Friday, February 12, 2016

Grief Hallucinations or Visitations

Reports were released last week of taxi drivers in Japan telling of how they had picked up “ghost passengers” in areas heavily damaged by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami. A disaster in which more than 25,000 people died.

Drivers described stopping for fares who requested to be taken to the areas that were devastated by the tsunami; then enroute, the person simply vanished from the cab. One driver was telling his customer about losing a loved one in the tsunami when he realized no one was there. Cabbies reported that most of these “passengers” were young, and seemed not to know that they had died.

Is this phenomena real? Or is it what some would call a hallucination?

According to the Oxford Dictionary, a hallucination is “an experience involving the apparent perception of something not present: a delusion, illusion or figment of the imagination., describes a hallucination as “a profound distortion in a person's perception of reality, typically accompanied by a powerful sense of reality. An hallucination may be a sensory experience in which a person can see, hear, smell, taste, or feel something that is not there.”

So could these occurrences be considered “grief hallucinations?” Some psychiatrists believe that grief, or post-bereavement hallucinations are common for those who have lost a loved one. Some in the industry say that they are beneficial.

Although grief is a profoundly individual experience, the majority of us tend to have an “encounter” with a loved one soon after their death. These incidents can involve seeing, hearing, smelling and/or being touched by a loved one.

The academic term for this experience is known as “idionecrophany - a combination of the Greek words idios (private), nekros (dead), and phainestai (to appear). The word was coined in 1992 by American sociologist William L. Macdonald to explain a sensory experience of claimed contact with the dead.

Scientific American reported that 82% of subjects studied for grief hallucinations had admitted to at least one idionecrophanic experience, which occurred during the first month after the death of someone close; 71% told of an experience three months following the death, and 52% still experienced some sort of occurrence 12 months after the death.

These visits may occur through a dream, getting a whiff of a familiar perfume or pipe tobacco, hearing otherworldly music, or laughter. But no one reports of being afraid during these “visits.” In fact, most who experience them, welcome them and find them comforting. And those in the psychiatric field will quickly clarify that bereavement hallucinations do not indicate psychosis.

Of course, there are those who will claim that it's your mind’s way of keeping someone dear close to you because you’re not quite ready to let go. Possibly. But it’s also possible that we do make that contact across the void because of the real emotional connection we’ve had before death.

I have had several experiences with idionecrophany. I have been “visited” by my grandmother, my great-grandmother, my grandfather, a sister from another life, and the man who was like a father to me. All of them delivering variations of the same message, “I made it, I’ve found my loved ones, I’m happy.

Our pets also send a similar message if we are open to receiving it. Last week, we lost our Poodle to old age. Evie has been my constant companion for well into fifteen years. But saying good bye is never easy, and having to make that decision not to let her suffer was tough, simply because you don't want to say goodbye.

But last evening, as I sat working on family genealogy, I heard her snoring at my feet, as usual. It was only a beat later that I realized it couldn’t be her. I walked the room, checking her favorite pillows for ... something - an indentation, an appearance. Nothing, only the gentle snoring, which continued until I said her name. Then the sound stopped as if I had awakened her.

Was she there with me, spending another evening by the fire? Or did I hallucinate the sound of her snoring as my mind grappled with ancestors?

I prefer to believe that, yes, she dropped by for a visit and a rest, before heading out into that great unknown. And one night, she’ll visit me in a dream to let me know that she’s made it to the other side, and that she’s happy.

Isn't that we're all seeking? Reassurances that our loved ones are finally free from burdens, are happy, and ready to continue on in another realm? I believe so, and since they take the time to let us know, that just let's us know how much we mattered to them, too.

~ Joy

Friday, February 5, 2016

Ancient Egyptian Funerary Ship Discovered

An ancient funerary boat was discovered two years ago in Egypt, near Cairo, but the find was just announced Monday by Egypt’s Antiquities Minister.

In October 2013, an excavation team unearthed the ship and also discovered human remains at the Abusir site where fourteen pyramids are located.

Abusir Pyramids
Czech archaeologists were clearing a mastaba, or ancient tomb, at the Abusir South Cemetery, when they discovered human remains believed to be more than 4,500 years old. Officials believe the remains belonged to a distinguished resident since the Abusir site was where Egyptian kings of the Fifth Dynasty were interred.

Site of Barque
Archaeologists were continuing their excavation when they unearthed parts of a 59-foot barque-type boat- a highly unusual find due to the boat’s size. The ship was uncovered near the tomb’s southern wall and had been lying on rocks, covered by the desert sands for thousands of years. According to the antiquities ministry statement, the boat indicates the "extraordinary social position of the owner of the tomb.”

One Czech archaeologist said “boats of such a size and construction were reserved solely for top members of the society, who usually belonged to the royal family.

If not of the royal family, this person held an extraordinarily high social position, someone who had solid connections with the reigning pharaoh, archaeologists said.

Third Dynasty
According to the Egyptian Ministry, pottery discovered in the boat is much older than the Fifth Dynasty, possibly going back to the Third or Fourth Dynasty. It is believed that the boat is also of that era.

According to the Egyptian Ministry’s statement, "The wooden planks were joined by wooden pegs that are still visible in their original position. Extraordinarily, the desert sand has preserved the plant fiber battens which covered the planking seams."

Because the boat is still mostly intact, researchers expect to learn more about how Ancient Egyptians built their watercraft and how the ships were used in funerary services.

Egyptian Barque
Scholars believe that the funerary boats were barques; ships having three or more masts, used to transport the dead to the afterlife. Pharaohs and members of the royal families were entombed with barques built especially for their final journey. Ancient Egyptians believed that the deities traveled through the sky in barques. (The Milky Way was thought to be a waterway, like the Nile River.)

Khufu Ship
The last such Egyptian ship was discovered in 1954. One of the oldest and largest of the ancient boats was unearthed at the foot of the Great Pyramid of Giza.  The Khufu boat, so called because it was built for Khunum-Khufu, the second pharaoh of the Fourth Dynasty, was a 143 feet long funerary boat crafted from cedar. The ship is being reconstructed at the Giza Solar Boat Museum

Digging at the Abusir Pyramids began in 2009. The site is located south of the Pyramids of Giza. The excavation will continue until sometime in the spring.

~ Joy

Friday, January 29, 2016

WWI Zeppelin Crew Left To Die In North Sea - 1916

“War is hell” so the old adage goes. Far too true for the 16 German soldiers that survived the crash of a Zeppelin in the North Sea, only to be left to die by a British skipper and his crew.

Capt. Odo Lowe
It was January 31, 1916 when nine German zeppelins headed out to bomb the English Midlands. Commanded by Captain Lieutenant Odo Lowe, the L-19, a German Imperial Navy Zeppelin, was on her first bombing raid after having spent the previous autumn as a scouting vessel over the North Sea.

The surprise raid was one of the largest launched against Britain during WW1. It was considered a success with the Germans dropping close to 400 bombs on the villages of Burton on Trent, Birmingham and Tipton. The L-19 caused no damage, unlike her sister ships, which killed more than 70 people and injured another 113.

German L-19
But on her return flight, engine problems began to develop for the L-19. With a malfunctioning radio, and three of her four engines failing, the airship came under fire from the Dutch as it drifted over Holland, a neutral country. The shooting punctured the gas cells, and the airship crashed into the North Sea during the night of February 1 – 2, 1916. Two crew members were killed, but 15 men and Captain Lowe survived.

Print of L-19 and King Stephen Fishing Vessel
The next morning, February 2, the King Stephen, a British fishing vessel, arrived at the wreckage site, after following the L-19’s distress signals for most of the night. The trawler’s skipper, William Martin with his crew of nine men, waited until daylight before approaching the broken zeppelin. There they discovered 16 German soldiers waiting on top of the sinking airship. Captain Lowe requested that his men be rescued, but Martin refused to give aid. Instead he sailed back to his homeport of Grimsby, Britain before reporting the downed airship to authorities.

The weather was growing worse as the airmen watched Martin’s vessel disappear. Those that could wrote out short messages for their loved ones and placed them in bottles to be thrown into the sea.

Captain Lowe’s final note read:
"With fifteen men on the top platform and backbone girder of the L 19, floating without gondolas in approximately 3 degrees East longitude, I am attempting to send a last report. Engine trouble three times repeated, a light wind on the return journey delayed our return and, in the mist, carried us over Holland where I was received with heavy rifle fire; the ship became heavy and simultaneously three engines broke down. 2 February 1916, towards one o'clock, will apparently be our last hour.”

Martin said later that he refused to rescue the airmen because he was afraid the Germans would overpower his crew and take control of the boat. 
Almost 50 years later a remaining crewman reported that Martin had been fishing in prohibited waters and knew if he’d returned with rescued soldiers, he would have had to report where he had been, which would have resulted in his being banned from fishing for breaking the law. Instead, the skipper gave Royal Navy authorities false coordinates for the downed zeppelin so no one would ever know he'd been fishing illegally.
The British, and the world, were divided on their sentiments. Some saw Martin’s act of abandonment as necessary in order to protect his crew. Others saw it as an act of retribution for the Germans having bombed civilian targets on January 31.

But still others felt that Martin’s refusal to save the men had been unpardonably cruel. The thought of leaving 16 helpless men to drowned in the North Sea – enemy or not – did not sit well with the morality of British citizens.

German Propaganda medal
The Germans used the incident for propaganda with an anti-British medal designed  showing the men on the L-19 being abandoned to the sea.

English Postal Box
The King Stephen never sailed again as a fishing vessel. The British Navy took it over as a Q-ship, and the Germans sunk it three months later. Captain William Martin died just over a year after the incident of heart failure. During his last year, Martin continued to receive letters and messages of support, along with death threats and hate mail.

~ Joy

Friday, January 15, 2016

Social Media, Death and Mourning

We share our hopes, our dreams, our joys, and our disasters on social media - be it new jobs, long-distance moves, joyous births, long-awaited marriages, or the finality for us all - death. But is social media the right platform to use to share and express our grief?

Although technology has changed the way we mourn, that doesn’t mean it’s become trivialized, or that social media has made it any less meaningful. In fact, experts say that the internet offers a form of instant support that can comfort and sustain us through the heartaches of death and grief by letting us know we are not alone.

Unlike the Victorian Era when mourning had a prescribed time limit and manner of dress, today there are no set-in-stone rules. Social media can keep us connected to the world, but still allow us private time alone.

We sustain ourselves by sharing our grief with others, be it family, close friends, co-workers, or a social media group we belong to. While this may not have been the way your parents grieved, it still allows for that needed human connection.

On Facebook, the deceased's page may become a heart-felt memorial  where friends, on-line and off, can pay their respects by leaving thoughts, messages and photos. This sharing can act as a catalyst for pain and grieving.

Walter Cronkite Announcing President Kennedy's Death
Remember, it wasn’t that long ago when newspaper, radio and television obits informed us of a death. Isn’t the internet just another way in which we communicate with each other?

In the end, each of us will have to make our own decision concerning mourning on social media. 

I suppose you could look it as our 21st century way of acknowledging a death. And just like our Victorian ancestors who hung mourning wreaths on the doors and scattered straw on the street in front of the deceased’s home so that the sounds of life were muted for a time; social media now gives us a chance to share our loss and grief with others and be sustained by them, while still allowing us the privacy to bow our heads and mourn.

~ Joy

Friday, January 8, 2016

6 Ways To Invite The Community Into Your Cemetery

Everything old is new again.” That phrase can encapsulate many cemeteries in the U.S. today. What became known as scary places filled with spooky superstitions is once again being embraced by the public.

Today, the community is being beckoned back to the bucolic atmosphere of the cemetery to enjoy a stroll, some music, a tour, even an event … just like our ancestors did in the 19th Century.

These hallowed grounds were designed as park-like settings for the purpose of creating a comfortable and lasting place that people could enjoy.

Today, we can entice our communities back into the cemetery by a number of methods: here are six to get you started.

1. Social Media
Yes, I know, you’ve managed just fine for x-amount of years without resorting to social media, so why try it now? Because this is the wave of the future – actually no, it’s already a very big part of the present. If you can only do one platform, let it be Facebook. There are over 1.01 billion active daily users, and 1.55 billion users per month. Suffice it to say you’ll need to learn the ins and outs, but it will be worth it. After all, your target audience, Baby Boomers, have embraced it.

2. Blogging
Blogging is better than a news release (You do use those, right?) to get your cemetery’s name out there. A blog can keep your cemetery in the forefront of people’s minds by expressing ideas and offering them all kinds of interesting information; it’s a way to stay active in your field, to connect with the community, to promote your cemetery, and to just have fun. It doesn’t have to be a dissertation; it just needs to be informative and real.

3. Volunteers
The main reason people do not volunteer is because no one has asked! Volunteers can be the life-blood of an organization. Start asking for volunteers in your newsletters. (You do that too, right?) Let people know that you would welcome their assistance and have a list of things written down that they can choose to do. Keep the duties simple, let it be fun and your volunteers will become the cemetery’s ambassadors throughout your community.

4. Videos
Today, the technology is too easily available not to have a video of your cemetery. It could be something on the most prominent ‘residents’, or simply a welcoming message from your CEO or superintendent. Once you start thinking, the ideas are endless, and a short, well thought-out video can gain you well deserved attention. Especially if you use it on your website, incorporate it into your blog, and tout it in your newsletter. Also, be sure to post it on your YouTube channel (I’m not going to ask, just get one.) and follow up with a news release.

5. Tours
Cemeteries around the country are slowly embracing “the tour” as an opportunity to get the public to visit their grounds. I’ve heard some people say that there is nothing 'special’ about their cemetery. Sorry, but that’s bull! Every cemetery has something special about it – the land, the story of the founding, the people buried there, the stones and artwork, the community’s history; it’s all relevant and interesting to people. Tours can be led by volunteers or costumed interpreters, and taken by riding a trolley, or walking through the grounds. It doesn’t matter how you do it, it only matters that you do it.

6. Events
Mid-sized and smaller cemeteries are slow to embrace this idea, afraid of appearing less than professional. But events can bring hundreds of people into your cemetery. Lawn concerts are favorite events, so are flower and tree walks, community picnics, and special dedications or remembrances. Some cemeteries have re-enactors portray what life was like during a specific time in the community’s history.

There are hundreds more ideas, but these should get you thinking in the right direction. You may start small, but with time and effort you can keep it growing.

(If you need help with ideas, or suggestions on how to implement those ideas, contact me. I’d be happy to work with your cemetery on a contractual basis. If you have a heritage foundation, or the leeway to create a position for someone to expand public relations and events; build and grow your social media and the online presence, and develop and maintain great media contacts, let me know. I have the knowledge and experience, and am looking for the right opportunity.)

Here’s to making 2016 a year where “everybody knows your name.”

~ Joy

Friday, December 18, 2015

Book Review: A Christmas Canticle by Frank E. Bittinger

For those of us who love a good ghost story, no matter what time of year it is, Frank E. Bittinger provides a fun holiday read with A Christmas Canticle.

Channeling Charles Dickens' novella A Christmas Carol for inspiration, Bittinger gives us his version of Ebenezer Scrooge - Bronson Ghostley, a demanding gothic horror author, paranormal television star, and all-around media personality who has no time for sentiment or holidays.

This twist on the familiar holiday tale has been up-dated to the 21st century complete with cell phones, DVDs and the internet. Although the story is predictable as to the purpose of the visiting spirits (And how could it not be?), Bittinger leads us along with enough interesting details that we accept Ghostley as a modern-day Scrooge.

His spin on Marley’s ghost is unique and interesting, especially when you begin to understand the backstory of Ghostley’s childhood. The Ghost of Christmas Past has a unique vision, offering Ghostley “two sides of the same coin.” The Spirit of Christmas Present provides more illumination into what makes Ghostley tick, reminding him, and us, that “even when we can see, sometimes we are still blind.”

The final spirit, the dreaded Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come, is a “real bite in the ass” according to Ghostley. But the death coach that propels Ghostley into the future does seem pretty cool!

All in all, A Christmas Canticle is an enjoyable holiday read offering a message that transcends religious ideology and simply asks that we treat our fellow man, woman, and the animals, with respect and caring.

[The Youngblood’s 1960s song Get Together kept running through my mind as the perfect soundtrack for this book:

Come on people now

Smile on your brother
Everybody get together
Try to love one another
Right now]

The Author and A Friend
Bittinger originally wrote his book as a Kindle exclusive to raise money for animals in need.  Now available in paperback, a portion of the royalties from A Christmas Canticle are used to assist in rescuing and caring for animals that have been abused and neglected. So go ahead, order the book and enjoy the guilty pleasure of reading a rejuvenated Christmas novella by the fire knowing that you're helping to save lives, too.

A Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good read!

~ Joy

About the Author:
Over the centuries, Frank Bittinger has experienced many existences. In this incarnation, Mr. Bittinger is a vegan who lives and writes in Western Maryland, sharing his home with a menagerie of pets, several alternate personalities, and the occasional ghost. One of his favorite pastimes is taking walks in old cemeteries in the evening. Ancient Egypt holds a fascination for him; he has a scarab beetle tattoo between his shoulder blades as well as a collection of Egyptian items and books in his deep, dark red bedroom. Learn more about the author at his web site:

Book Details:
A Christmas Canticle by Frank E. Bittinger
Published and available at  Amazon   (2014)

Friday, December 4, 2015

Twelve Terms of Death

We’ve all heard them - in fact, we’ve probably used them – those sometimes obscure references to death. The terms may be considered euphemistic, polite, even rather humorous slang, but they all indicate one thing - you’re “pushing up daisies.”

He came to a sticky end
This British phrase indicates that someone died in a rather unpleasant manner.

She’s as dead as a dodo
This was a popular phrase in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Dodos were a type of flightless bird that became extinct in the 17th century, so the saying indicates that someone is also “extinct” or gone.

He bit the big one
This expression is U.S. slang for having died: very popular in the 1970s.

She’s gone to that big ranch in the sky
The location of where the deceased went, in this case the “big ranch,” usually correlates with a place he or she visited in life.
Davy Jones Locker

He’s gone down to Davy Jones’ locker
Seamen used this phrase to indicate a sailor who drowned at sea, or a ship that went down in the ocean.

She’s shuffled off this mortal coil
This expression indicates that someone has rid themselves of their earthly troubles. Shakespeare used the phrase in Hamlet, “What dreams may come, when we have shuffled off this mortal coil, must give us pause.”

He bought the farm
This slang phrase derives from a farmer having a life insurance policy. When the farmer died, the insurance paid off the remainder of his debt and “bought the farm” for his family.

She’s as dead as a doornail
Although the phrase dates back to at least the 14th century, Charles Dickens gets the main credit because it is the narrator in A Christmas Carol who says, “Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail.” A doornail that has been bent is said to be “dead” – not usable. The expression indicates something, or someone, who is no longer of service.

He kicked the bucket
Believed to have come into use during the Middle Ages, this phrase was used when someone was hanged, and the bucket or stool on which they stood was moved, or kicked away.

She’s met her maker
A euphemistic expression indicating that the deceased has gone to meet God.

He’s six feet under
To be six feet under is to be dead and buried. Six feet is considered to be the common depth of a grave.

She’s pushing up daisies
Popular in the early 20th century, this expression was better known in the 1800's as “turning up one’s toes.” Regardless of the phrasing, it still meant someone was "dead and buried."

Now it’s time to “give up the ghost,” (which can mean ‘to die’, but it can also mean ‘to stop working’) and enjoy the weekend!
~ Joy