home, these elephants gathered to honor a life.

Funeral for “Elephant Whisperer” Lawrence Anthony (1950-2012)

Widely reported around the world in such media outlets as Readers Digest, the story seems to echo what has been generally accepted as the “emotional intelligence” of elephants. Dr. Janet McCord, director of the Edwin S. Shneidman Department of Thanatology at Marian University is not surprised to hear this response. Having lived and worked on the African continent, McCord says elephants will often gather around the bones of a member of the herd to create their own funeral ritual. Elephants have been known to bury their dead by heaping leaves, grasses and even soil on the corpses of dead members of the herd.

You can read the whole story about the two herds that appeared at Lawrence Anthony’s home on the website of the Independent Newspapers of Africa.

Thank you to Chris Butler, Butler Funeral Homes in Springfield, Ilinois for alerting us to this story.

Honoring Funeral Directors

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People are sometimes critical of funeral service professionals, forgetting that these people walk with families and communities through the “darkest nigths of the soul.” So when I saw  this Denver Post photo that includes my friend, John Horan along with other members of his staff supporting the family and friends of 18-year old A.J. Boik in yesterday’s funeral, I was reminded that once again, this dear friend is leading his staff to care for their community when they are hurting deeply, themselves. I felt a sense of pride in seeing this photo and others like them in this morning’s newspapers.

But frankly, this photo is also sobering as I realize that John and his staff are doing once again for the people of suburban Denver what they did after Columbine just 13 years ago. I can speak for most of my colleagues in grief counseling to say most of us go our entire careers without being called on to shepherd our own communities through the aftermath of a mass killing; John Horan, Darren Forbes and their people are now doing this for the second time in less than a decade and a half.

At the same time, I am gladdened that John and his people are there. I can’t imagine any funeral directors in greater Denver who can better care for these people–not just the families of the victims but this entire community. It’s interesting that the criticism of funerals and funeral directors DOES NOT generally come from people who see them in this kind of setting, nor from those who live the heart-wrenching experience of a loved one’s death and who are therein served by these men and women. In caring for bereaved people and in my ongoing research into the efficacy of funerals, I have been privleged to meet men and women like John Horan from all over the world. Their task is often thankless–and it shouldn”t be so.

So to all of you who place your own grief “on hold” to lead your communities through the unthinkable, I say thank you. As a counselor among the grieving, I am deeply aware that your hard work has made my job inestimatbly easier. Not just when the “cameras are rolling” but every single day with every single family, you care with honor, care and professionalism.  I count it a joy to number you folks as the “best of the best” among my colleagues in caregiving.

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