Friday, December 30, 2011

2011 - The Year In Review

I am amazed how quickly the year passes.  And at the end of each one, I’m always surprised to discover who passed that I was unaware of.  Today I remember just a few of those who left their mark (good or bad) on the world.  They have each affected our lives.

Elizabeth Taylor
Forest Lawn (Glendale)
An actress from Hollywood’s Golden Age died in March.  Elizabeth Taylor was known best for her beauty, her violet colored eyes, and her eight marriages – two to Richard Burton.  She was a child star who began acting in 1942 in the movie, There’s One Born Every Minute.  During her vast career she made over 70 acting appearances in movies and on television.  Taylor received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and was made a Dame of the British Empire in 2000.  She co-founded the American Foundation for AIDS Research and the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation.  In 1997, she was honored with the Life Achievement Award from the Screen Actors Guild.  She died on March 23, at the age of 79, in Los Angeles, California.  She is buried in Forest Lawn Memorial Park (Glendale) in the Great Mausoleum in L.A.

Geraldine Ferraro
St John Cemetery
The first female Vice Presidential candidate for a major American political party died near the end of March.  Geraldine Ferraro started her career as a lawyer in 1960, at a time when women were not expected to work outside of the home.  Her first political appointment came in 1974 as the Assistant District Attorney for Queens County, New York.  She was assigned to the Special Victims Bureau that prosecuted cases dealing with child abuse, domestic violence and rape.  She was appointed head of the unit in 1977.  In 1978, she was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.  During her time in Congress, she focused on issues dealing with women and equality.  In 1978, Presidential candidate Walter Mondale selected her as his running mate.  Mondale and Ferraro were later defeated by incumbent President Ronald Regan and his running mate George Bush.  Ferraro went on to co-host the CNN political talk show Crossfire during the mid-nineties. She ran twice for a seat in the Senate, both times being defeated. In 2006, Ferraro became involved in politics for a final time, working to support Hillary Rodham Clinton in her bid for President in the 2008 election.  At the time of her death, former running mate, Walter Mondale honored Ferraro's contributions to women and politics when he called her “a remarkable woman and a dear human being ... She was a pioneer in our country for justice for women and a more open society. She broke a lot of molds and it's a better country for what she did." Geraldine Ferraro died n March 26, in Boston, Massachusetts at the age of 74.  She is buried in St. John Cemetery in Middle Village, Queens, New York.

Osama bin Laden
September 11, 2001
The man who was responsible for the September 11, 2001 attacks carried out against the United States was killed in May. Osama bin Laden was a terrorist who founded and controlled the militant Islamist organization Al Qaeda.  He was killed after U.S. Navy SEALs and CIA Operatives were able to gain entrance to his compound.  Bin Laden died on May 1, 2011 in Pakistan at the age of 54.  He was buried at sea.

Dr. Jack Kevorkian
Photo by Steve Smark
He was a man who was both admired and hated for his stance on assisted suicide.  As a medical doctor, Jack Kevorkian, campaigned for a terminally ill patient’s right to death with dignity by physician- assisted suicide. Also known as 'Dr Death', Kevorkian admitted to assisting over 130 terminally ill patients who wanted to end their lives during the 1990’s.   He was tried and convicted in 1999 for assisting in the death of Thomas Youk, and sentenced to 10 – 25 years in prison.  He was granted an early release in 2007, after being diagnosed with liver cancer.  He had served eight years of his sentence. In 2008, Kevorkian ran as an independent candidate for the U.S. Congress.  He received almost 3% of the vote. Jack Kevorkian died on June 3, 2011 in Royal Oak, Michigan at the age of 83.  He is buried in White Chapel Memorial Park Cemetery.

First Lady Betty Ford
At the Gerald R. Ford Museum
In early July we lost a woman who was not afraid of public scrutiny, even thought she was the wife of the President.  Betty Ford was First Lady from 1974 to 1978 when her husband, Gerald Ford was president. She could easily be called the most candid First Lady ever.  Even though her husband was a Republican, Betty never failed to stand up for her convictions on social issues, she supported the Equal Rights Amendment, a woman’s right to choose, and equal pay for equal work.  She raised awareness that addiction could affect any one, making her battle with alcoholism public in the late 1970’s.   She later founded the Betty Ford Center for substance abuse and addiction.  She also raised awareness about breast cancer after having a mastectomy in 1974.  Usually a subject that was not discussed in polite circles, Betty was open and honest when interviewed about it.  She told a reporter for Time magazine, “When other women have this same operation, it doesn't make any headlines, but the fact that I was the wife of the President put it in headlines and brought before the public this particular experience I was going through. It made a lot of women realize that it could happen to them. I'm sure I've saved at least one person — maybe more." The huge increase of women doing self-examinations was amazing, and the incident was known as the “Betty Ford blip.”  She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Medal of Honor.  Betty Ford died on July 8, 2011 at the age of 93.  She is buried with her husband on the grounds of the Gerald R. Ford Museum in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Amy Winehouse
Vigil outside Winehouse's home
In the short span on 27 years, Amy Winehouse managed to force in a lot of living.  The young singer-songwriter began her music career at the age of ten when she formed a rap group called “Sweet ‘n’ Sour.” She began writing songs when she was fourteen and took to the stage in 2000 with the National Youth Jazz Orchestra. She released her debut album, Frank, in 2003.  Winehouse fashioned herself to resemble Ronnie Spector of the Ronettes, a sixties girl group, complete with bee hive hair.  Her singing style shifted from jazz to soul, R&B and pop music. In 2006, she followed up with her second album, Back to Black, which garnered her five Grammy Awards. While her musical career was skyrocketing, her personal life was always tempestuous.  Drugs and alcohol played a big part in her life and ultimately ended it.  Amy Winehouse died July 23, 2011 in England and was cremated.

Steve Jobs
Alta Mesa Memorial Park
"The Man Who Changed the World" is just one title that fits Steve Jobs.  As a young entrepreneur, Jobs founded Apple Computer in 1976, along with Steve Wozniak and Ronald Wayne.  Jobs was the first to see the real potential of the Apple computer, but after internal bickering, he was fired from Apple in 1985.  He immediately founded NeXT Computer. He was named "Entrepreneur of the Decade" in 1989.  In 2005, he was asked how being fired from Apple in '85 had affected him.  Jobs relied, "The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life..... I'm pretty sure none of this would have happened if I hadn't been fired from Apple. It was awful-tasting medicine, but I guess the patient needed it."  Jobs stayed with NeXT until it was acquired by Apple in 1997.  He was named Chief Executive of Apple in September  '97, a position he held until his resignation in August, 2011.  In 2009, he was named "CEO of the Decade" by Fortune Magazine., and "Person of the Year" for 2010 by the Financial Times.  Jobs has been called a visionary, a pioneer, and a genesis, being compared to Henry Ford and Thomas Edison for profoundly changing the world.  Steve Jobs died October 5 at his home in Palo Alto from pancreatic cancer.  He was 56.  He is buried in Alta Mesa Memorial Park Cemetery in Palo Alto, California.
Rensselaerville Cemetery
Andy Rooney
I remember thinking, “He’s the last of the old CBS guard” after hearing that Andy Rooney was gone.  The old curmudgeon of 60 Minutes fame actually began his writing career during WWII for the Stars and Stripes newspaper in London. In 1949, Rooney was hired by CBS as a writer.  In 1970 he would leave CBS because they found his special on the Vietnam War too controversial to air.  PBS offered him a platform for the show to be broadcast on and he won his third Writer Guild Award for it.  Rooney returned to CBS in 1973 working as a writer for special programs.  In 1978, he joined the 60 Minutes team with his commentary segment, “A Few Minutes with Andy Rooney.”  His final appearance on the news show was October 2nd.  He died one month later, on November 4, 2011, at the age of 92.  He is buried at Rensselaerville Cemetery in Albany County, New York.

"Smokin' Joe" Frazier
He was considered one of the best heavyweight boxers in the world.  Joe Frazier fought from 1965 to 1976. "Smokin' Joe" brought home a gold medal in the 1964 summer Olympic games in Tokyo and turned pro the following year.  He was named Ring Magazine's Fighter of the Year in 1967, 1970 and 1971.  He defeated Muhammad Ali in a 15-round unanimous decision at Madison Square Garden in '71. Then in 1973, Frazier met defeat at the hands of George Forman in the second round of their bout. In 1974, Ali defeated him after 12 brutal rounds.  Then in 1975, the 'Fight of the Century' took place.  Billed as the 'Thrilla of Minilla,' Frazier and Ali, the two top heavyweight fighters gave it their all for 14-rounds. In the end, Frazier could go no more and Ali was named champion. After another defeat to George Forman in 1976, Frazier hung up his gloves. He spent the remainder of his life training other boxers in his Philadelphia gym. His boxing record shows 32 wins, 27 by knock-outs, 4 losses, and 1 draw. In 2011, Frazier was voted as one of the"Best Boxers on Earth" by the public.  He died of liver cancer on November 7 at the age of 67 in Philadelphia.  He is buried in Ivy Hill Cemetery in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

As Officer Gannon on Dragnet
Harry Morgan
A well loved film and television actor died on Pearl Harbor Day.  Harry Morgan appeared in over 100 films, and was well known for the six television series he appeared in from 1954 to 1983. Morgan started his film career in 1942 and appeared regularly in movies throughout the 50’s and 60’s.  He delved into television in 1964 in the 26-week series Kentucky Jones.  From 1967 to 1970, he became known as Officer Bill Gannon on Dragnet.  In 1975 he joined the cast of M*A*S*H as Colonel Sherman Potter.  He kept that role until the show ended in 1983. In the 80’s he reprised his role for the movie Dragnet with Dan Akroyd and Tom Hanks.  He continued to act in television throughout the 1990’s.  Harry Morgan died December 7, 2011 in Los Angeles, California at the age of 96 and was cremated.

That's a brief look at just a few who passed in 2011.  And now we look forward to a brand new year, and all of the hopes and dreams it holds!  Happy New Year to you and yours!!


Friday, December 23, 2011

In the Cemetery at the Winter Solstice

Yesterday heralded in the Winter Solstice – the first day of winter, the shortest day, and the longest night of the year.  It is a day celebrated all over the world in many different ways.
In ancient times, Winter Solstice festivals were the last celebrations held before the deep, hard winter began. There was plenty of food and wine, for now, – and hopes that all would survive the coming famine months until spring arrived again.

It seems only fitting that we spend a few moments at this time of year in quiet reflection in the cemetery.  As the snow falls silently around us, our thoughts turn to life and death, to the past and the future, to what we’ve lost and what we’ve gained.  These poems seem to sum up those sentiments especially well.

In Beechwood Cemetery

Here the dead sleep – the quiet dead.  No sound
Disturbs them ever, and no storm dismays.
Winter mid snow caresses the tired ground,
And the wind roars about the woodland ways.
Springtime and summer and red autumn pass,
With leaf and bloom and pipe of wind and bird,
And the old earth puts forth her tender grass,
By them unfelt, unheeded and unheard.
Our centuries to them are but as strokes
In the dim gaunt of some far-off chime.
Unaltering rest their perfect being cloaks 
A thing too vast to hear or feel or see Children of Silence and Eternity,
They know no season but the end of time.
                                    ~ Archibald Lampman

An Old Cemetery

The mists swirl, the moon shines bright.
No one dares stray here.
They would never desire to,
Unless the earth covers what they hold dear.

Bodies sleep subconsciously
In the presence of their God,
Singing silent songs that decompose,
Under the wild earth their restless souls trod.

The headstones stand pale and somber,
Reflecting the white aurora’s glow.
Memories play like broken records,
Trapped inside, echoing lethargic tones.

The world’s slow spin cradles them to sleep.
Heavy eyelids come to rise no more.
A thousand sunsets dwindle and pass
Lives that mortality ripped and tore.
                                    ~ Jana Rininger


This poem was written by a teenage author, only identified as swoopingpigeons from New York at

Snow on Cemetery Stones

I watch as nature masks herself In flakes of snow that leap, from heights
They fall in endless tandem
Hiding her unveiled cruelty.
In winter’s months when all is bare,
No flowers to distract looking eyes,
We see the gravestones wearing away
And the remainder of unfinished good-byes,

We see nature’s curse and her destruction
In the words once legible.
‘Will’ who preferred ‘William’
Is now ‘Wil’ with one ‘L’ left alive.

And what of the rest of us
Who walk the world still,
Will she shroud our names in supposed beauty,
And leave all that we are
To become all that we once were.
                                    ~ swoopingpigeons


And one of my winter favorites!  Although not written about a cemetery, the woods also offer that forlorn feeling of the unexpected and the unfinished.

Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound's the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

                           ~ Robert Frost

And now the season is at a close - Happy Holidays to you and yours!!

~ Joy

Friday, December 16, 2011

Mishandling the Dead

Dover Air Force Base

The story of the mishandling of military remains at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware became a national scandal last week after making news headlines all over the world. 

Ret. Gen John Abizaid
Charles C. Carson Center
A panel has convened to investigate the claims that the Port Mortuary, located at Dover Air Force Base, incompetently handled the remains of at least 274 U.S. military personnel from November 2003 to May 2008.  An oversight committee will be investigating “violations of rules and regulations, gross mismanagement, dishonesty and misconduct by individuals employed at Port Mortuary.”  (Port Mortuary moved to its new home in the Charles C. Carson Center in 2003 and has handled over 6,300 remains since that time.)

Lt. Gen. Darrell D. Jones
The Air Force has admitted that the number of remains sent to a landfill in King George’s County, Virginia during this 5-year period was vastly larger than originally released. The remains of American service men and women from Iraq and Afghanistan were cremated, taken to the landfill where they were burned, then dumped with medical waste and buried.  Air Force deputy chief of staff for manpower, personnel and services, Lt. General Darrell D. Jones has stated that this was the common practice at the time.

But how does such a situation become “common practice?”   When does it become acceptable to mishandle human remains?

Family and Friends
Graveside Services
Societies for over 200-thousand years have given dignified treatment to human remains. Respect for the dead is the number one reason.  Burying human remains is a manner in which to show that respect or esteem for the deceased. Burial is also seen as a means of closure, an esteemed end to life as we know it, signifying a time to move on for family and friends.

Hindu Cremation
Body being cremated
Cremation is another socially acceptable manner for handling remains.  In the U.S. it is illegal to cremate more than one body at a time in a retort, and the body must be placed in an approved container for the cremation process.  After cremation, the ashes may be placed in an urn or other type of container and then be respectfully buried, scattered or given to the family.

Burial at sea is yet another manner that we use to respectfully deal with human remains.  The deceased may be placed in a casket or enclosed in sailcloth, or their cremated ashes may be placed in an urn or scattered on the sea.
Book: After We Die

According to Norman Cantor, author of AFTER WE DIE The Life and Times of the Human Cadaver, “a corpse maintains a "quasi-human status" granting it certain protected rights—both legal and moral. One of a corpse's purported rights is to have its predecessor's disposal choices upheld.” Another cadaver right is to be treated with respect and dignity.

Landfill garbage
Prison Cemetery
What is not right or acceptable is to burn the remains and dump them in a landfill with other waste.  Regardless of how this practice came about, the idea smacks of hypocrisy and abuse.  Even our worst criminals who die in prison are treated with more respect than it appears our military personnel who died in the service of our country received at Port Mortuary.

Trevor Dean
Col Robert H. Edmondson
The story of this insolent situation originally broke last month. Air Force investigators reported that they were tipped off about “serious misconduct” and “gross mismanagement” concerning the handling of remains at the Dover base back in 2010 by civilian mortuary workers.  According to the BBC News, three senior officials, Colonel Robert H. Edmondson, Edmondson's top civilian deputy, Trevor Dean, and director of the mortuary division at Dover, Quinton Keel, were demoted or moved to other departments.  None of the three were fired.

Gen Norton Schwartz
The current Air Force chief of staff, General Norton Schwartz decided last year that burial at sea would be a more dignified way to handle the remains of service personnel. (This has been one of the more accepted methods used by the military for many years.)

As a former reporter, I try hard to remain objective. But as an American citizen, I am stunned and outraged that such callous and offensive treatment would be allowed, explained away as “common practice” and viewed as an acceptable manner to handle the remains of our military personnel – of any person. 

If these charges were levied against a privately held mortuary, the judgment would be swift and the penalties extensive.  The fact that the Air Force chose to see this as acceptable for over five years leaves me wondering about our humanity.  For if we do not have enough humanity to respect our dead, how are we to continue to respect the living?

~ Joy