Afterlife Burial Defying Death

Adventures of Momento Mori

Meg, here. There’re some new death kids on the block, and they aaiight. The Adventures of Momento Mori launched about a month ago at the deliciously named (why didn’t I think of that? why?!). The videos at their YouTube channel Yo! Mori take a listicle approach—short, shocking, wacky bits of death-related trivia aimed at short attention spans that constantly need their minds blown.

The real meat—or the promise of meat, or Quorn for us vegetarians—is in the podcast. Here’s their blurb:

The Adventures of Memento Mori or, (A Practical Guide for Remembering to Die) is a bi-weekly, 30-minute podcast exploring death. Satirical and philosophical, the show follows host, D.S. Moss, as he attempts to reconcile his own impermanence. The show aims to change how people think about mortality. Moss challenges listeners to welcome death as part of life’s cycle, thereby compelling them to live more meaningful lives (himself included).

It’s a young podcast and it shows, with some super echo-y interviews that undoubtedly cause endless heartache and will never happen again. Episode 2: Communicating with the Dead left me bemused to listen in on spooky stories and a modern séance then be served the tidy conclusion that “it was all  a subjective experience made meaningful in our brains,” seeking patterns and profundity because we’re monkeys like that. Don’t get me wrong—I don’t want woo served without science—but it sounds like they want it both ways, and you can’t have it both ways, at least so says derisive adult me. Twelve-year-old me squees because GHOSTS!

Whether this is them refining their voice or me being a total grump, the podcast clearly has producing and editing chops and, frankly, it’s fun. Transhumanist presidential candidate Zoltan Istvan is interviewed in episode 3 from inside his 40-foot coffin bus. Episode 1 gives us a template for straight-forward, no-nonsense, gitterdone conversations about end-of-life planning (pro tip: frame the executorship of your will as an honor, not a burden).

Suffice it to say, The Adventures of Momento Mori is now favorited in my Stitcher, and you can get it from iTunes, SoundCloud or streamed directly from their site. It’s a decent one I reckon will become damn great.

Plus, that hipster nerd skull! Duuuuuuuude.

Afterlife Death + Popular Culture Defying Death

Day 24: How Praying Really Hard and Grave Sucking Might Help Raise the Dead

Directed by Johnny Clark (October 04, 2013)


Evangelical Christians want access to more corpses … to hone their ‘raising the dead’ skills

Barry Duke, The Freethinker (March 10, 2014)


The people who believe in medical miracles
BBC News Magazine (March 10, 2014)


What is Grave Sucking?
Michael Boehm, Youth Apologetics Training (February 12, 2014)
Helping teens understand and defend Christianity. Helping parents train up their young in the faith.

Last February and March I started collecting information on Evangelical Christian groups that believe in the power of prayer to resurrect the dead. It’s not an entirely new idea for Christianity (e.g. Jesus) but its supporters have ebbed and flowed over the centuries.

One of the new groups that’s involved is called the Dead Raising Team.

Filmmaker Johnny Clark made a documentary about the Dead Raising Team and you can watch the doc’s trailer at the top of the page.

Slightly before I came across the Dead Raising Team, I encountered a somewhat connected but different practice called Grave Sucking. Michael Boehm, writing for the pro-Christian Youth Apologetics blog, explains that:

Grave sucking or mantle grabbing is the belief and practice of pulling the supposed Holy Spirit powers from the dead bones of a previously empowered believer.

Not much else to say, really.

It’s worth noting, I think, that Boehm doesn’t support Grave Sucking and thinks that it’s, um, impractical.

Then again, ‘miracles’ do happen. Just last February a man was declared dead in Mississippi only to wake up inside a body bag. This could also be a case of a less-than-rigorous end of life medical exam.

Afterlife Death + Art / Architecture Death + Popular Culture Grief + Mourning

Gravity is a Movie about a Dead Child

Gravity (2013)
IMBD (December 22, 2013)


Do not read this Death Ref post if you have not seen the film Gravity and would rather not read about the plot before seeing it.

You have been warned.

After much talking and planning, I finally saw the movie Gravity by Alfonso Cuarón. It stars Sandra Bullock and George Clooney.

Almost all of the reviews I’ve read or heard focused on Gravity’s use of 3D effects (which are very well done) and the somewhat existential-metaphysical-slightly New Agey-religious language used by Bullock’s character Ryan Stone.

What very few people seem to realise, I think, is that Gravity is a film about a dead child and parent grieving over the unexpected death of that child. In this case, it’s Bullock’s character and her daughter who accidentally died while playing tag at school.

It is also a film about living people talking to the dead and this is something that both secular and religious people do (whether they admit it or not) on a fairly regular basis. It’s completely normal and part of what is often referred to as a Continuing Bond after a person dies.

Case in point, near the end of the film George Clooney’s character Matt Kowalski suddenly reappears even though it’s clear that he must be dead. Bullock and Clooney have a conversation about how to get back to earth, which pulls Bullock’s character from choosing to die and instead motivates here to return home. The scene concludes with Clooney’s sudden disappearance and Bullock asking him to say hello to her dead daughter.

Sure sure, the world’s entire fleet of space stations and ships are ripped apart by space debris during the film and there’s a survival story involved but it’s just the spectacle that underscores the dead child narrative. I also get the sense that some of the perceived neo-Theological/New Age Christian critiques come from the scene where Bullock speaks to the dead Clooney about the dead daughter. Again, I didn’t see that as particularly religious rather it was a grieving parent asking a friend to check in on a beloved child.

The real genius of Gravity’s meditation on life and death is this: I firmly believe Bullock’s character Ryan Stone dies in the moments before speaking with the dead Matt Kowalski and that the film concludes with her entering a secular afterlife.

Of a kind.

Afterlife Death + Biology Death + Technology Death Ethics Suicide

Six-Degrees of Kevin Bacon Flatlining. Poor sad Billy Mahoney

‘Erasing Death’ Explores the Science Of Resuscitation
Fresh Air with Terry Gross (February 20, 2013)

Terry Gross, of Fresh Air and National Public Radio fame, interviewed Dr. Sam Parnia regarding his new book on human death experiences. It’s one of the most interesting near death/after death discussions that I have heard in a long time. It’s a fascinating topic, laden with metaphysics and theology, but Parnia’s research approach seems to use science, medicine, philosophy, and religion.

Anyone in Generation X, such as myself, Parnia’s work will automatically conjure images of an after death Kevin Bacon in the 1990 classic Flatliners.

Poor sad Billy Mahoney.

Afterlife Death + Biology Death + Popular Culture Death + Technology Defying Death

Cryopreserve Me into the FUTURE!

In Pictures: Frozen in Time
Photographer Murray Ballard catalogues the world of cryonics, which involves freezing a dead person’s body in liquid nitrogen until technology has advanced enough to bring them back to life.


Photographer Murray Ballard’s Best Shot
‘This is a cryonics lab. Four whole bodies can be frozen in each vat. But just getting your head done is cheaper’
Kate Abbott, The Guardian (August 15, 2011)

One day, in the future, the people who chose to have either their heads or their whole bodies cryogenically preserved will look back at these photos as the in-between-time in their lives.

So the theory of cryopreservation and eventual reanimation suggests.

I’m still not sold on the idea that cryopreservation will work but I am fascinated by the people who opt for the procedure.

I am also curious what happens when people who died a century (or more) ago find themselves in a world which has moved on without them. That specific problem fascinates me the most.

But we are not here today to discuss the practicalities of cryopreservation. No no. We’re here to discuss photography. It just so happens that a new photography exhibition by Murray Ballard has opened in Bradford, England and it captures how the cryopreservation process appears to the non-cryogenically preserved individual.

Ballard’s images, which can be seen in the articles at the top, show how industrially heavy the cryopreservation process becomes. I was also struck by how low-tech the entire process looks in these photographs.

Robert Ettinger, the man considered to be the ‘father of modern cryogenics,’ recently died and you can read his obituary here. His body was cryopreserved after he died.

And here is a little 1990’s era cryopreservation humor….

Afterlife Burial

Jewish Burial Gets Back to the Roots

Reviving a Ritual of Tending to the Dead
Paul Vitello, The New York Times (December 13, 2010)
A new generation of Jewish volunteers is learning how to prepare a body for burial using techniques that attend to “the feelings of the dead.”

It has been a good year for people who want to re-discover the roots of Jewish funereal practices. Last March I posted a story about a documentary film which documented a group of Jewish women preparing a dead body.

What is really interesting to me is how Jewish (and Muslim) customs are being studied by non-Jews and non-Muslims for their own dead. Indeed, a good number of Natural Burial and Home Funeral proponents borrow ideas from both Islam and Judaism.

This New York Times is a variation on that theme, where non-Orthodox Jews living in Brooklyn want to learn what is done when a person dies. I also find this situation more and more, where a certain religious group suddenly realizes that most of its members do not know what to do when a member of the faith dies. I’ve spoken with funeral directors who have been asked point blank what a certain religious faith requires– from members of that faith.

Everything eventually gets sorted out but it still makes for awkward conversations.

I wouldn’t mind knowing, either, what these funeral practices look like in 1000 years.

That to me is the most important point to contemplate: what stays and what goes.

What does it all morph into since dead bodies will most certainly still be around.

Afterlife Death + Humor Death + Technology Defying Death

Head of the Household


There was an interesting article in last Sunday’s NY Times Magazine about cryonics; or more to the point, cryonocists and the people who love them. The article is fascinating for the fact that it delves not so much into the science informing cryonic preservation (as our last cryonics post did) but rather, about how differing beliefs about the practice in the context of marriage can be problematic. It’s he said/she said taken to a whole new level. Ba-da-bing!

Peggy and Robin, the couple primarily featured in the piece is especially interesting because wife Peggy (the unenamored one) is herself a hospice care worker, well-versed in end-of-life issues but vehemently opposed to husband Robin’s plans for the final disposition of his head after death. Peggy finds the quest “an act of cosmic selfishness.” Robin, an economics professor, is “a deep thinker, most at home in thought experiments” but sensitive enough to understand the potential abandonment issues. Apparently, this type of discord has a name—and could be confused for the punch line of an Andy Capp cartoon. According to the article:

Peggy’s reaction might be referred to as an instance of the “hostile-wife phenomenon,” as discussed in a 2008 paper by Aschwin de Wolf, Chana de Wolf and Mike Federowicz.“From its inception in 1964,” they write, “cryonics has been known to frequently produce intense hostility from spouses who are not cryonicists.”

Even though the article is intended as a serious look at the marital strife that can be caused by deeply held beliefs about death, life and what comes after, I couldn’t help but think about Woody Allen movies and imagined New Yorker cartoons—and my own marriage. While my husband has no plans for cryonic preservation, his vague plan involving the reanimation of his skeleton, a large glass vitrine and the gerryrigged ability to emit recorded voice clips with the push of a button, has generated much discussion and debate in our marriage. My husband is a bit of a joker, but in this he is dead serious (pun intended). All I can say is, I love you honey, but I hope I die first.

Afterlife Death + Art / Architecture Death + Popular Culture

Deathly Art at DIA

Anubis, God of Death

Anubis, the Egyptian god of the dead, has joined the ever-growing population of deathly artworks at the Denver International Airport (DIA).

Denver’s local ABC affiliate, KMGH, reports that horrified travelers are now greeted by the 26-foot tall statue upon arrival in the main terminal.

Anubis is being erected in anticipation of the Denver Art Museum’s upcoming King Tut exhibit. The jackal-headed god now joins Mustang, also known as the “Bluecifer” or “Demon Horse” statue by Luis Jimenez and Leo Tanguma’s Nazi-inspired two part mural entitled Children of the World Dream Peace.


DIA has garnered much praise and criticism over the years for its extensive public art program which has featured a wide variety of paintings, murals and sculptures, in addition to various commemorative plaques and parquetry.

Children of the World Dream Peace has probably garnered the most attention, inspiring multiple conspiracy theories about its message and meanings. With its gun-wielding, sword-brandishing, gas-masked soldier figure, you may be able to see why. The giant blue mustang with the glowing red eyes and popping black veins has also struck fear into the hearts of travelers—although more for its ominous presence—than any overtly death-inspired message. Although, the fact that the artist, Luis Jimenez, DIED from being crushed under the sculpture when it fell on him, may also add to the creep-out factor.

But now Denverites and weary travelers can gaze upon and contemplate the newest addition to the airport—Anubis—the Egyptian god of the dead and embalming. According to Ancient Egypt Online:

Anubis is the greek version of his name. The Egyptians knew him as Anpu (or Inpu). Anubis was an extremely ancient deity whose name appears in the oldest mastabas of the Old Kingdom and the Pyramid Texts as a guardian and protector of the dead. He was originally a god of the underworld, but became associated specifically with the embalming process and funeral rites. His name is from the same root as the word for a royal child, “inpu”. However, it is also closely related to the word “inp” which means “to decay”, and one versions of his name (Inp or Anp) more closely resembles that word. As a result it is possible that his name changed slightly once he was adopted as the son of the King, Osiris. He was known as “Imy-ut” (“He Who is In the Place of Embalming”), “nub-tA-djser” (“lord of the scared land”).

The interpretation and criticism of art is a heady business. Assigning meaning is never cut and dried—even when the artist him/herself explains the creation. Despite observations by sanctioned or unappointed art critics, we are all ultimately left to our own devices in this process. Much as in death, it’s a solo trip. So if you have visited or will visit the DIA and have any extreme feelings one way or another about their art collection and its possible deathly implications, drop us a line and give us your insights.

Afterlife cremation Grief + Mourning

Fire, Beauty and Death in Bali

What does a cremation sound like? Most of us in the Western world would be hard-pressed to answer that question. Cremation is something that takes place out of sight, and for most, out of mind. The fiery furnaces are lit, the body is rolled in and a few hours later, ashes to ashes, dust to dust. It is sterile, it is discreet and it is solitary.

But if you could hear it, what would it sound like? If you could see it, what would it look like? And, indeed, what would it smell like? Seattle visual and sound artist Jesse Paul Miller and his wife Linda Peschong, a photographer, visited southeast Asia in the early part of 2008. Planning to stay only until June, they were able to extend their stay in Bali an extra month. July in Bali is cremation season. And to their delight, the largest of such public ceremonies involving cremation of royal family members was about to begin.

Through field recordings taken by Jesse, you can experience the aural intensity of the cremation ceremony itself. The rich, sonic landscape features crowd noises, gamelans, drums and chanting as the procession takes place. Have a listen!

Afterlife Death + Popular Culture

The Sisters Fox

Episode 27: The Sisters Fox
Nate DiMeo, The Memory Palace (March 12, 2010)

In his latest podcast at The Memory Palace, Nate DiMeo tells the story of the Fox Sisters in mid-nineteenth century America. These girls spooked their parents and neighbors with tales of communing with the dead. Naturally, this turned into a sell-out show in New York City, where the teenager sisters wowed the rich and famous with their necromantic talents.

While there were plenty of skeptics, believers abounded. Why? Says DiMeo:

They wanted to believe. This was the 1850s — people just died all the time from diseases, minor flu and infections. Things that don’t kill us now. Their family members, their friends, their kids would die in childbirth, in accidents at work and at home, why wouldn’t they want to believe they weren’t gone? That those they lost could be found.

Soon people were holding séances like we hold dinner parties. They were putting their faith in tarot readers and mystics. Some were just scam artists, others were just wrong. They were just seeing things that weren’t there. But all of them together were changing America, in the way its people thought about death and life. And this modern spiritualism… stayed at the center of American life for decades to come.

Listen to the podcast!

Afterlife Death + Biology Death + Technology Death Ethics Defying Death

Mr. Freeze

Robert C.W. Ettinger

The January 25 issue of the New Yorker features an amusing article about cryopreservation of bodies, a.k.a. cryogenics or cryonics. The article doesn’t so much shed light on the science of this controversial procedure; but rather, it spotlights Robert C.W. Ettinger, one of the founders of the cryonics movement.

The ninety-one year old Ettinger gives journalist Jill Lepore a tour of his Cryonics Institute, about 20 miles northeast of Detroit. Ettinger is matter-of-fact as he dodders around the facility and explains the processes and pitfalls of cryopreservation. Ettinger’s two wives and his mother are frozen at the Institute as part of the current total of 883 members, not including the 64 pets also in cryostasis. Several pictures are here from the Immorality Institute’s forum page.

In his youth, Ettinger was a reader and writer of science fiction which informed his interest in and ultimately his career choice as a cryonicist. And indeed, he has an interesting take on what the future holds. Regarding the idea that if no one ever dies, won’t there be too many people on the planet? Ettinger posits:

The people could simply agree to share the available space in shifts and could “go into suspended animation from time to time to make room for others.” There will be no childbirth. Fetuses will be incubated in jars. Essentially, motherhood will be abolished. Then too, eugenics will help keep the birthrate down, and deformed babies could be frozen against the day that someone might actually want them.”

If you wish to learn more about Mr. Ettinger’s postulations, visit your local library or retailer and take a gander at some of his books:

Prospect of Immortality (2005)
Man into Superman (2005)
Youniverse: Toward a Self-Centered Philosophy of Immortalism and Cryonics (2009)

Afterlife cremation Death + the Law

Open Air Cremations UK Style

Funeral Pyres judgment Reserved
BBC News (January 18, 2010)

Hindu Fights for Open-Air Cremation
Metro (January 18, 2010)

Last week, a really interesting and potentially important court case appeared before a British Appeals Court. A British Hindu man, Davender Ghai, wants permission from the Newcastle City government to have his body cremated on an open air pyre, which was banned in 2006.

There are several interesting angles to this story. First and foremost, every reason that the UK Courts have given as to why the open air cremations should not go forward is suspicious. Health and safety concerns can be easily monitored and controlled. Indeed, a health and safety officer could be dispatched to make sure that the law was followed and that the public health codes were not violated.

Perhaps the most significant (and unspoken) reason that the UK Courts have sided against Mr. Ghai is squeamishness. Given the fact that any number of UK Death Professionals (and I know of which I speak) could make sure that any open air cremation followed any and every conceivable best practice, the resulting reason seems to be that Court officials find the basic concept distasteful.

Unfortunately, that is not a legal reason to ultimately block Mr. Ghai’s funeral pyre wish.

The Appeals Court is expected to rule later in 2010.