Friday, April 22, 2016

Looking For The Green Reaper

I love roaming cemeteries, but I’ll admit it is disheartening to realize how “un-green” a burial can be. In honor of Earth Day, which is today, we’ll take a brief look at some of the more environmentally friendly options available when you finally “slip the surly bonds of earth" for good.

Not Your Grandparents Funerals
Embalming During the Civil War
During the Civil War, embalming was used so that a soldier’s remains could be sent back to the family, when possible. In the coming years, embalming became accepted as experts touted the therapeutic advantages of having an open coffin, allowing the family more time to “say good-bye.”

Today, modern embalming assures the family a few days to hold a visitation and funeral for the deceased without purification setting in. But is it necessary? Not really! Embalming is required by law only in cases when death has occurred due to certain contagious diseases, or if the body must be transported a long distance. So what are the environmental effects of death on our planet?

According to Seven Ponds, a group that promotes harmony with the environment, even in death, “Adverse environmental effects of embalming fluids leaching into the ground following a body’s burial have yet to be adequately established, but over 800,000 gallons of embalming fluid are introduced into U.S. soil every year through burial, sometimes disconcertingly close to animal and plant life.“

What Are Greener Options?
There are several alternatives including cremation, natural burial, and a “green” funeral. Here’s a quick breakdown on each.

Cremation is on the rise, thanks to Baby Boomers looking for more economical burial methods, and willing to take a stand for the environment. The National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA) predicted that the rate of cremation would exceed that of burial by 3% for 2015. By 2025, it is predicted that 56% of Americans will choose cremation. This change is also due, in part, to many religious faiths that now embrace cremation, where once it was discouraged.

Carbon Emissions
But cremation also has its drawbacks, mainly due to carbon emissions. One cremation produces the same carbon emissions as driving a car 500 miles. To counter this, request a casket that is made of  wicker or recycled cardboard. Or consider having the body placed in a shroud of organic material.

Also request that any medical parts be removed and recycled, if possible. (Pacemakers and prosthetic limbs are both recyclable.) Tooth fillings should also be removed before cremation because they can create toxic mercury emissions.

Once the body has been cremated, (remember cremation is a process), the cremains should have a final resting place designated. Cremains may be buried or placed in a columbarium, (Consider a biodegradable urn.) The cremains may be scattered in a special location (Launched into space, and placed on coral reefs are just two options.), or returned in an urn or box to the family.

You might also consider making a contribution to Carbon Fund, as a way to offset your carbon footprint.

Natural Burial
Natural Burial
A natural burial is when the body is buried without any chemical preservatives such as embalming fluid. A shroud may be used to wrap the body, or it may be placed in a biodegradable coffin made of organic material such as bamboo, recycled cardboard or recycled newspaper. No concrete vault is used; the body is placed directing in the earth. GPS may be used to locate the burial plots; the goal is to preserve nature as it is, and to sustain natural plants and wildlife in the area.

Green Cemeteries
Green Cemetery
Green Cemeteries started to really catch on with the eco-conscious at the beginning of the 21st century. (The first green cemetery was created in 1993 in England at Carlisle Cemetery.) These green graveyards are natural settings filled with plants, native grasses and flowers, trees and bushes. Monuments and tombstones are not allowed but natural rocks and trees are usually permitted to mark the grave.

Many traditional cemeteries now offer special sections where green burials are held. And remember, a green cemetery will not use any pesticides, herbicides or irrigation.

Green Funerals
Green Funeral
A green funeral advocates the phrase, “ashes to ashes, dust to dust.” A green funeral may include any or all of these elements: no embalming, or embalming with formaldehyde-free products, use of a biodegradable shroud and/or coffin, burial in a natural setting or in a cemetery without the use of a vault. Recycled paper products such as memorial cards and programs may be used, along with locally grown flowers and plants for the service and grave.

Each of us can work to reduce our carbon footprint during our lives. And, yes, we can also continue to do good, and honor the environment, after we’re gone …

~ Joy

Friday, April 15, 2016

The Death of President Abraham Lincoln

Last Photo Taken Of Lincoln
President Abraham Lincoln had much to be cheerful about on this April 14th Good Friday, just two days before Easter. He had been re-elected as President of the United States in November of 1864, and had given his Second Inaugural address just six weeks before on March 4th.

Lincoln's Inauguration
Lincoln had not been sure of his re-election. He was despised by many, due to the strife and death that had occurred during the Civil War; a war which had raged for four long years.

Then on Sunday, April 9, 1865, Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered his army to Union General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox, Virginia. The War of the Rebellion was over!

Lincoln Speaking
Two days later, on Tuesday, April 11, President Lincoln gave his speech on Reconstruction in which he said that “the seceded States, so called, are out of their proper practical relation with the Union.” He went on to stress that it was not only possible to bring them back “into proper practical relation”, but “easier, to do this, without deciding, or even considering, whether these states have even been out of the Union, than with it.” Lincoln would attempt to restore peace quickly. The South would be treated as a Prodigal Son.

Mary Todd Lincoln
Meanwhile, Lincoln’s wife Mary had decided that they should take some time for themselves. She had arranged for them to see a new play, “Our American Cousin”, which was being performed at Ford’s Theatre. She issued an invitation to General Grant and his wife to attend with them, but the Grants’ declined the invitation. Mary then invited Major Henry Rathbone and his fiancée Clara Harris who accepted.

Presidential Box, Ford's Theatre
The two couples arrived at the theatre, running a bit late. The play had already started, but the performance was halted as the President and Mrs. Lincoln took their seats in the Presidential Box. The orchestra played “Hail To The Chief” and the audience gave the President an enthusiastic standing ovation. Mrs. Lincoln, holding the President’s hand, leaned into him and said, “What will Miss Harris think of my hanging on to you so?" The president simply smiled and replied, "She won't think anything about it." Those would be the President’s last words.

John Wilkes Booth
Lincoln and Mary seemed to enjoy the play. Members of the audience saw them nod and smile during the first two acts. At 10:25 p.m., during the third and final act, John Wilkes Booth, a well-known actor, stopped at the door of the Presidential Box and presented his card to an usher. The door was opened, and Booth entered into the anteroom of the theatre box. Once in, he wedged the door shut with a wooden stick and waited until the upcoming “laugh line” was delivered by one of the characters on stage to make his move.

As the audience laughed and clapped, Booth stepped into the Presidential Box and shot Lincoln at point-blank range. Major Rathbone attempted to stop Booth, but was knifed as Booth fought to escape. Booth then vaulted over the box railing onto the stage and pretended to be part of the show, raising the bloody knife above his head and spewing Latin as he ran off into the wings. It wasn’t until the laughter died down that the screams of Mrs. Lincoln and Miss Harris could be heard, and Rathbone’s cry of “Stop that man!” spurred audience members to give chase.

Charles Leale
Attending the play that night was Charles Leale, a young Army surgeon. He quickly made his way to the Presidential Box and offered what assistance he could. He later reported that the President seemed to be paralyzed and was barely breathing.

Major Rathbone
Leale quickly assessed the situation. Major Rathbone was loosing blood from a deep gash made in his chest and upper left arm. President Lincoln had a bullet hole in the back of his head next to his left ear. Leale attempted to remove the bullet, but instead dislodged a clot of blood; the bullet had gone too far into the President’s skull to be removed. Leale then made the difficult proclamation, “His wound is mortal. It is impossible for him to recover.

Petersen's Boarding House
Lincoln was carefully carried into the rainy night, across the street to a boarding house owned by German tailor, William Petersen. Numerous doctors were in attendance during the President’s final hours, including Lincoln’s personal physician, Robert K. Stone.

While a distraught Mary Lincoln sobbed in the boarding house parlor, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton took control of the situation and began making decisions for the country as the President’s life ebbed away. Dr. Leale stayed with the President, and held his hand so that Lincoln would know “in his blindness, that he had a friend.”

President Abraham Lincoln died at 7:22 on the morning of Saturday, April 15, 1865; the first President to be assassinated. He was 56 years old. As those who witnessed his final breath knelt in prayer, Stanton said, "Now he belongs to the ages.”

The 16th President of the United States was dead.

~ Joy

Friday, April 8, 2016

Remembering An Architectural Legend: Frank Lloyd Wright

Frank Lloyd Wright
He was considered the greatest architect of the 20th century with his organic American Modernistic style.

Frank Lloyd Wright was born on June 8, 1867 in Richland Center, Wisconsin. Wright’s mother, Anna was a teacher. She purchased a set of Froebel educational blocks for Frank at the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia in 1876. Wright was entranced with the geometrically shaped blocks and spent hours building forms with the cubes, spheres and triangle-shaped blocks; blocks he said influenced his approach to design.

Joseph Sillsbee
Chicago architect Joseph Silsbee hired Wright as a draftsman in 1887. Wright described Silsbee’s work as “gracefully picturesque.”  But when he learned that the firm of Adler and Sullivan was hiring, Wright applied and was taken on as an official apprentice of the firm.

Louis Sullivan
Louis Sullivan became a mentor to Wright, and he quickly learned how to design public and commercial buildings in the Prairie-style, following the famous Sullivan motto, “form follows function.”

Wright’s only problem at the firm was his constant debt. He wanted the finer things in life, even if he couldn’t afford them. Sullivan was constantly loaning Wright money but he never seemed to get “caught up.”

Catherine Tobin Wright
Wright married Catherine “Kitty” Tobin in 1889, and Sullivan loaned him enough money to build a house in the suburb of Oak Park. (Sullivan also gave Wright a five-year employment contract.) But money was still tight.

In order to make more money, Wright began to take on independent commissions without the firm’s knowledge. He continued to design his “bootleg” Prairie houses until 1893 when Sullivan recognized one them as something Wright had designed. The two suffered a major rift because of this breach of contract, and did not speak again for over 12 years.

Wright's Arts and Crafts Interior
Wright left the company and decided to start his own firm. He shared space with three other young architects, all of them designing in the Arts and Crafts style. Between 1894 and 1910, Wright’s firm trained several of the main Prairie School architects.

Oak Park House of FLW
Robie House in Chicago

By 1901, Wright had built 50 structures, many of them homes located in Oak Park, Illinois. Wright’s “Prairie Houses” were becoming popular with their low, horizontal base topped with sloping roofs, and long windows that let in nature. Wright’s interiors encompassed wide-open spaces emulating nature with a nod toward Japanese architecture. Wright’s work spread to include houses and buildings in New York State, Pennsylvania, and throughout the Midwest.

Mamah Cheney
In 1903 as he was designing a house for a neighbor, Wright became involved with the neighbor’s wife, Mamah Borthwick Cheney. Kitty Wright was sure that this infatuation would fade, so she refused to grant Wright a divorce.

Six years later, in 1909, Wright and Mamah moved to Europe together, deserting their spouses and children back in Chicago. Wright returned to the U.S. in the autumn of 1910 and purchased land in Spring Green, Wisconsin, adjacent to land owned by his mother’s family. There he built a home for Mamah, which he called Taliesin, “Truth Against the World” in Welsh.

Taliesin Murders
But disaster struck in August, 1914 when a disgruntled servant murdered Mamah, her two children, and four others at the home before setting fire to it. Wright was away at the time.

Olga Hinzeburg
Eight years later, Kitty Wright granted Frank a divorce, and in 1924, Wright began another wild affair with Olga Hinzeburg. They moved together back to a newly built Taliesin. After more marriage ups and downs, and another fire at Taliesin, Olga and Wright were married in 1928, and Taliesin III was built from the ashes of the second house.

Taliesin West
During the 1920s, Wright designed his textile concrete block houses in California. And during the 1930s, he honed his organic style creating three of his well-known masterpieces; Graycliff near Buffalo, New York; Fallingwater near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Taliesin West, the Wright complex near Scottsdale, Arizona.

Usonian House
Guggenheim Museum
Wright continued to blaze new design trails well into his 70s and 80s with his Usonian Houses of the late 1930s and '40s, along with major buildings such as the Johnson Wax Headquarters in Racine, Wisconsin, the Guggenheim Museum in New York City, and the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo, Japan.

Wright's First Grave
Frank Lloyd Wright died on April 9, 1959 after intestinal surgery in Phoenix, Arizona. He was 91 years old. Wright was buried in the Lloyd-Jones family cemetery in Spring Green, Wisconsin. But his burial was to be as complex as his life had been.

Wright and Olga
Twenty-five years after his death, his wife Olga requested that Wright’s remains be dug up and cremated along with her and her daughter’s. This was done, and the cremains were interred in the memorial garden at Taliesin West.

~ Joy

Friday, April 1, 2016

Coffin Therapy: Giving Death a Test Drive

Just when you think you’ve heard it all, along comes yet another bizarre idea concerning death. This one originated in the Ukraine a few years ago, and was the brainchild of Truskavets coffin maker, Stepan Piryanyk.

Stepan Piryanyk
Piryanyk decided that to combat the fear of being buried with “coffin therapy.” (He claims that each coffin has its own aura.) For $25, he’s offered people a chance to hop into a coffin and experience a glimmer of death.

For their money, the customer receives fifteen minutes of lie-down time in a silk-lined coffin. There’s a soundtrack of a babbling brook playing, and it’s the guest’s choice to close the lid – or not. Piryanyk sees it as a way to “get used to the afterlife.”

Several people who tried coffin therapy reported that it was relaxing.

Piryanyk came up with the idea after he and his brother built a coffin couch for their grandmother so she could “slowly get used to eternity.”

A mental health clinic in China offers “death experience therapy.” The experience lasts from 4 to 5 hours (!) and costs around $320. While the patient is lying in the coffin covered in a shroud, family members read epitaphs and share memories.

The clinic reported that after the event is over, patients write down how they felt while lying in the coffin. Many are so relieved and happy to be alive that they vow to alter the way they live, promising to live life more in the moment.

Yet another report from China has psychological counseling patients lying down in a coffin in order to relieve their stress. Supposedly after spending a few minutes covered with a blanket, with the lid shut, they emerge from the coffin feeling “reborn."  Over 1,000 patients have experienced the therapy.

In Seoul, South Korea a “well-dying” course is offered for those who have decided not to “take life for granted.  Customers put on a traditional yellow hemp robe and lie down in a wooden coffin in order to experience their worst fear – dying. Once the lid is put in place, people reported that their attitudes toward life changed; they suddenly realized what was truly important to them and emerged more appreciative of those near and dear to them.

A healing center in South Korea offers students the chance to understand the “death experience" by taking a class in it. The students don white robes, then listen to lectures as they sit at a desk next to their coffin. They then compose a farewell letter to their loved ones before posing in the coffin for a funeral portrait. They are then instructed to lie down in their individual coffins and await the “Korean angel of death” who walks by each casket and closes the lid, symbolizing that the student has died. The students spend about 10 minutes in their coffins, left alone to deal with “the nothingness of the afterlife.
When the students “awake,” many have reported feeling liberated from their concerns, and refreshed.

In another weird turn of events, a Taiwanese professor reportedly buries his students (alive) in a coffin in the floor of his classroom. This is supposed to make them become more appreciative of their lives; more focused on “living every second.”

I have not found where any “death therapy” is offered in the U.S., but if it were, would you pay to try it? With the lid open, or closed? (And seriously, these reports are NOT part of an April Fool's joke. Life, at times, is just this weird ...)

~ Joy