Charles Cowling

Death Ref got there first

Time was when I could tuck a story away for a slow news day and not give a thought to any other death blogger getting there first. Can’t do that any more. The story I had been saving up for today has, I see, already been aired on the excellent Death Reference Desk blog, so I suggest you pop over and read it. It’s a very good blog, DRD, run by brainy people.

Find it here.

Having found it and enjoyed it, test your powers of enjoyment by reading their latest post. Here.

Time to remember

Yup, it’s a mixed bag today. You might like to go over to Dying Matters now and see what they’re saying about Brits and remembrancing:

A survey released today has revealed that three out of four (75%) people in England do not set aside time with friends and family around this time of year to remember loved ones who have died.

Commenting on this Professor Mayur Lakhani, GP, Chair of the Dying Matters Coalition and the National Council for Palliative Care (NCPC), said:

“It is shocking that the vast majority of people in England don’t take time to remember dead loved ones. This is further compelling evidence of the wall of silence our society’s built around dying and death.”

It’s an interesting point, if not well made. Of course Brits set time aside to remember their dead, they just don’t have rituals to accompany their remembrancing, that’s the point. Actually, I’m amazed that as many as one in four do something with friends and family. What do they do, I wonder? They can’t all be grave tenders.

Full survey results here.

Gail’s marathon

I hope you’re keeping up with Gail Rubin over at her blog as she covers 31 funerals in 31 days. I thought at the outset that it would amount to a fascinating and valuable social document and that’s just how it’s panning out. She’s on #10 already.

Start here.

Bear necessities

Here’s a story I’ve been sitting on for far too long. The aftermath of Russia’s long, hot summer has left bears very hungry, it seems. So hungry that they have started wandering into graveyards and eating the tenants. “In Karelia one bear learned how to do it [open a coffin]. He then taught the others,” she added, suggesting: “They are pretty quick learners.”

Find the full story here.

Dark art

Finally, over in Dublin the painter known as Rasher is holding an exhibition entitled Womb to Tomb.

Womb to Tomb shows his darker side, which emerged when his mother Sheila was diagnosed with cancer. She died two years ago at the age of 62. Watching his mother’s health deteriorate caused a shift in his world view. “It made me think about life in a way I hadn’t before. I remember saying to myself, before this, I can’t be a controversial painter because I don’t think that’s who I am but in some ways I’ve been pushed into this.”

The first painting visible in the cramped studio is a huge work called Dead Man’s Bells . The colours, brilliant blues and pinks, and the swirling endless sky is pure Rasher. The skeleton curled in a foetal position underneath the soaring foxglove or Dead Man’s Bells as they are known in America, is something of a departure. “I like the idea that when we go to our tomb we go back into the earth and when we decompose we feed new life, flowers bloom and then bees feed off the pollen and repollinate,” he says. “I find that cycle of life very comforting.”

Just to the right of this is an alarmingly authentic pig’s head with a bunch of flowers in a glass box, a work called Embalm and Calm . Another painting on the wall is a picture of his mother who used to tell him that self-praise was no praise, all the while quietly supporting her son’s dreams. “I probably wouldn’t have had the courage to do it if it wasn’t for my mother’s death because I’d have been afraid what people would think. I don’t care any more, it’s about expressing how I feel.”

Since she died, Rasher has been preoccupied with the ephemeral, the quicksand of life, the “here today, gone tomorrow” of existence. In this exhibition, the beautiful and the rancid sit side by side, like a disgusting perfume presented in exquisite packaging. “I just see beauty and tragedy hand in hand in everything I look at,” he says. “I see flowers and I just think in the next couple of weeks they are going to die. Everything I do now seems to be a reflection of that.”

Full story in the Irish Times here.



2 thoughts on “Monday shorts

  1. Charles Cowling
    charles

    She’s a very serious young woman, that Sarah, isn’t she? Well impressive.

    On a less serious note, I wonder if Payne is the right name for someone in the palliative care market? He is clearly a dangerous fool if he’s going about talking up these moronic plans and may even stand in peril of going (dead) to the wrong funeral. Serve him right. We need a huge campaign against daft and dangerous pre-need plans. How on earth are we to get the message across? You may yet have to throw yourself under the hooves of the Queen’s horse, Jonathan. I look forward to the Cruse response.


    Charles Cowling
  2. Charles Cowling
    Jonathan

    Blimey, Charles, a man could get writer’s cramp commenting on this mixed bag…

    I urge other readers to see DRD’s “latest post here”. Artist Sarah Sudhoff photographs the stains left behind at scenes of death (if she can find anyone who’ll allow her that basic right). This extraordinarily passionate young artist goes a step further than bemoaning the death of mourning in our culture and offers a way of mourning it – I think I’ve fallen in love!

    Moving on… Dying Matters seems to attract commentators who always use sweeping generalizations (get the irony? you have to be British). At a recent local DM conference, ‘Emeritus Professor Dr Malcolm Payne, Advisor, Policy & Development, St Christopher’s Hospice, London’ asked for a show of hands of those who had not made a pre-paid funeral plan, commenting on the small number of shows. He mentioned he had done one through Cruse (via, I think but don’t quote me, Age Concern via, ITBDQM Dignity); I discovered to my horror that I’m doing voluntary work for a charity that profits from promoting these plans. But the point is that the subtle implication was that those who think seriously about their funeral must as surely have taken out a funeral plan as made a will… I’m going to have to write Cruse a letter, copy to Dying Matters.

    Enough for now, my wrist hurts…


    Charles Cowling

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