Tag Archives: Dying

THIRTEEN STRANGE SUPERSTITIONS ABOUT DEATH

A8Death is an uncomfortable subject for many folks. Perhaps it’s the severe emotional reaction people have to death—especially if it’s someone close—that makes the living act in bizarre ways. Or, maybe it’s because death’s process is not well understood that causes normally rational individuals to believe in irrational concepts.

Yesterday I was looking over notes from my basic coroner training. One segment was in understanding various cultural practices and traditions about death. This was valuable information as a difficult part of a coroner’s job is interacting with the deceased’s family and those relations can come from a diverse ethnicity with some pretty peculiar beliefs.

I thought I’d share thirteen strange superstitions about death.

13. Coins On The Eyes

A11The practice dates back to the ancient Greeks who believed the dead would travel down to Hades and need to cross the river Styx in order to arrive in the afterlife. To cross over, they needed to pay the boat driver, Charon, so coins were placed over the eyes of the dead so they’d be able to pay the fare.

Secondly, and more practically, many people die with their eyes open. This can be a creepy feeling, having the dead stare at you, and it was thought the dead might be eyeing someone to go with them. Coins were a practical item to weigh down the eyelids until rigor mortis set in—coins being round and fit in the eye sockets as well as being relatively heavy.

The most famous set of eye coins is the two, silver half-dollars set on Abraham Lincoln, now on display in the Chicago Historical Museum.

12. Birds And Death

A12Birds were long held to be messengers to the afterlife because of their ability to soar through the air to the homes of the gods. It’s not surprising that a number of myths materialized such as hearing an owl hoot your name, ravens and crows circling your house, striking your window, entering your house, or sitting on your sill looking in.

Birds, in general, became harbingers of death but somehow the only birds I personally associate with death are vultures.

11. Burying The Dead Facing East

A13You probably never noticed, but most cemeteries are laid out on an east-west grid with the headstones on the west and the feet pointing east. This comes from the belief that the dead should be able to see the new world rising in the east, as with the sun.

It’s also the primary reason that people are buried on their backs and not bundled in the fetal position like before they were born

10. Remove A Corpse Feet First

A15This was Body Removal 101 that we learned in coroner school. We always removed a body from a house with the feet first. The practice dates from Victorian times when it was thought if the corpse went out head first, it’d be able to “look back” and beckon those standing behind to follow.

It’s still considered a sign of respect, but coroners secretly know it’s way easier to handle a body in rigor mortis by bending it at the knees to get around corners, rather than forcing the large muscles at the waist or wrenching the neck.

9. Cover The Mirrors

a16It’s been held that all mirrors within the vicinity of a dead body must be covered to prevent the soul from being reflected back during its attempt to pass out of the body and on to the afterlife.

This practice is strong in Jewish mourning tradition and may have a practical purpose—to prevent vanity in the mourners so they can’t reflect their own appearance, rather forcing them to focus on remembering and respecting the departed.

8. Stop The Clock

Apparently this was a sign that time was over for the dead and that the clock must not be restarted until the deceased was buried. If it were the head of the household who died, then that clock would never be started again

A17It makes me think of the song:

My grandfather’s clock was too large for the shelf
So it stood ninety years on the floor
It was taller by half than the old man himself
Though it weighed not a pennyweight more

It was bought on the morn of the day that he was born
And was always his treasure and pride
But it stopped, short, never to go again
When the old man died

7. Flowers On The Grave

A19Another odd belief is about flowers growing on a grave. If wildflowers appeared naturally, it was a sign the deceased had been good and had gone on to heaven. Conversely, a barren and dusty grave was a sign of evil and Hades. The custom evolved to putting artificial flowers on the grave although it’s now discouraged by most cemeteries due to maintenance issues.

Additionally, it’s always been practice to put flowers on a casket. This seems to have come from another practical reason—the smell from scented flowers helped mask the odor of decomposition.

6. Pregnant Women Must Avoid Funerals

A20Ever hear of this? I didn’t until I researched this article.

It seems to have come from a perceived risk where pregnant women might be overcome by emotion during the funeral ceremony and miscarry.

That’s pushing it.

5. Celebrities Die In Threes

A21Most people heard that Ed McMahon, Farrah Fawcett, and Michael Jackson died three days in a row. It’s an urban myth that this always occurs with celebrities and it’s the celebrity curse.

To debunk this, the New York Times went back twenty-five years in their archives and apparently this is the only time three well-known celebrities died in a three-day group.

4. Hold Your Breath

A22Another popular superstition is that you must hold your breath while passing a graveyard to prevent drawing in a restless spirit that’s trying to re-enter the physical world.

That might be a problem if you’re passing Wadi-us-Salaam in Najaf, Iraq. It’s the world’s largest cemetery at 1,485.5 acres and holds over five million bodies.

3. And The Thunder Rolls

A23Nope, not the Garth Brooks song. It’s thought that hearing thunder during a funeral service is a sign of the departed’s soul being accepted into heaven.

Where I grew up, thunder was thought to be associated with lightning and being struck by lightning was always a sign of bad luck.

2. Funeral Processions

There’re lots of superstitious beliefs around funeral processions.

A1First, it’s considered very bad fortune to transport a body in your own vehicle. And approaching a funeral procession without pulling over to the side and stopping is not only bad taste, it’s illegal in some jurisdictions. It’s said if a procession stops along the way, another person will soon die and the corpse must never pass over the same section of road twice. Counting cars in a procession is dangerous because it’s like counting the days till your own death. You must never see your reflection in a hearse window as that marks you as a goner. Bringing a baby to a funeral ensures it will die before it turns one. And a black cat crossing before a procession dooms the entire parade.

One thing I know to be true about a funeral procession is what happens when you leave the back door of the hearse unlatched.

1. Leaving A Grave Open Overnight

A24I don’t know if this is a superstition or not, but I see it as good, practical advice. According to the International Cemetery, Cremation, and Funeral Association, the standard grave size is 2 ½ feet wide by 8 feet long by 6 feet deep.

 With a hole that big looming in the dark, you could fall in and kill yourself.

HOW DO YOU WANT TO DIE?

I’m thrilled to death to have Seth Godin do this guest post on DyingWords. Seth is an internationally known author, speaker, businessman, and all-around mover & shaker. He originally posted this on his own blog at www.sethgodin.com on June 13, 2013, and generously offered to share it here. Thanks Seth!

Seth3Let’s assert that you’re almost certainly not going to be the very first person to live forever. Also worth noting is that you’re probably going to die of natural causes. 

The expectations we have for medical care are derived directly from marketing and popular culture. Marcus Welby and a host of medical shows taught us about the heroic doctor, and more than that, about the power of technology and intervention to reliably deliver a cure.

It’s not a conspiracy — it’s just the result of many industries that all profit from the herculean effort and expense designed to extend human life, sometimes at great personal cost.

Seth4Hence the question: Do you want to choose whether or not you will be a profit center in the ever scaling medical-industrial complex? One percent of the population accounts for 30% of all health care expenditures, and half of those people are elderly.

Most of that care is designed to prolong life, regardless of the cost, the pain, or the impact on the family. A lot of doctors are uncomfortable with this, but they need you to speak up and make a choice (in advance) about what you’d like. Some people want the full treatment, intervention at all costs.

If that’s your choice, go for it. But be clear, in writing, that you’d like to spare no expense and invest in every procedure, even if it’s pointless and painful. Don’t be selfish and let someone else have to guess.

Seth5On the other hand, you have the right to speak up, and stand up, and clearly state if you’d prefer the alternative. Many people prefer a quiet dignity that spares them, and their family, pain and trauma. But you have to do it now, because later is too late.

The web makes it easy to generate and sign a simple generic form. Or even better, go find the forms by state or province. If those pages are down, try a search “health care proxy” and the name of your state or province. I suggest http://mydirectives.com and consider the “Five Wishes” at http://www.agingwithdignity.org/ .)

Seth6There are two critical components: assigning an individual to be your health care proxy, and then telling that proxy, in writing, what you’d like done (and not done) to you when the time comes.

If you’ve ever shared a post of mine, I hope you’ll share this one. If every person who reads this sits down with her family and talks this through (and then tells a few friends), we’ll make a magnificent dent in the cultural expectation of what happens last.

Seth8It’s free. It’s not difficult. It takes five minutes. Do it today, if you can, whatever your wishes are. Don’t make the people you love guess and then live with the memory of that guessing.

Some things are more likely to happen if you plan for them. In this case, the end comes whether you plan for it or not.

Planning merely makes it better.

Seth1SETH GODIN is the author of 17 books that have been bestsellers around the world and have been translated into more than 35 languages. He writes about the post-industrial revolution, the way ideas spread, marketing, quitting, leadership, and most of all, changing everything. You might be familiar with his books LinchpinTribesThe Dip, and Purple Cow.

In addition to his writing and speaking, Seth is the founder of squidoo.com, a fast growing, easy to use website. His blog at www.sethgodin.com (which you can find by typing “seth” into Google or click here) is one of the most popular in the world. Before his work as a writer and blogger, Seth was Vice President of Direct Marketing at Yahoo!, a job he got after selling them his pioneering 1990s online startup, Yoyodyne.

In 2013, Seth was inducted into the Direct Marketing Hall of Fame, one of three chosen for this honour.

Seth9Recently, Seth once again set the book publishing on its ear by launching a series of four books via Kickstarter. The campaign reached its goal after three hours and ended up becoming the most successful book project ever done this way. His latest, The Icarus Deception, argues that we’ve been brainwashed by industrial propaganda, and pushes us to stand out, not to fit in.

Thanks so much for generously sharing your wisdom, Seth!

TOP 5 REGRETS OF THE DYING

What will you regret on your deathbed?

DeathbedJustin Zorati posted this article on Donald Miller’s Storyline Blog. I want to share it with you, so you can share with others.

Bronnie Ware is an Australian palliative care nurse. As many of her patients approached their final days, Bronnie asked their regrets, or if they would have done things differently. She was so moved by the phenomenal clarity of vision at the end of life, that she documented their responses.

Here’s what she wrote:

1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

dreams“This was the most common regret of all. When people realize that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people had not honored even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made. Health brings a freedom very few realize, until they no longer have it.”

2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.

“This came from every male patient that I nursed. They missed their children’s youth and their partner’s companionship. Women also spoke of this regret, but as most were from an older generation, many of the female patients had not been breadwinners. All of the men I nursed deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence.”

3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.

Free“Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others. As a result, they settled for a mediocre existence and never became who they were truly capable of becoming. Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result.”

4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.

“Often they would not truly realize the full benefits of old friends until their dying weeks and it was not always possible to track them down. Many had become so caught up in their own lives that they had let golden friendships slip by over the years. There were many deep regrets about not giving friendships the time and effort that they deserved. Everyone misses their friends when they are dying.”

5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

Happiness“This is a surprisingly common one. Many did not realize until the end that happiness is a choice. They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called ‘comfort’ of familiarity overflowed into their emotions, as well as their physical lives. Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to their selves, that they were content, when deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again.”

What’s your greatest regret so far? 

What will you set out to achieve or change before you die?

Internet regret

Because one day you’re going to be on your deathbed.