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starkAs family matters go, death is surely a big one.  How families respond to the deaths of loved ones is likely a primary determinant of a culture’s treatment of mortality.  Death is not a common social topic in the U.S. and I have sometimes thought that stemmed from a form of denial.  On the other hand, perhaps it is a function of propriety in which as a family matter, death is left to the family.  Still, it is my experience that death is not a common topic within families until someone within dies.

The W.H. Stark House in Orange, Texas is a museum that took an interesting approach to the typical silence on death with an exhibition specifically about the aspects of death in a family over a decade.  At issue is the Stark family who lived in the mansion that has since become a museum.  The exhibit – A Death in the Family – explores the private lives of the Starks in the context of loss and mourning.

Stephanie Fulbright reviewed the exhibit noting;

“By grounding the conversation in someone else’s story” the exhibit “opened the door to the conversation about death and mourning and offered people an avenue to think and talk about mourning and loss in their own context.”

Effectively representing personal experience with death in a publicly accessible way is an accomplishment that will hopefully be continued in other venues.

 

Image Acknowledgement

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https://www.tripadvisor.com/Attraction_Review-g56398-d3178967-Reviews-W_H_Stark_House-Orange_Texas.html

 

bed and light, kalama community conservancy, northern kenya-fromImagery often carries meaning beyond words.  Documentary photographer David Chancellor’s recent exhibit, ‘Handle Like Eggs,’ continues his investigation into life, death, loss, and other forces that bind humans together.

Chancellor’s exhibit presents photographs taken in Southern Africa.  All are evocative, some perhaps disturbing.

Chancellor makes use of color and mass to shape the sense of his compositions.  The images are packed with potential emotion, though the subjects in them rarely express the feelings overtly.

Photography has possibly changed our concepts of death more than any technology. Let us know whether Chancellor’s discerning eye impacts your own.

22816When Paul Moon’s Grandfather died, he had already seen several dead people. Paul’s father was a Funereal Director and as with many sons, he became familiar with his father’s work.

Moon’s reflections in his New York Times article, A Father’s Livelihood Imparts Lessons on Death, are meaningful to those of us to think and talk about mortality.

Being a child with funerals as the family business have impacted his mind in a broader scope;

“I gained an understanding of death that has shifted my outlook on life.”

Most of us experience death primarily when it happens close to home; when a friend or relative dies. It is instructive to contrast that perspective with another view that comes from contact with death people in less personal conditions. Moon’s experiences lead him to an observation that is significant to us all;

“Death shouldn’t be swept under the rug. It’s the most certain thing to happen in our lives.”

This thought is consistent with the modus operandi of Death Café Corvallis at which individuals meet weekly to converse about topics related to death. By facing the reality of death in thought and talk, we are addressing truths that are typically veiled in fear and avoidance.


Conversations on topics such as in this post are common at Death Café Corvallis. You are welcome to participate. Information at Death Cafe Corvallis.

catrin_o_ferainSome philosophers have argued that being conscious of death is a path towards living authentically with personal integrity and self-determination.

In Being and Time Martin Heidegger writes’ “Death reveals itself as that possibility which is one’s ownmost, which is non-relational, and which is not to be outstripped.” In other words, my death is personal, individual, and inevitable. Fear of death stems from rejection of these facts. Recognition of these facts is part of taking total responsibility for one’s own being – authenticity.

Elizabeth Seto (Psychology,Texas A&M) and colleagues set out to test this philosophical position empirically. They found a correlation between the vividness of thoughts about death (e.g., memories) and attitudes related to personal authenticity.

Their paper is insightful for anyone, particularly the Introduction and Discussion sections.

Study finds link between vivid thoughts of death and authenticity
http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11031-016-9556-8

An interview with Seto at PsyPost is also a valuable read.

The association between vivid thoughts of death and authenticity
http://www.psypost.org/2017/02/study-finds-link-vivid-thoughts-death-authenticity-47692

The drift of this philosophical/psychological issue is: if you want to get real in life, get clear about death.

Image Acknowledgments

Catrin_o_Ferain.jpg
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yorick#/media/File:Catrin_o_Ferain.jpg

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Conversations on topics such as in this post are common at Death Cafe Corvallis. You are welcome to participate. Information at Death Cafe Corvallis.

Philippe de Champaigne, Still Life With SkullThat there is a relation between thinking about death and happiness is undeniable because some thoughts about death make almost all of us unhappy.  Thinking about the deaths of those we love – both retrospective and prospective – leaves normal people with sadness.  Experiencing the death of a loved one is an unhappy time.  Contemplating the unjust and preventable deaths in the world is enough to evoke melancholy in even the most stoic of us.  Contemplating our own immanent death is a mixed emotional situation at best (unless one strongly wishes to die, but that is a different issue).  So, what sense is there in which thinking about death could be construed as a method of increasing happiness?

Karen Wyatt draws from Tibetan and Taoist traditions in a recent article; “How Thoughts of Death Can Be A Key to Happiness.”  She considers specific techniques used in mystical practices that may both lessen the impact of our anxiety about death and even raise our spirits in conceiving of death altogether.

In effect, the six death thought techniques that Wyatt summarizes include:

    • Ritualize
    • Relax
    • Enjoy
    • Improve
    • Broaden
    • Record

The techniques are practical and easy to employ.  If one has strong negative feelings about death, then more therapeutic and perhaps guided approaches may be appropriate.  Still, we can all gain value from these practices.

I’ll add a seventh technique to Wyatt’s list;

  • Dialog

Finding open and intelligent people who will listen and discuss your ideas about death is a powerful way to address the emotional impacts of those ideas.

Death Café Corvallis is all about open dialog about death.  I find the participation in conversational liberty to be a strengthening and spirit lifting activity in its own right.  When related to to concepts of death, the impact is often pronounced.  You are invited to Death Café Corvallis gatherings and to join the Facebook Group in order to get event announcements and online dialog.

Karen M. Wyatt, M.D. is the Author of “What Really Matters: 7 Lessons for Living from the Stories of the Dying” and “The Tao of Death.”

death_cafe_corvalis_jon_dorbolo_88x31

 

 

Image Acknowledgements

ddd4ce5d782d3ea8a359677c1a4101ad.jpg
https://www.pinterest.com/pin/354517801894454820/

CA_August-11_covermTwo years may seem like a long time to contemplate a single topic, but in the case of Death Café Corvallis we have barely peeled back the epidermal layer.

It is notable that nearing our second anniversary the local media has taken notice.  Abbie Tumbleston has penned an excellent article in a local news paper –

“Corvallis Death Café Group: Locals Talk Death.”

Moreover that publication, The Corvallis Advocate has devoted an entire 16 page issue to Death, Dying, and Dealing.

Abbie attended Death Café Corvallis gatherings last Spring and conducted an interview with moi.  I never suspected this would blossom into a full-fledged investigation into topics about death open to the whole community.  Well, that happened.

Adrian Clement is a strong force in bringing Death Café Corvallis into being and keeping it

skeleton-reading-290x290_thumb.jpg

This is not Adrian

alive.  Whenever I’ve not been able to  attend a gathering, Adrian steps in keeping our meeting schedule unbroken for nearly two years.

 

The real heros of this story are the 20+ fine folks who attend and contribute to Death Café Corvallis each week.

Let us raise our teacups in recognition of death, celebration of life and anticipation of a stimulating third year of conversational liberty.

In good spirit,

Jon

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1d6f694a30012e2a200ad3b740da4dd6Long standing trends in life expectancy and death rates in America are changing in unexpected ways.

The decade long steady decrease in the death rate for middle-age white Americans has turned around in the last few years.

On the whole the US mortality rate has declined about 2 percent per year, meaning that people live longer.

The sudden change in directions comes as a an abrupt surprise to researchers.

Evidence for this change comes from a 2016 article by Princeton Economist and Nobel Prize Laureate Angus Deaton“Rising morbidity and mortality in midlife among white non-Hispanic Americans in the 21st century.”

Deaton says that the changes in mortality rates came as such a surprise to the researchers that “pretty quickly we started falling off our chairs because of what we found.”

What he found is “a marked increase in the all-cause mortality of middle-aged white non-Hispanic men and women in the United States between 1999 and 2013.”

The observed increase in mortality is significant because; “this changeMortality_by_age reversed decades of progress in mortality and was unique to the United States; no other rich country saw a similar turnaround.”

Confirmation of Deaton’s findings come from a 2016 report from the Centers for Disease Control (CCD), “Changes in Life Expectancy by Race and Hispanic Origin in the United States, 2013–2014,” led by demographer Elizabeth Arias.

Aris’s findings are that white American women are dying at younger ages.

That is, the life expectancy of white American women declined from from 81.2 years to 81.1 years

That is a small change, but it does mean that the steady increase in life expectancy for white American women has stopped and even slightly reversed.

No one knows why these changes are occurring and there is no basis to suppose that life expectancies will continue to decline.

The CDC defines Life Expectancy as; “the average number of years that a hypothetical group of infants would live at each attained age if the group was subject, throughout its lifetime, to the age-specific death rates prevailing for the actual population in a given year.”

It is important to understand how the science of life expectancy and death rate measurements works so that we may draw warranted inferences and recognize the limits of such knowledge.

In that spirit I will continue to study the current research and report it to you.


Jon facilitates  Death Cafe Corvallis which is open to all and meets weekly in Corvallis Oregon.

Image Acknowledgements

Dance Macabre, c. 1744 Antonio Steinhauer.jpg
https://www.pinterest.com/pin/197595502372039030/

Mortality by age.png
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Mortality_by_age.png

zen-nothingWoody Allen’s witticism; “I’m not afraid of death, I just don’t want to be there when it happens” points to an important possible truth: I won’t be there when death happens because there will no longer be an “I.”

Epicurus (341-270 BCE) argued that our own deaths are literally nothing to us.

“Death does not concern us, because as long as we exist, death is not here. And when it does come, we no longer exist.”

The cornerstone of this argument is the implicit premise that in order for to anything to matter to me there must be a me for it to matter to.

This reasoning also allows that something may become nothing.  That is an ontological proposition of importance.

A contemporary version of this reasoning is explored by philosopher Jeff Mason in Death and It’s Concept.  I recommend reading his article which is short and clear.

It seems to me that this line of reason also presumes an empiricist conception of meaning, such that the significance of a concept requires an experience of it.  I think that empiricist presumption is why this line of thought focuses so on the fear of death.

This way of thinking about death – that it is a non-concept – is ancient and resonates fully with us now only be reflecting upon it.

I’d love to hear from you about these ideas.

Consider attending/joining Death Café Corvallis.

Come speak truth to death

Fall 2015
Mondays 5:30-7:30
2nd St Beanery, 500 SW 2nd St, Corvallis 17330

deathcafecorvallis@gmail.com

Look for the guy in the tie.

Image Acknowledgements

zen-enso221.png
https://thezenlibrary.wordpress.com

Got thoughts about mortality?

Monday’s – 5:30-7:30 PM – 2nd St Beanery – 500 SW 2nd St. Corvallis OR 97333

Death Café Corvallis is simply in order to listen and talk about death.

Death Café Corvallis is NOT a support group, therapeutic agenda, debate society, social action group, religious or anti-religious organization, political committee, or sales pitch.death_cafe_corvallis_hubble_spiral_galax.fw

Our welcoming, friendly and supportive café is open to everyone who participates in a welcoming, friendly and supportive manner. Our guiding principles are respect, openness, and confidentiality.

Come drink coffee, eat cake, and discuss death with interesting people. Join the online Death Cafe Corvallis community if you like.

Death Café Corvallis is allied with the US Death Café.

— contact – deathcafecorvallis@gmail.com

Come talk truth to death.

potter_jumpDean Potter jumped off a cliff 2,286m (7,500ft) up and died.  He had done this and other stunts taunting death many times; in the end death won.

Dean is a celebrity among many people who risk their lives to base jump, climb, dive, and engage in other activities known as “extreme sports.”

I have no criticism of those who engage in extreme sports, even when like Dean they hit the wall.

I do think that his death affords an opportunity to explore an interesting distinction – that is: our culture commonly reviles people who kill themselves, but does not revile (and even honors) people who get themselves killed.

Dean Potter got himself killed, but he did not kill himself.  That distinction is at the core of why folks dead people like Dean are treated heroically, even spiritually, in the media while suicides are publicly called out as “cowards.”potter_moon

The legal status of killing oneself has changed in the US from being a felony in all 50 states to currently having no explicit criminal sanction, but will likely invoke State health authority.

Getting oneself killed has never been criminal, so far as I am aware, so that jumping out of an airplane, a cliff, or building is one’s own business, unless it involves trespassing.

People who get away with such activities are not treated publicly as criminals, but as celebrities.

There is something fascinating about people who risk their lives for fun andhoudini_water_torture profit.  In 19th century England attempted suicide was punishable by the death penalty.  At the same time people paid to see performers go over waterfalls in a barrel and for Houdini to court death chained in tank of water.

Perhaps the distinction is based in the intention.  The serious suicide intends to kill themselves and die.  The daredevil is not overtly trying to kill themselves and die, but rather to come close to death and escape its grasp.

Dean Potter did not jump off a cliff because he wanted to die.  He expected to live to tell the tale of his near-death experience.  He spoke of his experience of fear and his intense awareness that he might die.

It by surviving that the daredevil represents a triumph over death.  We honor the risk takers because they show it possible to overcome the fears that we experience.

potter_flight_frontalAccordingly, when the risk ends in death such as Dean Potter, our sense of the risk is verified and we know that he was playing it for real.

I suspect that the more successful we are at preventing death by disease, accidents, and violence, as our natural life spans increase, our value for living will grow.  One effect of this value is that daredevils – those who risk death – will become more special and interesting for us because they will be risking even more.

To be clear – I find daredevils fascinating and followed Dean Potter’s adventures.  I am not criticizing him or other risk takers.

I do think it is relevant to re-think how we classify those who get themselves killed and those who kill themselves.

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