Cryonics

A recent Twitter post talked about cryonics, saying that advanced medical technologies may allow resuscitation and repair of a frozen body in the future.  In 1985 technicians preserved a body using a modern method of cryo-preservation.  This is a technique using very low temperature freezing; optimally -196º below zero.  The Cryonics Institute (www.cryonics.org) website states they are the largest provider of whole body cryonics. Currently the oldest known person to still be cryo-preserved was performed in 1967. Information provided on their website shows there are 138 “patients” as of July 2016. The cryo-preservation method is also described in detail. There are other organizations that provide cryopreservation services.

Cryo-preservation can be used for pets and other types of DNA and their total membership is 1,898 as of July 2018. The costs are described on the website and you have different service options much like with funerals. A number of famous individuals have chosen cryonics when they died including baseball great Ted Williams and his son. To date no one who has been cryonically preserved has been brought back to life. There continues to be much research into this method of medical science. None of us knows what the future holds so anything could be possible.

Carolyn Jones (aka Morticia Addams)

By Melissa Johnson Williams

Thirty-five years ago today Morticia Addams died. The woman we knew and loved as Morticia was of course Carolyn Jones.  A very talented actress who performed in both movies and television. She crossed several movie genres but even the younger generation knows “Morticia”. She was the original and favorite goth beauty. The Morticia dress and mannerisms had us coming back week after week. And of course that handsome devil Gomez and the rest of the kooky family had us at the theme music. It was pure entertainment heaven. It’s also why so many of us seek out the show this many years later.

Many may not know of her acting in 34 movies. Some with the best of the best of Hollywood including Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Anthony Quinn and Kirk Douglas to name a few.

But for most of us we will always love Morticia!

See the source image

Extreme Embalming

There was a picture that circulated on the internet recently showing a young man posed at his wake in a laid back style.  Many commentators used the phrase “extreme embalming” to describe this supposedly new phenomenon. Most of those commentators know nothing about embalming or its history. If they did they would have known about the many photos that exist of posed deceased persons just here in the US from before the Civil War.

On this the 66th anniversary of the death of Eva Peron. “Evita” the devoted wife of President Juan Peron of Argentina, was famous in life and death. Her history and that of her husband can be found without difficulty through any search engine. What is interesting about Evita is her story after her death.

On July 26, 1952 when Eva Peron died, her husband was at her bedside along with Dr. Pedro Ara. Ara was a well known anatomist and very skilled at the preservation of the body. He came to Argentina in 1925 to organize the anatomy museum for a medical college. He had learned embalming from some of the best physicians in Europe. It is believed he had preserved through embalming hundreds maybe thousands of human remains.

Eva Peron was embalmed in the room she died in. President Peron gave him complete control and privacy while engaged in the operation. At the completion of the preparation the President expressed his satisfaction.  She was washed, dressed, her hair prepared by her own hair dresser. Her nails were polished by her personal maid. The casket was a fully open mahogany with a glass top.  Her remains were moved to the Ministry of Labor where she would lie in state until her state funeral on August 9.  Millions of people came to pay there respects to her during the interval. For his final treatment Dr. Ara had her remains moved to a laboratory the day after her funeral. He immerses the body in a chemical solution in the belief that it would provide a permanent preservation. It would remain there until the construction of her monument was complete.

Political unrest gripped Argentina and President Peron was forced to flee to Paraguay on September 20, 1955. However, the new President believed he must rid the country of the Peron’s affection. He ordered the military with the help of a famous German commando leader to seize her remains.

The story continues, that her remains were sent to Bonn, Germany in 1956. Pope Pius XII gives consent for it to be buried near Rome but was moved one more time to Musocco Cemetery in Milan in 1957 under the name Maria Maggi.

Back in Argentina during this time it was not clear where her remains were taken. Those loyal to the Peron’s would begin a long search for it. The Peron loyalist, kidnapped the current president of Argentina in 1970 with the hopes of having him to tell them where she was. He was found dead several days later.  The end came in September 1971 when a “man” appears at the Milan cemetery claiming Maria Maggi was his sister and he wished to have her disinterred. This was accomplished with extraordinary speed. The remains arrived at the residence of Juan Peron in Madrid a few days later.

Dr. Ara also lived in Madrid and the following day began repairs of the body that was now 16 years since being viewed and 19 years since embalming.  A new coffin held Evita with it being placed in the Peron home dining room, where the current Mr. and Mrs. Peron ate dinner each evening. Juan and his wife returned to Argentina to lead the country but without Evita in 1973. Political unrest there led to the return of her remains the following year and she was placed next to her husband in the Presidential residence. Her coffin was open for viewing while his was closed.  Evita’s post death travels end in October 1976 when she returned to her family in Recoleta Cemetery. Her husband was buried in his family cemetery in Buenos Aires.

Dr. Ara consulted with one of the world’s most prominent embalmers, Desmond Henley of London in 1972. Henley had embalmed many prominent persons and was considered to be a master embalmer. This consultation was one year before his death and while he was still interested in learning more about the practice of embalming.

There have been many famous embalmed remains around the world. Vladimir Lenin, Ho Chi Minh, Chairman Mao, and Joseph Stalin to name a few. Long term embalming is possible and an art. Embalming makes it possible to not just preserve the remains for a period of time but also have it look the way it was remembered. A positive final good bye.

This article was excerpted from previously published material from the American Funeral Director, April and May, 1986 by Edward C. Johnson and Melissa Johnson.

 

The Real Death Deniers

Perhaps it’s a consequence of being on social media, but barely a day passes that I don’t read some nonsense article, post or tweet about funeral service. Shooting ashes into space, turning cremains into bullets (Seriously, With all the gun violence these days !?), mushroom suits, and so much more fill pages. My colleagues who do not subscribe to social media (and there are many) are amused when I tell them what I’ve been reading. What’s more, my colleagues don’t recognize the names attached to these fanciful stories which seem aimed at turning funeral service into entertainment. Perhaps they are better off than I am, as seeing so much fake news about funeral service grows tiresome and demeans the serious work we do.  For many years, I have worked side by side with dedicated funeral directors, many of whom were raised in funeral service families. In addition to coordinating meaningful funerals, we have painstakingly prepared remains for visitations. One of the things we were taught in mortuary school is that viewing of the remains “confirms the reality of death.” And indeed the first visitation is not an easy one. As Dr. Alan Wolfelt has said, “People tend to cry, even sob and wail at funerals because funerals force us to concentrate on the fact of the death and our feelings, often excruciatingly painful, about that death.” Still, despite the pain, we are almost always thanked by mourners, often through tears, for the opportunity to see a loved one for the last time. The feedback has been gratifying and convinced me that the work funeral directors do continues to be important.

 Now, we are being told by unlicensed individuals, and those with limited experience, that we have been doing it all wrong. Funerals are somber and depressing, (No Kidding!)  and we need  to see death in a more positive light, they tell us. Then it hit me—these are the true death deniers. They are afraid, quite literally, to look death in the face, planning parties and investigating absurd alternate rituals instead. Making light of what we fear is not uncommon among people. Still, this “death positive” talk is an affront to all those who have lost a loved one, as it mocks (perhaps unintentionally) their grief. There is nothing positive about losing your child, the love of your life, your best friend, etc.  It shocks, it hurts, it changes lives, and no amount of positive death talk will ever change that. As Dr. Wolfelt wrote in his book, Understanding Your Grief: Ten Essential Touchstones for Finding Hope and Healing Your Heart, “As a death educator and grief counselor, I am deeply convinced that individuals, and ultimately society as a whole, will suffer if we do not reinvest ourselves in the funeral ritual.”

Women In Funeral Service, Circa 1900

These pages are from the funeral service publications of the early 1900’s called The Casket and The Sunnyside.  As can be seen in these photos women are prominent in the care of the dead, specifically teaching embalming.  More than 100 years ago these women lead the way for every woman practitioner today.

KNOW YOUR HISTORY!

Funeral Customs.

While browsing for other books about funerals, I happened upon this. I love the description of it from Amazon. All reviewers give it 5 stars.

“A funeral is a ceremony marking a person’s death. Funerary customs comprise the complex of beliefs and practices used by a culture to remember the dead, from the funeral itself, to various monuments, prayers, and rituals undertaken in their honor. These customs vary widely between cultures, and between religious affiliations within cultures. In some cultures the dead are venerated; this is commonly called ancestor worship. The word funeral comes from the Latin funus, which had a variety of meanings, including the corpse and the funerary rites themselves.”

In a time when many people want to move away from the word “funeral” – this simple definition really is important to remember.  We can celebrate any life during a funeral. I question if those who are so quick to remove the word “funeral” from our vocabulary, are the ones who really are denying death.

 

Not New and Not a Novelty

There was a time when women were seldom seen working in funeral service. It’s not that there weren’t any licensed females –there were. But their numbers were not appreciable, and as in many male-dominated industries, they were often relegated to the background and more feminine duties such as cosmetizing of the deceased. By the time I began my  career women were emerging from the shadows. My first boss was a woman and a very formidable one at that. I learned much from her. And when I would see a female funeral director, I hoped that they would speak to me, so that I might learn from them. They were all in their own way role models. Some, like my boss, taught me what to do and others (like another female boss years later) what not to do.  Then things changed and women began to enter the industry in rising numbers. Before long, they outnumbered men in mortuary school classes (although not all go on to be licensed). Today, women in funeral service are, happily, commonplace. Articles such as this Why Your Funeral Director Will Likely Be Female reflect that. Yet, I chuckle when perusing social media sites and coming across comments by newly licensed females about how “shocked” people are to learn they are funeral director. There was a time that gleaned such a reaction, but no more. And that’s a good thing.

Chicago Cubs Great Andre Dawson – His Quiet 2nd Career

I don’t think I would have ever thought that Chicago Cubs outfielder Andre Dawson would have been counted as one of the ranks of my profession. For more than ten years he has quietly owned a funeral home in Florida. No flashy publicity or news stories to get more business. Nothing to tie his career in baseball to his funeral home. He and his family have chosen to dedicate this second career to serving the people in the community. It’s not about him but about the grieving family.

Today, the funeral profession is regularly criticized. So many blogs and articles say that we need to change and that we aren’t relevant. Others even go so far as to suggest we don’t provide anything of value to the grieving public. It is true that the traditions of the funeral have changed. Anyone who studies history knows that every type of tradition changes over time, it is expected.

We, as funeral professionals have always had only one responsibility. We serve a grieving family at one of the worst moments in their life. That has not changed. Personally, I feel as though the public has been led to believe that tradition is a bad thing. Every family should have the type of service they want and can afford. That means different things to different families. Every family should be encouraged to include the traditions that comfort them, even those that may reach back to previous generations.

Each families needs are different and unique. Funeral service has always personalized services. But, we have evolved and changed to offer different types of good and services and create new traditions. That’s a great thing and that is how it should be. We will continue to change over time and it will be interesting to see what funeral service will look like in the future. In the mean time we will continue to serve families with the same dignity and respect as was provided by previous generations of funeral service professionals.

Andre Dawson made a conscious decision to become a funeral director. He offers compassion and sensitivity to the families that he serves. He is a “hands on” funeral director (he is not an embalmer) and wants his funeral home to be carried on in the future by the next generations of his family. I personally love that.

Read more about his story:

Andre Dawson

Visit his funeral home Facebook page:

Andre Dawson Funeral Home Facebook