Entries tagged with “death

Letters to My Tutor…

My dearest Simone,

It’s been a little over two years since the death of my good friend and it’s starting to be/to feel that he is dead in the way that my (paternal) grandmother is dead, in the way that my great-grandmother is dead. It’s not exactly the same; it’s as if he’s just crossed over a threshold, and time is no longer out of joint. The elements have done their work. The pain is less sharp when I pass his building and in its place there is a warmer, deeper feeling, a more than (>).

It’s not as though I frequently engaged in fantasy that he was secretly still alive, but still I feel as though I’ve given up on that in a way that leads me to believe that I did engage that fantasy on a subconscious level. It’s a matter of going from that sense of “I wish I could tell him this or that” to a sense of his being part of that cosmic consciousness that knows.

I can’t immediately outline the cultural model guiding my thoughts and feelings on death. That’s to say that these transitions in my thinking about my friend’s death are not part of any conscious belief system. I feel as though I’m observing my family, my small Mississippi Delta town, my Southern community in my thinking on death.

My best regards,

Letters to My Tutor…

My dearest Simone,

Toward the end of last year, I had a thought about my deceased friend. It flashed momentarily in my mind that “maybe it was his time to go.” I have no special connection with the meaning of those words, but they were often spoken around me growing up. I take the passing thought as some indication that I have accepted his death more fully as those words were often spoken in that light. And though I don’t necessarily feel this way on a conscious level, I wonder whether that flash of words spoke from my subconscious.

Recently, my phone was reset to a much earlier point, a point when my friend was still alive. Looking at my recent calls I was confronted with the record of our daily call routine. I was happy for the reminder. I continue to wonder how recent technologies may affect how we grieve and how we think about the dead. An acquaintance (with two young children) who lost her husband often “speaks” to him using his account on a social networking site. I wonder how children who experience adults in grieving through use of social media may come to view death and/or grieving differently. I’m reminded of the show Caprica, in which one of the characters promoted the view of heaven as a location in cyberspace.

I still feel uncomfortable with the idea of using social media as a grieving medium. Others post to my friend’s social media page on his birthday and at other times, but I feel held back from that. I did take comfort reading some of his last postings after his death though. He had thanked a bunch of people individually for their birthday greetings to him. When an acquaintance committed suicide, it was surreal to read his final and somewhat cryptic words on his social media page particularly during the moments of uncertainty when some were still hoping that things would turn out alright.

Perhaps I should interview people as to the role social media has played in their grieving process. I certainly look forward to reading the studies that I am certain will be done in this area.

Ever yours,


Letters to My Tutor…

My dearest Simone,

I plan to read more articles, but in the coming weeks I will write about reading America: Day by Day.  I had planned to do this when I originally mentioned reading the book, but never worked it into my update schedule.  I will likely revisit a few things from the past year before moving on.  Here’s a brief update on my state of mourning for my friend:

I do not feel as much that there is a hole in the world. I think I may have moved on to a more restorative phase of mourning. I can smile and laugh more genuinely when reminiscing as well as when suddenly reminded of him. In recent months, I’ve seen several people in passing who look a lot like my friend. I believe most of the times there has been a similarity with the nose and the shape of the face, but I suspect that if I were to stop the person the overall similarity would be less than the impression created in a fleeting glance. In addition to similarities in physical appearance, I’ve noticed people with similar mannerisms and/or speech.  Several morning ago there was something in the way a stranger greeted me in passing that gave me goosebumps. I don’t immediately recall specific stories of people talking this way during my childhood, but the stories exists and they were generally communicated in a positive fashion. I’m sure I could find several people from Mississippi who would say that these recent experiences were evidence of my friend trying to communicate with me from the beyond, and my most immediate and guttural response is in line with this thinking.  I try to take joy in the feeling rather than be dismissive of it. My friend very much believed in spirits and ghosts and having this feeling reminds me of him. The one other time I remember having this experience also involved someone who died suddenly, and it involved noticing people with similar voice and manner of speaking.  I wasn’t close friends with this person, but we had significant shared experiences and we shared close friends.  That time the experience occurred much closer to the death.

I will mix in some more updates on things from the past year over the next few posts.

Yours always,

Concepts of Time in Quaternary Prehistory
Annual Review of Anthropology
Vol. 12: 165-192 (Volume publication date October 1983)
Geoff N. Bailey
In lieu of an abstract, the publisher reproduces the first page of the article. (Link)

Letters to My Tutor…

My dearest Simone,

Reading this article I was most drawn to wanting to read more on the thinking concerning the relationship between study of the past and the study of present. Bailey writes that “on the one hand is the view that the past should be explained in terms of the present … and made relevant to present-day social concerns. On the other hand is the view that the present should be explained in terms of the past, that the study of the past should be in terms of large-scale historical processes not obviously visible to the individual observer in a contemporary setting, processes which to some extent determine the present situation.” The history professor who most influenced my thinking was partial to the latter view. I feel partial to Bailey’s statement that the two views do not have to be seen as mutually exclusive, but rather they can be seen as based on interrelated concepts of time.

In a most casual search on the subject matter of this article, I quickly came upon at least three other articles I would like to read. They seemed like that would further enhance my understanding of the discussion of time as it relates to archaeology and give additional guidance as to further reading:

Time Perspectivism, Temporal Dynamics, and Battlefield Archaeology: A Case Study from the Santiago Campaign of 1898” by William E. Altizer

Temporal Insanity: Woodland Archaeology and the Construction of Valid Chronologies” by Erin C. Dempsey

Rethinking the great divide: long-term structural history and the temporality of event” by Jan Harding (opens a download window)

So far I’ve only given a cursory glance at them and I partly want to link to them here so that I will remember to go back to them.

Today I’ve been thinking again about how confronting death affects thinking about time.  Do Americans become more deterministic in their thinking about time when confronted with death … do we lean toward a thinking that there are processes at work that explain why a death occurred at a particular time?   A police officer acquaintance and former classmate of mine was shot and killed on the job over the weekend.  In more recent times I had reconnected with him on Facebook and we had chatted a couple times.   Chatting with him was such a special comfort to me in that his style of speaking and use of language brought a welcomed familiarity.  I was reminded that flowery romanticism in everyday conversation was just more commonplace in the Mississippi Delta (and the South in general) than other parts of the U.S.  Upon hearing of his death, I still had browser windows opened for articles he had linked to on Facebook and thoughts of speaking with him again were heavy in my mind.  When someone posted a picture of him on Facebook yesterday, I thought it was to show his recent fitness results.  But today there were messages of condolence from mutual friends.  I still don’t feel comfortable leaving Facebook condolences, but I’ve wondered how Facebook may be influencing the way we grieve and communicate with each other about death.

Many warm thoughts of you,



The Caribbean Region: An Open Frontier in Anthropological Theory
Annual Review of Anthropology
Vol. 21: 19-42 (Volume publication date October 1992)
Michel-Rolph Trouillot
In lieu of an abstract, the publisher reproduces the first page of the article. (Link)

Letters to My Tutor…

My dear, sweet Simone,

I don’t know that it makes sense, but I feel a small happiness at the thought that I was on Earth breathing at the same time that you were on Earth breathing. The small pleasures make for a deeper and more secure happiness, n’est-ce pas? I find that I miss my recently deceased friend the most during the small pleasures. Often times characters in movies speak of missing a deceased loved one during big life events like graduations or weddings or promotions, but those are the types of experiences that have the support of shared culture. The thing I miss is that my friend would have recognized the significance of little changes and little moments in my life. It’s strange how the little changes in life, the little ups and downs, are the most pervasive, but at the same time it’s harder to share the little joys and sorrows of them; we all have them, but it takes a familiarity to share in them. I found that at about the six-month mark, my grief was smaller in many ways, but more impactful. By then it was more clear that the whole world wasn’t upside down, only mine. By then others are less likely to treat you as if you’re in grief–no polite silences when you enter the room, no light brushes to the shoulder, no speaking to you in hushed tones. By then, others in your circle of acquaintances may have experienced a similar loss… which in a way makes you feel less alone, but at the same time makes your loss seem more real because others are experiencing that same loss. I think less now about the reality of my friend’s death and more about how I miss him.

I do believe that I was to say a bit more on Trouillot’s review. Staying on the subject of family structure from Monday, Trouillot writes that when R.T. Smith coined the word “matrifocality,” he did not mean female-headed, but rather he meant to underline the role of women as mothers. That word was definitely used as a cattle prod for misogyny in my little corner of Mississippi. Trouillot notes that Smith might despair at this misuse of the “notion of matrifocality.” I remember hearing as a child that the female-headed household was a major problem for black families and for black men. I believe this had a profoundly negative effect on how black men viewed black women and women generally. I saw it with my father and others. My grandmother had been married, but her husband died. And although my father maintained a respectful and admiring attitude towards his mother, I think anger at the notion that he couldn’t be quite right having grown up in a female-headed household was transferred to women generally. The same goes for non-black men who grew up in similar households.

Also, the notion that female-headed households was a problem was explicitly used to encourage submissiveness among women in more “traditional” nuclear family households. Subservience to the man in the household was necessary for the healthy development of the children present. While I think this had some measure of success in black communities, it may have impacted non-black communities even more given that there was a higher expectation of conformity to this ideal in those communities. I had a culturally diverse mix of friends growing up and I know the issue of matrifocality was discussed in various types of households.

Going back to Smith’s notion of matrifocality as a term that underlines the role of women as mothers, I see how this might be a point of focus for black families in the Americas. What must it have been like for a young black woman who had been recently freed from slavery to give birth? Certainly the specter of children born with price tags on their toes didn’t disappear overnight. Something to ponder at a later date. Also, I don’t know what the current thinking on matrifocality in black families in the Americas is among social scientists and the like.

I started on a new, paying project this week, so I didn’t get as much reading in as I had hoped. The days since Monday have been a blur. I need more of your voice in my head. Perhaps I should set a weekly minimum number of pages to read?

Your ever gracious pupil,

Death: A Cross-Cultural Perspective
Annual Review of Anthropology
Vol. 13: 385-417 (Volume publication date October 1984)
P Palgi, and H Abramovitch
In lieu of an abstract, the publisher reproduces the first page of the article. (Link)

Proof (Movie) reviewed at Anthropology TimesIn “Proof (2005),” Robert, a brilliant mathematician, dies after extended mental illness.  On the morning following the funeral, Catherine, his daughter, directs his assistant Hal to a mathematical proof locked in a drawer in her father’s desk.  Did the father author this proof during the lucid moments intermixed with his madness or did Catherine, a promising mathematician in her own right?  Given that I continue to digest “Death: A Cross-Cultural Perspective,” I was fascinated by the movie’s commentary on death.  What might someone think about how Americans view death when watching this movie?  Robert’s illness and death is heavily present in the movie, but does seeing him in flashback and talking to Catherine in living color from beyond the grave obfuscate this presence? The fact that reviews of the movie make only passing mention of the father’s death, suggests that the answer to that last question is, “Yes!”  The movie “Proof” manages to delve deeply into many aspects of death in American culture while simultaneously presenting a tense thriller about trust, truth and academia.

Palgi and Abramovitch note the following:

Glaser and Strauss commented on the paradox that Americans read daily about death in the newspapers yet are reluctant to face “the process of dying.”  Gerbner goes further and suggest that portrayals of death and dying by the mass media serve symbolic functions of social typing and control and tend on the whole to conceal the reality and inevitability of the event.

Proof” does much to “conceal the reality and inevitability” of the father’s death and death generally.  We hear that Robert died due to a brain aneurysm; we do not see his death.  While we do see his funeral, we do not see his corpse.  Some movies show the typical American funeral with the “…restored image of the deceased as peacefully sleeping (Palgi and Abramovitch).”  In “Proof,” the space that might have been occupied by the coffin, is instead taken up by a string quartet.  So we don’t get a death scene or a coffin.  What we do get is a reaffirmation of Robert’s immortality.  Palgi and Abramovitch direct us to Lifton who writes that one of the ways that society expresses immortality is through work, “…the mode of creativity; one’s human influences, great or humble, which will live on.”  After listing highlights of Robert’s accomplishments as a mathematician, a eulogists says, “We will miss the man intensely, but the work will endure.”

I wonder whether the movie speaks subtly of a possible decline of what Lifton calls the “most fundamental and universal of all modes” of immortality, the biological one, as there is a running commentary on the belief that life is downhill after the early twenties as many mathematicians have produced their best work by this time; many people have not even had children and are only just beginning to cement their adult biosocial connections during their early twenties.  Also, Robert dies from a brain aneurysm, the death of his mind, his ability to do math, whereas in the play on which the movie is based, Robert dies of a heart attack, the seat of feeling, love, family.   Running counter to this possible subtle nod is the fact that Robert’s funeral takes place on Catherine’s birthday which would tend to affirm biological immortality.  Furthermore, on the night of the funeral Robert’s former assistant Hal reminds Catherine that they haven’t had a chance to celebrate her birthday just prior to kissing her, an act which serves as prelude to Catherine disrobing from her funeral frock.  If the viewer were weighted down with a sense that Catherine and Claire had just lost their father, might the rest of the movie seem trite and disrespectful seeing that Robert’s body was barely in the ground before the viewer was pulled into the controversy as to whether the proof found in the desk drawer was written by the father or the daughter.  Birthday sex appears to serve as a shortcut from death-ville.

And speaking of sex and death, Palgi and Abramovitch quote Ariès who writes that the eroticism of death began between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries:

It often took on the character of a fearful and violent event similar to the perception of sex at that time.  In general, death themes became eroticized as seen in motifs in art and literature.  For instance, the new iconography of the sixteenth century showed how “death raped the living.”

With the above in mind, let’s return to the scene in Catherine’s bedroom.  She and Hal are on the bed kissing when they stop for the following exchange:

Catherine: Oh, I feel like I’m gonna crack open like…
Hal: Like what?
Catherine: An egg…or one of those really smelly French cheeses that ooze out everywhere when you cut them.
Hal: Nice. (They go back to kissing.)

Is it me or did she say–my womb is cracked open, so cut me with your knife because I’m ready to ooze? There’s a mix of violent, moldy decay with sex and rebirth.  The bed covering is a patchwork of sweater-like material, pockets visible, reminiscent of Catherine’s attire while taking care of her dying father.  On the night of the funeral, the death bed is transformed into the sex bed.

Apart from the flashbacks and ghostly appearances, and birthday sex, the movie creates distance from Robert’s death by presenting the notion that Robert had been dead for much longer than it appeared.  Catherine is angry when people begin to speak of her father in past tense while he is still alive.  When her university professor, speaking in comforting tones, says of her father, “He was a great man,”  Catherine retorts, “He still is.”  The movie mentions repetitively that Robert was no longer able to work and that he became dependent on Catherine for basic care.  During the funeral Catherine addresses the attendees asking, “Where have you all been for the last five years?  I guess to you guys he was already dead, right?”  The attendees, Catherine’s sister especially, appear distressed and dismayed as Catherine continues, giving details of her father’s abnormal behaviors during the last years.  Palgi and Abramovitch write that Glaser and Strauss question whether people can die socially before they die biologically.  “Proof” says, “Yes, they can.”  Catherine’s resistance to the reality of the social death is presented as an aberration.

Catherine’s views on death are shown to be aberrant in other ways, notably, her beliefs about how her father’s care prior to his death should be handled.  Palgi and Abramovitch discuss the work of Philippe Ariès who examines the changing attitudes toward death in Western history.  While in previous  stages referenced earlier, death becomes eroticized, In the last stage of this history, death has become “invisible:”

Death is no longer seen as natural or beautiful or as socially significant.  On the contrary, it has become dirty and medicalized.  The dying person is expected to die “out of sight” in a hospital where death is brought under full control with the discipline and anonymity of the medical order.  Basically, modern society views death as a “massive admission of defeat.”

In “Proof“, the above is the view of the older sister Claire and it appears to be the view of other characters as well.  On the other hand, Catherine was adamant about the importance of her father dying in the comfort of his home being cared for by family.  She drops out of school and provides that care for five years.  Her sister and others appear to view this as a sign of either weakness or selfish sentimentality.  Catherine’s sister suggests that both her dying father and Catherine may have been better off if he had been cared for in a medical facility.  Catherine’s “aberrant” handling of her father’s illness and death could be seen as a throwback to earlier ideals of death being revitalized in the hospice movement about which Palgi and Abramovitch write the following:

The modern hospice revolves around the old concept of “a good death,” and by awareness of the patient’s feelings and pain level it aims to help him live to the limit of his potential in physical strength, mental and emotional capacity, and in social relationships.  These ideals do not require the erection of costly edifices; on the contrary, they can be activated in a home-care service, provided the philosophy is adopted.

Could the other characters’ lack of approval for Catherine’s handling of her father’s illness be indicative of a backlash toward this hospice movement?  Catherine’s strongest support comes from the dying man through one his last bits of coherent writing a year before his death:

“Her refusal to let me be institutionalized, caring for me herself, has certainly saved my life.  Made writing this possible.  Made it possible to imagine doing math again.  Where does her strength come from?  I can never repay her.  Today is her birthday.  She is 24. I’m taking her to dinner.”

How are we to weight the words of the dying man?  Does the movie serve to affirm the views of the majority of its characters, that since Robert was “socially” dead, he should be placed out of sight in a hospital to meet his biological death, or does the movie condemn such thinking?  Is it possible that the “message?” of the movie is more in line with Palgi and Abramovitch’s assessment of Blauner:

Blauner guides us along to his conclusion that modern American death, characteristically taking place in a hospital, and most times being that of a person regarded by himself and others as no longer useful, is the epitome of the “dying alone” symbolic theme of existentialism as well as the essence of social inappropriateness (emphasis added).

Not everyone is in the position to care for a dying parent in the manner that Catherine did, but should the personal care that she provided be the ideal?  Claire says that maybe Robert would have been better cared for in a medical facility, yet she worked “14-hour days” to pay off the mortgage and other bills that allowed Catherine and their dying father to stay in the family home.  Perhaps the hospice movement has reinvigorated this tension in  American culture.  Maybe the medicalized death is what we want for others because it provides a distance between us and the dead person and the bereaved;  but when we contemplate out own deaths, our hopes are more in line with the sentiment expressed by Robert and desire for personal care.  The words of the dying man are the words we should all be so lucky to speak.

The dead man speaks a lot in this movie.  He speaks to Catherine who seems to be the only character who expresses the emotions generally associated with death and grieving.  She is tearful and sad and angry.  Palgi and Abramovitch write that “according to the psychiatric literature, prolonged but concealed mourning is apparently so widespread today that it is not an individual problem but a social issue.”  While Catherine grieves, Claire gets on quickly and efficiently with handling the business of death.  She makes the funeral arrangements; she arranges the sale of the family house; she packs away the contents of the house; she makes arrangements for her sister’s new housing.  Claire doesn’t grieve; she doesn’t skip a beat.  She takes care of this dying business in the middle of planning her wedding.  In the movie, Catherine’s normal expressions of grief seem cause for her to question her sanity where maybe it should be the other way around.  The other characters’ lack of visible grieving should be cause for them to question their sanity.

But, Catherine speaks to and sees her dead father. Is that normal?  Isn’t that crazy?  Speaking on speaking to dead people, Palgi and Abramovitch write the following:

In this respect, Rosenblatt et al support Blauner’s thesis that while death is less disruptive to modern society, its consequences are more disturbing for the bereaved individual.  They write: “to admit to having a conversation with a deceased person or to having seen a supposedly buried person sitting in one’s living room is very risky in American society.”  Consequently, many bereaved persons may be unable to talk with others about this area of experience and potential anxiety.  Furthermore, many may be led to doubt their own sanity by experiences of ghost cognitions, which only adds to the burden of their loss.

Palgi and Abramovitch point to several sources who affirm that ghost cognition has been replaced in modern society by a sense of feeling the presence of the dead person leading me to wonder whether viewers would tend to interpret Catherine talking to and “seeing” her father as her having a strong sense of his presence.  Regardless of interpretation, whether ghost cognition or feeling the presence, according to Palgi and Abramovitch, this type of experience forms part of the normal mechanisms for dealing with grief in other cultures and with past cultures.

While reviewers gave short coverage of Robert’s death, most did acknowledge Catherine’s grief in sympathetic terms.  A notable exception was Manohla Dargis, the reviewer for the New York Times, who seems, like the other characters in the movie, either unaware or unimpressed by notions of grief and the grieving person:

A martyr to her own choices, Catherine… demands our pity, our attention, our indulgence, our love, while giving little in return but her narcissism.

These demands wouldn’t seem so egregious if Catherine wanted our love because she was lonely or understandably depressed. But we are not supposed to fall for this unpleasant creature because of her human qualities; we are meant to fall for her because she may be a genius and therefore not as human as we are. (link)

Dargis appears fully immersed in the age of the efficient, radicalized death, and champions Claire’s efficient handling of that whole dirty business thus providing a telling example of just the attitude of which the movie appears to be critical.

Proof” is based on the Tony and Pulitzer award-winning play of the same name from writer David Auburn.  Auburn and Rebecca Miller wrote the screenplay for the movie.  I listened to an audio recording of the play available for download at my local public library.  While the movie does give more obvious attention to Robert’s death, many of the elements discussed here are present in the play as well.    The movie is directed by John Madden.

Other Review

  • Marcus du Sautoy, mathematician, on Proof — review lists five myths about mathematicians as portrayed in the movie.
  • Roger Ebert’s review — “It is a rare movie that gets the tone of a university campus exactly right, and at the same time communicates so easily that you don’t need to know the slightest thing about math to understand it.”
  • Philip French’s review — quite the opposite of Dargis from the New York Times in that French is sympathetic to Catherine and views Claire as a control freak.
  • Manohla Dargis’ review — from the New York Times (quoted above).
  • Ty Burrs review — also makes note of the line, “I feel like I could crack open, like an egg, or one of those really smelly French cheeses that ooze when you cut them”

The Movie
Proof (Movie) reviewed at Anthropology Times

Catherine: Gwyneth Paltrow
Robert: Anthony Hopkins
Claire: Hope Davis
Hal: Jake Gyllenhaal

Death: A Cross-Cultural Perspective
Annual Review of Anthropology
Vol. 13: 385-417 (Volume publication date October 1984)
P Palgi, and H Abramovitch
In lieu of an abstract, the publisher reproduces the  first page of the article. (Link)

My recently deceased loved became HIV positive decades ago at a time when that diagnosis often meant death was imminent.  He had contemplated his own death in a way that many of us have not.  Even though decades had passed, the subject of his death still came up by virtue of his HIV status.  I had contemplated his death, but always with the thought that there would be some illness beforehand.  Upon hearing that his “numbers were good” I always breathe a sigh of relief especially given that he had gone so long having HIV without contracting AIDS.  Even more, just prior to meeting him he had come through a successful bout with cancer, not to mention the successful bout with the hard partying of his youth.  He easily looked ten to fifteen years younger than his age.   He smiled often; he laughed mischievously.  It wasn’t just death be not proud; it was death be gone from here.  His death was sudden and not due to AIDS.  In early conversations, he had forewarned that his family didn’t do funerals.  His body was cremated without public ceremony.

In reading “Death: A Cross-Cultural Perspective,” I learned that my reaction to Daniel’s death may be very typically American in part.  At least somewhat consciously the fact that he had in a sense beaten HIV and cancer, feed into my  “culturally sanctioned expectation that technological solutions can be found for all problems on this earth—death not excluded.”   In the end I may have thought his death to be much less likely than that of others.  He was a proven medical success story.  On the other hand, I may be less typically American in that I didn’t feel a need to shy away from him because he was HIV positive.  Palgi and Abramovitch note that one of the manifestations of Americans having a problem dealing with death is avoidance of dying persons.  I’m old enough to remember the days when HIV positive was equivalent to saying “dying person.”

The writers (I don’t really want to write “Palgi, et al.”) refer to a 1968 (American) study by Glaser and Strauss, Time for Dying, that mentions the “dying trajectory.”  Reading about the study, I felt more comfortable with my level of discomfort:

Dying trajectory has duration, shape, and implicit expectations concerning the interrelation of time and certainty.  There are four types of “death expectation”: 1. certain death at a known time; 2. certain death at an unknown time; 3. uncertain death but a known time when the questions will be resolved; and 4. uncertain death at a unknown time.

Impact of various trajectories are discussed in terms of lingering trajectories, expected quick trajectories, and most disorienting of all, unexpected quick trajectory, e.g. suicide or unexpected death during surgery.

Having in a sense prepared for one type of death, being confronted with one that was “unexpected” and “quick” was all the more disorienting.  I had set in my mind that he would die from AIDS after a period of illness.  I felt broadsided.

Along with an expectation of a certain type of death, I may have also had some expectation of a funeral despite the warning I received.  Though Daniel’s sister was very generous with her time and sharing her feelings, there wasn’t a public memorial service at which the family was present.  Writing again on American culture, the authors note the following:

…the thinness of the funeral ritual, together with intensive emotional involvement concentrated on very few individuals, a pattern characteristic of modern nuclear families, leaves an unresolved tension in society.

Local Buddhists conducted a memorial service that was attended by his very local friends.   I think the service helped reduce the tension of those who attended.

Prior to this, most of my death and funeral experiences were very similar.  The writers note that “the available ethnography suggests that American funerals are remarkably uniform.”  My experiences fit the pattern described:

…the basic structure of funerals in the USA includes the following stages:  rapid removal of the corpse to the funeral parlor, embalming (which many individuals believe, incorrectly, is required by law), institutionalized viewing of the cosmetically restored corpse, and disposal by burial…

I remember hearing as a child that viewing the body was an essential part of recovering from grief and mourning.  I fought the strong urge to ask Daniel’s sister, who identified his body, whether she were certain the body was his.  I wonder whether I feel bound to the expectation learned in childhood that I will never be quite right with his death having not viewed his body.

So, I’m “officially” started on my year of self-study. As discussed in a previous post, my core plan consists of reading a review article from the Annual Review of Anthropology each week and writing something about the experience. I have various textbooks for general reference, a few other books, the Internet and the public library. I don’t feel ready or prepared or organized, but here I go. I’ve picked Mondays as the due date for writing a first response to the current article I am reading. I may blog about the article several days during that week or just on Monday.

The Annual Review of Anthropology lists reviews under five main headings: archaeology, biological anthropology, linguistics, regional anthropology and cultural/social anthropology. I won’t try to choose evenly between those topics, but I will read some in all. I’ve chosen my first five reviews to read:

Death:  A Cross-Cultural Perspective
Cultural-Social Anthropology
Phyllis Palgi and Henry Abramovitch

Language and Disputing
D. Brenneis

Hominid Paleoneurology
Biological Anthropology
Dean Falk

The Archaeology of Equality and Inequality
Robert Paynter

India:  Caste, Kingship, and Dominance Reconsidered
Regional Anthropology
Gloria Goodwin Ratheja

I chose to read “Death: A Cross-Cultural Perspective” first as someone special to me died suddenly this year. At the time, I found that I had no strong attachment to any particular beliefs about death, and that was a problem. I had decided as a tween that the benefit of rituals and/or spiritual beliefs was not dependent on any connection to truth, so that type of struggle wasn’t an issue. I had just left the matter of death beliefs unresolved. In the short-term I borrowed from the strength of belief of people I respected. I engaged in special prayers and chanting for 49 days in Buddhist fashion. I found it helpful. I’ve started the article. I will write more about it next week.