Friday, March 30, 2012

The Legend & History of the Corpse Road

A Corpse Road
They are known by many names:  coffin roads, church-ways, funeral paths, corpse roads – all leading from a remote English village to the lych gates of the Mother church, many miles away.
A Coffin Way

Corpse roads came about during medieval times when villages were locating farther and farther afield.  Canon law of the period stated that a parishioner must be buried on the grounds of the Mother church, no matter how far away from their village or how dangerous the travel.

Coffin Stone
Funeral Procession
Eight men would take turns carrying the body along the corpse road. Four men, one at each corner, would carry the deceased until they came to a coffin stone.  These stones were laid out along the road at set intervals and designated as a place to lay the bier. Then the other four men would step in and continue carrying the deceased while the first four followed with the funeral procession, and rested.

Burial Road
Corpse roads were usually straight as they were the most direct route from the village to the burial grounds.  Some were only a couple of miles long; others were close to ten miles long.  Fields with a church-way passing through were left unplowed. It was believed that any field used as a coffin road would fail to produce good crops.  And, they were also associated with spirits, wraiths and ghosts. 

Running Water on a
Corpse Road
Stream Running on a Coffin Road

Although fences, walls, and buildings were not allowed to obstruct the corpse roads, usually at least one stream, river or marsh could be found crossing a coffin road.  Legend said that by carrying the deceased over running water, they could not return home.  The dead were also carried with their feet pointing away from their home, so that they could not return and haunt the living.

Corpse Candle

Corpse Light
Many times corpse lights or corpse candles would be seen traveling these paths, flitting low to the ground.  It was believed that the sprits of the dead traveled close to the earth in a straight line that connected the village and the cemetery.  Some said that the lights would travel to the dying person’s house the night before the death, then return to the cemetery and disappear into the ground where the burial would take place.

Spirit of the Dead
Will-o' the Wisp

Other phenomena related to corpse roads include will-o’ the wisps, also known as foolish fire, or Jack o’ lanterns.  Travelers saw these ghostly lights at night.  Folklore stated that these flickering lights were the spirits of the dead, trying to lead travelers astray.  Some legends identified them as the spirits of unbaptized or stillborn children caught between heaven and hell.

Witch Ball
Crossroads, where two roads intersected each other, were also considered dangerous on a corpse road because they were viewed as a location where the world and the underworld met.  It was believed that the Devil could appear at a crossroad. Crosses were placed at intersections – hence cross roads, to protect those passing from the Devil and wayward spirits. Later, witch balls were also hung along the road.  A witch ball was a bottle or enclosed circle of glass that contained threads and charms inside.  These were used to catch and tangle passing spirits, trapping their evil or negative energy inside.

Cross on a Church-Way
To counter the superstitions, crosses were also set along the burial roads every mile or so.  These were used as places for followers and mourners to stop and pray for the dead.

Lych Gate
Lych Gate
Once the funeral procession arrived at the burial ground, they would proceed to the lych gates.  (Lych is the Old English word for corpse.) Located at the entrance to the church property, the lych gates were constructed like a porch with a roof over them.  Clergy would meet the mourners at these gates and assume responsibility for the body, preparing it for the burial service.

Snow on a Corpse Road
Today, corpse roads are still visible throughout England, the Netherlands, and Ireland.  Although it has been centuries since they have been used for their original purpose, the rockiness and remoteness of these burial roads might still make it preferable to stay clear of the paths at night.

As Shakespeare said in A Midsummer’s Night Dream:

 Now it is the time of night,

That the graves all gaping wide,

Every one lets forth his sprite

In the church-way paths to glide.

~ Joy

Friday, March 23, 2012

Barney Clark – Medical Pioneer

University of Utah Medical Center
Barney Clark & Jarvik 7
Today marks the 29th anniversary of the death of Dr. Barney Clark, the first permanent artificial heart recipient. On December 2, 1982, Dr William DeVries implanted the Jarvik 7 mechanical heart into 61-year-old Barney Clark at the University of Utah Medical Center in Salt Lake City. He survived 112 days after the implant, dying on March 23, 1983. 

Clark with medical staff
before the operation
Clark, a retired dentist from Seattle, suffered from sever congestive heart failure.  He knew he did not have long to live, so he volunteered to undergo a radical procedure as a way to draw attention to the need for further medical research in this area.  Clark told doctors he hoped that they might learn more during his treatment, so that more lives could be saved in the future. 

In 1976, Clark had contracted a viral infection.  His heart muscles became swollen, enlarging his heart and making it harder for blood to flow there.  By 1982, doctors had determined that Clark was too ill to be given a heart transplant.  The only option left open to him was the implantation of the artificial heart.

Dr. Robert Jarvik
with the Jarvik 7
Dr. Robert Jarvik designed the state-of the-art Jarvik 7.  The mechanical plastic and aluminum heart was the first of its type for permanent use in a human. The artificial heart mimicked a natural heart’s function with two air powered heart-shaped pumps that were implanted into the patient.  These pumps were connected to an external pneumatic compressor, about the size of a refrigerator, weighing over 400 pounds. The pump was extremely noisy and the size of the compressor made it impossible for the patient to move around. Barney Clark never left the hospital after the unprecedented operation. 

Front Page of the
New York Daily News
Barney Clark &
Dr William DeVries
Clark had told doctors before the surgery that he did not expect to survive more than a few days after the implant.  But he did.  Although doctors were elated by his progress, Clark was miserable. He drifted in and out of consciousness and suffered from a multitude of complications. He underwent four more surgeries, after which he battled repeated infections, experienced several episodes of sever bleeding, suffered a broken heart valve, and endured chronic clotting, which led to a series of strokes. Several times, Clark requested to be allowed to die.

Clark tethered to his machines
Through it all, the mechanical heart continued to pump, maintaining Clark’s normal blood flow and sustaining his life for 112 day. Doctors continued to express their concerns about the threat of infections and pulmonary problems that could arise since Clark was immobilized.  Then on the evening of March 23, 1983, medical officials announced that Clark had died of “circulatory collapse and secondary multi-organ system failure.”

Dr Robert Jarvik in 1982
Medical professionals were divided as to whether the research done at the time of Clark’s implant had been conclusive enough to warrant attempting to implant an artificial heart into a human.    Articles were published and the media reported that the Jarvik 7 heart was banned from use.  However, aHowever, a version of this artificial heart still functions today.  Known as the SynCardia Temporary CardioWest Total Artificial Heart, it has been implanted in more than 800 people as a temporary heart, helping patients’ bridge the time until a donor heart can be found.

William Schroeder
Medical research into the artificial heart did not die with Barney Clark.  On November 25, 1984, William Schroeder, of Jasper, Indiana became the second man to receive the Jarvik 7 artificial heart.  He lived for 620 days; the longest that anyone had survived with an artificial heart.

Peter Houghten

Jarvik 2000
Today, artificial hearts have been transplanted in people, even children, around the world. The artificial heart is the size of a C battery and is connected by a small cord to a battery pack that is worn around the body. The longest living artificial heart recipient, Peter Houghton of England, lived for seven years.  He died in 2007 of multi-organ failure.  The artificial heart had to be turned off.

Commemorative Stamp
At the time of Barney Clark’s death a hospital spokesman told reporters, ''He was an incredible man, one of the strongest men I have ever known…. He did a service to mankind and the knowledge that we will gain from him will serve us all.''

Barney Clark's Grave
(Courtesy E.J. Stephens)
Clark's Memorial in Utah
Barney Clark was laid to rest in Washington Memorial Park Cemetery in SeaTac, Washington.  In Provo, Utah, a memorial stands to Dr. Clark, a medical pioneer, and a man who helped make the dreadful wait for a donated heart a little easier to handle.

~ Joy

Friday, March 16, 2012

The Cost of Dying – Cremation

Last week, we looked at the various costs associated with dying in the United States.  All told, death is a $12 to $15-billion industry in this country. According to the 2010 Funeral Price Survey by the National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA), Americans spent, on average, $7,775.00 for a traditional adult funeral.  (This does NOT include the burial plot and cemetery expenses.)

But not everyone wants a funeral that includes embalming, a viewing, a religious ceremony, and a graveside service.  Not to mention a state-of-the-art casket with burial vault, obituary notices, flowers, music, prayer cards, memorial cards, acknowledgement cards, hearse, and limousine for transportation to the cemetery for the interment.  National trends show that we are moving away from these traditional religious funerals.  For those seeking less pomp and circumstance, there are options.

Cremation is the alternative that more people are deciding on.  In 1985, only 15% of the deceased were cremated.  According to the Cremation Association of North America, (CANA) today, 36% of deceased are cremated.  And projections show that by 2025, almost 56% will be cremated.  (The revenue on cremations alone has increased almost 1-billion dollars in just five years.) 

Cremation in the U.S.
The acceptance of cremation varies widely across the country as shown on this 2006 map.  Western states favor cremation more than other states, with almost 67% of Hawaiian residents, along with 65% of residents in Oregon and Nevada opting for cremation.  Southern states such as Alabama and Mississippi only show 11% of those deceased being cremated.  Studies indicate that the drastic difference of acceptance for cremation in this country may be due to religion and religious beliefs.

With that in mind, cremation is growing in acceptance as our ties to tradition diminish.  According to the funeral industry-sponsored 2006 Wirthlin Report, the top five reasons why a person selects cremation are:

• Cremation saves money (30%)
• Cremation saves land (13%)
• Cremation is simpler (8%)
• The body is not in the earth (6%)
• Personal Preference (6%)

Questions to Ask
When considering cremation, the Cremation Association of North America suggests you ask the following questions before deciding on a funeral home or crematory:

  Do they have their own crematory or do they work with a cremation firm? 
If the latter, which crematory do they use?
  Who owns the crematory facility?
  How often do they inspect that facility?
  Are licenses and permits current?
 How many operators do they have and what type of training 
do they require? 
Are they CANA certified?
 Does the crematory have refrigeration?
 How long does the crematory hold the body prior to cremation?
 Does the crematory have liability insurance?
• Does the crematory facility allow witnessing by family members?

Cremation Box
Remains Box
When selecting cremation you do not have to purchase a casket.  Check with your local funeral home about renting a casket if you would like to hold a public viewing.  If you decide on direct cremation, (having the remains cremated immediately after death,) you can choose an unfinished wooden coffin or a heavy cardboard enclosure for the cremation.  You are also not required to purchase an urn for the remains. You may keep them in the box provided by the crematory.

What is Cremation?
Cremated Remains
Cremation is a process that reduces the body to ashes, known as cremains.  But the cremains are more than just ashes.  They also contain bone fragments that are pulverized and resemble gravel or broken seashells.

Cremation, like a traditional funeral, will vary in cost depending on what you decide on.  Basic cremation can cost as little as $300.  Or it can run several thousands if you decide on an Urn Committal Service, (similar to a traditional funeral service with cremation.)

Cremation Options
Private Viewing
You may choose to hold a private family viewing, without embalming, before the cremation. Embalming is never required for the first 24 after death. You also have a set amount of time to arrange for the body to be cremated before embalming may be required according to your state law.

Memorial Service
You may decide on direct (immediate) cremation and then hold a memorial service for the deceased at a later time when all of the family and friends can gather together.

Memorial Bench for Urns
Urn Committal Service
Or you could choose to have a more traditional ceremony, known as an Urn Committal Service. The deceased is embalmed and casketed for a public viewing and a funeral service is held before the cremation.  You can also purchase a burial spot for the receptacle to be buried in.

A typical cremation with memorial service and urn can cost between $1,500 and $2,000.

The Remains
Earthen Urn

Outside Columbarium
Once the body is cremated you may elect to keep the remains in a container at home, place them in a columbarium, or have them buried.

Cowboy Urn
Fingerprint Heart Jewelry
Urns and receptacles come in many options including biodegradable, hardwood, granite, marble and metal.  Urns can be very simple or as unique as you would like.  Jewelry is also offered which holds a small amount of ashes, keeping your loved one close to you.

Casting Ashes to the Wind
Cremation Garden
The ashes may also be scattered or cast at a Cremation Garden or a location that was special to the deceased.  Just make sure this is in compliance with the local health department’s regulations.  It is legal in all states to scatter or bury cremated remains on private property, as long as you have the landowner’s permission.  You may also consider scattering ashes at sea.

The most important thing to remember is that no amount of money can express how we feel about those we have lost, so we owe it to them to handle their remains in the manner that they would have wanted – with love and respect for the life they lived.

~ Joy