“Travel safe!” It has become a nearly reflexive wish I give to
friends who are coming or going. This fall, I noticed myself holding back from
saying it to Michael, a dear friend who was wrestling with incurable cancer. The
journey metaphor was too poignant.
I also avoided “Stay safe.” After all, dying is inherently precarious.
Instead I said: “Be well. I’ll be thinking about you.” That was true. I could
have added, “and worrying about you.” That was true, too. Michael was receiving
state-of-the-art treatments at a renowned cancer center in New York City. As he
became sicker, the treatments got more intense. Each decision came with more
difficult trade-offs and uncertainties. Each step to stay alive risked making
He knew it. We’d talked openly about it. His life was precious and worth
fighting for, so every option was worth carefully considering. But modern
medicine has yet to make even one person immortal. Therefore, at some point,
more treatment does not equal better care.
When Michael was out of standard options, they offered him a Phase I clinical
trial — essentially an experiment. But his increasing pain and breathing
problems were being poorly managed, sapping his strength and will to live. By
phone I suggested to the nurse practitioner overseeing the study that Michael
and his family would benefit from hospice services, starting with ensuring that
he was correctly taking both long-acting and “as needed” pain relievers (and
adjusting laxatives to counteract the pain relievers’ constipating effects).
Hospice providers could also have responded to his wife and children’s questions
about the details of caring for him at home.
“It’s his choice,” the nurse said, referring to Medicare rules that require
patients to choose between cancer treatment and hospice care.
It was, but what a terrible choice to have to make.
Michael, who has since died, was suffering needlessly. Hospice care could have
vastly improved the quality of his waning life, and eventually it did. But those
rules mean that dying patients enrolled in Phase I studies, which aren’t
intended to be treatments, are routinely denied access to hospice services.
Caveat mortalis — let the die-er beware!
Our health care system is well honed to fight disease, but poorly designed to
meet the basic safety needs of seriously ill patients and their families. We can
do both. We must.
People who are approaching the end of life deserve the security of confident,
skillful attention to their physical comfort, emotional well-being and sense of
personal dignity. Their families deserve respect, communication and support.
Exemplary health systems and healthy communities deliver all of this today. But
they are few and far between.
Since 1997, the Institute of Medicine has produced a shelf of scholarly reports
detailing the systemic dysfunctions, deficiencies and cultural blinders that
make dying in America treacherous. Most people want to drift gently from life,
optimally at home, surrounded by people they love. Epidemiological and health
service studies paint an alarmingly different picture.
An American living with cancer has a roughly one in four chance of dying in a
hospital and a similar chance of spending a portion of his or her last month in
intensive care. The chances are higher with chronic lung or heart disease. An
American with Alzheimer’s disease will very likely spend most of his or her last
months in a nursing home, yet many long-term care facilities are woefully
understaffed and ill equipped to care for demented people.
Less than 45 percent of dying Americans receive hospice care at home, and nearly
half of those are referred to hospice within just two weeks of death. Hospice
was designed to provide end-of-life care, but this is brink-of-death care.
DYING is not easy, but it needn’t be this hard.
Most Americans don’t want to think about dying. There’s an assumption that
dramatically improving how we die would be too complicated or costly.
Thankfully, the opposite is true. Over the past two decades the fields of
geriatrics, hospice and palliative medicine have demonstrated that much better
care is both feasible and affordable. Successful approaches share core
attributes: meticulous attention to alleviating people’s symptoms and maximizing
their independence, continuing communication and coordination of services,
crisis prevention and early crisis management, and decision making rooted in
patients’ and families’ values, preferences and priorities. Together these steps
reliably improve sick people’s quality of life, modestly extend survival and
Those of us who have been on a quest to transform care have been standing on a
two-legged stool. We’ve demonstrated higher quality and lower costs. Missing is
the visible, vocal citizen-consumer demand. Without it, large-scale change will
As a baby boomer, I wonder when we became inured to bad care. We’re the
generation that transformed childbirth, creating the natural birthing movement
over resistance from the medical establishment. As health outcomes when women
were prepared for childbirth proved consistently higher than the status quo, the
medical community gradually climbed onboard.
In the 1970s we supported hospice as a countercultural movement in response to
people dying badly, mostly in hospitals, often in pain, often alone. Hospice
proved effective and was eventually embraced by mainstream health care. It has
become an industry with over 4,000 programs nationally, and the quality of care
has become uneven. Still invaluable, hospice is no panacea.
It’s high time we boomers shook off our post-menopausal and “low T” malaise and
reclaimed our mojo. Remember Howard Beale, the fictional news anchor brilliantly
portrayed by Peter Finch in the 1976 film “Network”? Fed up with the inequities
of modern life, one night Beale exhorts viewers to go to their windows and yell,
“I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!” We’ll figure out
the details later, he says; right now it’s time to yell. And, across the
country, they do.
The persistently unsafe state of dying in America should provoke a Howard Beale
moment. We’ll find solutions in various white papers and Institute of Medicine
reports. First, we need outrage.
With a citizen-consumer leg to stand on, we could write a Safe Dying Act. Let’s
start by requiring medical schools to adequately train young doctors to assess
and treat pain, listen to patients’ concerns and collaborate with patients and
families in making treatment decisions — and test for those skills before
awarding medical degrees. Let’s require nursing home companies to double
staffing of nurses and aides, and the hours of care accorded each resident.
Let’s set minimum standards for palliative care teams within every hospital.
Let’s routinely publish meaningful quality ratings for hospitals, nursing homes,
assisted living, home health and hospice programs for people to use in choosing
care. And let’s repeal the Medicare statute that forces incurably ill people to
forgo disease treatments in order to receive hospice care.
Medical school deans and corporate chief executives will vigorously testify
against our bill, and opponents will try politicizing the matter as a means of
paralyzing Congress. They will fail. When public safety is threatened and we
become engaged as a national community, political action follows.
As the end of life approaches, whether death is welcomed or feared, there is a
lot we can do to make the process of dying safer.
Ira Byock, a palliative care physician and the director of the Institute for
Human Caring of Providence Health and Services, is the author of “The Best Care
enough to write an ordinary will, deciding how to pass along worldly goods like
your savings, your real estate and that treasured rocking chair from Aunt Martha
in the living room.
But you may want to provide for your virtual goods, too. Who gets the
photographs and the e-mail stored online, the contents of a Facebook account, or
that digital sword won in an online game?
These things can be important to the people you leave behind.
“Digital assets have value, sometimes sentimental, and sometimes commercial,
just like a boxful of jewelry,” said John M. Riccione, a lawyer at Aronberg
Goldgehn Davis & Garmisa in Chicago. “There can be painful legal and emotional
issues for relatives unless you decide how to handle your electronic possessions
in your estate planning.”
Many services and programs have sprung up to help people prepare for what
happens after their last login.
Google has a program called Inactive Account Manager, introduced in April, that
lets those who use Google services decide exactly how they want to deal with the
data they’ve stored online with the company — from Gmail and Picasa photo albums
to publicly shared data like YouTube videos and blogs.
The process is straightforward. First go to google.com/settings/account. Then
look for “account management” and then “control what happens to your account
when you stop using Google.” Click on “Learn more and go to setup.” Then let
Google know the people you want to be notified when the company deactivates the
account; you’re allowed up to 10 names. You choose when you want Google to end
your account — for example, after three, six or nine months of electronic
silence (or even 12 months, if you’ve decided to take a yearlong trip down the
Google has ways to make sure that your electronic pulse has really gone silent;
it checks for traces of your online self, for example, by way of Android
check-ins, Gmail activity and Web history. Then, a month before it pulls the
plug, Google alerts you by text and e-mail, just in case you’re still there. If
silence has indeed fallen, Google notifies your beneficiaries and provides links
they can follow to download the photographs, videos, documents or other data
left to them, said Nadja Blagojevic, a Google manager.
And if you just want to say goodbye to everything, with no bequests, you can
instruct Google to delete all of the information in your account.
Naomi R. Cahn, a professor of law at George Washington University Law School in
Washington, says Google’s new program is a step forward in digital estate
planning. “People should carefully consider the fate of their online presences
once they are no longer able to manage them,” she said.
Other companies may also be of help in planning your digital legacy. Many
services offer online safe deposit boxes, for example, where you can stow away
the passwords to e-mail accounts and other data. Accounts like this at
SecureSafe, are free for up to 50 passwords, 10 megabytes of storage and one
beneficiary, said Andreas Jacob, a co-founder. Accounts can be accessed from a
browser, or from free iPhone, iPad and Android apps. The company also offers
premium services for those who need a larger storage space, more passwords or
There is always your sock drawer or another physical repository to store a list
of your user ID’s, should you be deterred from online lockboxes by fear of
cyberattacks or the risk that computer servers that may not be there in a few
decades, said Alexandra Gerson, a lawyer at Helsell Fetterman in Seattle.
“Make a private list of all your user names and passwords for all the accounts
in which you have a digital presence, and make sure you update the list if you
change login information” Ms. Gerson said. “Don’t put user names and passwords
in your will, though, as it becomes a public record when you die.”
Make sure that your executor or personal representative understands the
importance of preserving these digital assets, and knows how to find them, said
Laura Hoexter, a lawyer at Helsell who also works on inheritance issues.
“Preferably the person should be tech-savvy,” she said, and know about your
online game accounts, your PayPal account, your online presence on photo storage
sites, social media accounts and blogs, and even your online shopping accounts
where your credit card information is stored so that the information can be
AFTER you die, an executor or agent can contact Facebook and other social media
sites, establish his or her authority to administer the estate, and request the
contents of the account.
“Most accounts won’t give you the user name and password, but they will release
the contents of the account such as photographs and posts” to an executor, Ms.
Transfer at death can depend on the company’s terms of service, copyright law
and whether the file is encrypted in ways that limit the ability to freely copy
and transfer it. Rights to digital contents bought on Google Play, for example,
end upon the person’s death. “There is currently no way of assigning them to
others after the user’s death,” Ms. Blagojevic said.
Encryption is a common constraint, but there are exceptions. Apple’s iTunes
store, for example, has long removed its anti-copying restrictions on the songs
sold there, and Ms. Gerson advises people to take advantage of this in their
digital planning. “Get your music backed up on your computer,” she said.
Up to five computers can be authorized to play purchases made with one iTunes
account, and a company support representative advises that users make sure that
their heirs have access. At Kindle, too, family members with user ID information
for the account can access the digital content.
Professor Cahn in Washington says the time to prepare for the digital hereafter
is now, particularly if serious illness is a factor. “If someone is terminally
ill,” she said, “in addition to getting emotional and financial issues in order,
you need to get your Internet house in order.”
My sister and I recently toured the retirement community where
my mother has announced she'll be moving. I have been in some bleak clinical
facilities for the elderly where not one person was compos mentis and I had to
politely suppress the urge to flee, but this was nothing like that. It was a
very cushy modern complex housed in what used to be a seminary, with individual
condominiums with big kitchens and sun rooms, equipped with fancy restaurants,
grills and snack bars, a fitness center, a concert hall, a library, an art room,
a couple of beauty salons, a bank and an ornate chapel of Italian marble. You
could walk from any building in the complex to another without ever going
outside, through underground corridors and glass-enclosed walkways through the
woods. Mom described it as "like a college dorm, except the boys aren't as
good-looking." Nonetheless I spent much of my day trying not to cry.
At all times of major life crisis, friends and family will crowd around and
press upon you the false emotions appropriate to the occasion. "That's so
great!" everyone said of my mother's decision to move to an assisted-living
facility. "It's really impressive that she decided to do that herself." They
cited their own stories of 90-year-old parents grimly clinging to drafty
dilapidated houses, refusing to move until forced out by strokes or broken hips.
"You should be really relieved and grateful." "She'll be much happier there."
The overbearing unanimity of this chorus suggests to me that its real purpose is
less to reassure than to suppress, to deny the most obvious and natural emotion
that attends this occasion, which is sadness.
My sadness is purely selfish, I know. My friends are right; this was all Mom's
idea, she's looking forward to it, and she really will be happier there. But it
also means losing the farm my father bought in 1976, where my sister and I grew
up, where Dad died in 1991. We're losing our old phone number, the one we've had
since the Ford administration, a number I know as well as my own middle name.
However infrequently I go there, it is the place on earth that feels like home
to me, the place I'll always have to go back to in case adulthood falls through.
I hadn't realized, until I was forcibly divested of it, that I'd been harboring
the idea that someday, when this whole crazy adventure was over, I would at some
point be nine again, sitting around the dinner table with Mom and Dad and my
sister. And beneath it all, even at age 45, there is the irrational, little-kid
fear: Who's going to take care of me? I remember my mother telling me that when
her own mother died, when Mom was in her 40s, her first thought was: I'm an
Plenty of people before me have lamented the way that we in industrialized
countries regard our elderly as unproductive workers or obsolete products, and
lock them away in institutions instead of taking them into our own homes out of
devotion and duty. Most of these critiques are directed at the indifference and
cruelty thus displayed to the elderly; what I wonder about is what it's doing to
the rest of us.
Segregating the old and the sick enables a fantasy, as baseless as the fantasy
of capitalism's endless expansion, of youth and health as eternal, in which old
age can seem to be an inexplicably bad lifestyle choice, like eating junk food
or buying a minivan, that you can avoid if you're well-educated or hip enough.
So that when through absolutely no fault of your own your eyesight begins to
blur and you can no longer eat whatever you want without consequence and the
hangovers start lasting for days, you feel somehow ripped off, lied to. Aging
feels grotesquely unfair. As if there ought to be someone to sue.
We don't see old or infirm people much in movies or on TV. We love explosive
gory death onscreen, but we're not so enamored of the creeping, gray,
incontinent kind. Aging and death are embarrassing medical conditions, like
hemorrhoids or eczema, best kept out of sight. Survivors of serious illness or
injuries have written that, once they were sick or disabled, they found
themselves confined to a different world, a world of sick people, invisible to
the rest of us. Denis Johnson writes in his novel "Jesus' Son": "You and I don't
know about these diseases until we get them, in which case we also will be put
out of sight."
My own father died at home, in what was once my childhood bedroom. He was, in
this respect at least, a lucky man. Almost everyone dies in a hospital now, even
though absolutely nobody wants to, because by the time we're dying all the
decisions have been taken out of our hands by the well, and the well are without
mercy. Of course we hospitalize the sick and the old for some good reasons
(better care, pain relief), but I think we also segregate the elderly from the
rest of society because we're afraid of them, as if age might be contagious.
Which, it turns out, it is.
Because of all the stories we've absorbed, we vaguely imagine that our lives
will take the shape of a narrative - the classic Aristotelian ramp diagram of
gradual rising action (struggle and setbacks), climax (happy marriage,
professional success), and a brief, cozy denoument (kicking back with family and
friends, remembering the good times on a porch someplace pretty). But life is
not shaped like a story; it's an elongate and flattened bell curve, with an
attenuated, anticlimactic decline as long as its beginning. Friends have
described seeing their parents lose their faculties one by one, in more or less
the reverse order that their young children are acquiring them.
Another illusion we can't seem to relinquish, partly because large and moneyed
industries thrive on sustaining it, is that with enough money and information
we'll be able to control how we age and die. But one of the main aspects of
aging is the loss of control. Even people with the money to arrange to age in
comfort can die in agony and indignity, gabbling like infants, forgetting their
own children, sans everything. Death is a lot like birth (which people also gird
themselves for with books and courses and experts) - everyone's is different,
some are relatively quick and painless and some are prolonged and traumatic, but
they're all pretty messy and unpleasant and there's not a lot you can do to
I'm not trying to romanticize the beauty of osteoporosis, the wisdom of
Alzheimer's or the dignity of incontinence. More than one old person has ordered
me, "Do not get old." They did not appear to be kidding. I'm not talking about
Learning from the Invaluable Life Experience of Our Elders, or even suggesting
we need to accept the inevitable with grace. I am all for raging against the
dying of the light, and if they ever develop DNA rejuvenation or some other
longevity technique I will personally claw, throttle and gouge my way through
Warren Buffett, Rupert Murdoch and any number of other decrepit billionaires in
order to be first in line.
But we don't have a choice. You are older at this moment than you've ever been
before, and it's the youngest you're ever going to get. The mortality rate is
holding at a scandalous 100 percent. Pretending death can be indefinitely evaded
with hot yoga or a gluten-free diet or antioxidants or just by refusing to look
is craven denial. "Facing it, always facing it, that's the way to get through,"
Conrad wrote in "Typhoon." "Face it." He was talking about more than storms. The
sheltered prince Siddartha Gautama was supposedly set on the path to becoming
the Buddha when he was out riding and happened to see an old man, a sick man and
a dead man. Today he'd be spared the discomfiture, and the enlightenment, unless
he were riding mass transit.
Just yesterday my mother sent me a poem she first read in college - Langston
Hughes's "Mother to Son." She said she could still remember where she was, in
her dorm room at Goshen College, when she came across it in her American Lit
book. The title notwithstanding, it does not make for Hallmark-card copy. Life
for me ain't been no crystal stair. It tells us that this life is not a story or
an adventure or a journey of spiritual self-discovery; it's a slog. And it
orders us to keep going, don't you dare give up, no matter what. Because I'm
your mother, that's why.
Tim Kreider is the author of "We Learn Nothing,"
a collection of
essays and cartoons.
His cartoon, "The Pain - When Will It End?"
collected in three books by Fantagraphics.
This post has been revised to reflect the following correction:
LONDON (Reuters) - Celebrating death is an odd concept for an
exhibition, but a new show in London on the topic that many people would rather
avoid is at times beautiful, macabre, harrowing, comforting and funny.
"Death: A Self-Portrait" opens at the Wellcome Collection, which specializes in
scientific and medical themes, on Thursday and runs until February 24 next year.
It contains around 300 paintings, puppets, models, drawings and artifacts from
the collection of Richard Harris, an American antique print dealer who just over
a decade ago decided to dedicate his time to assembling works of art related to
He has around 2,000 items in total, most of them in storage, and would love to
display the collection around the world to help people come to terms with their
"My real aim is to have this show all over the world," the 75-year-old said at a
preview of the exhibition on Wednesday.
"All the world needs to continue to promote the discussion and dialogue about
this just to make it ...something that is not taboo and something that we cringe
about and close our eyes and our minds to," Harris told reporters.
With a broad smile and jaunty manner perhaps at odds with his chosen obsession,
he added: "Like it or not, we're not going to live forever."
Curator Kate Forde organized the exhibition around five themes, and sought to
make the show feel as personal as possible rather than being a spectacle.
By placing artifacts from Japan and Nepal close to those from the United States
and Mexico, the exhibition underlines how different cultures deal with death in
radically different ways.
Mexico, with its Day of the Dead holiday, takes a more head-on approach than
some cultures who seek to avoid the subject.
"It's an acknowledgement that death is there, it is a part of life and there is
a way still of connecting with the dead and that can be joyous as well as full
of grief and sorrow," Forde said of the tradition.
DIX'S DEATH DRAWINGS
Among the most disturbing works on display are 51 prints by German artist Otto
Dix based on his time fighting as a machine-gunner on the Western Front during
World War One.
Unflinching in their portrayal of agony, death, fear and rape, they are inspired
both by Goya and Callot, whose works hang alongside them in the "Violent Death"
In "Commemoration" sits a "tau tau", an Indonesian "grave guardian", or wooden
model of the deceased placed next to the graves of prominent members of the
Toraja ethnic group.
The oldest item on display is the Nuremberg Chronicle, an illustrated adaptation
of the Bible and world history from 1493, left open at an image of skeletons
leaping and dancing frenetically beside an open grave.
The show also features contemporary works, including a 2009 giant "chandelier"
by British artist Jodie Carey which comprises some 3,000 plaster-cast bones.
Harris said he was not obsessed by death, and did not know the value of his
collection which includes works by prominent artists as Dix and Albrecht Duerer.
"As long as we don't go to the poor house," he joked. He continues to collect -
his latest purchase was a 1969 Chevrolet car decorated with Day of the Dead
Next year, the Wellcome Collection will undergo a 17.5 million pound ($28
million) redevelopment after its exhibitions, talks and library attracted nearly
half a million people over the last year compared with the 100,000 it had
Forde put the success down to the combination of science, medicine and art. "I
definitely think there's a hunger to look at science in that rounded way," she
The development is scheduled for completion in 2014.
(Reporting by Mike Collett-White, editing by Paul Casciato)
The New York Times
By THERESA BROWN
THE patient was a fairly young woman and she’d had cancer for as long as her
youngest child had been alive. That child was now walking and talking and her
mother’s cancer had spread throughout her body to the point where there were no
more curative options. Aggressive growth of the disease in her brain had
stripped her of her personality and her memories.
She had another child, too, a few years older, and a husband whose drawn eyes
and tense frame bore the strain of trying to keep it all together. Extended
family lived far away and couldn’t be brought closer. The husband and kids lived
more than an hour’s drive from the hospital.
No one could say for sure how long she would live, but continued hospital care
was clearly pointless. Nor could she go home: she needed more attention than her
family could provide. Everyone — her physician, the husband, the palliative care
team, we nurses — agreed she needed inpatient hospice care, and that it should
be provided close to home.
The problem was, she had no place to go. There was a hospice facility near her
house, but it would accept her only if she would die within six days.
I’ve run up against these kinds of time limits before in my work as an oncology
nurse. There’s a certain logic to it: hospice insurance benefits are ideally
used to cover the costs of end-of-life care in patients’ homes, for up to six
months, while periods of inpatient care are for the “short term.” And although
patients do die in inpatient hospices, part of the mission of hospice is
allowing patients to remain at home instead of in a hospital; hence the turn
away from inpatient care, which is costly and often intrusive.
But that leaves people like this patient — more than a few days away from death,
unable to be adequately cared for at home and unable to afford to pay
out-of-pocket for a facility — struggling to find a place to die.
Dying at home was neither safe nor compassionate for this patient. She needed
constant supervision: she would struggle to sit up and moan in frustration, or
lurch dangerously over the side of the bed. Her speech was more sounds than
words, and she had no control over her bowels or bladder.
Her husband looked as if he might fold in on himself at any minute, and he’d
already borne the burden of care for a long time. Though I didn’t know for sure,
it’s likely that his insurance couldn’t guarantee continuous nursing care in the
home as a covered expense. And the patient’s children had already lost so much
of their mother; she no longer even recognized them. Did they need to witness
her final deterioration up close at home?
Home was not the only option. She could have stayed in the hospital and pursued
aggressive care. Indeed, if her physician or a family member had said “do
everything,” meaning keep her alive as long as possible through intravenous
medications and hydration and, ultimately, sending her to the intensive care
unit on a ventilator, it would have cost thousands of dollars but,
paradoxically, most insurance companies would have considered it a legitimate
Doing everything possible to extend her life wouldn’t have benefited her or her
family, though. Roughly a third of family members of I.C.U. patients show
symptoms of post-traumatic stress, according to research by the French
intensive-care expert Elie Azoulay and his collaborators. If a loved one dies in
intensive care after discussions about advance directives and patient wishes —
that is, after the family has been made fully aware of the finality of the
situation — the psychological fallout is even greater, approaching 80 percent.
We do not always aid the living by inflicting high-tech ministrations on the
In other words, inpatient hospice care made sense medically, financially and
psychologically for this patient, but the system simply wouldn’t allow it.
The only option, then, was for me to convince the hospice staff that she would
die within six days. I spoke with the inpatient coordinator, the administrator
and the hospice admissions nurse, who came to the hospital floor to assess the
My explanations were precise: “She’s on an antibiotic now, but that’ll stop in
hospice so she could go septic. Her kidney function is already diminished;
kidney failure is only a matter of time. She has periods of difficulty
breathing, and hospice won’t have the respiratory support she’ll need, but you
can give her morphine to stop the air hunger.”
All of us will at some point come to this pass; we will all need a place to die.
It’s not easy to think about, but it is true. We can turn away from that hard
fact, try to stall death, even bend it to our will for a little while in the
I.C.U. Or we can face that most difficult of life’s trials and ask ourselves how
to make it easier.
With this patient I ended up being persuasive enough, and she got her inpatient
admission. Was she dead in six days? Probably; I don’t know for sure. What I do
know is that her sad husband and two young children, who would never really know
their mother, had a chance to grieve and say goodbye in the most humane way
possible for them.
The New York Times
By CHARLES McGRATH
Christopher Hitchens, probably the country’s most famous unbeliever, received
the Freethinker of the Year Award at the annual convention of the Atheist
Alliance of America here on Saturday. Mr. Hitchens was flattered by the honor,
he said a few days beforehand, but also a little abashed. “I think being an
atheist is something you are, not something you do,” he explained, adding: “I’m
not sure we need to be honored. We don’t need positive reinforcement. On the
other hand, we do need to stick up for ourselves, especially in a place like
Texas, where they have laws, I think, that if you don’t believe in Jesus Christ
you can’t run for sheriff.”
Mr. Hitchens, a prolific essayist and the author of “God Is Not Great: How
Religion Poisons Everything,” discovered in June 2010 that he had Stage 4
esophageal cancer. He has lately curtailed his once busy schedule of public
appearances, but he made an exception for the Atheist Alliance — or “the Triple
A,” as he called it — partly because the occasion coincided almost to the day
with his move 30 years ago from his native England to the United States. He was
already in Houston, as it happened, because he had come here for treatment at
the MD Anderson Cancer Center, where he has turned his 12th-floor room into a
temporary library and headquarters.
Mr. Hitchens is gaunt these days, no longer barrel-chested. His voice is softer
than it used to be, and for the second time since he began treatment, he has
lost most of his hair. Once such an enthusiastic smoker that he would light up
in the shower, he gave up cigarettes a couple of years ago. Even more
inconceivable to many of his friends, Mr. Hitchens, who used to thrive on
whiskey the way a bee thrives on nectar, hasn’t had a drink since July, when a
feeding tube was installed in his stomach. “That’s the most depressing aspect,”
he said. “The taste is gone. I don’t even want to. It’s incredible what you can
get used to.”
But in most other respects Mr. Hitchens is undiminished, preferring to see
himself as living with cancer, not dying from it. He still holds forth in
dazzlingly clever and erudite paragraphs, pausing only to catch a breath or let
a punch line resonate, and though he says his legendary productivity has fallen
off a little since his illness, he still writes faster than most people talk.
Last week he stayed up until 1 in the morning to finish an article for Vanity
Fair, working on a laptop on his bedside table.
Writing seems to come almost as naturally as speech does to Mr. Hitchens, and he
consciously associates the two. “If you can talk, you can write,” he said. “You
have to be careful to keep your speech as immaculate as possible. That’s what
I’m most afraid of. I’m terrified of losing my voice.” He added: “Writing is
something I do for a living, all right — it’s my livelihood. But it’s also my
life. I couldn’t live without it.”
Mr. Hitchens’s newest book, published last month, is “Arguably,” a
paving-stone-sized volume consisting mostly of essays finished since his last
big collection, “Love, Poverty and War,” which came out in 2004. The range of
subjects is typically Hitchensian. There are essays — miniature pamphlets,
almost — on political subjects and especially on the danger posed to the West by
Islamic terrorism and totalitarianism, a subject that has preoccupied Mr.
Hitchens since 2001. But there are just as many on literary figures; there’s a
paean to oral sex, and there are little rants about unruly wine waiters, clichés
and the misuse of “fuel” as a verb. The book’s epigraph is from Henry James’s
novel “The Ambassadors”: “Live all you can: It’s a mistake not to.” And in an
introduction Mr. Hitchens writes: “Some of these articles were written with the
full consciousness that they might be my very last. Sobering in one way and
exhilarating in another, this practice can obviously never become perfected.”
In his hospital room he suggested that an awareness of mortality was useful for
a writer but ideally it should remain latent. “I try not to dwell on it,” he
said, “except that once in a while I say, O.K., I’m not going to make that joke,
I’m not going to go for that chortle. Or if I have to choose between two
subjects, I won’t choose the boring one.”
He added, talking about an essay on Philip Larkin that made it into “Arguably”:
“I knew the collection was going to come out even if I did not, and I was very
pleased when I finished that one, because of the way it ends: ‘Our
almost-instinct almost true:/ What will survive of us is love.’ I remember
thinking, if that’s the last piece I write, that will do me.” After a moment he
went on: “The influence of Larkin is much greater than I thought. He’s perfect
for people who are thinking about death. You’ve got that old-line Calvinist
pessimism and modern, acid cynicism — a very good combo. He’s not liking what he
sees, and not pretending to.”
His main regret at the moment, Mr. Hitchens said, was that while he was keeping
up with his many deadlines — for Slate, The Atlantic and Vanity Fair — he didn’t
have the energy to also work on a book. He had recently come up with some new
ideas about his hero, George Orwell, for example — among them that Orwell might
have had Asperger’s — and he said he ought to include them in a revised edition
of his 2002 book, “Why Orwell Matters.” He had also thought of writing a book
about dying. “It could be called ‘What to Expect When You’re Expecting,’ ” he
Turning serious, he said, “I’ve had some dark nights of the soul, of course, but
giving in to depression would be a sellout, a defeat.” He added: “I don’t know
why I got so sick. Maybe it was the smokes, or maybe it’s genes. My father died
of the same thing. It’s pointless getting into remorse.”
On balance, he reflected, the past year has been a pretty good one. He won a
National Magazine Award, published “Arguably,” debated Tony Blair in front of a
huge audience and added two states to the list of those he has visited. “I lack
only the Dakotas and Nebraska,” he said, “though I may not get there unless
someone comes up with some ethanol-based cancer treatment in Omaha.”
Mr. Hitchens has an extensive support network that includes his wife, Carol
Blue, and his great friends James Fenton and Martin Amis. Mr. Amis is known for
being cool and acerbic, but as he kissed and embraced Mr. Hitchens last week,
visiting on the way to a literary festival in Mexico, his affection for his
friend was unmistakable. “Hitch’s buoyancy is amazing,” he said later. “He has
this great love of life, which I rather envy, because I think I may be deficient
in that respect. It’s an odd thing to say, but he’s almost like a Tibetan monk.
It’s as if he’d become religious.”
The New York Times
By SUZANNE DeCHILLO
week, three music therapists from MJHS Hospice and Palliative Care crisscross
the city and suburbs to sing songs to the dying. With guitars strapped to their
backs, a flute or tambourine and a songbook jammed in their backpacks, they play
music for more than 100 patients, in housing projects, in nursing homes and even
in a lavish waterfront home. The time for chemotherapy and radiation is over.
The music begins: a song to hold death at bay, a song to embrace death, or to
praise God. A Vietnam veteran asks for a song in Vietnamese. One man asked only
for songs with death in the lyrics, to force his family to talk to him about the
future. He was ready to talk about it. They weren’t. So the therapist sang
Queen’s version of “Another One Bites the Dust.” “Amazing Grace” and other
spiritual songs are most often requested just before death.
James D. Williams, 85, of Brooklyn, who is dying of cancer, says, “Right now I
am on borrowed time.” A therapist, Charla Burton, visits to sing hymns with Mr.
Williams and his wife of 61 years, Daphne, 79. “The Lord has kept me and I am
very grateful,” Mr. Williams says. “With the backup of my wife. She holds on to
me.” Both were born in Belize, and their songs, part of their spiritual
practice, have a joyful Caribbean lilt.
In Oceanside, N.Y., Merle Gross, 73, is dying of breast cancer. Sitting beside
an ocean inlet, she and Ms. Burton make selections for a songbook she wants to
leave behind. If there is time enough, it will include songs for every member of
her family, all the people she loved and her dog, Shayna.
And in a Manhattan housing project, a mother cradles her 6-month-old daughter,
Cecilia, and Meredith Traver plays a lullaby on her guitar, softly singing the
words, “Papa is going to buy you a mockingbird.”
One of the youngest patients in the program, Cecilia Havre, has a genetic
defect, Trisomy 18; half those born with this disorder do not survive beyond the
first week of life. The baby smiles at her mother, Chantel Vazquez, and her
father, Eddie Havre. Cecilia is deaf, but the music soothes her parents. Cecilia
is thriving in hospice — or end-of-life — care and may be moved to palliative
care, where treatment may be incorporated.
Rose Vuolo, 86, an Alzheimer’s patient on Long Island, has had visits from Ms.
Burton for four months.
Rose rarely speaks. “She has gotten progressively worse,” says her grandson,
Paul Motisi. “It’s become constant confusion.” Except sometimes when Ms. Burton
Ms. Burton plays the Cole Porter song “Begin the Beguine” — the lyrics of which
even Cole Porter said he could not remember without the sheet music. Yet on a
good day, Rose sings along, with perfect pitch and range. It was the song she
and her husband danced to at their wedding.
Millicent Wilson, 94, who is dying of colon cancer in the Bronx, stopped singing
after her husband died and she got sick, says her son, Mark V. Wilson, who
stopped working to take care of her. But because of her music therapist, Yelena
Zatulovsky, his mother is singing again.
At the end of a song, she asks him, “Mark, why don’t you dance anymore?”
December 25, 2010
The New York Times
By JENNIFER MEDINA
LOS ANGELES — Body bags go for $20. Yellow crime scene tape is
$6. Toe tags are normally $5, but they were sold out this month. The merchandise
comes in a white plastic shopping bag that says “Los Angeles County Department
Tucked in the corner of a squat brick building that houses a huge depository of
the dead is the strangest of gift shops. For years, the county coroner has run
the shop, aptly named Skeletons in the Closet, selling knickknacks playing off
the rather morbid humor that the department’s business arouses in many people.
But it turns out that the shop’s slogan — “We’re dying for your business!” — is
all too accurate. The shop was once supposed to make enough money to pay for an
anti-drunken-driving course for teenagers that includes a visit to the morgue.
But a recent report from county auditors shows that it has not made a profit for
years and is actually subsidized by the very program it was meant to finance.
So the shop needs county money to order more of the “undertaker” boxer shorts
and the business-card holders shaped like skulls.
But all that kitsch does not necessarily translate into a return on investment.
“It’s certainly a problem for us from a financial sense,” said Craig Harvey, the
director of operations for the coroner. “We’re not necessarily a place that has
a lot of experience in business, so this is simply a kind of wake-up call to see
if we can do better at selling what we have.”
Still, Mr. Harvey said, the store is quite a draw for a “certain segment of
people.” It has particular cachet among foreign tour guides. During the summer,
busloads of Asian and European tourists come to the out-of-the-way office a few
miles east of downtown. The most popular item is the $30 beach towel with a
life-size body outline.
But for the most part, the shop’s only marketing has been word of mouth and free
publicity in the news media. The store has a rudimentary Web site and is only
now starting to explore ways to use the Internet to drive sales through Amazon,
eBay and Facebook. There, it hopes to find a larger market for sweatshirts,
notepads and pens bearing the same logo that department officials display in the
At its peak, in 2003, Skeletons in the Closet pulled in $280,000. Last year, it
The store was created almost by accident nearly 20 years ago by a secretary who
noticed how popular mugs and T-shirts with the coroner’s logo were at the
forensic conferences the department held each year. So she began ordering more
and selling them from her desk. Eventually, there was enough business that the
merchandise moved to a small closet (the name came not long after that).
Now the shop fills a small room just off the department’s only public entrance.
A sign reminds visitors of the real purpose of a coroner, pleading with
potentially overeager shoppers to “Please be considerate of our families here on
“Everyone who comes in here is kind of weird,” said Edna Pereyda, who handles
the shop’s day-to-day operations. “Why else would you come here?”
The occasional celebrity stops in if he or she is filming nearby; local
detectives and police officers are typically the most loyal customers.
“I advise if you like something you should get it now,” Ms. Pereyda told Officer
Robert Alvarado of the Los Angeles Police Department, who stopped by one recent
morning. “You never know when it will be gone.”
Officer Alvarado, who was there with his girlfriend, said he frequently wore his
favorite purchase — a barbecue apron emblazoned “L.A. County Coroner Has ♥” in
the center and two pockets labeled “spare ribs” and “spare hands.”
As they looked around the small wood-paneled shop, a large couch resembling the
inside of a coffin caught the eye of his girlfriend, Monica Rodriguez. It was
not for sale, but Ms. Pereyda said she could order a custom version from a
company that advertised at the store, promising “eternal comfort” for $3,000.
Ms. Rodriguez’s 10-year-old son stood by, looking rather confused.
“What’s that?” he asked, pointing at the outlined image on a T-shirt that read
“Our Bodies of Work Speak for Themselves.”
Officer Alvarado smiled before answering. “Back in the old days, they traced
dead bodies with chalk,” he said. “They don’t do that anymore. Now they just
leave you there on the ground.”
A few minutes later, they left without buying anything.
Ms. Pereyda said that much of the merchandise in the store had been the same for
years, leaving many regular customers eager for more. So she is brainstorming
new ideas and is particularly excited about a shipment of water bottles that is
supposed to arrive next month.
There are ways of speaking about dying that very much annoy
Peggy Jackson, an affable and rosy-cheeked hospice worker in Arlington, Va. She
doesn’t like the militant cast of “lost her battle with,” as in, “She lost her
battle with cancer.” She is similarly displeased by “We have run out of options”
and “There is nothing left we can do,” when spoken by doctor to patient,
implying as these phrases will that hospice care is not an “option” or a “thing”
that can be done. She doesn’t like these phrases, but she tolerates them. The
one death-related phrase she will not abide, will not let into her house under
any circumstance, is “cryonic preservation,” by which is meant the
low-temperature preservation of human beings in the hope of future
resuscitation. That this will be her husband’s chosen form of bodily disposition
creates, as you might imagine, certain complications in the Jackson household.
“You have to understand,” says Peggy, who at 54 is given to exasperation about
her husband’s more exotic ideas. “I am a hospice social worker. I work with
people who are dying all the time. I see people dying All. The. Time. And what’s
so good about me that I’m going to live forever?”
The provenance of this disagreement remains somewhat hazy, as neither Peggy nor
her husband, Robin Hanson, can remember quite when he first announced his
intention to have his brain surgically removed from his freshly vacated cadaver
and preserved in liquid nitrogen. It would have been decades ago, before the two
were married and before the births of their two teenage sons. With the benefit
of hindsight, Robin, who is 50 and an associate professor of economics at George
Mason University, will acknowledge that he should have foreseen at least some
initial discomfort on the part of his girlfriend, whom he met when they were
both graduate students at the University of Chicago. “I was surprised by her
response,” he recalls, “but that’s because I am a nerd and not good at
predicting these things.”
Robin is the kind of nerd who is very excited about the future, an orientation
evident on his C.V., which lists published articles like “Economic Growth Given
Machine Intelligence” (on why robots will give us growth rates “an order of
magnitude” higher than we’ve currently got), “Burning the Cosmic Commons:
Evolutionary Strategies of Interstellar Colonization” (on what behaviors we can
expect from extraterrestrials) and “Drift-Diffusion in Mangled Worlds Quantum
Mechanics” (it’s very complicated). His enthusiasm is evident in the way he
talks about these ideas, hands in the air, laughing amiably every time he brings
up the distance between his own theories and those of the mainstream. If he is
in a chair, the chair is moving with him.
“I’m just really terribly curious,” Robin told me in January over Skype.
“Cryonics isn’t just living a little longer. It’s also living quite a bit
delayed into the future.” Peggy’s initial response to this ambition, rooted less
in scientific skepticism than in her personal judgments about the quest for
immortality, has changed little in the past 20-odd years. Robin, a deep thinker
most at home in thought experiments, says he believes that there is some small
chance his brain will be resurrected, that its time in cryopreservation will be
merely a brief pause in the course of his life. Peggy finds the quest an act of
cosmic selfishness. And within a particular American subculture, the pair are
practically a cliché.
Among cryonicists, 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.” The opposition of romantic partners, Aschwin told me
last year, is something that “everyone” involved in cryonics knows about but
that he and Chana, his wife, find difficult to understand. To someone who
believes that low-temperature preservation offers a legitimate chance at
extending life, obstructionism can seem as willfully cruel as withholding
medical treatment. Even if you don’t want to join your husband in storage, ask
believers, what is to be lost by respecting a man’s wishes with regard to the
treatment of his own remains? Would-be cryonicists forced to give it all up, the
de Wolfs and Federowicz write, “face certain death.”
Premonitions of this problem can be found in the deepest reaches of cryonicist
history, starting with the prime mover. Robert Ettinger is the father of
cryonics, his 1964 book, “The Prospect of Immortality,” its founding text. “This
is not a hobby or conversation piece,” he wrote in 1968, adding, “it is the
struggle for survival. Drive a used car if the cost of a new one interferes.
Divorce your wife if she will not cooperate.” Today, with just fewer than200
patients preserved within the two major cryonics facilities, the Michigan-based
Cryonics Institute and the Arizona-based Alcor, and with 10 times as many signed
up to be stored upon their legal deaths, cryonicists have created support
networks with which to tackle marital strife. Cryonet, a mailing list on
“cryonics-related issues,” takes as one of its issues the opposition of wives.
(The ratio of men to women among living cyronicists is roughly three to one.)
“She thinks the whole idea is sick, twisted and generally spooky,” wrote one man
newly acquainted with the hostile-wife phenomenon. “She is more intelligent than
me, insatiably curious and lovingly devoted to me and our 2-year-old daughter.
So why is this happening?”
The air of hurt confusion stems, in part, from the intuition among believers
that cryonics is a harmless attempt at preserving data, little different from
stowing a box of photos. Of the nonreligious white males who predominate in the
ranks of cryonicists, many are software engineers, a calling that puts great
faith in the primacy of information. “If you have a hard drive on a computer
with a lot of information that is important to you, you save it,” says J.S., a
39-year-old cryonicist and software engineer who lives in Oregon and who will
not allow his full name to be used out of fear that his wife would divorce him.
“You wouldn’t just throw it into a fire. It’s clear to me that memories are
stored as molecular arrangements. I’m just trying to preserve the memories.”
A small amount of time spent trying to avoid certain death would seem to be well
within the capacity of a healthy marriage to absorb. The checkered marital
history of cryonics suggests instead that a violation beyond nonconformity is at
stake, that something intrinsic to the loner’s quest for a second life agitates
against harmony in the first.
Back when Peggy and Robin were two broke Californians shivering in the Chicago
cold, the university’s law school used to play old movies for $1. They’d go
watch a Cary Grant film and end up back at the dorms for a board game. He taught
her to play backgammon; they spent chilly nights playing cards. “Robin is very
romantic,” Peggy says. “He used to leave notes in my dorm mailbox all the time,
little poems and things, pictures he liked. I still have those.”
Peggy was thinking about those notes because some siblings at the hospice where
she works had just happened upon a cache of love letters written by their father
before World War II, and read them aloud to their ailing mother. During my visit
to the hospice earlier this year, families were gathered in their rooms and in
the large common area, where the TV was on and a box of toys had been pushed
aside to make space for a Christmas tree. Pets are allowed; so is liquor. Guests
might spend some time chatting with a social worker like Peggy, but probably not
much time, because the average stay is seven days.
Peggy describes herself as not religious and “definitely not a Christian,”
though she lacks Robin’s surety that nothing lives on when the body dies. Her
line of work has left her focused on managing the last days of life, partly by
encouraging her charges to stop fixating on medicine. Families come from
hospital to hospice obsessed with numbers: blood count, blood pressure, heart
rate. “Look at his face,” she counsels. “Does he look comfortable? It’s very
common-sensical, but it takes a lot of work to get people to let go of the
A tour guide to the dying process, Peggy tells families what they will see and
how best to reduce discomfort. Feet and hands will turn cold. Senses will fade,
but hearing may remain sharp until the very end; telling secrets within earshot
of an otherwise-unresponsive guest is ill advised. The muscles required to
swallow will go limp in the throat, and the resulting sound will register as a
rattle. In the interest of a smooth transition, families are asked to sign a
form that says “do not resuscitate.” Very rarely, one doesn’t, though to fail to
do so is to violate certain philosophical leanings of a place very much oriented
toward acceptance. “The paramedics come in and they pound on the chest,” Peggy
says. “It breaks bones, causes pain, it’s serious trauma. That always feels like
a failure. I didn’t get through to this poor family.”
The United States is not necessarily an easy place to take up the banner of
letting go; we’re likely to call it “giving up,” and there is of course no purer
expression of this attitude than the pursuit of cryonics. Heads and bodies
stored in steel tanks, awaiting the moment when medicine advances to the point
where tissue can be repaired and bodies revived, are pointedly referred to not
as remains or cadavers but as “patients.” A stopped heart is seen as no good
reason to stop fighting for your life. And so Peggy expends a certain amount of
psychic energy trying to ignore Robin’s cryonics arrangements. Separate bank
accounts prevent her from having to see the money spent on annual dues, and the
two manage to avoid bringing up the subject at home. When he dies (“which he
will,” Peggy adds), it will fall to someone else to call Alcor and explain
Robin’s wishes to the hospital staff. “My husband has said, on numerous
occasions, ‘Choose life at any cost,’ ” Peggy says. “But I’ve seen people in
pain. It’s not worth it.”
Shortly after they met, Peggy and Robin decided to read each other’s favorite
works of literature. Peggy asked Robin to read “The Brothers Karamazov,” and he
asked her to read “The Lord of the Rings.” She hated it. “I asked him why he
loved it, and he said: ‘Because it’s so full of detail. This guy has invented
this whole world.’ He asked me why I hated it, and I said: ‘Because it’s so full
of detail. There was nowhere for the reader to imagine her own interpretation.’
” Robin, less one for telling stories, describes their early days more
succinctly. “There was,” he says not without tenderness, “a personality-type
As an economist with an interest in political institutions, Robin came up with
the concept of futarchy, a form of government in which prediction markets would
be used to determine the viability of various policies. He would like to live in
a futarchy, and an effective cryonic preservation would improve his chances of
seeing one. He also talks about what it means to be the kind of person willing
to do what it takes to survive. “Our ancestors came across the oceans,” he says,
“went across the continent. Many people, most, didn’t do those things. But I
think of myself as the kind of person who is willing to suffer quite a bit of
change in lifestyle, culture and context if it’s a matter of that or
Robin’s expertise extends to the economics of health care, a domain in which
enormous amounts of money are spent on experimental procedures with only a small
chance of extending life. Like many cryonicists, he says he thinks of bodily
preservation as experimental end-of-life medical care, and it is within a
medical context that he typically introduces the subject of cryonics to his
health economics class at George Mason. His students rarely accept this framing.
“We spend most of the semester talking about how people are obsessed with taking
any small chance at living longer,” Robin says. “And then when we get to
cryonics, it’s: Well, who needs to live longer? What’s the point of living
anyway? Why can’t we solve global hunger?”
In other words, while his wife says that medical technology has an unfortunate
stranglehold on the way we die, Robin longs to claim the mantle of medical
science for his attempt to avoid death altogether. But here he doesn’t expect to
succeed, and as with most societal attitudes that contradict his intuitions,
he’s got a theory as to why. “Cryonics,” Robin says, “has the problem of looking
like you’re buying a one-way ticket to a foreign land.” To spend a family
fortune in the quest to defeat cancer is not taken, in the American context, to
be an act of selfishness. But to plan to be rocketed into the future — a future
your family either has no interest in seeing, or believes we’ll never see anyway
— is to begin to plot a life in which your current relationships have little
meaning. Those who seek immortality are plotting an act of leaving, an act, as
Robin puts it, “of betrayal and abandonment.”
Whether or not the human race subconsciously equates attempts to defeat death
with treachery, it’s true that a general air of menace hangs over the quest for
immortality in Western literature. Think Gilgamesh or Voldemort. “There is a lot
of ancient cultural stereotyping about the motives and moral character of people
who pursue life extension,” says James Hughes, the executive director of the
Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies, a nonprofit organization
enamored of life extension. Hughes has chosen not to participate in what he
considers a worthy experiment. “Although it’s a rather marginal bet for a
potentially huge payoff,” he says, “I value my relationship with my wife.”
If cryonic preservation does indeed signal betrayal, it does so while asking
much from those who would be betrayed. Alcor’s Patient Care Bay, filled as it is
with 10-foot steel canisters packed with human bodies and connected to monitors,
may appear self-regulating but in fact requires a very human vigilance against
entropy. There is a man charged with topping off the liquid nitrogen. There is a
man who mops the floors. Those in charge of the Patient Care Bay are only the
last in a long chain of people called upon to assist “deanimated” members.
Someone must perform the perfusion, for example, whereby blood is replaced with
an antifreeze-like solution that will harden like glass rather than freeze like
water. Someone must accompany the body from the site of death to the cryonics
facility. Someone must deal with flight schedules, local coroners and byzantine
hospital bureaucracies generally unfriendly to those who would march into the
hospital and whisk away the freshly dead. This is all vastly more likely to
succeed if the legal guardian of the remains is willing to help. “If you don’t
tell your wife you’re involved with cryonics, you don’t really love her,” says
S.B., a cryonicist from Indianapolis who reports that his marriage is suffering
and that two of his previous relationships failed because of cryonics. “And when
I die, I want my wife to call Alcor.”
It has not escaped the members of the often sappily life-affirming cryonics
community that their practice, so often thought to be the province of either
misfit loners or rugged individualists, involves great faith in the competent
benevolence of other people. Nor is Robin Hanson blind to the extent to which he
depends on his tribe. Marriage, despite its lack of clean edges and predictable
outcomes, is one of the few institutions he seems to have no interest in
reforming. Peggy describes their conflict as akin to a deep religious
difference, bridgeable by some core shared belief. “Robin and I have been
together for 28 years,” Peggy says. “We’ve always loved spending time together.
He is an excellent father. He devotes an enormous amount of time and energy to
family life. And that has to be there.”
Robin and Peggy remain silent on the issue of how, exactly, death will part
them, but earlier this year a stray bit of chatter glanced past the
conversational barricade. Sitting at their kitchen table, Peggy told Robin about
a funeral tradition she’d heard about: after a cremation, the ashes of the dead
are separated among family members. The children and surviving spouse each get a
handful, to save or dispose of as they see fit.
“You’re not getting any part of me,” Robin said. “I’m being frozen.”
“No.” Peggy said. “Your head is being frozen. I get the rest of you.”
Kerry Howley is an arts fellow
in the University of Iowa’s literary nonfiction
Dr. Robert N. Butler, a psychiatrist whose painful youthful realization that
death is inevitable prompted him to challenge and ultimately reform the
treatment of the elderly through research, public policy and a Pulitzer
Prize-winning book, died Sunday in Manhattan. He was 83 and had worked until
three days before his death.
The cause was acute leukemia, his daughter Christine Butler said.
Dr. Butler’s influence was apparent in the widely used word he coined to
describe discrimination against the elderly: “ageism.” He defended as healthy
the way many old people slip into old memories — even giving it a name, “life
In speech after speech, he pounded home the message that longevity in the United
States had increased by 30 years in the 20th century — greater than the gain
during the preceding 5,000 years of human history — and that this had led to
profound changes in every aspect of society, employment and politics among them.
Dr. Christine Cassel, president of the American Board of Internal Medicine, said
in an interview that Dr. Butler had in effect “created an entire field of
medicine.” She said he had helped change attitudes so that aging could be
perceived “a positive thing.”
Dr. Butler was the founding director of the National Institute on Aging at the
National Institutes of Health and advocated for the aging before Congress and
the United Nations. He helped start and led the American Association for
Geriatric Psychiatry, the Alzheimer’s Disease Association and the International
Longevity Center. President Bill Clinton named him chairman of the 1995 White
House Conference on Aging.
“He really put geriatrics on the map,” Dr. David B. Reuben, chief of the
division of geriatrics at the University of California, Los Angeles, said in an
Dr. Butler challenged long-held conceptions about aging, calling it “the
neglected stepchild of the human life cycle.” He helped establish, for example,
that senility is not inevitable with aging. When the Heinz Family Foundation
presented him with an award in 2003, it called him “a prophetic visionary.”
The most noted exposition of his vision was the 1975 book that earned him his
Pulitzer, “Why Survive? Being Old in America.” It went from a bleak explication
of the elderly’s condition to prescriptions to improve it.
“Human beings need the freedom to live with change, to invent and reinvent
themselves a number of times through their lives,” Dr. Butler wrote.
Dr. Butler’s mission emerged from his childhood, he wrote in his book. His
parents had scarcely named him Robert Neil Butler before splitting up 11 months
after his birth on Jan. 21, 1927, in Manhattan. He went to live with his
maternal grandparents on a chicken farm in Vineland, N.J.
He came to revere his grandfather, with whom he cared for sick chickens in the
“hospital” at one end of the chicken house. He loved the old man’s stories. But
the grandfather disappeared when Robert was 7, and nobody would tell him why. He
finally learned that he had died.
Robert found solace in his friendship with a physician he identified only as Dr.
Rose. Dr. Rose had helped him through scarlet fever and took him on his rounds
by horse and carriage. The boy decided he could have helped his grandfather
survive had he been a doctor. He also concluded that he would have preferred
that people had been honest with him about death.
From his grandmother, he learned about the strength and endurance of the
elderly, he wrote. After losing the farm in the Depression, she and her grandson
lived on government-surplus foods and lived in a cheap hotel. Robert sold
newspapers. Then the hotel burned down, with all their possessions.
“What I remember even more than the hardships of those years was my
grandmother’s triumphant spirit and determination,” he wrote. “Experiencing at
first hand an older person’s struggle to survive, I was myself helped to survive
Dr. Butler served in the United States Maritime Service before entering Columbia
University, where he earned his bachelor’s and medical degrees. During his
internship in psychiatry at St. Luke’s Hospital, he had many elderly patients
and realized how little he had been taught about treating them. He began reading
about the biology of aging.
After his residency at the University of California, San Francisco, he worked at
the National Institute of Mental Health as a research psychiatrist. He studied
the central nervous system in elderly people, work that became part of a large
study of aging. He also helped Ralph Nader investigate problems in nursing
The book that emerged from his experiences proposed many specific reforms to
help old people, including a national service corps that would enlist the
elderly as community volunteers.
In 1975 he succeeded in creating a National Institute on Aging and was its head
for six years.
“Nobody thought research on aging was a legitimate field until Bob came along
and convinced them to create a separate institute,” Dr. Cassel said.
In 1982, the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in Manhattan asked Dr. Butler’s
advice on whom to hire for a new geriatrics chair. He proposed instead that the
school create a department devoted solely to gerontology. It did, and was one of
the first to do so.
He wrote numerous articles and several books, including the bestseller “Sex
after Sixty,” which he wrote with his second wife, Dr. Myrna I. Lewis, in 1976.
Dr. Butler’s first marriage, to Diane McLaughlin, ended in divorce. Dr. Lewis
died in 2005. Besides his daughter Christine, he is survived by three other
daughters, Carole Butler Hall, Cynthia Butler and Alexandra Butler; and six
Dr. Butler acknowledged in an interview two years ago with The Saturday Evening
Post that his views on his own aging had changed: he feared death less.
“I feel less threatened by the end of life than I perhaps did when I was 35,” he
September 29, 2009
TH e New York Times
By FRAN SCHUMER
Each of the 2.5 million annual deaths in the United States directly affects
four other people, on average. For most of these people, the suffering is finite
— painful and lasting, of course, but not so disabling that 2 or 20 years later
the person can barely get out of bed in the morning.
For some people, however — an estimated 15 percent of the bereaved population,
or more than a million people a year — grieving becomes what Dr. M. Katherine
Shear, a professor of psychiatry at Columbia, calls “a loop of suffering.” And
these people, Dr. Shear added, can barely function. “It takes a person away from
humanity,” she said of their suffering, “and has no redemptive value.”
This extreme form of grieving, called complicated grief or prolonged grief
disorder, has attracted so much attention in recent years that it is one of only
a handful of disorders under consideration for being added to the DSM-V, the
American Psychiatric Association’s handbook for diagnosing mental disorders, due
out in 2012.
Some experts argue that complicated grief should not be considered a separate
condition, merely an aspect of existing disorders, like depression or
post-traumatic stress. But others say the evidence is convincing.
“Of all the disorders I’ve heard proposed, they have better data for this than
almost any of the other possible topics,” said Dr. Michael B. First, a professor
of clinical psychiatry at Columbia and an editor of the current manual, DSM-IV.
“It would be crazy of them not to take it seriously.”
There is no formal definition of complicated grief, but researchers describe it
as an acute form persisting more than six months, at least six months after a
death. Its chief symptom is a yearning for the loved one so intense that it
strips a person of other desires. Life has no meaning; joy is out of bounds.
Other symptoms include intrusive thoughts about death; uncontrollable bouts of
sadness, guilt and other negative emotions; and a preoccupation with, or
avoidance of, anything associated with the loss. Complicated grief has been
linked to higher incidences of drinking, cancer and suicide attempts.
“Simply put,” Dr. Shear said, “complicated grief can wreck a person’s life.”
In 2004, Stephanie Muldberg of Short Hills, N.J., lost her son Eric, 13, to
Ewing’s sarcoma, a bone cancer. Four years after Eric’s death, Ms. Muldberg, now
48, walked around like a zombie. “I felt guilty all the time, guilty about
living,” she said. “I couldn’t walk into the deli because Eric couldn’t go there
any longer. I couldn’t play golf because Eric couldn’t play golf. My life was a
“And I couldn’t talk to my friends about it, because after a while they didn’t
want to hear about it. ‘Stephanie, you need to get your life back,’ they’d say.
But how could I? On birthdays, I’d shut the door and take the phone off the
hook. Eric couldn’t have any more birthdays; why should I?”
Hours of therapy and support groups later, Ms. Muldberg was referred to a
clinical trial at Columbia. After 16 weeks of a treatment developed by Dr.
Shear, she was able to resume a more normal life. She learned to play bridge,
went on a family vacation and read a book about something other than dying.
A crucial phase of the treatment, borrowed from the cognitive behavioral therapy
used to treat victims of post-traumatic stress disorder, requires the patient to
recall the death in detail while the therapist records the session. The patient
must replay the tape at home, daily. The goal is to show that grief, like the
tape, can be picked up or put away.
“I’d never been able to do that before, to put it away,” Ms. Muldberg said. “I
was afraid I’d lose the memories, lose Eric.”
For some, the recounting is the hardest part of recovering. “That was just
brutal and I had to relive it,” said Virginia Eskridge, 66, who began treatment
20 years after the death of her husband, Fred Adelman, a college professor in
Pittsburgh. “I nearly dropped out, but I knew this was my last hope of getting
any kind of functional life back.”
At the same time patients learn to handle their grief, they are encouraged to
set new goals. For Ms. Eskridge, a retired law school librarian, that meant
returning to the campus where her husband had taught.
“Everywhere I went there were reminders of him, because we had been everywhere,”
she said. “It was like I was getting stabbed in the heart every time I went
That feeling finally went away, and Ms. Eskridge was even able to visit her
husband’s old office. “It really gave me my life back,” she said of the
treatment. “It sounds extreme, but it’s true.”
In a 2005 study in The Journal of the American Medical Association, Dr. Shear
presented evidence that the treatment was twice as effective as the traditional
interpersonal therapy used to treat depression or bereavement, and that it
worked faster. The study supported earlier suggestions that complicated grief
might actually be different not only from normal grief but also from other
disorders like post-traumatic stress and major depression.
Then, in 2008, NeuroImage published a study of the brain activity of people with
complicated grief. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, Mary-Frances
O’Connor, an assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of California,
Los Angeles, showed that when patients with complicated grief looked at pictures
of their loved ones, the nucleus accumbens — the part of the brain associated
with rewards or longing — lighted up. It showed significantly less activity in
people who experienced more normal patterns of grieving.
“It’s as if the brain were saying, ‘Yes I’m anticipating seeing this person’ and
yet ‘I am not getting to see this person,’ ” Dr. O’Connor said. “The mismatch is
The nucleus accumbens is associated with other kinds of longing — for alcohol
and drugs — and is more dense in the neurotransmitter dopamine than in
serotonin. That raises two interesting questions: Could memories of a loved one
have addictive qualities in some people? And might there be a more effective
treatment for this kind of suffering than the usual antidepressants, whose
target is serotonin?
Experts who question whether complicated grief is a distinct disorder argue that
more research is needed. “You can safely say that complicated grief is a
disorder, a collection of symptoms that causes distress, which is the beginning
of the definition of a disease,” said Dr. Paula J. Clayton, medical director of
the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. “However, other validators are
needed: family history and studies that follow the course of a disorder. For
example, once it’s cured, does it go away or show up years later as something
else, like depression?”
George A. Bonanno, a professor of clinical psychology at Columbia known for his
work on resilience (the reaction of the 85 percent of the population that does
adapt to loss), was skeptical at first. But, Dr. Bonanno said, “I ran those
tests and, lo and behold, extra grief symptoms were very important in predicting
what was going on with these people, over and above depression and P.T.S.D.”
Regardless of how complicated grief is classified, the discussion highlights a
larger issue: the need for a more nuanced look at bereavement. The DSM-IV
devotes only one paragraph to the topic.
Studies suggest that therapy for bereavement in general is not very effective.
But Dr. Bonanno called the published data “embarrassingly bad” and noted they
tended to lump in results from “a lot of people who don’t need treatment” but
sought it at the insistence of “loved ones or misguided professionals.”
Even if clinicians did identify people with complicated grief, there would not
be enough therapists to treat them. Despite Dr. Shear’s “terrific research” on
the therapy she pioneered, said Dr. Sidney Zisook, a professor of psychiatry at
the University of California, San Diego, “there aren’t a lot of people out there
who are trained to do it, and there aren’t a lot of patients with complicated
grief who are benefiting from this treatment breakthrough.”
The issue is pressing given the links between complicated grief and a higher
incidence of suicide, social problems and serious illness. “Do the symptoms of
prolonged grief predict suicidality, a higher level of substance abuse,
cigarette and alcohol consumption?” said Holly G. Prigerson, associate professor
of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and director of the Center for
Psycho-oncology and Palliative Care Research at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute
in Boston. “Yes, yes and yes, over and above depression; they’re better
predictors of those things.”
In an age when activities like compulsive shopping are viewed as disorders, the
subject of grief is especially sensitive. Deeply bereaved people are often
reluctant to talk about their sorrow, and when they do, they are insulted by the
use of terms like disorder or addiction. Grief, after all, is noble — emblematic
of the deep love between parents and children, spouses and even friends. Our
sorrows, the poets tell us, make us human; would proper therapy have denied us
Tennyson’s “In Memoriam”?
Diagnosing a deeper form of grief, however, is not about taking away anyone’s
sorrow. “We don’t get rid of suffering in our treatment,” Dr. Shear said. “We
just help people come to terms with it more quickly.”
“Personally, if it were me,” she added, “I would want that help.”
PITTSFORD, N.Y. — Gravely ill with heart disease, tethered to an oxygen tank,
her feet swollen and her appetite gone, Sister Dorothy Quinn, 87, readied
herself to die in the nursing wing of the Sisters of St. Joseph convent where
she has been a member since she was a teenager.
She was surrounded by friends and colleagues of nearly seven decades. Some had
been with her in college, others fellow teachers in Alabama at the time of the
Selma march, more from her years as a home health aide and spiritual counselor
to elderly shut-ins.
As she lay dying, Sister Dorothy declined most of her 23 medications not
essential for her heart condition, prescribed by specialists but winnowed by a
geriatrician who knows that elderly people are often overmedicated. She decided
against a mammogram to learn the nature of a lump in her one remaining breast,
understanding that she would not survive treatment.
There were goodbyes and decisions about giving away her quilting supplies and
the jigsaw puzzle collection that inspired the patterns of her one-of-a-kind
pieces. She consoled her biological sister, who pleaded with her to do whatever
it took to stay alive.
Even as her prognosis gradually improved from hours to weeks and even months,
Sister Dorothy’s goal was not immortality; it was getting back to quilting, as
she has. She spread her latest on her bed: Autumnal sunflowers. “I’m not afraid
of death,” she said. “Even when I was dying, I wasn’t afraid of it. You just get
a feeling within yourself at a certain point. You know when to let it be.”
A convent is a world apart, unduplicable. But the Sisters of St. Joseph, a
congregation in this Rochester suburb, animate many factors that studies say
contribute to successful aging and a gentle death — none of which require this
special setting. These include a large social network, intellectual stimulation,
continued engagement in life and spiritual beliefs, as well as health care
guided by the less-is-more principles of palliative and hospice care — trends
that are moving from the fringes to the mainstream.
For the elderly and infirm Roman Catholic sisters here, all of this takes place
in a Mother House designed like a secular retirement community for a
congregation that is literally dying off, like so many religious orders. On
average, one sister dies each month, right here, not in the hospital, because
few choose aggressive medical intervention at the end of life, although they are
welcome to it if they want.
“We approach our living and our dying in the same way, with discernment,” said
Sister Mary Lou Mitchell, the congregation president. “Maybe this is one of the
messages we can send to society, by modeling it.”
Primary care for most of the ailing sisters is provided by Dr. Robert C. McCann,
a geriatrician at the University of Rochester, who says that through a
combination of philosophy and happenstance, “they have better deaths than any
I’ve ever seen.”
Dr. McCann’s long relationship with the sisters gives him the time and
opportunity, impossible in the hurly-burly of an intensive-care unit, to clarify
goals of care long before a crisis: Whether feeding tubes or ventilators make
sense. If pain control is more important than alertness. That studies show that
CPR is rarely effective and often dangerous in the elderly.
“It is much easier to guide people to better choices here than in a hospital,”
he said, “and you don’t get a lot of pushback when you suggest that more
treatment is not better treatment.”
But that is not to say the sisters are denied aggressive treatment. Sister Mary
Jane Mitchell, 65, chose radical surgery and radiation for a grave form of brain
cancer. She now lives on the Alzheimer’s unit, unable to speak and squeezing
shut her lips when aides try to feed her.
Then there is Sister Marie Albert Alderman, 84 and blind in one eye from a
stroke. She sees a kidney specialist, who, she says, “is trying to keep me off
the machine by staying on top of things.” By that she means dialysis, which she
would not refuse. “If they want to try it, fine,” she said. “But I don’t want it
to go on and on and on.”
But Sister Mary Jane and Sister Marie Albert are exceptions here. Few sisters
opt for major surgery, high-tech diagnostic tests or life-sustaining machinery.
And nobody can remember the last time anyone died in a hospital, which was one
of the goals in selling the old Mother House, with its tumbledown infirmary — a
“Bells of St. Mary” kind of place — and using the money to finance a new
facility appropriate for end-of-life care.
“There is a time to die and a way to do that with reverence,” said Sister Mary
Lou, 56, a former nurse. “Hospitals should not be meccas for dying. Dying
belongs at home, in the community. We built this place with that in mind.”
In the old Mother House, the infirmary was a place apart. Here, everyone mixes.
Of the 150 residents, nearly half live in the west wing, designated for
independent living, in apartments with raised toilets, grab bars and the like.
These are the sisters who have given up paying jobs and shared apartments in the
community because of encroaching infirmity.
Forty sisters live in assisted-living studios, and another 40 in the nursing
home and Alzheimer’s unit, all in the east wing, with the chapel, dining rooms
and library at the central intersection. Closed-circuit television allows those
confined to their rooms to watch daily religious services.
Remaining money from the sale of the Mother House went into a shared retirement
fund covering the women’s lodging and medical care, along with Social Security
payments of the retired and salaries of those still working — one is a surgeon,
another a chief executive, and several are college professors. Dr. McCann bills
Medicare for home visits, although most of the care he delivers is not covered
by the government and goes without reimbursement.
Dr. McCann said that the sisters’ religious faith insulated them from
existential suffering — the “Why me?” refrain commonly heard among those without
a belief in an afterlife. Absent that anxiety and fear, Dr. McCann said, there
is less pain, less depression, and thus the sisters require only one-third the
amount of narcotics he uses to manage end-of-life symptoms among hospitalized
On recent rounds, Dr. McCann saw Sister Beverly Jones, 86, a former music
teacher losing her eyesight to macular degeneration. Upbeat, Sister Beverly told
the doctor about the latest book she was reading using a magnifying device —
“Beethoven’s Hair” by Russell Martin, about the composer’s DNA.
He also saw Sister Jamesine Riley, 75, once the president of the congregation,
who barely survived a car accident that left her with a brain injury, dozens of
broken bones and pneumonia. “You’re not giving up, are you?” Dr. McCann asked
“No, I’m discouraged, but I’m not giving up,” Sister Jamesine replied in a
He told her he worried that she now found herself with so little control. She
nodded in stoic assent.
Some days, Dr. McCann said, he arrives with his “head spinning,” from hospitals
and intensive-care units where death can be tortured, impersonal and wastefully
expensive, only to find himself in a “different world where it’s really possible
to focus on what’s important for people” and, he adds, “what’s exportable, what
we can learn from an ideal environment like this.”
Laura L. Carstensen, the director of the Center on Longevity at Stanford
University, says the convent setting calms the tendency for public policy
discussion about end-of-life treatment “to devolve into a debate about
euthanasia or rationing health care based on age.”
“Every time I speak to a group about the need to improve the dying process,
somebody raises their hand and says, ‘You’re talking about killing old people,’
” Dr. Carstensen said. “But nobody would accuse Roman Catholic sisters of that.
They could be a beacon in talking about this without it turning into that
American black-and-white way of thinking: Either we have to throw everything
we’ve got at keeping people alive or leave them on the sidewalk to die.”
Often the Roman Catholic position on end-of-life issues is misconstrued as “do
anything and everything necessary” but nothing in Catholic theology demands
extraordinary intervention, experts say, nor do the sisters here, or their
resident chaplain, Msgr. William H. Shannon, 91, advocate euthanasia or
“Killing somebody who is very, very old, with a pill or something, that isn’t
right,” Sister Dorothy said. “But everybody has their own slant on life and
death. It’s legitimate to say no to extraordinary means. And dying people, you
can tell when they don’t want to eat or drink. That’s a natural thing.”
Barbara Cocilova, the nurse practitioner here, sees differences in the health of
these sisters compared with elderly patients in other settings. None have
chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (perhaps because they do not smoke) and
only three have diabetes (often caused by obesity). Among those with
Alzheimer’s, Ms. Cocilova said, diagnostic tests tend to produce
better-than-expected results among those who are further along in the disease
process, a possible result of mental stimulation.
Dr. McCann and others say that the sisters benefit from advanced education, and
new ventures in retirement that keep them active. Sister Jamesine was a lawyer
who founded a legal clinic for Rochester’s working poor. Sister Mary Jane
Mitchell was the first female chaplain in a federal penitentiary.
Sister Bernadine Frieda, 91, spry and sharp, spends her days visiting the infirm
with Sister Marie Kellner, 77, both of them onetime science teachers. Sister
Marie, who left the classroom because of multiple sclerosis, reminds an
astounded sister with Alzheimer’s that she was once a high school principal (“I
was?!”) and sings “Peace Is Like a River” to the dying.
“We don’t let anyone go alone on the last journey,” Sister Marie said.
Seven priests moved here in old age, paying their own way, as does Father
Shannon, who presides over funerals that are more about the celebratory
“alleluia” than the glum “De Profundis.” But he has been with the sisters since
he entered the priesthood, first as a professor at Nazareth College, founded by
the order, and now as their chaplain. He shares with them the security of
knowing he will not die among strangers who have nothing in common but age and
“This is what our culture, our society, is starved for, to be rich in
relationships,” Sister Mary Lou said. “This is what everyone should have.”
Tuck this tidbit away somewhere: It is easier to die with your eyes open.
Eyes closed — much harder.
“There’s nothing worse than sitting there holding your breath and concentrating
on not moving your eyelids,” said Mike Doyle, an actor with a quick grin and a
knife sticking out of his chest on the set of “Law & Order: Special Victims
Unit” last month.
It was May 7, a day Mr. Doyle spent mostly playing dead for the season finale on
Tuesday on NBC. Mr. Doyle played Ryan O’Halloran, a forensics expert who first
appeared in 2003. More than 50 appearances later, revealing little about himself
other than occasional impatience with his fellow officers and a drive to solve
crimes, O’Halloran ran afoul of a co-worker, Dale Stuckey, who has snapped and
gone on a killing rampage.
Dying on screen is nothing new for Mr. Doyle. At 36, he has been killed off in
so many made-for-television movies and shows that if there were a gold statue on
his mantel at home, it would be lying flat on its back with a chalk outline
“This will be No. 7,” he said. “I’ve been shot with a shotgun, shot with a
machine gun. I’ve been blown up in a boat. I’ve been burned in a submarine fire.
I’ve been strangled and today, stabbed.”
He paused, counting on his fingers.
“Oh — and I was electrocuted on a fence. After being gang-raped.” Later, after
further reflection, he realized that he had not, in fact, been shot by a machine
gun, but was the one firing it. Furthermore, that particular shooting and the
boat explosion happened to the same character on “Smith,” a canceled CBS show
that starred Ray Liotta. For the record, Mr. Doyle’s character was shot, then
the body blown up. But the total number still stands at seven, as Mr. Doyle
counts a quiet death off-camera on the CBS movie “Bella Mafia.”
“They didn’t show how I died,” he said. “It’s a mystery. James Marsden meets me
at a roadside stop, and the next scene, he’s wearing my clothes.”
Mr. Doyle, it should be noted, has survived several roles as well, most recently
on HBO’s therapy drama “In Treatment,” in which he had a brief cameo as Bennett
Ryan, the boss and lover of the character Mia, played by Hope Davis. Later in
the season she described in graphic detail his shortcomings in the bedroom, but
she doesn’t kill him. He also had small roles in the films “Rules of Attraction”
and “P.S. I Love You,” and has a supporting role in the forthcoming film “Rabbit
After a small role in the “ABC Afterschool Specials,” his first big acting job
also included his first death on screen. “It was a movie-of-the-week called
‘Loss of Innocence,’ ” he said, a 1996 drama set in 1920s Utah about a Mormon
community. Mr. Doyle’s character goes hunting with his brother, who happens to
be having an affair with his wife. There is an “accident,” and then there is one
In 1997 Mr. Doyle had the bit part in “Bella Mafia.” In 2002 he appeared in a
four-episode arc on the HBO prison drama “Oz” that was particularly grim even by
that show’s standards. He played Adam Guenzel, a rich kid convicted of rape who
is in turn transformed into a lipstick-wearing sex slave behind bars. It was on
this HBO show that he met Christopher Meloni, who also played a prisoner and
went on to star in “Special Victims Unit.”
“I took one look at that face,” Mr. Meloni recalled in his dressing room, “and
said, ‘Bye-bye.’ Pretty boys don’t last long on ‘Oz.’ ” Mr. Doyle’s character
was raped by Aryans, then killed in an attempt to escape, last seen hanging —
eyes open — over the top of a prison fence.
“It looked so cool,” Mr. Doyle said. “The makeup was phenomenal.”
Next he will be strangled in a flashback scene of a horror movie called
“Sibling: Marcus Miller the Orphan Killer.” We take him at his word for this as
the film has not been released.
The role of O’Halloran on “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” was Mr. Doyle’s
longest job. Only a couple of weeks before filming, he learned of his
character’s demise from Neal Baer, a producer, in a telephone call to his
apartment in the East Village, where he has lived most of the last 12 years.
Mr. Meloni, his old co-star from “Oz,” searched for a bright side: “He said, ‘At
least you’re not getting gang-raped,’ ” Mr. Doyle said.
The staging of the death was fairly elaborate. Strapped to Mr. Doyle’s chest was
a metal plate with a center slot holding the retractable blade of a fake knife.
He walked onto the set in a warehouse in North Bergen, N.J., on May 7, and
somebody shouted, “Dead man walking!”
He lay on his designated spot on the floor of the crime lab, and no fewer than
18 people hovered over him, dabbing fake blood on his shirt and hands and
angling the knife just so. “Mike, bring your left leg in that way,” said George
Pattison, a camera operator. “Go for comfort. You know that.”
Between takes, his co-stars shared their own past death scenes. The actor Noel
Fisher, who plays Stuckey the killer, recalled his suicide scene on “Huff,” in
which he shot himself in the mouth, and fake blood and cottage cheese blasted
out of the back of his head. Mr. Meloni was hanged in one movie and made a
deadly swan dive in “Oz.”
There is one person who will never get used to seeing Mr. Doyle die on screen,
no matter how many times it happens: his mother, who picks up the phone in
Northern California every time.
“She’ll call me and say, ‘I know it’s not real, but I just want to make sure
you’re O.K.,’ ” he said. “Not that many mothers have seen their son die over and
May 6, 2009
Filed at 7:31 a.m. ET
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
The New York Times
LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Dom DeLuise, the portly entertainer and chef whose affable
nature made him a popular character actor for decades with movie and TV
audiences as well as directors and fellow actors, has died. He was 75.
DeLuise died Monday evening at St. John's Health Center in Santa Monica, said
his agent, Robert Malcolm. The family did not release the cause of death.
DeLuise appeared in scores of movies and TV shows, in Broadway plays and voicing
characters for numerous cartoons. Writer-director-actor Mel Brooks particularly
admired DeLuise's talent for offbeat comedy and cast him in several films,
including ''The Twelve Chairs,'' ''Blazing Saddles,'' ''Silent Movie,''
''History of the World Part I'' and ''Robin Hood: Men in Tights.''
His TV credits included appearances on such shows as ''The Munsters,'' ''The
Girl From U.N.C.L.E.,'' ''Burke's Law,'' ''Sabrina the Teenage Witch'' and
''Diagnosis Murder.'' On Broadway, DeLuise appeared in Neil Simon's ''Last of
the Red Hot Lovers'' and other plays.
In part because of his passion for food, the actor battled obesity, reaching as
much as 325 pounds and for years resisting family members and doctors who tried
to put him on various diets. He finally agreed in 1993 when his doctor refused
to perform hip replacement surgery until he lost 100 pounds (he lost enough
weight for the surgery, though gained some of it back).
His love of food also resulted in two successful cookbooks, 1988's ''Eat This --
It Will Make You Feel Better!'' and 1997's ''Eat This Too! It'll Also Make You
NEW YORK (AP) -- Marilyn French, the writer and feminist whose novel ''The
Women's Room'' sold more than 20 million copies and transformed her into a
leading figure in the women's movement, has died. She was 79.
French died Saturday of heart failure at a Manhattan hospital, said Carol
Jenkins, a friend and president of New York's Women's Media Center.
French was an academic in 1977 when ''The Women's Room,'' her first novel, was
The landmark novel, which was translated into 20 languages, details the journey
to independence of a 1950s housewife who gets divorced and goes to graduate
school. The book mirrored aspects of French's own life experiences, including
the rape of her daughter.
She was called anti-male after a character in the novel says: ''All men are
rapists, and that's all they are. They rape us with their eyes, their laws, and
The male subjugation of women is the main theme of French's novels, essays,
literary criticism and her four-volume, nonfictional ''From Eve to Dawn: A
History of Women.''
A Brooklyn native, French graduated from Long Island's Hofstra University with a
master's degree, studying philosophy and English literature. She taught there in
the 1960s. After her divorce, she earned a doctorate from Harvard and was an
English professor at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass.
Her last novel is to be published this fall, and she also was working on a
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) -- Martha Mason, who spent nearly 61 years living in an iron
lung after being stricken with polio but graduated at the top of her college
class and wrote an autobiography, has died. She was 71.
Mason died Monday at her home in Lattimore, said Mary Dalton, an associate
communications professor at Wake Forest University who produced a documentary
about Mason's life in 2005.
Mason was paralyzed from the neck down at age 11 during the polio epidemic in
1948. She was home-schooled and graduated in 1960 from Wake Forest, where she
studied English. She was well-versed in politics and literature, but it wasn't
until 1994 that a voice-recognition computer allowed her to write about her
Her book, ''Breath: Life in the Rhythm of an Iron Lung,'' was published in 2003.
Mason spent most of her life confined to an 800-pound, 7-foot airtight yellow
tube that enabled her to breathe, though she could leave the machine for about
an hour a few times a day when she was young. She was able to be helped across
the stage during her graduation, Dalton said. But several bouts of pneumonia in
her 20s further weakened her already frail body.
With the help of her mother's hand, Mason was able to record her thoughts and
wrote some pieces for the local newspaper. After her father suffered a heart
attack, her mother's caregiving time was divided and the writing diminished.
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- Hal Perry, who teamed with Bill Russell and K.C. Jones on
San Francisco's back-to-back NCAA champions in the 1950s, has died. He was 75.
The school said Tuesday that Perry died last Thursday in the East Bay after a
Perry was a starter on Dons team that dominated college basketball in the
mid-1950s, winning the title in 1955 and '56. San Francisco went 57-1 in his two
years as a starter, including a 29-0 mark in 1956.
Perry averaged 6.9 points and 1.9 rebounds per game as a junior. The following
year he increased his output to 9.1 points and stayed at 1.9 rebounds per game.
He was a member of the all-tournament team in 1956, scoring 28 points in his two
Final Four games.
October 22, 2008
The New York Times
By COREY KILGANNON
Marie-Dennett McDill loved the Carlyle Hotel.
She stayed there whenever she was in New York, and adored the regular
entertainers like Bobby Short and Eartha Kitt at the Café Carlyle, and the
pianist Loston Harris in the lively Bemelmans Bar. She loved the uniformed
elevator men and bellmen and the family of longtime staff. She loved that
Central Park was only a short block away.
So when Mrs. McDill, who grew up in society in Washington and was enjoying an
outdoors life in South Woodstock, Vt., learned she had terminal cancer this
summer, her family immediately booked her a suite on the eighth floor for an
open-ended stay, but one they sadly knew would not be open-ended enough.
“The family came to me and said, ‘We want to check her in till the very end,’ ”
said Alexandra E. Tscherne, director of residences at the Carlyle. “It was a
unique request, one I’ve never had previously. They wanted her set up in one of
her favorite places, and they didn’t know how long it would last.”
It lasted 10 weeks. Mrs. McDill died in her sleep in the Carlyle last Wednesday.
Mrs. McDill was youthful and full of energy at 71 and spent her days outdoors
gardening and painting, so it was shocking to her three children when she
learned at the beginning of August that she had a fast-spreading cancer.
“It wasn’t a fight for life anymore, but a matter of time,” said her son Thomas
The family hired 24-hour hospice care, but Mrs. McDill, at least until the very
end, was in sufficient mental and physical shape to enjoy her final stay at the
Carlyle. The hotel, at Madison Avenue and 76th Street, is one of New York’s most
luxurious, with a long list of celebrities, presidents and royalty who have
stayed or lived there.
Even as she was dying, she would take walks in Central Park in the daytime, and
in the evening sit in a back booth in Bemelmans Bar, looking at the whimsical
illustrations of New York City on the wall by the artist Ludwig Bemelmans, best
known for the Madeline children’s books, and listening to Mr. Harris play. She
loved Cole Porter, and she would pass requests to the waiter.
The family hired Mr. Harris to play Mrs. McDill’s favorite songs at her memorial
service at St. Bartholomew’s Church on Park Avenue on Saturday. It was a
sophisticated, poignant and kick-up-your-heels affair, almost like something out
of a Cole Porter song. Mr. Harris played “Just One of Those Things” and “I’ve
Got You Under My Skin.”
Month-to-month suites at the Carlyle are always expensive, but less so during
the summer months, when they cost about $17,000 a month.
“It wasn’t a search for extravagance, but a search for comfort. It wasn’t the
inexpensive option, but it was the greatest comfort we could afford, so of
course we would do that for her,” said Mr. Gardner, chief executive of the
Motley Fool, a financial information company he founded with his brother, David
Staffers helped her with chores related to her impending death, said Ms.
Tscherne, who agreed to sign as a witness to Mrs. McDill’s will and even ran
across the street to get a notary public.
The family hired two attendants from Brooklyn to care for Mrs. McDill: Rose
Marie Moore and her sister Shirley Innis. In the evenings, Ms. Moore would sing
spirituals for Mrs. McDill.
“She would put her head back and close her eyes and ask me to sing ‘Swing Low,
Sweet Chariot.’ She’d say, ‘Give me the long version, Rose,’ ” said Ms. Moore,
who took the subway from East New York to stay in the Carlyle with Mrs. McDill.
“It was like low class to high class, going in there,” she said. “I would call
her my queen, my majesty, and she called me her princess, and treated me like
Ms. Moore sang “Swing Low” again at the memorial service on Saturday, and family
members recalled Mrs. McDill as hardly the demure society type, but more like a
Katharine Hepburn character.
After graduating from Georgetown Visitation Preparatory School in Washington,
she dreamed of art school, but wound up going to Manhattanville College in
Purchase, N.Y., obeying the wishes of her father, H. Gabriel Murphy, part-owner
of the Washington Senators baseball team, which later moved to Minnesota and
became the Twins.
Mrs. McDill’s first husband was Paul Gardner Jr., a lawyer. After a divorce, she
married Jonathan McDill, formerly in charge of cataloging for the Dartmouth
libraries. He died in 1998. As a gardener, she took design cues from formal
French and Italian gardens and added her own resourceful touches.
She loved the paintings of Henri Matisse and the writing of Mark Twain and
Robert Frost. She sold a few paintings but gave away many more. She rarely
bothered with computers or cooking.
“It was not that she could not cook, but that she did not,” David Gardner said.
After the memorial service, some of her friends said they were rethinking their
“People came up to me and said, ‘We’re changing our plans for our funeral — we
want it to be fun,” Thomas Gardner said. “The only sad thing was that Mom wanted
to keep living.”
Lately, in the maintenance garage at the Danbury rest stop just off Interstate
84, the topic of conversation can shift suddenly from grass-cutting and litter
pickup to death. What happens afterward? Where do we go? When I die, will you
Is there coffee in heaven?
The conversation among the four workers might return just as abruptly to what
needs to be mowed next, or it might simply surrender to silence, like a lawn
mower out of gas. After a while they will wriggle their hands back into their
work gloves and return to prettifying the grounds for people who barely notice
them, who are just passing through.
Then, when midafternoon arrives, the men will climb back into a state-owned van.
Bob, 57, who wants to be known simply as Bob, sits in the way back, his Special
Olympics cap worn at an almost jaunty angle. Bobby McKay, 62, sits in the middle
row, staring out the window, his travel-worthy coffee mug cradled like a puppy
in his hands. Tony Daversa, 59, sits in the front passenger seat, chattering
about everything he sees, including a passing cemetery.
“There’s the body,” he says one afternoon.
“Will you shut up,” his friend Bob jokes from the back.
“There’s the body,” Tony says again, in sing-song.
At the wheel is Dave Lavery, 51, their driver, supervisor, counselor, friend. On
the way to work he always stops the van at the South Britain Country Store so
they can buy coffee, and on the way home he stops there again because refills
are free. He gently reminds Bob not to curse. He encourages Bobby to talk. He
listens to Tony’s questions about mortality, prompted by recent deaths in Tony’s
small, removed world.
Soon a collegelike campus comes into view, signaling that Dave has safely
returned them once again to the Southbury Training School, a 1,600-acre
residence for people with mental retardation. Bob, Bobby and Tony have lived
here since before man landed on the moon, since before J.F.K. was shot, for as
long as they remember.
The van drops the men off in front of their home buildings. Bobby, who had a
paper route before he was placed here as a teenager, back when his hair was
dark, plops onto the couch, exhausted but still eager to go to a minor-league
baseball game in a few hours. Bob, whose parents placed him here when he was 8,
leans before his stereo system and pushes buttons until it emits the
feel-the-fire wailing of Kenny Rogers.
“Listen to this,” Bob says, playing air drums. “Listen.”
Tony, who bounced around foster homes before coming here as a young teenager,
stops briefly in his bedroom, then hustles out to a second job picking up trash
in another building. His lined face conveys the then and the now of his life:
the wide eyes of full engagement with his world today, offset by a telltale
Decades ago someone stomped on his ear while he was sleeping; stomp might be too
gentle a word, given that his ear now looks like a small conch.
“I don’t know who did it,” he says, big eyes looking away.
These men were here at the Southbury Training School — opened in 1941 as a
“school for mental defectives” — in the early 1960s, when it was the best that
government had to offer: a place where even the well-to-do sent their mentally
impaired and troubled boys and girls, a place of many swing sets.
They were here in the mid-1980s, when conditions became so substandard, even
dangerous, that the school, then with a population of more than 1,100, was
placed under federal oversight and stopped accepting admissions.
They were here through the 1990s, as the school struggled to improve its care,
as some residents moved off campus, often to group homes, and other residents,
mostly older ones, died. And they were here in 2006, when the school was
released from the supervision of a court monitor, although a consent decree with
the federal government remains.
The swing sets are gone, but these men are here still, a part of a declining,
aging population that has dropped below 500. They live in settings similar to
group homes, have one-on-one contact with social workers, work out in the gym,
keep bank accounts, plan for day trips and shopping trips. And every weekday
morning they climb into that van and head off for work at a rest stop welcoming
people to Connecticut.
Twenty years ago, the state Department of Transportation hired a crew from the
training school to maintain the rest area’s grounds. Dave was put in charge, and
among those he selected for the initial crew was Bobby, who some staff members
thought should not leave school grounds. Bobby has proved them wrong; he and his
crew mates continue to work hard to keep the rest area clean, and they take
evident pride in their yellow D.O.T. vests.
“It says to the world: I made it,” Dave explains.
Another workday dawns. Dave drives the van through the school’s verdant campus,
collecting his crew. He has known these men for decades. A couple of them spend
Thanksgiving with his family every year.
As always, the van stops at the country store for coffee. The men sit mostly in
silence on the 25-mile ride to the rest stop, save for the occasional slurp from
a travel mug. And soon after they arrive at the maintenance garage and open its
doors, Tony puts on a pot of coffee.
Over the years, a lot of coffee has been drunk in the van and at the garage,
because coffee has special meaning. It goes back to when an extra cup of coffee
could be a privilege, or maybe a way for a staff member to say thank you, good
job, I can depend on you. A hint of independence now flavors their coffee.
And over the years, the crew’s makeup has changed; people have come and gone.
Two years ago, there were five: Dave, Bob, Bobby, Tony and a birdlike man named
Robert, who did not speak but would communicate with gestures. Dave would look
in his rearview mirror and see Robert moving fist over fist. Coffee, he was
But Robert, who used to set out napkins for his workmates when they ate lunch in
the maintenance garage, died last summer. Then Danny, another training school
resident, died. Then others died, including Bob’s father and a beloved staff
member at the school named Gina.
Tony in particular began struggling with mortality. As a result, the garage’s
refrigerator is adorned with a haphazardly taped collage of death notices and
memorial announcements — for Robert and Danny and Gina and Bob’s dad. There is
also a circled advertisement for the Naugatuck funeral home that Tony says will
take care of him when he dies and goes to heaven — where, he has been assured,
there will be coffee.
“But God don’t want me yet,” he says.
The men finish their coffee. Bobby sits. Tony has a cigarette. Bob lights up a
pipe. Among them, a combined 140 years at the Southbury Training School.
After a while, Dave says it’s time to get back to work. The men stand up and
walk out of the dim garage.
Filed at 3:02 a.m. ET
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
The New York Times
(AP) -- U.S. cancer deaths rose by more than 5,000 in 2005, a somewhat
disappointing reversal of a two-year downward trend, the American Cancer Society
said in a report issued Wednesday.
The group counted 559,312 people who died from cancer.
The cancer death rate among the overall population continued to fall, but only
slightly, after a couple of years of more dramatic decline.
In 2005, there were just under 184 cancer deaths per 100,000 people, down from
nearly 186 the previous year. Experts said it wasn't surprising that the rate
The cancer death rate has been dropping since the early 1990s, and early in this
decade was declining by about 1 percent a year. The actual number of cancer
deaths kept rising, however, because of the growing population.
So it was big news when the rate dropped by 2 percent in both 2003 and 2004,
enough to cause the total number of cancer deaths to fall for the first time
President Bush and others hailed that as a sign that federally funded research
was making strides against the disease.
But now the death rate decline is back to 1 percent. And the 2005 numbers show
annual cancer deaths are no longer falling, but are up more than 5,400 since
''The declining rate was no longer great enough to overcome the increase in
population,'' said Elizabeth Ward, a co-author of the cancer society report
Officials with the organization say they don't know why the decline in the death
It may be that cancer screenings are not having as big an effect as they were a
few years ago, said Dr. Peter Ravdin, a research professor in biostatistics at
the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.
One possible example: In 2004, the largest drop in deaths among the major
cancers was in colorectal cancer. Experts gave much of the credit to colonoscopy
screenings that detect polyps and allow doctors to remove them before they turn
cancerous. They also mentioned ''the Katie Couric effect'' -- a jump in
colonoscopy rates after the ''Today'' show host had the exam on national
television in 2000.
In the new report, the colorectal cancer death rate decreased by about 3 percent
from 2004 to 2005, after plunging 6 percent from 2003 to 2004.
Colorectal cancer screening rates through 2003 did not show a decline. But it's
possible they have fallen since then, Ravdin said.
Cancer society officials have also voiced concern that cancer deaths may
increase as Americans lose health insurance coverage and get fewer screenings.
The good news is the cancer death rate is still declining, and that since the
early 1990s is down more than 18 percent for men and more than 10 percent for
women. Those reductions translate to more than half a million cancer deaths
avoided, according to the cancer society.
Experts attribute the success to declines in smoking and to earlier detection
and more effective treatment of tumors.
NORTH BALTIMORE, Ohio (AP) — J. Russell Coffey, the oldest known surviving
U.S. veteran of World War I, has died. The retired teacher, one of only three
U.S. veterans from the "war to end all wars," was 109.
Coffey died Thursday at the Briar Hill Health Campus in North Baltimore,
where he had lived for the past four or five years, said Gaye Boggs, nursing
director at the nursing home. No cause of death has been determined, she said
Friday. His health began failing in October.
More than 4.7 million Americans joined the military from 1917-1918. Coffey never
saw combat because he was still in basic training when the war ended.
The two remaining U.S. veterans are Frank Buckles, 106, of Charles Town,
W.Va.; and Harry Richard Landis, 108, of Sun City Center, Fla., according to the
Veterans Affairs Department. In addition, John Babcock, 107, of Spokane, Wash.,
served in the Canadian army and is the last known Canadian veteran of the war.
Coffey once confided to his daughter, Betty Jo Larsen, that he wished people
would remember his contributions rather than his old age. "He told me 'even a
prune can get old,"' she said last spring. She died in September.
Coffey had enlisted in the Army while he was a student at Ohio State University
in October 1918, a month before the Allied powers and Germany signed a
cease-fire agreement. He was discharged a month after the war ended.
His two older brothers fought overseas, and he was disappointed at the time that
the war ended before he shipped out. But he told The Associated Press in April
2007: "I think I was good to get out of it."
Born Sept. 1, 1898, Coffey played semipro baseball in Akron, earned a doctorate
in education from New York University, taught in high school and college and
raised a family.
He delivered newspapers as a youngster and would read the paper to immigrants,
his daughter said. "That was the beginning of him being a teacher," she said.
Coffey returned to Ohio State University after he left the Army and received two
He said he loved teaching. "I could see results," he said. "I could see
He taught junior high and high school in Phelps, Ky., and Findlay. He then
taught physical education at Bowling Green State University from 1948 until
He had a remarkable memory and was independent, his daughter said. He drove his
car until he was 104, and lived in his own home until a year later. He was a
swimmer and credited healthy eating and exercise for his longevity.
His wife, Bernice, whom he married in 1921, died in 1993.
The New York Times
By ANDY NEWMAN
last years of her life, Christina Copeman kept to herself.
She stopped answering the door shortly after her estranged husband died in 1990.
She turned away from her friends and neighbors in East Flatbush, Brooklyn,
ignoring their hellos.
So when Ms. Copeman dropped out of sight altogether, people were not immediately
suspicious. Perhaps she had gone back to Trinidad for a vacation, they said.
Maybe she had gotten sick there, or decided to stay.
That was nearly two years ago.
Outside Ms. Copeman’s brick row house on East 92nd Street, the days grew longer
and shorter again. Mail piled up in the vestibule behind the glass front door.
Neighbors collected trash from her porch so she would not get summonses.
Ms. Copeman was upstairs, dead, curled in a fetal position in the hallway, where
the police found her skeletal remains on Monday morning, said Peter Bishop, her
nephew. She was dressed to go out, in a coat and a beret, Mr. Bishop said.
“Winter clothes on,” he said yesterday, “so I guess she died in the winter.”
Ms. Copeman had died of heart disease, the medical examiner said yesterday. The
police said she had been dead between a year and 18 months.
It seems impossible for a person to fall through the cracks like that, to die in
her own home and go undiscovered. New York is a big city, but it is impersonal
only at a distance. People have neighbors. They have relatives.
But Christina Copeman, who would be 70 if she were alive today, managed to slip
away almost by sheer force of will.
“It’s a shame,” said her next-door neighbor Ruby Fulmer, 92, a retired nursing
professor who said she had been calling 311 for more than a year trying to
figure out how to solve the mystery of Ms. Copeman. “But I think it’s also part
of the way she lived the last few years of her life.”
Althea Bishop, Ms. Copeman’s sister-in-law, said she could not figure out how to
get help for her.
“What am I going to do, call the cops and say there’s a lady inside who doesn’t
want to talk?” she said. “If she couldn’t walk or see or hear, it would be one
thing. But she was fine. She just didn’t want to deal with us.”
Another neighbor, Dolores Harvey, said that she had called the local precinct,
the 67th, in summer 2006 after smelling an intermittent foul odor from Ms.
Copeman’s house, but that two officers who went to the house the next day told
her they smelled nothing amiss. “They said that if she had passed away in the
house, we would have smelled it,” said Ms. Harvey, 49. “They said there was
nothing to do; they couldn’t break down the door.”
The Police Department’s chief spokesman, Paul J. Browne, said yesterday that the
police had reviewed the last 20 months of records and found no calls to Ms.
Copeman’s address until Saturday, when the police checked on her at Mr. Bishop’s
request but did not break down the door. When Mr. Bishop accompanied the police
to the house on Monday, they forced their way in and found her body, Mr. Browne
Ms. Copeman, who immigrated from Trinidad as a teenager and worked for years at
a bank in Manhattan, was a quiet woman to begin with, her relatives and
“She just liked to work, and come home, didn’t have too many friends coming
over,” said Mr. Bishop, 50, who lived with the Copemans in the 1970s. “Maybe
watch a little TV. She read love stories.”
After her husband, Joseph Copeman, left her in the 1980s, she grew more
withdrawn and depressed, Ms. Fulmer said. Then Mr. Copeman and Ms. Copeman’s
father died in quick succession.
Soon, Ms. Fulmer said, “she stopped talking to everybody. I’d see her right on
the front step and say ‘Hello, Christine’ and she’d turn her head. If you saw
her coming halfway down the block and said ‘Hey Christine, wait up,’ she’d roll
her eyes and turn the other way.”
Ms. Bishop said she last spoke to Ms. Copeman in about 1991. “She stood behind
the curtain and she talked through the door. ‘I’m fine, you all could leave
now,’” Ms. Bishop recalled her saying. Subsequent visits from the Bishops were
greeted with either silence or a call to the police, Ms. Bishop said.
Ms. Fulmer said she last saw Ms. Copeman alive sometime in 2005. “She was
wearing a coat, kind of sweeping around her front porch,” Ms. Fulmer said. “She
didn’t talk to me then, either.”
Another neighbor, Lester Watson, said he ran into Ms. Copeman on the street
around the fall of 2005. “She told me she was going away for a little while,” he
Months passed. Bills came and went unpaid. Con Edison officials said that they
canceled Ms. Copeman’s account last year but left her power on, and that there
had been no power use at the home for more than a year. The pile of unclaimed
mail grew, puzzling neighbors. A spokeswoman for the Postal Service, Patricia
McGovern, said that while mail carriers often take it upon themselves to notify
the authorities when a customer does not seem to be collecting the mail, there
is no requirement that they do so.
In 2006, Ms. Copeman’s roof began leaking, affecting Ms. Fulmer’s house. Ms.
Fulmer called 311. The Department of Buildings sent an inspector, who documented
the house’s condition in impressive detail. “Large holes in roofing paper at
various locations on roof,” the report said. “Flashing at sides broken. Large
holes observed. Fascia board rotten at front of building.”
The department issued Ms. Copeman a violation in April 2007.
It said, “Remedy: Make safe immediate repair.”
The yellow violation notice fluttered in the cold breeze yesterday on Ms.
Copeman’s front porch, half-buried beneath phone books and business cards and
fliers for furniture sales long past.
August 14, 2007
The New York Times
By MARILYN BERGER
Brooke Astor, who by night reigned over New York society with a decided
disdain for pretension and by day devoted her time and considerable resources to
New York’s unfortunate, died yesterday afternoon at her weekend estate, Holly
Hill, in Briarcliff Manor, N.Y. She was 105.
Her death was confirmed by Kenneth E. Warner, a lawyer for Mrs. Astor’s son,
Anthony D. Marshall. The attending physician listed the cause of death as
pneumonia, Mr. Warner said.
Mrs. Astor’s image as a benevolent society matron was overshadowed last year by
that of a victimized dowager at the center of a very public family battle over
her care and fortune. Yet for decades she had been known as the city’s
unofficial first lady, one who moved effortlessly from the sumptuous apartments
of Fifth Avenue to the ragged barrios of East Harlem, deploying her inherited
millions to help the poor help themselves.
Among the rich of New York, she was perhaps the last bridge to the Gilded Age,
when “society” was a closed world of old-money families, the so-called Four
Hundred, who were ruled over by a grandmother of Mrs. Astor’s by marriage, Mrs.
William Backhouse Astor.
But it was a changing social order that Brooke Astor oversaw. Hers was a society
defined more by balance sheets than bloodline. It opened its doors to
entrepreneurs and Wall Street movers and shakers who had bought entree with so
many millions that in the 1980s Mrs. Astor declared herself “nouveau pauvre.”
Although aristocratic in upbringing, style and social milieu, she never sought
to be the arbiter of society that the Astor name might have entitled her to be.
She never wanted to rule over a world that she was among the first to recognize
was no more.
And in her advanced age, her own world seemed to collapse as well. In a
startling episode that played out in court and on the front pages of the city’s
newspapers last year, one of her grandsons, Philip Marshall, filed a lawsuit
accusing Anthony Marshall, her only son, of neglecting her care and exploiting
her to enrich himself and his wife.
Although her son denied the accusations, the public was suddenly given a picture
of Mrs. Astor as a mistreated centenarian. By the grandson’s account, she had
been stripped of her dignity and some of her favorite art, denied medicine and
the company of her dogs, Boysie and Girlsie, and forced to sleep in misery on a
couch smelling of urine.
The dispute stretched over months, its every wrinkle making headlines. Then,
last Oct. 13, the parties announced a settlement, avoiding what could have been
a costly and sensational trial. Her close friends said her declining physical
condition left her unaware of the tumult; doctors were later said to have
diagnosed dementia. But it was a bitter and unlikely last chapter for a woman
who had defined high society and made philanthropy her career for almost four
She took up that vocation after her third husband, Vincent Astor, heir to the
fur and real estate fortune of John Jacob Astor, died and left about $60 million
to her personally and an equal amount for a foundation “for the alleviation of
human suffering.” Her husband had told her, “You’ll have fun, Pookie.”
In fact, she said she had a great deal of fun giving money away as it grew over
time into the hundreds of millions. With a wink and a sly smile, she liked to
quote Dolly Levi in Thornton Wilder’s play “The Matchmaker,” saying, “Money is
like manure; it’s not worth a thing unless it’s spread around.”
It was Mrs. Astor who decided that because most of the Astor fortune had been
made in New York real estate, it should be spent in New York, for New Yorkers.
Grants supported the city’s museums and libraries, its boys’ and girls’ clubs,
homes for the elderly and other institutions and programs.
She made it her duty to evaluate for herself every organization or group that
sought help from the Vincent Astor Foundation. In her chauffeur-driven
Mercedes-Benz, she traveled all over New York to visit the tenements and
churches and neighborhood programs she was considering for foundation grants.
Many times a welcoming lunch awaited her on paper plates and plastic folding
tables set up for the occasion. She would exclaim over what she called the
“delicious sauces”: deli mustard and pickle relish.
A New York Presence
At night — almost every night, even into her 90s — she could be found surrounded
by crystal and caviar, done up in her designer dresses and jewels, seated to the
right of the host. (She was always seated to the right of the host.)
If she nurtured a playful and sometimes wicked eye for the manners of high
society (she once said that “unlike Queen Victoria, we are amused — we are
always amused”), she made a point of showing her appreciation for people who
worked to help the needy. She always “made an effort,” to use a phrase of the
For her forays around the city, she dressed as she did when she joined the
ladies who lunch at East Side bistros: a finely tailored suit or a designer
dress, a hat in any weather, a cashmere coat when it was cool and, in her last
years, an elegant cane, her one apparent concession to age. “If I go up to
Harlem or down to Sixth Street, and I’m not dressed up or I’m not wearing my
jewelry, then the people feel I’m talking down to them,” she said. “People
expect to see Mrs. Astor, not some dowdy old lady, and I don’t intend to
She could talk to anyone as she made her rounds, offering encouragement to a
child working at a library computer, counseling a mother about the importance of
reading. To a janitor at a branch library — and she tried to visit every branch
— she might give a word of thanks “for keeping this place so clean.” She was
thrilled when the Bronx Zoo named a baby elephant in her honor.
When the Astor Foundation closed its doors in December 1997, Mrs. Astor had
overseen the disbursement of almost $195 million, almost all within New York
City. Although the foundation was not large compared with powerhouses like Ford,
Rockefeller and Carnegie, its contributions often served as seed money: others
followed, knowing that if Mrs. Astor had given her seal of approval to a cause,
it was worthy of support.
As she neared 99, she said she was glad she had not lived in the kind of
indolence that her fortune would have allowed. If she regretted anything, she
said, it was that she had not visited friends in Europe often enough and that
she had not been able to read, and write, all the books she would have wished.
She was slight of build, somewhat frail and very thin in her last years, but her
hair remained honey-colored, and she liked to boast, although it was widely
doubted, that she had never had a face-lift. She kept fit well into her advanced
years by swimming 1,000 strokes each weekend day and nearly every day in summer,
even in the chilly waters that surrounded her house in Northeast Harbor, Me.
Every year she liked to march behind the fire engine in Northeast Harbor’s
Memorial Day parade, waving a little American flag.
Even into her 90s, she loved to go out, especially to places where there would
be dancing. “When that music starts,” she said, “it enters my blood like a
fever.” When she stayed home, she would have people in. An invitation to one of
her luncheons or dinners — especially if it was for a first lady, like her
friend Nancy Reagan — was a sign of having arrived at the highest level of
When Mrs. Astor slowed down, it was often at Holly Hill, her 68-acre weekend
estate. “It’s like backing up to the Esso and getting refueled,” she once said.
In her 98th year, she was still writing articles for Vanity Fair magazine,
noting with regret, for example, that gentlemen no longer wore hats and that
women no longer flirted, something she said she herself never failed to do.
If she had any weakness, it was for her dogs. She always had several and called
them her “lovey babes.”
Mrs. Astor spent a good deal of her time in the boardrooms of the Metropolitan
Museum of Art, the Morgan Library & Museum, Rockefeller University and other
prestigious cultural centers. A trustee of each, she worked with curators and
other staff members. She finally devoted herself almost exclusively to the New
York Public Library, where she remained honorary chairwoman until her death.
Vartan Gregorian, who was president of the library when Mrs. Astor took it as
her main cause, observed then that she stood apart from her class. “She is of
them, but not part of them,” said Mr. Gregorian, who is now president of the
Carnegie Corporation of New York. “She’s not dominated by the same
considerations many socialites are.
“Hers is not a socialite’s attitude,” he went on. “She is genuinely concerned.
There’s a lot of effort and mental discipline. She’s one of the few who have
read so much. She’s a teacher; she teaches by example, by analogy. If you spend
an evening with Brooke Astor and come away empty, there’s something wrong with
The Early Years
Brooke Russell was born in Portsmouth, N.H., on March 30, 1902. She remembered a
childhood that was secure and happy, if often solitary. She had no siblings and
spent much of that time in foreign lands. One of her earliest memories was of
standing on her bed saluting as a marine bugler outside played during a
flag-raising at the American legation in Beijing, where her father, Maj. Gen.
John H. Russell, was commander of the guard. (She remembered that the bugler’s
name was Johnny Malone, and that she had loved him.)
Her father, who later became commandant of the Marine Corps, also took the
family along when he was assigned to Hawaii and Panama. She remembered her
mother, Mabel Howard, as beautiful and flirtatious.
Mrs. Astor kept the diaries, letters and drawings from her childhood travels
squirreled away in Briarcliff Manor in a closet that she called her “archive
room.” Some of her early drawings, poems and plays were reproduced in an
illustrated edition of “Patchwork Child: Early Memories,” published in 1993.
Her writing came to include many magazine articles, two published volumes of
autobiography — a 1962 edition of “Patchwork Child” and “Footprints” (1980) —
and two novels, “The Bluebird Is at Home” (1965) and “The Last Blossom on the
Plum Tree: A Period Piece” (1986).
What she remembered as an idyllic childhood ended abruptly, she said, when, at
age 16, she was invited to the senior prom at Princeton to fill in for a girl
who had fallen ill. There she met J. Dryden Kuser. Her mother, she said, was
“dazzled” by Mr. Kuser’s substantial fortune. After a brief courtship, he asked
Brooke to marry him, and though she felt unprepared for marriage, she said, she
“Dryden promised me my own house, all the dogs I wanted, and a car as soon as I
was old enough to have a driver’s license,” she said.
They married in 1919, and for 11 years they lived in great luxury and
considerable misery. Her merry nature gradually darkened as the marriage headed
for disaster in every respect except for the birth of her son, Anthony. She and
Mr. Kuser divorced in 1930.
Her second marriage, two years later, to Charles Marshall, known to everyone as
Buddie, brought her 20 years of happiness. Mr. Marshall, she said, was the love
of her life. She wrote that her son admired him so much that he adopted his last
name as his own.
Charles Marshall died suddenly in 1952, leaving Mrs. Astor without an
inheritance. She took a job at House & Garden, a Condé Nast magazine.
Not long afterward, still in mourning, she met Vincent Astor at a dinner. A
month later, he proposed. She described the scene in “Footprints”: “I couldn’t
believe my ears. ‘But you hardly know me,’ I said. ‘We really don’t know each
other at all.’
“ ‘I know a lot about you,’ Vincent answered. ‘And I can swear on the Bible that
if you marry me I will do everything I possibly can to take care of you and make
you happy — and earn your love.’ Well, such suddenness would have thrilled me
and elated me at 20, but in my late 40s, I was frightened by it.”
Within months, however, she became his third wife, in 1953. She had, perhaps,
been right to hesitate. Vincent Astor, she said, was a suspicious man who
thought everyone wanted something from him. As a result, the couple were often
alone. She said she lost contact with friends. He asked her not to chat on the
telephone when he was at home.
The marriage was brief. In five and a half years, Mr. Astor was dead, leaving
his millions for her and for the foundation. “After Vincent died, I recreated
myself,” Mrs. Astor said, referring to her decades of philanthropy at the
Vincent Astor Foundation. In one of many meetings and interviews since the
1980s, she remarked, “Now I feel I’ve become a public monument.”
A Living Landmark
She was, in fact, named a living landmark by the New York Landmarks Conservancy,
which said in 1996 that “a list of the city monuments is incomplete without her
name alongside.” The Astor Foundation’s annual reports had become a Baedeker to
the city, showing contributions to what she called New York’s “crown jewels”:
the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Morgan Library and the New York Botanical
Garden, as well as Cornell University Medical College, Rockefeller University,
the New York Zoological Society (now the Wildlife Conservation Society), the
South Street Seaport and others.
In 1977, when Mrs. Astor made the New York Public Library her primary cause, the
Astor Foundation offered a $5 million matching grant if the library could raise
$10 million. She then went out to help raise the $10 million. The main entrance
of the research library at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street was named Astor Hall in
her honor. At the Metropolitan Museum of Art, she took a particular interest in
the construction of the Chinese courtyard and scholar’s room, which was named
Foundation money often went for necessities the public never knew anything
about. There was no Astor name affixed to things like air-conditioning or a
staff lunch room at an institution.
Astor money went to provide new windows for a nursing home on Riverside Drive,
fire escapes for a homeless residence in the Bronx, a boiler for a youth center
in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn and vest-pocket parks around the city.
The foundation was among the first to support neighborhood and community-based
development projects as well as jobs programs. Grants, to name a few, also went
to institutions then known as the Cooper-Hewitt Museum, the National Academy of
Design and Columbia College as well as Carnegie Hall, Central Park, the Museum
of Natural History, Ellis Island and the Animal Medical Center, to care for the
pets of the elderly poor.
“Old people have old pets,” she said. “It’s a wonderful place. When I’m sick,
that’s where I want them to take me.”
Mrs. Astor remained at her Park Avenue duplex apartment as age and infirmity
overtook her. Though she made occasional social appearances in her last years —
the banker David Rockefeller gave her a 100th birthday party at the Rockefeller
family’s Pocantico Hills estate in 2002 — she had become all but a recluse
toward the end.
In July 2006 came the astonishing news that Philip Marshall had sued his father,
accusing him of stripping Mrs. Astor’s apartment of artwork to enrich himself
and neglecting her in ways that threatened her health and safety.
Philip Marshall enlisted the affidavits of Annette de la Renta, Mrs. Astor’s
friend of more than 45 years, as well as Mr. Rockefeller, Henry A. Kissinger and
others as he sought to wrest control of Mrs. Astor’s affairs from his father.
Anthony Marshall, 83, a Broadway producer and former diplomat, said the
accusations were “completely untrue.”
Under the settlement, he and his wife, Charlene, admitted no wrongdoing, but
both were required to give up their roles as co-executors of Mrs. Astor’s
estate, and Mr. Marshall agreed to cease being steward of his mother’s health
care and financial affairs. They were also required to rescind the transfer of
Mrs. Astor’s Maine estate to themselves.
The settlement stipulated that JPMorgan Chase & Company and Mrs. de la Renta
would be her permanent guardians. Mrs. de la Renta quickly moved her from New
York to Mrs. Astor’s estate in Briarcliff Manor. The bank, which had overseen
Mrs. Astor’s finances since the court filing in July 2006, agreed not to pursue
litigation to recover millions of dollars in cash, property and stocks that it
believed Mr. Marshall might have improperly obtained.
Besides her son, Anthony, of New York, and her grandson Philip, of South
Dartmouth, Mass., Mrs. Astor is survived by another grandson, Philip’s twin
brother, Alec, of Ossining, N.Y., and three great-grandchildren.
A widow for 48 years, Mrs. Astor had a number of suitors in that time but did
not want to marry again. “I just don’t want anyone tugging at my sleeve at 10
o’clock telling me it’s time to go home,” she once told her friend Marietta
She joked easily about her romantic life. A former dinner companion recalled
saying to her one evening, “Mrs. Astor, you’re such a beautiful woman, you must
have had many lovers.” She responded, “When I can’t fall asleep at night, I
sometimes start counting them, but I’m asleep long before I get to the end of
She remained open to new friends. She used to say that each year she took on one
new friend to replace an old one who had died. While Mrs. Astor lost track of
some friends over the years, she regretted the misunderstandings that arose from
time to time. When she was 98, she recalled with satisfaction that she had
telephoned a man who had once made her so angry that she had stopped talking to
him. The call was to compliment him on an article he had written. “I want to be
at peace with all of my friends when I die,” she said.
July 26, 2007
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Filed at 4:28 a.m. ET
The New York Times
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) -- Oscar the cat seems to have an uncanny knack for
predicting when nursing home patients are going to die, by curling up next to
them during their final hours. His accuracy, observed in 25 cases, has led the
staff to call family members once he has chosen someone. It usually means they
have less than four hours to live.
''He doesn't make too many mistakes. He seems to understand when patients are
about to die,'' said Dr. David Dosa in an interview. He describes the phenomenon
in a poignant essay in Thursday's issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.
''Many family members take some solace from it. They appreciate the
companionship that the cat provides for their dying loved one,'' said Dosa, a
geriatrician and assistant professor of medicine at Brown University.
The 2-year-old feline was adopted as a kitten and grew up in a third-floor
dementia unit at the Steere House Nursing and Rehabilitation Center. The
facility treats people with Alzheimer's, Parkinson's disease and other
After about six months, the staff noticed Oscar would make his own rounds, just
like the doctors and nurses. He'd sniff and observe patients, then sit beside
people who would wind up dying in a few hours.
Dosa said Oscar seems to take his work seriously and is generally aloof. ''This
is not a cat that's friendly to people,'' he said.
Oscar is better at predicting death than the people who work there, said Dr.
Joan Teno of Brown University, who treats patients at the nursing home and is an
expert on care for the terminally ill
She was convinced of Oscar's talent when he made his 13th correct call. While
observing one patient, Teno said she noticed the woman wasn't eating, was
breathing with difficulty and that her legs had a bluish tinge, signs that often
mean death is near.
Oscar wouldn't stay inside the room though, so Teno thought his streak was
broken. Instead, it turned out the doctor's prediction was roughly 10 hours too
early. Sure enough, during the patient's final two hours, nurses told Teno that
Oscar joined the woman at her bedside.
Doctors say most of the people who get a visit from the sweet-faced,
gray-and-white cat are so ill they probably don't know he's there, so patients
aren't aware he's a harbinger of death. Most families are grateful for the
advanced warning, although one wanted Oscar out of the room while a family
member died. When Oscar is put outside, he paces and meows his displeasure.
No one's certain if Oscar's behavior is scientifically significant or points to
a cause. Teno wonders if the cat notices telltale scents or reads something into
the behavior of the nurses who raised him.
Nicholas Dodman, who directs an animal behavioral clinic at the Tufts University
Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine and has read Dosa's article, said the
only way to know is to carefully document how Oscar divides his time between the
living and dying.
If Oscar really is a furry grim reaper, it's also possible his behavior could be
driven by self-centered pleasures like a heated blanket placed on a dying
person, Dodman said.
Nursing home staffers aren't concerned with explaining Oscar, so long as he
gives families a better chance at saying goodbye to the dying.
Oscar recently received a wall plaque publicly commending his ''compassionate
serious mental illness treated in public systems die about 25 years earlier than
Americans overall, a gap that's widened since the early '90s when major mental
disorders cut life spans by 10 to 15 years, according to a report due Monday.
going in the wrong direction and have to change course," says Joseph Parks,
director of psychiatric services for the Missouri Department of Mental Health.
He's lead author of the report from eight states — Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode
Island, Oklahoma, Missouri, Texas, Utah and Arizona — that will be released at a
meeting of state hospital directors in Bethesda, Md.
About 60% of the 10.3 million people with serious mental illness get care in
public facilities, 90% as outpatients, Parks says. They have illnesses such as
schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and major depression. Although the mentally ill
have high accident and suicide rates, about 3 out of 5 die from mostly
preventable diseases, he says.
Obesity is a serious problem. These patients often get little exercise, and many
take a newer type of anti-psychotic, on the market for 18 years, that can cause
drastic weight gains, promoting diabetes and heart disease, Parks says. He
thinks these drugs are contributing to deaths from cardiovascular disease.
Recent studies question the advantage of the newer drugs. "Many could be
switched to safer medicines," Parks says. Schizophrenics are thought to have a
higher risk for diabetes already, he says.
Mentally ill adults also are more likely than others to have alcohol and
drug-abuse problems, and to smoke.
Because of their mental disorder, patients often aren't good health advocates
for themselves, says Andrew Leuchter of the UCLA School of Medicine. When
patients do seek help, "I hear of great difficulty getting appointments even for
simple problems like high blood pressure. … The public health system is
underfunded, and it's gotten worse over the years."
Medical needs of the mentally ill are least likely to fall through the cracks
when psychiatrists and primary care doctors practice in the same facility,
according to a 2003 report from the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law. But
integrated clinics are "quite rare," says Bazelon policy director Chris
Sometimes internists disregard medical symptoms of the mentally ill, chalking
them up to the patient's disorder, says Kenneth Duckworth of the National
Alliance on Mental Illness. And needed treatment may be harder to get. He points
to a study showing that after the mentally ill suffer heart attacks, they're
less likely than other patients to get state-of-the-art care.
Parks thinks agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
should track the health of adults with mental illness, just as they do other
vulnerable groups, to identify problems and solutions. "Many struggle for
decades to overcome mental illness," he says, "and after all that struggle, it's
particularly cruel to think that you would die young."
March 29, 2007
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Filed at 6:38 a.m. ET
The New York Times
Paul Joseph Cohen
PALO ALTO, Calif. (AP) -- Paul Joseph Cohen, a mathematician who won several of
the world's most prestigious math awards, has died. He was 72.
Cohen died Friday of a rare lung disease, according to Stanford University,
where he taught for four decades.
In 1964, he won the American Mathematical Society's Bocher Prize for analysis,
and in 1966 he won the Fields Medal -- the math world's equivalent of the Nobel
Prize -- for logic. Cohen won the 1967 National Medal of Science for his work in
logic, and he was an honorary foreign member of the London Mathematical Society.
Cohen's passion was studying extremely difficult, long-standing mathematical
problems, such as the Continuum Hypothesis, which is considered central to set
theory -- the idea that sets of items are the fundamental objects defining all
ideas in mathematics.
Cohen shocked the math establishment by proving that the Continuum Hypothesis
could not be decided. The notion that conventional mathematics couldn't prove or
disprove concrete and well known assertions caused an uproar among academics.
Cohen was born April 2, 1934, in Long Branch, N.J., the fourth and youngest
child of Jewish immigrants from Poland. His sister, Sylvia, checked out a
library book on calculus for him when he was 9.
Bill Fisk Sr.
LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Bill Fisk Sr., an end on Southern California's 1939 national
championship team who later played seven seasons in the NFL, has died, athletic
department spokesman Tim Tessalone said Wednesday. Fisk was 90.
He played in two Rose Bowl games when USC defeated previously unbeaten and
unscored-upon teams: Duke in 1939 and Tennessee in 1940.
Fisk was honored as the Trojans' most inspirational player in 1939.
A third-round draft pick by Detroit in 1940, he played four years for the Lions,
two for the San Francisco 49ers, and his final season for the Los Angeles Dons.
He was a USC assistant coach from 1949-56 and later worked in the aerospace
HALIFAX, Nova Scotia (AP) -- Ransom Myers, a Canadian scientist renowned for his
groundbreaking research and blunt warnings about the extinction of marine
species, has died. He was 54.
Myers died Tuesday in Halifax after an illness linked to an inoperable brain
tumor, according to colleagues at Dalhousie University.
Myers, a marine biologist who was a vocal critic of Ottawa's management of
Canadian fisheries, was admitted to the hospital last November after being
diagnosed with brain cancer.
In a study published in 2003, he found that global industrial fishing had cut
populations of large fish, such as tuna, swordfish and marlin, to a mere 10
percent of 1950 levels.
At the time, Myers said bluntly that the world was in ''massive denial'' and was
spending its energy fighting over the few fish left instead of cutting catch
limits before it was too late.
FREMONT, Calif. (AP) -- Marshall Rogers, a comic book artist remembered for
bringing a film noir feel and an architect's eye to Batman comics in the 1970s,
has died. He was 57.
Rogers died unexpectedly in his home either Friday night or Saturday morning,
according to his sister. Autopsy results showing the cause and time of his death
Rogers took over work on Batman for Detective Comics in 1977, creating editions
that were prized by collectors.
Born Jan. 22, 1950, in Flushing, N.Y., and raised in Ardsley, N.Y., Rogers
studied architecture at Kent State University in Ohio. His training showed in
his realistic, detailed renditions of Gotham City, collaborators said.
Together, writer Steve Englehart and Rogers produced only six issues, but the
works became a reference for future comic artists, and favorites with Batman
Rogers also drew other characters, including the Silver Surfer, Mister Miracle,
Dr. Strange, Iron Fist and G.I. Joe. He created two characters, Cap'n Quick and
After a stint with the video game industry in the 1990s, Rogers turned back to
comics. A Batman project with Englehart and artist Terry Austin was in the works
when Rogers died.
SEATTLE (AP) -- Bill Scott, who entertained Seattle sports crowds as ''Bill the
Beerman'' and later worked as a professional cheerleader and superfan across the
country, has died. He was 58.
Scott died Sunday after battling colon cancer for more than five years, wife
Katherine Olason said.
He became a Seattle sports fixture in the days when the drab Kingdome hosted the
deafening crowds of fans supporting the NFL's Seahawks.
As a beer vendor, Scott's booming voice would both coax customers and encourage
fans to cheer. ''Freeze your teeth, and give your tongue a sleigh ride,'' was
among his memorable sales pitches.
In the 1980s, Scott dropped the beer tray and took up cheerleading for a living,
although he had a different name for the job: ''synergy facilitation.''
Scott was later imported to work the crowd for the NBA's Portland Trailblazers,
and the Boise Hawks, a minor-league baseball franchise.
He eventually branched out, working across the country for the NFL's
Indianapolis Colts, the Continental Basketball Association and other
minor-league baseball parks.
BOONSBORO, Md. (AP) -- Charlotte Winters, the last known surviving American
female World War I veteran and a refined Civil War buff who met face-to-face
with the secretary of the Navy to fight for women in the military, has died. She
Winters died Tuesday at a nursing home near Boonsboro in northwest Maryland, the
U.S. Naval District in Washington said in a statement. Her death leaves just
five known surviving American World War I veterans.
In 1916, Winters met with Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels to persuade him
to allow women in the service, said Kelly Auber, who grew up on South Mountain,
where Winters and her husband, John Winters, settled.
When the Navy opened support roles to women, Winters and her sister, Sophie,
joined immediately in 1917, Auber said. By December 1918, the Naval District
said more than 11,000 women had enlisted and were serving in support positions.
Winters served as a secretary and retired in 1953 with the rank of yeoman in the
March 24, 2007
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Filed at 7:03 a.m. ET
The New York Times
Robert E. Petersen
LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Robert E. Petersen, the publishing magnate whose Hot Rod and
Motor Trend magazines helped shape America's car culture and who gave millions
to a museum dedicated to his passion, has died. He was 80.
Petersen died Friday of complications from neuroendocrine cancer at St. John's
Health Center in Santa Monica, said Dick Messer, director of the Petersen
Automotive Museum in Los Angeles.
''Mr. Petersen helped create and feed the American obsession with the
automobile, delivering gasoline-powered dreams to the mailboxes of millions,''
Petersen, the son of an auto mechanic, founded Hot Rod magazine in 1948 while
trying to promote the custom-designed car show at the Los Angeles Armory. The
following year, he launched Motor Trend for automobile enthusiasts.
A dozen other specialty consumer magazines followed, including Guns & Ammo,
Sport, Motorcyclist, Hunting, Mountain Biker, Photographic, Teen and Sassy.
By the time his publishing empire was sold in 1996, Petersen Publishing's annual
revenue was about $275 million. He later donated $25 million to pay off the debt
of the Peterson Automotive Museum he opened in 1994.
LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Herman Stein, a composer whose music for ''It Came From
Outer Space,'' ''Creature from the Black Lagoon,'' and ''The Incredible
Shrinking Man'' helped define the dramatic soundtrack of 1950s science fiction
and horror movies, has died. He was 91.
Stein died of congestive heart failure at his Los Angeles home on March 15, his
record producer, David Schecter, said Friday.
As a staff composer at Universal Studios, Stein collaborated with Henry Mancini
and others to create music for nearly 200 movies and shorts, though he didn't
get credit for all of his work because of the studio's tendency to give solo
credit to a project's music supervisor.
''It was an unwritten rule at Universal that if he wrote less than 80 percent of
the score, then his name would not be credited in the picture,'' Schecter said.
''Herman had few credits to his name.''
Nonetheless, Stein has been recognized for writing or co-writing music for an
array of movies, from Westerns to comedies to dramas. They include Roger
Corman's civil rights drama ''The Intruder'' and Douglas Sirk's comedy ''Has
Anybody Seen My Gal?'' His other notable horror film compositions include
''Tarantula'' and ''King Kong vs. Godzilla.''
He also composed music for such television shows as ''Gunsmoke,'' ''Lost in
Space,'' and ''Daniel Boone.''
Richard Conway Casey
NEW YORK (AP) -- Richard Conway Casey, who was the nation's first blind federal
trial judge and presided over high-profile cases including an abortion-law
challenge and the Peter Gotti trial, died Thursday. He was 74.
Casey's death was confirmed by his office. The cause was an apparent heart
Casey was nominated for federal judgeship by President Clinton in 1997, 10 years
after he became blind from an inherited degenerative eye disease.
He was a fixture in U.S. District Court in lower Manhattan, arriving each
morning with his guide dog, Barney.
Casey sat over several trials that attracted public interest. In addition to the
constitutional challenge of the federal Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act, he
presided over the prosecution of Gotti, the Gambino crime family boss.
Born in Ithaca, Casey played football at the College of the Holy Cross in
Massachusetts. After graduating from Georgetown University Law Center, he worked
as a federal prosecutor in Manhattan from 1960-1963, winning convictions of
three Russian spies.
Some questioned whether a blind judge could accurately assess the credibility of
a witness he could not see. Casey said truth could be found by following the
facts to see if they string together in a coherent, logical way. He did
occasionally swap a trademark case with a colleague because it depended on
VERO BEACH, Fla. (AP) -- Singer Carol Richards, who was known for recording
''Silver Bells'' with Bing Crosby, has died, her family said Friday. She was 84.
Richards died of kidney failure March 16 at the Indian River Memorial Hospital
in Vero Beach, her husband Edward Swiedler said.
Richards was born as Carol June Vosburgh on June 6, 1922, in Harvard, Ill. She
was one of four children of George and Martha Vosburgh.
Richards dubbed the singing voice of actresses in movie musicals including Cyd
Charisse with Gene Kelly in ''Brigadoon,'' Swiedler said.
She married Swiedler in 1966 after she moved to the Boston area, he said.
NEW YORK (AP) -- Walter Turnbull, who founded the Boys Choir of Harlem and led
the organization to international acclaim and performances at the White House
and Vatican, died Friday. He was 62.
Turnbull died in a New York City hospital, said his brother, Horace Turnbull. He
said Turnbull had suffered a stroke months earlier.
Turnbull's death marked the latest in a sad string of events for the famed
choir, which has been reeling from scandal since a choirboy accused a counselor
six years ago of sexually abusing him. City investigators chided Turnbull for
his handling of the allegations.
The chairman of the choir's board, former New York Mayor David N. Dinkin, said
the board was dedicated to preserving the choir. The renowned institution has
fallen into debt, and the 50-boy choir was evicted last year and now has a
reduced, mostly volunteer staff.
Born in Greenville, Miss., Turnbull studied music at Tougaloo College and moved
to New York to become an opera singer, eventually performing with the New York
He founded the choir at the Ephesus Church in 1968 and built the after-school
program into the 600-student Choir Academy of Harlem, which opened in 1993. The
choir has released albums and been heard on the soundtracks of films such as
''Jungle Fever,'' ''Malcolm X'' and ''Glory.''
Beyond its musical training, the choir provides educational and personal
counseling each year to hundreds of inner-city children ages 9 to 19.
February 9, 2007
The New York Times
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Filed at 11:58 a.m. ET
HOLLYWOOD, Fla. (AP) -- A medical examiner began an autopsy Friday on Anna
Nicole Smith, whose mother blamed drugs for the former Playboy playmate's sudden
death that ended an extraordinary tabloid life at just 39.
''I think she had too many drugs, just like Danny (Smith's late son),'' her
mother, Vergie Arthur, told ABC's ''Good Morning America'' on Friday. ''I tried
to warn her about drugs and the people that she hung around with. She didn't
''She was too drugged up,'' Arthur said. ''By the last interview I saw of her,
she was so wasted.''
Smith's attorney, Ron Rale, said the one-time reality TV star had been ill for
several days with a fever and was still depressed over the death five months ago
of her 20-year-old son from what a private medical examiner determined was a
combination of methadone and two antidepressants.
On Thursday, authorities say, a private nurse found Smith unconscious in her
room at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino and called 911. A bodyguard
performed CPR, Seminole Police Chief Charlie Tiger said, but Smith was declared
dead at a hospital.
Late Thursday, sheriff's deputies carried out at least eight brown paper bags
sealed with red evidence tape from Smith's hotel room.
Several detectives are reviewing the hotel surveillance tapes to see if they
might provide a clue to what happened, Deputy Police Chief Michael Browne said
Friday. He said they had interviewed everyone connected to the death and no one
was under suspicion.
''Nothing about this death seems suspicious. We're not treating it that way,''
Browne said. ''We're being very thorough. We're going to look at everything.''
Edwina Johnson, chief investigator for the Broward County Medical Examiner's
Office, said an autopsy was under way Friday morning to try to determine the
cause of death.
If Smith died of natural causes, the findings will likely be announced quickly,
but definitive results could take weeks, said Dr. Joshua Perper, who was
performing the autopsy.
''I am not a prophet, and I cannot tell you before the autopsy what I am going
to find,'' he said.
Smith's son's death in the Bahamas on Sept. 10 came just a few days after she
gave birth to a daughter, Dannielynn, whose custody remains in dispute.
The birth certificate lists Dannielynn's father as attorney Howard K. Stern,
Smith's most recent companion, who Rale said was with Smith at the hotel and was
too choked up to talk when he called Rale with the news. Smith's ex-boyfriend
Larry Birkhead is waging a legal challenge, saying he is the father.
A hearing was scheduled in Los Angeles on Friday at which lawyers were expected
to discuss an emergency motion filed by Birkhead's attorney seeking DNA from
Smith's body, her attorney Rale said. The reasons for the motion were not
immediately clear, but an attorney for Stern, James T. Neavitt, was frustrated.
''There's no question about her being the mother,'' he said. ''So what's the
purpose of the DNA testing? Why do they need her DNA?''
Debra Opri, the attorney who filed Birkhead's paternity suit, said only that
doctors told her to get a DNA sample, declining to elaborate.
She said Birkhead was devastated. ''He is inconsolable, and we are taking steps
now to protect the DNA testing of the child. The child is our No. 1 priority,''
The baby was being cared for in the Bahamas by the mother of Shane Gibson, the
Bahamian immigration minister who is a close friend of Smith's, People magazine
reported on its Web site, citing unidentified sources.
A visibly shaken Gibson declined comment as he was leaving his office Thursday
night, and he has not responded to several message left by The Associated Press
Through the '90s and into the 21st century, Smith was famous for being famous, a
pop-culture punchline because of her up-and-down weight, her Marilyn Monroe
looks, her exaggerated curves, her little-girl voice, her ditzy-blonde persona
and her over-the-top revealing outfits.
Recently, she lost a reported 69 pounds and became a spokeswoman for TrimSpa, a
weight-loss supplement. In recent TV appearances, her speech was often slurred
and she seemed out of it. Some critics said she seemed drugged-out.
''Undoubtedly it will be found at the end of the day that drugs featured in her
death as they did in the death of poor Daniel,'' said Michael Scott, a former
attorney for Smith in the Bahamas.
Rale said he had talked to her on Tuesday or Wednesday, and she had flu symptoms
and a fever and was still grieving over her son. He dismissed claims her death
was related to drugs as ''a bunch of nonsense.''
''Poor Anna Nicole,'' he said. ''She's been the underdog. She's been besieged
... and she's been trying her best and nobody should have to endure what she's
The Texas-born Smith was a topless dancer at a strip club before she made the
cover of Playboy magazine in 1992. She became Playboy's playmate of the year in
1993. She was also signed to a contract with Guess jeans, appearing in TV
commercials, billboards and magazine ads.
In 1994, she married 89-year-old oil tycoon J. Howard Marshall II, owner of
Great Northern Oil Co. After his death the following year, she engaged in a
protracted legal fight with her former stepson, E. Pierce Marshall, over whether
she had a right to the estate.
A federal court in California awarded Smith $474 million. That was later
overturned. But in May, the U.S. Supreme Court revived her case, ruling that she
deserved another day in court.
The stepson died June 20 at age 67, but the family said the court fight would
Smith starred in her own reality TV series, ''The Anna Nicole Show,'' in
2002-04. She also appeared in movies, performing a bit part in ''The Hudsucker
Proxy'' in 1994.
Smith was born Vickie Lynn Hogan on Nov. 28, 1967, in Houston, one of six
children. Her parents split up when she was a toddler, and she was raised by her
mother, a deputy sheriff.
She dropped out after 11th grade after she was expelled for fighting, and worked
as a waitress and then a cook at Jim's Krispy Fried Chicken restaurant in Mexia,
She married 16-year-old fry cook Bill Smith in 1985, giving birth to Daniel
before divorcing two years later.
AP Special Correspondent Linda Deutsch in Los Angeles
11:08 PM ET
By Ann Oldenburg
She came from nothing, but she lived bigger than most.
A small-town girl who was determined to make something of herself, Anna
Nicole Smith had the quintessential train-wreck life: intriguing, eye-popping,
The high school dropout-turned-dazzler, who died Thursday at 39 in a hospital in
Hollywood, Fla., was fascinating to celebrity watchers — not because she was an
A-list star but because she was an unpredictable blond bombshell who was always
in the middle of controversy.
She married a billionaire 60 years her senior and then battled his heirs over
the estate, ending with a victory at the Supreme Court.
The world watched as she battled her weight, gaining, losing, then gaining
She became a TV star, riding the reality show mania, in a series that offered a
candid look at how a celebrity lived.
In a span of days, she gave birth to a daughter, and her 20-year-old son was
found dead in her recovery room. Now Dannielynn, 5 months, is without a mother,
and her father's identity is uncertain.
Smith's former lawyer Lenard Leeds told TMZ.com it's no secret that Smith "had a
very troubled life" and added that she had "so many, many problems."
Still, she flirted and laughed her way through life.
"She was light and fluffy," Tom O'Neill of In Touch Weekly said on CNN late
Said Rob Chilton, features director of OK! magazine: "She was a great pop icon,
almost like a cartoon character."
Shots of her on red carpets vamping like her childhood idol Marilyn Monroe ran
on cable news channels for hours after the news broke Thursday, proof that Smith
had achieved her goal of finding a place in the spotlight.
Smith made everyone laugh along with her — and at her — until it just wasn't
At 17, she met Billy Smith, a co-worker at Jim's Krispy Fried Chicken, and they
had baby Daniel. Two years later, they divorced. She began working at topless
bars in Houston to pay the bills.
Her nickname was "Sweet Cheeks." Though her body was voluptuous, her breasts
weren't, and she was allowed to work only the afternoon shift.
Still, she believed she was destined for greater things.
The first order of business: breast implants. In 1991, at 24, she entered a
Playboy contest and won. In 1992, she listed her "turn-ons" as "Men who wear
braces, cowboys! I also get off on scary movies." In 1993, she was Playmate of
the Year. (Founder Hugh Hefner issued a statement Thursday saying he was
"saddened" by the news of Smith's death.)
After that, she was offered a modeling job for Guess? jeans.
"I didn't know what Guess? jeans were," she told People magazine in an interview
at the time. "I just shopped at Wal-Mart and Kmart and stuff like that."
In 1994 she made her big-screen debut in Naked Gun 331/3: The Final Insult.
Anyone who didn't happen to see that movie had probably heard of her anyway: It
was the same time she married oil tycoon J. Howard Marshall II, who was in a
wheelchair and more than 60 years her senior. They had met years earlier when
she was an exotic dancer.
Though branded a gold digger, she seemed to have found happiness with her
When she was defending her marriage to Marshall, she told In Touch: "Nobody has
ever respected me or done things for me. So when Howard came along, it was a
But the blessing was short-lived. His death less than two years later, in 1995,
left behind a fortune estimated at $1.6 billion. She was still fighting for a
share of the money when she died.
Smith battled her weight and struggled with other addictions. She acknowledged
that she had a problem with prescription drugs.
Her wild behavior was on display on The Anna Nicole Show, her often-bawdy
reality series that aired on E! from 2002 to 2003. But it also showed her softer
Children and dogs — she had a toy poodle named Sugar Pie — were her true loves.
Her son, Daniel, whom she raised as a single mother, was often by her side.
"I don't have any good memories from Christmas when I was a girl," Smith told
People in 2004. "So I tried to make them special for Daniel. We never missed a
trip to the mall to see Santa to take pictures."
Gabriel Rotello, who directed a 2003 Showtime documentary about Smith, said in
People: "Even her most vehement detractors reluctantly admitted that she was a
good mother. Daniel was just a really well-adjusted, smart kid."
She was devastated by his death Sept. 10. The cause, as determined by a medical
examiner, was an accidental interaction of methadone and two antidepressants.
Last November in an interview with Entertainment Tonight, Smith said: "I'll
never accept that (Daniel is) gone. I don't understand why God took him and
didn't take me."
Since then, Smith's troubles seemed to double.
She was hospitalized for pneumonia for a week in November. She was sued, along
with diet-supplement company TrimSpa — for which she has been a spokeswoman and
a model client — in a class-action lawsuit that claimed the company's marketing
of a weight-loss pill was false or misleading.
Dannielynn is the subject of a DNA test battle with Smith's former boyfriend,
Larry Birkhead, who says he is the father of the child. Smith's longtime friend
and lawyer, Howard K. Stern — with whom Smith shared a commitment ceremony on
Sept. 28 in the Bahamas — also says he is the girl's father.
Considering her difficult life — and especially her recent past — few were
surprised at Thursday's news.
"I am very, very sad, but I am not shocked," Smith's former publicist, David
Granoff, told MSNBC. He had seen Smith on television Wednesday, "and she had no
spark any more."
But Smith's star tale is far from over.
"This is a massive story," OK! magazine's Chilton says. "We'll now see all the
stories about how she died and loads of conspiracy stories and loads of rumors
about was it drink or drugs?"
And, he says, her memory will be that of someone who was a larger-than-life
"She really was a celebrity. That sums her up perfectly. She had loads of
charisma, and she was always doing something crazy. There was always an Anna
Nicole Smith story floating around."
BOSTON (Reuters) - A Connecticut woman who just last week set a record as the
world's oldest person has died, her great-nephew said on Monday. She was 114.
Emma Faust Tillman died Sunday night in the Hartford, Connecticut nursing home
where she had lived for the last four years, said John Stewart Jr.
Tillman was born on November 22, 1892, near Greensboro, North Carolina. The
child of former slaves, she was one of 23 children in a long-lived family. Three
of her sisters and a brother lived past 100.
But Tillman's longevity topped them all. She lived independently until the age
of 110. In the nursing home, she spent much of her time caring for an ailing
roommate who was more than 20 years her junior.
"Her comment is always, 'If you want to know about longevity and why I lived so
long, ask the man upstairs,'" Stewart said in an interview last week after
Guinness World Records confirmed Tillman was the world's oldest person.
Tillman never smoked, drank or wore eyeglasses, Stewart said. For a time,
Tillman worked as a servant for American actress Katharine Hepburn, he noted.
She is survived by an 80-year-old daughter, Marjorie, and a large number of
grandchildren and great-grandchildren, Stewart said.
According to the International Committee on Supercentenarians, the world's next
oldest person is Yone Minagama, 114, of Japan.
Guinness World Records by Monday had not verified that claim, according to
spokeswoman Amarilis Espinoza.
Captain Robert Scott's final letter to his wife, Kathleen, written as the
explorer prepared for death, will go on display at Cambridge University in
January, 95 years after he and his team reached the South Pole.
Here it is published in full, for the first time:
"To my widow
"Dearest Darling - we are in a very tight corner and I have doubts of pulling
through - In our short lunch hours I take advantage of a very small measure of
warmth to write letters preparatory to a possible end - the first is naturally
to you on whom my thought mostly dwell waking or sleeping - if anything happens
to me I shall like you to know how much you have meant to me and that pleasant
recollections are with me as I depart - I should like you to take what comfort
you can from these facts also - I shall not have suffered any pain but leave the
world fresh from harness and full of good health and vigour - this is dictated
already, when provisions come to an end we simply stop where we are within easy
distance of another depot. Therefore you must not imagine a great tragedy - we
are very anxious of course and have been for weeks but on splendid physical
condition and our appetites compensate for all discomfort. The cold is biting
and sometimes angering but here again the hot food which drives it forth is so
wonderfully enjoyable that we would scarcely be without it.
"We have gone down hill a good deal since I wrote the above. Poor Titus Oates
has gone - he was in a bad state - the rest of us keep going and imagine we have
a chance to get through but the cold weather doesn't let up at all - we are now
only 20 miles from a depot but we have very little food or fuel.
"Well dear heart I want you to take the whole thing very sensibly as I am sure
you will - the boy will be your comfort I had looked forward to helping you to
bring him up but it is a satisfaction to feel that he is safe with you. I think
both he and you ought to be specially looked after by the country for which
after all we have given our lives with something of spirit which makes for
example - I am writing letters on this point in the end of this book after this.
Will you send them to their various destinations?
"I must write a little letter for the boy if time can be found to be read when
he grows up - dearest that you know cherish no sentimental rubbish about re
marriage - when the right man comes to help you in life you ought to be your
happy self again - I hope I shall be a good memory certainly the end is nothing
for you to be ashamed of and I like to think that the boy will have a good start
in parentage of which he may be proud.
"Dear it is not easy to write because of the cold - 70 degrees below zero and
nothing but the shelter of our tent - you know I have loved you, you know my
thoughts must have constantly dwelt on you and oh dear me you must know that
quite the worst aspect of this situation is the thought that I shall not see you
again - The inevitable must be faced - you urged me to be leader of this party
and I know you felt it would be dangerous - I've taken my place throughout,
"God bless you my own darling I shall try and write more later - I go on across
the back pages.
"Since writing the above we have got to within 11 miles of our depot with one
hot meal and two days cold food and we should have got through but have been
held for four days by a frightful storm - I think the best chance has gone we
have decided not to kill ourselves but to fight it to the last for that depot
but in the fighting there is a painless end so don't worry. I have written
letters on odd pages of this book - will you manage to get them sent? You see I
am anxious for you and the boy's future - make the boy interested in natural
history if you can, it is better than games - they encourage it at some schools
- I know you will keep him out in the open air - try and make him believe in a
God, it is comforting.
"Oh my dear my dear what dreams I have had of his future and yet oh my girl I
know you will face it stoically - your portrait and the boy's will be found in
my breast and the one in the little red Morocco case given by Lady Baxter -
There is a piece of the Union flag I put up at the South Pole in my private kit
bag together with Amundsen's black flag and other trifles - give a small piece
of the Union flag to the King and a small piece to Queen Alexandra and keep the
rest a poor trophy for you! - What lots and lots I could tell you of this
journey. How much better it has been than lounging in comfort at home - what
tales you would have for the boy but oh what a price to pay - to forfeit the
sight of your dear dear face - Dear you will be good to the old mother. I write
her a little line in this book. Also keep in with Ettie and the others- oh but
you'll put on a strong face for the world - only don't be too proud to accept
help for the boys sake - he ought to have a fine career and do something in the
world. I haven't time to write to Sir Clements - tell him I thought much of him
and never regretted him putting me in command of the Discovery."
Tuesday December 12, 2006
Elizabeth "Lizzie" Bolden, recognised as the
world's oldest person, has died. She was 116.
Born on August 15, 1890, according to the
Gerontology Research Group, a Los Angeles organisation that tracks the ages of
the world's oldest people, she died yesterday in a nursing home.
Family members said this year that Ms Bolden had 40 grandchildren, 75
great-grandchildren, 150 great-great-grandchildren, 220 great-great-great
grandchildren and 75 great-great-great-great grandchildren.
Guinness World Records recognised her as the oldest person in the world in
August after the death of Maria Esther de Capovilla of Ecuador, who also was
She died at a nursing home where she had been living for several years. Ms
Bolden had suffered a stroke in 2004, and her family said she spoke little after
that and slept much of the time.
Emiliano Mercado del Toro, 115, of Puerto Rico is now expected assume the title
of world's oldest person, said Robert Young, a Guinness researcher. The
Gerontology Research Group lists Mr Toro's date of birth as Aug. 21, 1891.
October 6, 2006
The New York Times
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Filed at 12:04 a.m. ET
CHICAGO (AP) -- Gary C. Comer, founder of the
Lands' End casual clothing company, died Wednesday. He was 78.
Comer, who grew up on Chicago's South Side, died after a long battle with
cancer, according to a statement from University of Chicago Hospitals.
Comer founded Lands' End in the early 1960s and stepped down as president in
1990. He remained chairman of the board and the majority stockholder until the
company was sold to Sears, Roebuck & Co. in May 2002.
Only after 10 years as an advertising copywriter did a 33-year-old Comer decide
to start his own company. In 1962, he launched a mail-order sailing equipment
business. He and his partners incorporated Lands' End Yacht Stores a year later
Comer moved the company's warehouse and phone operations to Dodgeville, Wis., in
1978. In 1986, Lands' End went public.
Comer was known for his philanthropy.
He and his wife, Frances, made several donations over the past 10 years totaling
more than $84 million. The gifts led to the creation and expansion of the
University of Chicago's Comer Children's Hospital.
BALTIMORE (AP) -- Tamara Dobson, the tall, stunning model-turned-actress who
portrayed a strong female role as Cleopatra Jones in two ''blaxploitation''
films, died Monday. She was 59.
Dobson died of complications from pneumonia and multiple sclerosis at the
Keswick Multi-Care Center, where she had lived for the past two years, her
At 6 feet 2, Dobson was striking as the kung-fu fighting government agent
Cleopatra Jones in 1973. She reprised the role in 1975's ''Cleopatra Jones and
the Casino of Gold.''
Dobson also appeared in ''Come Back, Charleston Blue,'' ''Norman, Is That You?''
''Murder at the World Series'' and ''Chained Heat.''
She had TV roles in the early 1980s in ''Jason of Star Command'' and ''Buck
Rogers in the 25th Century.''
Dobson lived most of her adult life in New York, her family said. She was
diagnosed six years ago with multiple sclerosis.
LONDON (AP) -- Sally Gray, the spirited, husky-voiced British star of the 1930s
and 40s who turned down a lucrative Hollywood contract, died Sept. 24, her
family said. She was 90.
Gray, who became Lady Oranmore and Browne when she married into the aristocracy,
died at her London home.
Gray's appearance in two RKO productions in Britain -- ''The Saint in London''
(1939) and ''The Saint's Vacation'' (1941) -- persuaded the Hollywood studio to
offer her a contract.
But she turned it down, saying she preferred to stay in England.
Born Constance Vera Stevens in north London, Gray trained at the Fay Compton
School of Dramatic Art and was spotted by John Gliddon, the agent who discovered
Vivien Leigh, at age 18 when she appeared in the chorus of a musical, ''Jill
Darling,'' in 1934.
She was soon taking lead roles in musicals, appearing as Miss America in Olympic
Honeymoon (1936), ''Lightning Conductor'' (1938) with Gordon Harker and with
Lupino Lane in ''Lambeth Walk'' (1940).
One of her best-known roles was as the cheating wife of a psychiatrist in
George King, the former NBA player who coached West Virginia and Purdue and had
a long run as the Boilermakers' athletic director, died Thursday. He was 78.
King died in Naples, Fla., Purdue announced on its athletic Web site.
King was born in Charleston, attended Stonewall Jackson High and starred at
Morris Harvey College. The 6-foot guard played six seasons with the NBA's
Syracuse Nationals and Cincinnati Royals.
In Game 7 of the 1955 NBA Finals between Syracuse and Fort Wayne, King made the
go-ahead free throw with 12 seconds left, then stole the ball to preserve the
title, the first of the shot-clock era.
King was head coach at his alma mater for one season in 1956-57, became an
assistant coach at West Virginia University the following year and took the head
coaching job when Fred Schaus followed WVU standout Jerry West to the Los
Angeles Lakers. King was credited with integrating WVU's basketball team. He
compiled a 102-43 record in five seasons as WVU coach, earning two Southern
Conference titles and three NCAA tournament bids.
The two-time state amateur athlete of the year was inducted into athletic halls
of fame at Purdue and the University of Charleston, the successor to Morris
J. Patrick Lyons
SHELBYVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- J. Patrick Lyons, who unsuccessfully ran for Congress
seven times and mounted legal challenges against opponents in those races, died
Thursday. He was 62.
Lyons died at Middle Tennessee Medical Center, a representative of the Feldhaus
Memorial Chapel said.
Lyons sought the Democratic nomination for the 4th District House seat in 1992
but was defeated in the primary by Rep. Jim Cooper.
He ran as an independent in 1994, 1996 and 2000 for the seat and as an
independent in 2002 and 2004 in the 6th District. He ran in the 6th District
Democratic primary this year and was defeated by U.S. Rep. Bart Gordon.
Lyons sued Van Hilleary, who served as 4th District congressman from 1995 to
2003, claiming that Hilleary's membership in the National Guard made him
ineligible to hold a congressional seat.
Lyons also claimed in a lawsuit against Gordon that an incumbent congressman
could not succeed himself. A hearing on the lawsuit was scheduled for Oct. 13.
Lyons, who was a veteran, was self-taught on legal issues but was not a lawyer.
BERLIN (AP) -- Oskar Pastior, a Romanian-born German writer who was celebrated
for his creative use of language, died Thursday, his publisher said. He was 78.
Pastior died in Frankfurt, where he was visiting the annual book fair, said
Christine Knecht, a spokeswoman for the Carl Hanser Verlag publishing house.
Among Pastior's early works was ''Offne Worte'' published in 1964; he made his
literary debut in Germany in 1969 with ''Vom Sichersten ins Tausendste,'' a
collection of poems.
Pastior was born on Oct. 20, 1927 in the Transylvanian city of Sibiu, where he
lived as a member of the German-speaking minority.
After being interned in Soviet labor camps following World War II, he returned
to communist Romania in 1949 and studied German at the University of Bucharest.
He worked in radio before turning to writing.
Pastior fled to West Germany during a study trip to Vienna, Austria, in 1968 and
settled in West Berlin. He had been working on a book about his time in Soviet
labor camps at the time of his death.
WASHINGTON (AP) — Now the death toll is 9/11
times two. U.S. military deaths from Iraq and Afghanistan now match those of the
most devastating terrorist attack in America's history, the trigger for what
came next. Add casualties from chasing terrorists elsewhere in the world, and
the total has passed the Sept. 11 figure.
The latest milestone for a country at war came
Friday without commemoration. It came without the precision of knowing who was
the 2,973rd man or woman of arms to die in conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan. The
terrorist attacks killed 2,973 victims in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania.
The Pentagon's report Friday night of the latest death from Iraq, an as-yet
unidentified soldier killed a day earlier after his vehicle was hit by a
roadside bombing in eastern Baghdad, brought the U.S. death toll in Iraq to
2,695. Combined with 278 U.S. deaths in and around Afghanistan, the 9/11 toll
Not for the first time, war that was started to answer death has resulted in at
least as much death for the country that was first attacked, quite apart from
the higher numbers of enemy and civilians killed.
Historians note that this grim accounting is not how the success or failure of
warfare is measured, and that the reasons for conflict are broader than what
served as the spark.
The body count from World War II was far higher for Allied troops than for the
crushed Axis. Americans lost more men in each of a succession of Pacific battles
than the 2,390 people who died at Pearl Harbor in the attack that made the U.S.
declare war on Japan. The U.S. lost 405,399 in the theaters of World War II.
Despite a death toll that pales next to that of the great wars, one casualty
milestone after another has been observed and reflected upon this time,
especially in Iraq.
There was the benchmark of seeing more U.S. troops die in the occupation than in
the swift and successful invasion. And the benchmarks of 1,000 dead, 2,000,
"There's never a good war but if the war's going well and the overall mission
remains powerful, these numbers are not what people are focusing on," said
Julian Zelizer, a political historian at Boston University. "If this becomes the
subject, then something's gone wrong."
Beyond the tribulations of the moment and the now-rampant doubts about the
justification and course of the Iraq war, Zelizer said Americans have lost
firsthand knowledge of the costs of war that existed keenly up to the 1960s,
when people remembered two world wars and Korea, and faced Vietnam.
"A kind of numbness comes from that," he said. "We're not that country anymore —
more bothered, more nervous. This isn't a country that's used to ground wars
Almost 10 times more Americans have died in Iraq than in Afghanistan, where U.S.
casualties have been remarkably light by any historical standard, although
climbing in recent months in the face of a resurgent Taliban.
The Pentagon reports 56 military deaths and one civilian Defense Department
death in other parts of the world from Operation Enduring Freedom, the
anti-terrorism war distinct from Iraq.
Altogether, 3,030 have died abroad since Sept. 11, 2001.
The civilian toll in Iraq hit record highs in the summer, with 6,599 violent
deaths reported in July and August alone, the United Nations said this week.
Among the latest U.S. deaths identified by the armed forces:
•Army 2nd Lt. Emily J.T. Perez, 23, Fort Washington, Md., who died Sept. 12 in
Kifl, Iraq, from an explosive device detonated near her vehicle. A former high
school sprinter who sang in her West Point gospel choir, she was assigned to the
204th Support Battalion, 2nd Brigade, 4th Infantry Division, Fort Hood, Texas.
•Marine Sgt. Christopher M. Zimmerman, 28, Stephenville, Texas, killed Wednesday
in Anbar province, Iraq. He was assigned to 2nd Reconnaissance Battalion, 2nd
Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force, Camp Lejeune, N.C.
A new study on the war dead and where they come from suggests that the notion of
"rich man's war, poor man's fight" has become a little truer over time.
Among the Americans killed in the Iraq war, 34% have come from communities
reporting the lowest levels of family income. Half come from middle income
communities and only 17% from the highest income level.
That's a change from World War II, when all income groups were represented about
equally. In Korea, Vietnam and Iraq, the poor have made up a progressively
larger share of casualties, by this analysis.
Eye-for-an-eye vengeance was not the sole motivator for what happened after the
2001 attacks any more than Pearl Harbor alone was responsible for all that
followed. But Pearl Harbor caught the U.S. in the middle of mobilization,
debate, rising tensions with looming enemies and a European war already in
progress. Historians doubt anyone paid much attention to sad milestones once
America threw itself into the fight.
In contrast, the United States had no imminent war intentions against anyone on
Sept. 10, 2001. One bloody day later, it did.
September 18, 2006
The New York Times
By CHARLIE LeDUFF
DETROIT — With all the spectacular ways to die
in this dying city, the fate of a man named Allan was almost pathetic. There he
lay, in a weedy lot on the notorious East Side, next to a liquor bottle, his
pockets turned out.
But as it goes with such things, one man’s misery is another man’s money. The
body retrievalist for the county morgue had arrived on the scene. He was happy.
He sang strange little ditties. Cracked odd little jokes. Said things like: “We
got plenty of room in this here van, yes sir.”
Do not judge him. A happy attitude is necessary in his profession. It keeps the
mind from shattering, salts one’s sanity. Call the job dirty. Call it 14 bucks
the hard way — $14 a human body, $9 an animal. He said he made $14,000 last
year. He made most of it at night.
His tax forms officially read “body technician.” Unofficially, Mike Thomas calls
himself body snatcher, grim reaper, night stalker, bag man. Whatever you call
it, it is one man’s life.
For Mr. Thomas, the demise of Allan was a cheerful occasion because, you see,
work had been dead. There had been an odd lull in homicides, suicides and even
natural passings here in one of the most violent American cities. It was the
height of summer and people were supposed to be outside and killing each other,
dropping dead from sunstroke, etc. Mr. Thomas wondered how he was going to feed
his children the next week.
“I ain’t making nothing on these bodies,” he said on his porch, the screen door
half gone. “I know that’s kind of weird to hear; I mean waiting around for
somebody to die. Wishing for somebody to die. But that’s how it is. That’s how I
feed my babies.”
He is happy to have the job, there are so few in Detroit. Unemployment hovers
around 14 percent, more than twice the national average, according to the United
States Bureau of Labor Statistics. The slow death of the car industry has led to
the slow death of the blue-collar Motor City and now the State of Michigan in
general. About 300,000 jobs have disappeared from the state since 2000 and
another 65,000 factory jobs are expected to be gone by next year. Mostly
One of the few people working long hours most weeks, it seems, is Mr. Thomas.
There used to be money in Detroit. Known in the 50’s as the Paris of the
Midwest, it had a population of 1.8 million, 83 percent white. It now has fewer
than 900,000 and is 83 percent black. It is the poorest big city in the nation,
with a third of the population living below the poverty line.
Detroit is an annual competitor for the ignominious title of Murder Capital.
Last year there were 359 homicides. Halfway through this year, there were 220.
There are about 10,000 unsolved homicides dating back to 1960.
Mr. Thomas, 34, subscribes to a simple theory: Unemployment leads to drugs.
Drugs lead to misplaced passion. Misplaced passion leads to death. And that’s
where he comes in.
“There’s 360 ways to die, and I done seen them all,” he said, dressed in black,
waiting on a hot evening to be summoned to the latest body. “I seen an old lady
standing dead at her stove, her purse hanging on her elbow. I done picked up the
pieces of a man who stepped in front of a train. I done picked up people just
around this corner, here, from my house.”
People he knew. People from his neighborhood, like Steve, who Mr. Thomas said
should have known better than to rob a stripper. Like a prophet on the hill, Mr.
Thomas explained the meaning not of life, but of death to guys from the
neighborhood congregated on the porch, who robbed the beer truck in the
afternoon and so came bearing gifts.
“You see,” he begins, “80 percent of people die naked and 70 percent die in the
toilet. That means most people die naked in the toilet. I can’t explain it. It’s
like Elvis. But as far as the afterlife goes, I believe through what I seen that
those who commit horror and sin are doomed to repeat life, which is hell.”
He is a macabre observer of the economic times. Mr. Thomas and some of his
workmates say they notice some disturbing trends. By midyear, 8,559 people had
died in Wayne County, which includes Detroit, and more and more, technicians see
bodies remaining in the cooler longer because family members don’t come to pick
them up. They attribute this to the breakdown of family values as well as the
lack of financial resources of people to bury their loved ones.
According to state statistics, the vast majority of homicides occur in the
predominately black city, and the preponderance of suicides occur in the mostly
“My theory?” Mr. Thomas offered. “White people kill themselves. Black people
kill each other. Chinese people don’t die.”
“True, true,” shouted one young pilgrim, though no sighting of a white or
Chinese man could be made within a 20-block radius of the porch.
Michael Thomas was born in rural Alabama in 1972 and moved with his family to
Detroit a year later when Coleman A. Young was the city’s first black mayor.
Like most people in the city — black, white or Arab — the Thomas family came for
the factory jobs and achieved the middle-class life. Mr. Thomas grew up on the
East Side, raised through his teenage years by a white stepfather, for whom he
was always having to go to fists with the other black kids in the neighborhood.
He is short and broad-shouldered.
After graduating from high school, Mr. Thomas was sent to prison at the age of
17 for carjacking. He served four years, kept to himself, got out safely and
worked a string of hamburger jobs until his uncle connected him with the job at
the morgue five years ago. He supports three children and has a fledgling rap
career on the side. The autobiographical song “Transporters” is a neat little
trick that can be found on the Web (www.myspace.com/gangstaclyde).
“One thing my stepfather taught me was the value of work,” Mr. Thomas said on
his way to another scene. “A man who don’t have work don’t feel much like a man.
A man without work, well, he takes the only way he can and that’s usually no
A call came from the southwest side of town, with its Tudor style homes with
brick and aluminum siding. A man had killed himself. He was white. Early 50’s.
He had lost his job at the boat yard earlier that day, a detective said. He came
home, drank himself into a depression and put a bullet in his head — the second
white man to kill himself this day.
It was a sad, quiet scene on the street. The man’s family standing there
silently stunned. Cans of cheap beer in their hands.
Greg Torso's death announced itself with a
long exhale and then silence, as the breath literally left his body. His mother
had been told to expect this, so she was not scared.
Ms. Torso had worried that an undertaker would barge in moments after her
42-year-old son died, before she had had time to say goodbye. She had been
assured she could spend as much time with the body as she wanted.
Could she bathe and dress him? Save a lock of his hair? Commemorate his passing
with wine and reminiscence at the bedside? All of that was fine, she had been
told, setting the stage for a death that she later said had left her "on the
edge of euphoria."
Ms. Torso was coached and consoled through the final days and hours of her son's
life, a rarity even under the umbrella of hospice, which for three decades has
promised Americans a good death, pain-free, peaceful and shared with loved ones
But there is a growing realization that hospice has its limitations. Doctors,
nurses, social workers, clerics and volunteers are rarely there for the final
hours, known as active dying, when a family may need their comforts the most.
Now those final moments are a focus of new attention as hospices broaden their
range of services, inspired by a growing body of research on the very end of
life. More are encouraging the calming properties of music, meditation,
aromatherapy and massage for both patients and families. Some are increasing the
training for so-called 11th-hour companions who families can request be with
Holding a dying person's hand may be frightening for a loved one alone at the
bedside. Relatives and friends may not know that hearing is the last sense to
go, and neglect to soothe the patient with a steady, reassuring murmur. Leaving
the room briefly may mean missing the moment of passing and always carrying that
"These final moments matter, but often, when families and patients need us most
— to explain the process, calm the situation, take away the negative energy and
allow them to be more present — we aren't there," said Henry Fersko-Weiss, vice
president for counseling services at Continuum Hospice Care in New York City,
which has a new program that has been keeping vigil with the dying and their
The American hospice movement has grown from one program in 1974 to 3,650 in
2004, serving eight million Americans, according to the National Hospice and
Palliative Care Organization. And more people are expected to choose hospice
care as it extends its reach into hospitals and nursing homes, where palliative
care is not routinely available. At the same time, those who seek aggressive
treatment up to the end are welcome at hospice programs that once turned them
away but that are now "open access."
Despite all these changes, most people, in fear or denial, wait until the last
minute to enroll. That robs them of the preparation that was so vital to Greg
Torso's mother, Carol, and that hospice leaders, like Andy Duncan of the
national organization, say should be routine.
"Actually coaching and counseling people through the time of active dying," Mr.
Duncan said, "is something we hope to convince every hospice in the nation to
The Torsos were the first to use Continuum's vigil program, which has coached
and consoled a dozen families in its first year.
Greg had survived 15 years with AIDS and related cancers. When his doctor said
further treatment would be useless, Mr. Torso enrolled in hospice, and welcomed
extra help from Mr. Fersko-Weiss and 29 specially trained volunteers who call
That is a Greek term for women who serve, more commonly at home births to assist
both midwife and mother. But the guiding philosophy is the same and borrows from
Eastern religions: to honor the end of life as well as the beginning.
Mr. Fersko-Weiss is a gentle man who insinuates himself slowly. When he first
described the dying process to Ms. Torso, she found it hard to listen. So they
shifted gears, talking about Greg's life and looking at photos of him in better
On a subsequent visit, Ms. Torso sought reassurance that she would not "just
fall apart." On another, Mr. Fersko-Weiss told her there might come a moment
when she would have to give her son explicit permission to die. She did — "You
can go, Greggy. You can go whenever you want" — toward the end of what would be
a 68-hour vigil, involving 10 doulas (pronounced DOO-lehs).
Gwen Lee's needs were different as she prepared for the passing of her eldest
sister, Vivienne, who died at 60 after a 10-year battle with brain cancer.
Years of pretending that all was fine had given way, for both of them, flight
attendants from Ireland, to acceptance. As Gwen put it, "We were prepared for
the end of her life, but no one else was." Some friends and relatives began
second-guessing the decisions, arguing at Viv's bedside, arriving uninvited and
creating a "soap opera," Gwen said, "where we were left trying to keep them
It is not uncommon, hospice workers say, for those not involved in day-to-day
care to bring their own fears and conflict to the deathbed and inadvertently
become a burden. Into the tumult came Mr. Fersko-Weiss, a Buddhist whose
religion says that "what happens to the soul is partly determined by how it
leaves this life." The scene of death, he said, is a "sacred space," and the
doula's job is to protect it.
To that end, he and Gwen, 51, considered moving Vivienne, and her two beloved
cats, to an in-patient hospice where they could control who visited. Just
knowing there was a fallback position reassured them.
"It made all the difference," Gwen said. "Henry pulled me out of the chaos and
kept my head on the goal."
Chloe Tartaglia, a pre-med student, yoga teacher and former birth doula, had
never seen anyone die when she volunteered for the vigil program.
She learned the signs of imminent death in her 16-hour training program, how to
match her breathing to the patient's and use visualization and aromatherapy to
calm everyone in the room. On the subway, headed to her first case, Ms.
Tartaglia, whose father was a hospice physician, concentrated on her goal: to be
"like water and flow to the place where there's need."
She found herself in a shabby apartment near New York University. A tiny woman
lay in bed, wasting away from "failure to thrive," Ms. Tartaglia had been told.
The woman's husband was terrified, venturing into the room only to give her
morphine, as he had been instructed by hospice nurses.
The woman's daughter, none too fond of her stepfather, was at work, having left
behind a phone number. Ms. Tartaglia pulled a chair to the bedside.
For five hours, Ms. Tartaglia said, she sat beside the woman and held her hand
"with intention," as she had been taught, enclosing it between her own. She had
no sense of time passing until her shift was about to end.
"I told her I'd be leaving soon but that someone else was coming and she
wouldn't be alone," Ms. Tartaglia said.
Five minutes later the woman died.
Ms. Tartaglia called the daughter, who arrived calm and efficient, ready for the
logistics that follow death. "I can't deal with him," she told Ms. Tartaglia as
the old man keened.
Ms. Tartaglia guided him into the kitchen and fixed tea. "You deal with yourself
and your mom," she told the daughter. Ms. Tartaglia followed her heart and
suggested a deathbed ritual. As she slipped from the apartment, the daughter was
combing her mother's hair.
There would be more vigils for Ms. Tartaglia. One of the most memorable, she
said, included the chance to hear Gwen Lee take her sister on whispered journeys
to places Vivienne had most loved in the days when being a stewardess was
With one of Vivienne's cats at her head and the other draped over her legs, Gwen
would set the scene: An overnight flight to Africa. Glaring sun as the cabin
doors open. Days between flights to romp at the beach with captain and crew.
While Gwen soothed her sister, Ms. Tartaglia lighted candles. She massaged
Gwen's feet, helped choose the music for Vivienne's grand exit, Sarah Brightman
singing "Time to Say Goodbye."
Ms. Tartaglia's shift ended three hours before Vivienne died. As she left, Ms.
Tartaglia removed the oxygen mask that was intended to make Vivienne more
comfortable but was chafing her face.
A month to the day after Dominggus Pasalbessy died, Mr. Fersko-Weiss visited the
three daughters who had cared for him. This was a formal opportunity for Pat
Jolly, 62, Helen Santiago, 58, and Anita Pasalbessy, 55, to review their
experience. After a death, Mr. Fersko-Weiss told them, "something said or not
said, something you wish you had done differently, can stick inside you like a
The lights were low in Ms. Pasalbessy's Riverside Drive apartment, and Mr.
Fersko-Weiss suggested a CD their father had loved, music from the South
Moluccan islands, now part of Indonesia, the native land he had left as a
teenager on a tramp steamer. The sisters sat for a brief meditation, letting the
bustle of their day be replaced with images of their father, who died of lung
cancer in the same bed where his wife had died a dozen years earlier.
All three described feeling peaceful and reverent at the time of his passing. It
was like being "inside a cocoon," Ms. Pasalbessy said, "just me and my sisters,
and Daddy, all together, in a place where nothing bad could touch us."
Only when pressed did each recall her particular moment of distress.
Ms. Pasalbessy agonized that she had compromised the independence of a man who
"never wanted to be fussed over." Mr. Fersko-Weiss reminded her that eventually
her father had stopped resisting his daughters' ministrations and had told them,
"You're good girls, such good girls."
Ms. Jolly's concern was whether they had adequately medicated him. But her
father's mantra had been "mind over matter." Perhaps, Mr. Fersko-Weiss
suggested, he chose a measure of pain, rather than unawareness, as an assertion
Ms. Santiago had trouble forgetting the sisters' squabbling as they tried to
dress him, three strong-willed women each with her own idea of how to get his
arm through a pajama sleeve. "He had to have felt our tension, our nervousness,"
she said. "But that's when you guys walked in and everything fell into place."
Three doulas were with the family, in shifts, from dusk on April 9 until late
afternoon on April 11. At 3:10 p.m., after a telltale rattling in his chest, Mr.
Pasalbessy let out a breath. Then another, as two tears trickled down his cheek.
"It was like we could hear you talking to us," Ms. Jolly told Mr. Fersko-Weiss.
" 'You'll see this. You'll hear a certain breathing pattern.' This dying was
such a wonderful experience, if death can be that. And it's because there was no
fear of the unknown."
April 27, 2006
The New York Times
By MICHAEL WILSON
Few saw Milton Rocano during the short time he
lived in this city, and no one saw him die, a death horrible in its
circumstances and its sheer isolation, its invisibility.
Mr. Rocano, an employee at a privately owned recycling-transfer station in
Greenpoint, Brooklyn, climbed into the rear of an empty open-top tractor-trailer
on Saturday morning and was buried alive in an avalanche of debris dumped by a
co-worker who did not know he was there, the police said. The truck later dumped
the debris, and Mr. Rocano's body, in a landfill in Suffolk County, where it was
found three days later, after the company and the police had tracked it there.
Even by the standards of New York City, where anonymous people often die in
extraordinary ways, this death stands out for all the little things that did not
happen: the worker who killed Mr. Rocano by all accounts never knew it. If Mr.
Rocano did shout, no one heard him in the din. At the company's offices on
Anthony Street, a large window looks straight down into the area where the truck
had been. But no one was looking through it on Saturday morning.
A camera recorded the accident, but the images were not seen until two days
later. Mr. Rocano, 20, was not missed as the shift changed. No one noticed that
he had not used his time card to punch out in a dusty, harried corner of
Brooklyn, rumbling with Brooklyn-Queens Expressway traffic from above and big
trucks that come and go all day, a place where it is as hard to breathe as it is
"It's part of the city that people don't see," said Paul D. Casowitz, a lawyer
for the recycling center, City Recycling Corporation. "The gritty part. Everyone
sees the trucks. No one wonders where they go."
Mr. Rocano's sister Maria Rocano said as much herself yesterday, but her words
were packed with fury: "It's like he was a dog that was just finished off."
Mr. Rocano was the fifth of six siblings born and raised in Ecuador, and the
third to move to New York City to earn some money, arriving six months ago. He
shared an apartment with roommates in Sunnyside, Queens, and spent most of his
free time with his sisters, Maria and Ana Rocano, who live in Brooklyn. When he
was not with them, they said, he was probably in church, a man so faithful that
he was known to write letters to God.
"He always included God in everything," said Ana Rocano.
One of his roommates was Miguel Coronel, 34, a livery-cab driver from Ecuador.
"Oh, what a nice guy," Mr. Coronel said in an interview at his apartment
yesterday. "He never drinks, he never goes outside. A quiet, nice guy."
Mr. Rocano quickly found work at City Recycling, just across Newtown Creek from
his home in Queens. It is a bustling transfer station, where debris — mostly
from construction sites — is dropped, sorted and trucked out again. No garbage
or chemicals are dumped at the site, and nothing stays for long.
Tractor-trailers wait in line to back into one of the company's two loading and
unloading areas, where a device called a grapple snatches debris from the full
trucks and drops it into a pile. On clear days, workers spray the piles with
water to keep the dust down. Truck drivers waiting their turn eat quiet lunches
behind the wheel.
When a truck is emptied, workers in bright orange vests and hardhats climb up
the sides and drop inside to clean up the scraps. That was Mr. Rocano's job. His
first impressions of the place were not good and did not improve.
"It was tiring and he was exhausted, and he spoke of that," said a friend, Luis
Amon, 24. "It was dirty work he did not want to do forever."
As he did on every day that he worked, he left his apartment at 5 a.m. on
Saturday. He died about six hours later, Mr. Casowitz said, basing his estimate
on a time stamp on one of the company's several surveillance cameras, which read
11:07 a.m. Mr. Casowitz said he had seen the recording, and he described it as
Mr. Rocano, for reasons Mr. Casowitz said were unknown, climbed into an empty
truck, which is not standard procedure. No one saw him enter the truck.
A large front-end loader approached. "The loading commences, and he's struck
with debris," Mr. Casowitz said. "You see him in there, and the debris. He's
covered in debris." The loader operator, who could not have seen inside the
truck, dropped two more loads, and the truck left. The company did not identify
the loader operator, but he is "understandably very upset," Mr. Casowitz said.
When Mr. Rocano did not come home, his worried sisters visited the company on
Monday, they said. Ana Rocano said a manager told her: " 'Just wait. Wait. He's
out drinking or with a girlfriend somewhere and he'll show up.' " Mr. Casowitz
said that he could not confirm or deny the statement, but said that the manager
clearly did not know that there had been an accident.
The sisters called the police to report Mr. Rocano missing, and investigators
visited the site on Monday morning. An office manager at the company later
reviewed the video, and when it became clear what had happened, called the
police back to the site, Mr. Casowitz said. The truck and its load were tracked
to a landfill on Spagnoli Road in Melville, N.Y., where the body was found
shortly after noon on Tuesday.
No criminal charges have been filed, and the company does not expect any, Mr.
Casowitz said. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is
investigating, a spokesman said. Work at the station continued yesterday.
Mr. Rocano's family plans to return his body to Ecuador for burial. Mr. Casowitz
said the company would like to help defray the cost of the funeral. But, he
said, no one at the company knew how to reach Mr. Rocano's sister.
Mick Meenan contributed reporting for this article.
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Ed Peck is in no hurry
to get there, but when the time comes for him to go to eternity, he wants his
last earthly stop to be consistent with his social station.
So Mr. Peck, a real estate developer who made his fortune in Florida
condominiums in the 1970's, not long ago joined a small but growing number of
Americans who have erected that most pharaonic of monuments to life-in-death,
the private family mausoleum.
A Greek-pillared neo-Classical style structure of white granite, Mr. Peck's
mausoleum has a granite patio, a meditation room, doors of hand-cast bronze and
a chandelier. The family name is carved and gilded above a lintel that in the
original sales model carried the legend "Your Name."
Developed just over two years ago to accommodate a growing demand for mausoleums
like the one Mr. Peck bought, which including its lot has a retail cost of
$400,000, the Private Estate Section at the century-old Daytona Memorial Park
here has 15 lake-view lots. Six have been sold.
"The mausoleum says, 'I'm really significant in this world, I think I'm really
significant to my family,' and this is one way to communicate that to the
community," said Nancy Lohman, an owner along with her husband, Lowell, of this
and several dozen other Florida cemeteries and funeral homes.
Mr. Peck, 87, an Atlanta native with a sonorous voice and a laconic manner,
framed a similar thought more modestly. "It began to occur to me that I did not
want to be in the ground covered with weeds and whatnot and totally forgotten,"
he said. "I don't like the idea of dirt being dumped on me."
Six feet up and not six feet under is increasingly the direction in which people
want their remains stored when they die, representatives of the funeral industry
say. In addition to custom single-family mausoleums, community mausoleums for
both coffins and cremated remains are also gaining popularity; in classical or
contemporary styles, these often have room to hold hundreds of niches for
coffins or urns.
The Cold Spring Granite Company, among the country's largest makers of cemetery
monuments, sold 2,000 private mausoleums last year, up from about 65 during a
good year in the 1980's. Prices range from $250,000 to "well into the millions,"
said Michael T. Baklarz, a vice president of the company.
The development is perhaps logically to be expected of those at the leading edge
of the baby boom generation, which forms the bulk of the market. The progression
seems natural for the folks who gave the world blocklong, gas-hogging sport
utility vehicles and lot-hogging 40,000-square-foot suburban homes.
"It's in keeping with the McMansion mentality of boomers," said Thomas Lynch, an
author and funeral director in Michigan. "Real estate is an extension of
The market for the custom structures is greatest on the coasts, although
exclusive estate sections have recently been set aside for private mausoleums at
cemeteries in Atlanta, Cleveland and Minneapolis.
Some mausoleums echo the temple of the goddess Fortuna Virilis in Rome. Some are
hefty, rusticated stone barns. Some have more square footage than a good-size
Manhattan studio apartment, their interiors fitted out with hand-knotted
carpets, upholstered benches and nooks for the display of memorabilia. In late
2004, a Southern California family ordered a mausoleum with room for 12 coffins,
20 cremation niches and a patterned marble vestibule.
Commonplace in the 19th century, when both newly prosperous immigrants and
robber barons vied to stake claims on American soil by investing in the only
real estate that is "permanently valuable," as Mark Twain famously remarked, the
mausoleum seemed to have lost favor in recent years.
More people were choosing to be cremated — industry experts say that more than a
quarter of the 2.3 million people who died in 2004 were cremated — and some
opted for new forms of interment like the "green burials" that flickered onto
the cultural radar after a character from the HBO series "Six Feet Under" was
buried unembalmed and without a coffin, in an unmarked grave protected by a
Yet the brief buzz about eco-burial, executives from America's nearly $15
billion funeral industry say, may obscure the larger reality that, as in
seemingly every other facet of contemporary life, the taste for personalization
has touched the funeral industry in time to provide an otherwise static business
with an opportunity for growth.
"Nobody wants a cookie-cutter burial anymore," said Robert M. Fells, the
external operating officer of the International Cemetery and Funeral
Association, the industry's leading trade group. At the group's annual
convention in March in Las Vegas, the resurgent interest in building private
mausoleums was striking, Mr. Fells said.
"The private family mausoleum used to be considered a high-ticket, upscale item
that only the wealthy could afford," Mr. Fells said, and there is no reason to
amend that impression given that $250,000 is the average base price to build a
private family tomb. "The pendulum is swinging back to people being willing to
spend money for things that are meaningful to them," he said.
The need to create "new concepts in the death care industry," said Christine
Toson Hentges, vice president of a company that owns three cemeteries in
Wisconsin, has helped increase the appeal of private estate sections.
"We've reversed the traditional way of selling," Ms. Hentges added.
Traditionally, funeral directors or cemetery owners began their post-mortem
pitch to families by quoting the most affordable options. "But now we're going
top-down and starting with private buildings," she said, "because there is this
influx of people who are financially successful and who are thinking about these
issues and how to have a structure that tells the story of their lives."
At the historic Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, a spokesman said that there had
been no marked increase in private mausoleums lately, but last year the cemetery
completed a five-story, $16 million crypt mausoleum for 2,500, replete with
skylights and waterfalls.
"All of this is recent," said Herbert B. Klapper, president of Cedar Park
Cemetery, a 300-acre site in Paramus, N.J., that offers burials in mausoleums
where crypt space is priced the way urban real estate often is, by neighborhood
and floor. (From the ground or "prayer" level, crypt prices ascend to the
"heart" level and then to "eye" and are reduced again for the harder-to-reach
berths at a tier called "touch.")
Yet the most grandiose niche in Paramus is humble compared with the granite
extravaganza erected at Daytona Memorial Park to house the mortal remains of L.
Gale Lemerand, a Florida philanthropist who founded a residential insulation
company that he sold in 1995 for an estimated $150 million.
Two $4,000 Medjool date palms shade Mr. Lemerand's red granite mausoleum, which
cost $650,000 and has ample space, as the cemetery co-owner Lowell Lohman
explained, to accommodate Mr. Lemerand, 71, along with his family.
A granite balustrade flanks the doorway and from it one can stand and gaze
across a palm-fringed lake, where two swans named Ed and Hilda glide, adding to
the pastoral landscape an almost inevitable touch of Evelyn Waugh. On the far
shore is Ed Peck's family tomb.
"People who are going to be buried here can well afford it, so money is
obviously not an issue," Mr. Peck said on an afternoon of blustery winds that
propelled an armada of fleecy postcard clouds across the Florida sky. "It's a
very pleasant place to be. As pleasant as it could be, considering."
January 16, 2006
The New York Times
By GARY GATELY
BUCKHANNON, W.Va., Jan. 15 - On the horrific
morning when their hope turned to heartbreak, miners' families came to this town
to identify bodies and to seek solace in the Georgian-style chapel on the campus
of West Virginia Wesleyan College.
The families returned on Sunday, along with 2,300 other mourners, to say goodbye
to the 12 men who were killed Jan. 2 at the Sago Mine, seven miles south of
here, and to give thanks for the men they knew and loved.
Mourners began filing into the sanctuary more than 90 minutes before the
service, and the crowd spilled into a gymnasium, where 500 people watched the
service on a video screen and heard it through speakers. Outside the chapel, a
miner's helmet sat atop a wooden cross, boots beneath it. Those at the service
wore white ribbons that said "Sago 2006."
Family members lighted white candles on the altar, one for each of the 12
miners, while Anna McCloy, the wife of the sole survivor, Randal McCloy Jr.,
lighted a red candle in his honor.
The last time some family members had been on the quiet campus was to identify
the fallen miners at a makeshift morgue in an old school building owned by the
college. Many of them then went to Wesley Chapel to grieve, remember and pray.
But Sunday's service focused less on the deaths and more on the lives of the
miners. They were praised as men who had a work ethic that would not quit, who
hunted and fished and followed Nascar races when they were not in the hollow of
a mountain, who laughed and loved to tell stories, who had unshakable faith.
Homer H. Hickam Jr., an author, recalled the words of his father, a miner:
"There's no men in this world like miners; they're good men, strong men, the
best there is. No matter where you go, you will never know such good and strong
men." Mr. Hickam - whose memoir, "Rocket Boys," chronicled his upbringing in the
town of Coalwood, W.Va., and was later turned into the movie "October Sky" -
traveled from his new home in Alabama to attend the service.
The Rev. Wease Day, pastor of Sago Baptist Church, recalled two miners he knew
well, James A. Bennett, 61, of Philippi, and George Hamner, 54, of Gladyfork,
who was known as Junior.
"I'm sure there was a prayer meeting going on in that coal mine the other day
like we've never heard before," Mr. Day said. "I can hear Jim Bennett hollering,
'Boys, you need the Lord in your life.' Then I can hear Junior Hamner saying,
'Anybody got any cards? Let's play a round.' "
As others spoke of hope, healing and honor, photos of the miners flashed on a
huge screen behind the altar, and some sobbed at the sight. But the Rev. Mark
Flynn, pastor of First United Methodist Church in Buckhannon, urged mourners to
believe the miners were in a better place.
Gov. Joe Manchin III recalled a drawing in a newspaper that showed St. Peter on
top of the clouds and one of the Sago miners reaching toward him amid brilliant
sunshine at the gates to heaven.
"It looks like we're still in West Virginia," the miner said.
Mr. Manchin spoke of the long night at Sago Baptist Church, where family members
and friends had gathered to await word and where there was a brief moment of
elation with the news - later proved heart-wrenchingly in error - that 12 miners
had been found alive. "During those difficult hours that we were together," he
said, "we grew stronger."
The governor also renewed his promise that a thorough investigation would
determine why the accident happened and find ways to prevent a repeat.
"We cannot know the purpose of this tragedy, but I pledge to you we will
determine the cause," Mr. Manchin said. "Your loved ones did not die in vain."
At the end of the service, thousands of white balloons were released into the
Outside, in a white memory tent, easels held photographs of the miners and a big
board where people could leave notes. Many mourners left prayers and good
A note to one miner, Jerry Groves said, "Enjoy heaven until we get there," and
was signed Wanda. Another, to Jack Weaver, read, "Love heals."
A single red rose for each miner, each with a white ribbon and a picture of one
of the 12, had been placed in the tent.
On David Lewis's rose, a note read, "From almost heaven West Virginia to the
And a note to Jesse Jones said, "God definitely has 12 more angels. God bless
BUCKHANNON, W.Va., Jan. 8 - West Virginians
began burying their fallen miners on Sunday, mourning their losses but
celebrating the lives and legacies of men who prided themselves on making a
living by harvesting coal from deep within the earth.
In the mountain hamlets surrounding the Sago Mine, hundreds of mourners turned
out for the funerals of 6 of the 12 men who died there last week. But the grief,
sympathy and prayers extended well beyond the funerals, most of them private
services from which reporters were banned.
White ribbons and bows adorned utility poles in Buckhannon, and dozens of
roadside signs conveyed the somber mood. "Healing hurts," one sign said outside
a doughnut shop here. One just north of town read, "God just got 12 new angels."
At the service for Jesse L. Jones, a 44-year-old miner from Pickens, the Rev.
Donald Butcher, pastor of Sand Run Baptist Church, spoke the names of each of
the 12 men killed at the mine and spoke of their way of making a living and
making a life.
"You see, coal miners are a different breed of men; they don't have any fear,"
Mr. Butcher said to about 200 mourners at a funeral chapel just north of the
mine. Miners, he said, give us electricity for lights as well as powerful
lessons on working tirelessly, no matter the circumstances.
"God gives us people who are heroes, and we don't even realize it," he said. "We
got lots of coal miners here with us today. America is great because of this
profession and because of men like Jesse, who put their lives on the line."
The pastor spoke of one of Mr. Jones's grandfathers, who was killed in a mine
explosion, and of members of his own family, one of whom lost his sight and
others who lost their fingers mining.
The other miners buried Sunday were Alva Martin Bennett, 51; Jerry Groves, 56;
David Lewis, 28; Martin Toler, 51; and Jack Weaver, 52.
At Sago Baptist Church, where inaccurate first reports of the survival of 12
miners brought euphoria that later turned to grief, the Rev. Wease Day stood in
front of a huge picture of the Last Supper during regular Sunday morning
services and tried to make sense of it all.
Wearing a blue tie with the face of Jesus on it, Mr. Day told the congregation,
"The other night when we received what we all believed to be good news, we all
shouted and rejoiced, but you know when the other news came it broke our hearts
But, he said, God would never forsake his people and was with them throughout
the heartbreaking ordeal even if they could not understand or answer the
"Many times people think, 'Well, it was God's fault,' " Mr. Day said, "but God
has a master plan, and everything comes together in that master plan. He was in
control every minute.
"We were in this building the other night and it came to mind that the spirit
was so great here and it was so great outside and God had just covered these old
hilltops with his holy spirit, his holy power."
After the service, the church bells rang 12 times, echoing through the
mountains. Just down the road near the entrance to the Sago Mine, 12 black
ribbons hung from a fence.
Even as the towns mourned their dead, people kept praying for the recovery of
the sole survivor of the mine disaster, Randal McCloy Jr., 26. Doctors at West
Virginia University Hospitals, where Mr. McCloy is being treated, said that he
remained in critical condition Sunday night but that his heart, lung and muscle
functions had improved.
Mr. McCloy was breathing on his own, and doctors had stopped sedating him.
At First United Methodist Church, the pastor, the Rev. Mark Flynn, told
congregants that he had been with the families of the miners almost nonstop for
"I went to Sago to minister to those families, and they ministered to me," Mr.
Flynn said. "I was touched by the strength, the love and the wisdom. In those
dark days and nights at the Sago Baptist Church, I saw some light. I saw light
in the faith and love of the family members with whom I talked.
"Their faith was not just a vague notion that somehow everything would turn out
as they wished. These people believe that they and their loved ones were in the
hands of God, no matter what happened in that mine."
There is one New York for the living, another
for the dead. Fourteen miles from the New Year's Eve preparations at Times
Square, on some of the city's rare green hills, is a place where the two often
meet: Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx.
Thomas Soukas, 66, went there yesterday morning to light a candle for his
father. The day held no particular significance for Mr. Soukas. He visits his
father's grave every five days or so, replacing the old candle with a new one.
His father died in 2001, and still Mr. Soukas visits regularly, bearing new
Christopher Soukas was 86 years old when he died of cancer. He left behind three
sons, eight grandchildren and his wife, Alexandra. He had worked as a furrier in
Manhattan; his wife - they had been married 62 years - still has the mink coat
he made for her years ago.
Snowflakes dusted the grave and the flowers and the headstone as Mr. Soukas bent
down to lift open the silver lid of the red-tinted candleholder.
"I'm not sure who's better off," said Mr. Soukas, a retired banker. "The ones
that don't come at all, or the ones that come regularly like me. Time heals, to
a certain extent. You just do less crying, that's all."
This was how New Year's Eve was marked at Woodlawn yesterday - as a quiet kind
of afterthought amid personal mourning. There were no crowds. There were only
two burials, of Stephen Bartko and Johnny Morris, and three cremations, of
Vincent Grayman, Marvin Grimes and Barbara Shuler.
There was a man who stood at his mother's grave on a hill, sipping a cup of
coffee in the cold. It was her birthday.
"To me, it's a place for the living, not a place for the dead," said Steven G.
Sloane, vice president of the nonsectarian cemetery. "Everybody should have a
spot where you can be remembered."
The last day of the year feels a lot like any other at Woodlawn. It is a
timeless place, far enough removed from the bustle of the city that each crunchy
step on the leaves and twigs seems to echo, yet not isolated enough to shut out
completely the sounds of the outside world - police sirens, the low hum of
traffic on East 233rd Street, jets overhead.
Woodlawn is a kind of melancholy city-within-a-city, permanent population
303,400, with its own lake, street signs, curvy avenues and neighborhood
clusters with names like Evergreen, Crown Grove and Rose Hill. Elaborate and
expensive monuments and mausoleums rise high above the ground like stone
skyscrapers, some as tall as three-story buildings. Yesterday morning, the snow
coated them all, from giant obelisks that tower like miniature Washington
Monuments to small, simple headstones.
Thin white lines formed along the carving of a ship in front of a mausoleum for
Isidor and Ida Straus, who drowned together on the Titanic in April 1912. "Many
waters," an inscription reads, "cannot quench love - neither can the floods
Two victims of another historic disaster are also at Woodlawn, side by side:
Firefighters Manuel Del Valle Jr. and Gerard Baptiste, who both died on Sept.
The cemetery, like the city itself, is home to both fame and obscurity.
Not long after its first burial in 1865, Woodlawn became known as the resting
place for some of New York's legendary figures. Buried here are Fiorello H. La
Guardia, the celebrated mayor; Robert Moses, the master power broker; and Herman
Melville, the author of "Moby-Dick," whose gravestone, decorated with a blank
scroll, has a collection of small rocks recent visitors placed on top.
But the icons of old New York share these 400 acres with everyday New Yorkers.
Here are Nellie Bly, the reporter, and Frank Woolworth, the discount store king.
Then there is Thomas N. Demakakos, a retired electrician with Local 3.
Mr. Demakakos died at the age of 75, two days before Christmas. He was a Korean
War veteran, and he is buried alongside his comrades in the 9th Regiment of the
New York Guard.
He earned the nickname Uncle Tom, because even strangers would think of him as
family and seek out his advice, his relatives said.
"That's what we're all going to miss - the long conversations," said his
daughter, Paulette Kouroupakis, who visited her father's grave yesterday with
her brother, sister, mother and other family members. "He was always there by
the phone, waiting for our calls."
Mr. Soukas, who brought a candle for his father, waved to a groundskeeper who
passed by. He finds a kind of peace here, and sorrow, too. There, on the barren
patch of earth where he stood, next to his father's headstone, is the spot where
he himself will be buried one day.
There has been a great deal of death in the
news, so I apologise to readers for what might look like an entire column on the
subject. In fact, though, it is about life.
In 1949, a Jew from the Warsaw ghetto, called David Tasma, lay dying of cancer
in London. He had no family, but he was comforted by a tall, shy, young woman
almoner (hospital social worker), who was more than half in love with him. He
left her everything he had, which was £500, and told her that this would make "a
window in your home".
In 1967, that home took the form of St Christopher's Hospice in Sydenham. There
are now more than 200 hospices based on its model in Britain, and the hospice
movement is active in more than 120 countries. The woman almoner was called
She died last week, of a cancer from which she had suffered for several years,
in the home that Tasma's bequest inspired. Dame Cicely has attracted admiring
obituaries, of course, but I am not sure that people have quite noticed the
scale of her achievement.
To the dying Tasma, Cicely recited the 23rd Psalm, the favourite for funerals.
It says, "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will
fear no evil." Almost all of us, when our time comes to take that walk, fear
evil very much indeed. She observed this, and worked out how to minister to that
A living message from the valley of the shadow of death
The Daily Telegraph 23 July 2005
Dame Cicely's gift was to unite the physical
with the spiritual. She started as a nurse and had to give that up because of
back trouble and become an almoner. Then, in her thirties, she returned to
school to become a doctor.
She was therefore an entire professional health care team in one. When she was a
nurse during the war, she was horrified by how patients had to "earn their
morphine" by exhibiting unmanageable levels of pain. Doctors shunned it, because
of fear of addiction and because they thought it did not work by mouth.
In research which she began in the late 1950s, Cicely Saunders discovered that
pain could be managed by oral drugs, and that if, in terminal cases, people were
given strong analgesia before the onset of pain, they could be relieved with
relatively small doses, and without addiction.
This was a purely medical discovery. But with it, she developed the concept of
"total pain". She saw that people's suffering as they approached death might
involve everything about their lives - their fear of extinction or punishment,
their anxiety for the family they were leaving, their remorse, their sense of
This was real pain, which heightened the physical agony, just as the physical
agony heightened the other fears. Her answer was to listen to the dying, on the
grounds that each death, like each life, was unique: "You matter because you are
you, and you matter to the end of your life."
Common sense, you might say, common humanity. Yet it went against the prevailing
medical view. When he set up the National Health Service, Aneurin Bevan declared
that he would "rather be kept alive in the efficient if cold altruism of a large
hospital than expire in a gush of sympathy in a small one".
That coldness was seen by many as a virtue in itself. Death was a form of
inefficiency and, for a doctor, a sort of failure, since it could never be
"cured". Dying was not part of the vision of the NHS. Recent evidence about what
happens to old people in so many hospitals today (see Panorama's programme this
week) suggests that it still isn't. This is a great moral, human disaster.
Dame Cicely understood that the "gush of sympathy" or, rather, the calm, steady
flow of the stuff was just as much a part of the ministry of health (as opposed
to the Ministry of Health) as was technical expertise. She sought "the match
between heart and mind - research, training, understanding, had to be matched
with the vulnerable friendship of the heart".
Almost as bad as sheer neglect of the dying was the belief - convenient for
professionals, and also for those families who didn't want the difficult
conversations - that the approach of death, particularly in the form of cancer,
should be concealed from the patient because it was unbearable.
It wasn't the kindest thing to jolly people along, Dame Cicely thought: it was a
failure to confront the truth, to acquire "the full understanding of what is
happening". Again and again she found (and she went on personally ministering to
the dying right into her seventies) that if people had the chance to work
through their perplexities, they could face what was coming.
She particularly remembered one man who had been in great agony of mind, but had
at last resolved it, about an hour before he died: "Suddenly he looked amused."
Talk mattered a great deal, she believed, but so did silence, and she emphasised
how important it was that people should have the right things to look upon - art
by their beds, design that soothed, a chapel to pray in.
The phrase "being there for someone" is now a cliché of pop-psychology, but it
means something, and Dame Cicely thought of it. She derived it from Jesus's
request to his disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane the night before his death:
"Watch with me" (an injunction which they disobeyed).
I did not know Cicely Saunders. I gather from people who did that she had the
mental toughness which is to human goodness what physical fitness is to
athletes. You and I read thrillers in the bath: she read spiritual classics.
She said that her favourite pastime was "a sacred cow shoot". She was
formidable, could even be forbidding. She stared at you, unblinking. People who
disagreed with her sometimes got short shrift. She fitted the Florence
Nightingale, Mother Teresa model of fierce devotion to the great task.
But when she spoke of the "vulnerability of the heart", she knew what that
meant, too. She had loved David Tasma, and it was his loss that inspired her.
When doing her research into pain control at St Joseph's Hackney, she fell in
love with a second Pole, who died there. She eventually married a third Pole,
Marian Bohusz-Szyszko, an artist, who died in 1995. "Total pain" was something
she had seen, had felt. People who watched her die testified that she had
Because of demography and medical advance, there has never been a time in our
civilisation when death has come so stealthily and so late to so many. Compared
with our forebears, we are privileged. But as is often the case with the
privileged, we are also frightened.
So we more and more seek euthanasia, which in turn only increases fear. We think
that we can take some bypass which avoids the valley of the shadow of death. No,
says Cicely Saunders: we're all on the same journey; let us make it together, to
the very end.
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Limited and must not be reproduced in any medium without licence.
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A 26-year-old brain
dead pregnant woman kept on life support for almost three months at a Virginia
hospital gave birth to a baby girl on Tuesday, a hospital spokeswoman said.
The baby, delivered by caesarean section, weighed one pound and 13 ounces (0.8
kg) and was being monitored in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Virginia
Hospital Center, the hospital said in a statement.
The mother, Susan Torres, suffered a stroke on May 7 in the 17th week of her
pregnancy due to an aggressive melanoma and was brain dead, her family said.
A statement on The Susan M. Torres Fund Web site said the baby, named Susan Anne
Catherine Torres, was doing well and there were no complications during
The fund was established to help the Torres family raise money to defray medical
costs not covered by insurance. The mother was kept on life support at Virginia
Hospital Center to allow time for the fetus to develop.
"The entire staff and administration of Virginia Hospital Center, especially the
physicians and nurses caring for Susan Torres and Baby Girl Torres, are
delighted with the successful delivery," the hospital statement said.