Life Is A Lot More Than Beer And Skittles

I don’t remember ever thinking that I needed to start reading the obituary section of the newspaper; now, every morning after I’ve finished skimming the local news, I turn to the obituaries. The obits in the local paper usually contain a small photograph of the deceased, a listing of who preceded them in death, and who in the family they are survived by; their date of birth and death, as well as the date and location of the service, and any information of a luncheon reception is also included. You wouldn’t call the obits in the local paper great storytelling as do the readers of London’s The Telegraph and New York Times; those obits describe the careers, and the crimes and foibles of the good and the bad, as well as the famous and infamous.

image source:jmcadam

I’m scrolling through the obits as if I’m scanning Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. I don’t have time for any creative obituaries that use descriptive words such as susurration and obfuscation; I’m only looking for the date of birth of any recently deceased. As I scan the obits I’m also rehearsing mental subtractions so I can quickly determine the age of whose carked it, and if they were older or younger than me. I think reading the obits has given me an upside to the ageing process; an awareness I’m not dead yet. If I don’t see a John McAdam death announcement then I know I can have another cup of tea, put on my runners, and go outside for a little morning neighbourhood walk.

Whenever I log onto the web it always seems I’m stumbling upon something that I didn’t know about. I’m not saying that I start every one of my web adventures at the Google search bar looking for useless facts to become a top-notch Trivial Pursuiter. Every click on a link, and every click thereafter, sends me down a vortex and into a treasure trove of knowledge titbits; I have learnt that camels have three eyelids and two layers of eyelashes to keep sand from blowing in their eyes, the lint that collects in the bottom of pockets is called gnurr, and that a wild koala usually changes trees every day.

image source:jmcadam

And I’ve discovered that print obituaries have gone online and transformed into memorial websites; digital images, music, and videos are now used to share the life story of a loved one. What if these e-memorials became Instagram eulogies; a photo and video sharing social network where you post simple and fun e-obits of a recently deceased. Imagine face filters applied to a loved one, creative selfies with tasteful backgrounds, and music video stories edited with the latest video editing apps; but one would need to be careful and not send readers 200 elements deep into a life story to find a name. Social media and smart devices have conditioned us to tap, zoom, scroll, swipe to navigate, and pinch to zoom in or out of different page elements. Scrolling and swiping e-obits, to catch up from a minute ago of who has been added to the latest obits, could become the new norm at mid afternoon work breaks, waiting to order lunch at restaurants, and riding public transport; and it would be a great way to make sure you’re not dead yet.

image source:jmcadam

Facebook Live, Apple Facetime, and Instagram Live’s video streaming and video chat have caused print and static images to become so yesterday for sharing web experiences. Live video streaming has to be the next way to share the last journey of a loved one. I think funeral webcasting is the next viral emotional experience. FuneralOne has tried to make funeral webcasting as simple as Point, Click, & Cast Away by supplying webcasting funeral software to more than 2,000 US mortuaries. Cameras inside the chapel stream video through the webcasting software to a password protected web server, and relatives and friends are given log-in information to view the live feed of the deceased’s last journey. I think funeral webcasting will spread across the internet like a bushfire. People like to share emotional experiences; when we feel something, we want others to experience it as well.

image source:vanityfair.com

The next time you see people in a pub sharing a smart screen over a few drinks, don’t rush to judge them; it’s most likely they’ll be watching one of their best mate’s funeral webcast and sharing a journey of grief. If you notice a Melbourne career worker fixated on their screen while ordering Chicken Curry Don at a pop up restaurant during their rushed lunch hour, don’t presume they’re checking their latest Facebook likes; it’s a penny to a quid they’re watching a live funeral webcast, and when they raise their hand it’s in a toast to the departed, not a means to attract a waitperson.

I don’t remember when I was last at a Costco but I recently learnt that they sold caskets; so off I went to see the caskets. I didn’t know you had to be a Costco member to enter the shopping warehouse

Costco greeter and membership card checker: (in a chirpy tone) Hello and welcome to Costco; do you have your membership card
Me: (with a smile in my voice) We’re not members, we just wanted to look at one of your products
Costco greeter and membership card checker: (In a soft and deliberate voice) (In a soft and deliberate voice) You have to be a member to shop at Costco; we don’t want outsiders and competitors coming in and checking our prices and then matching them. And we don’t want non members eating the free food samples.
Me: We wouldn’t do any of that; we just wanted to look at one of your products
Costco greeter and membership card checker: What were you interested in?
Me: (in a solemn voice) Caskets
Costco greeter and membership card checker: I’m sorry but we don’t have any on display; we only sell them online. I bought two online; one for my husband and one for grandmother. They were just beautiful and so cheap; they delivered them right to the funeral home
Me:(attempting a joke) Were they shrink wrapped two to a pack. If it’s possible could we just go in for a few minutes and look around
Costco greeter and membership card checker: (overcome with empathy and compassion by the memories of the caskets) You can go; and you can take some of the free samples if you want

image source:jmcadam

Amazon offers a large choice of metal and wood caskets from several companies, and free shipping is available on eligible orders; and being able to read the reviews to narrow your choice is an added bonus of shopping with Amazon. Most casket shoppers seemed extremely pleased with the Titan Orion Coppertone Steel Casket

  • For my dad’s funeral, I ordered this casket which was even more beautiful than I had imagined
  • I only saw it for a few minutes before the burial while a pallbearer. It was beautiful and felt sturdy and well made
  • I was so pleased! It was simple but BEAUTIFUL! I ordered this casket for my mother, who had cancer and she passed just a few days after ordering
  • I liked everything about this casket. It was beautiful!!!
  • No complaints from Grandpa
  • Great quality, came faster than expected and the price was just right!

Titan Caskets is the first to tell you they spared no expense in creating the Orion Coppertone; it’s handcrafted and completed with a head and foot adjustable bed, a soft to the touch crepe interior, sculpted detailed hardware and reinforced stationary handles. It’s made in the USA from 20 Gauge Steel. Now that has to be some casket. If I was a pallbearer I bet I’d buckle under the Orion’s weight, and I’d probably have trouble walking straight.

image source:thewirehindi.com

I think it would be difficult to share the Varanasi ghats experience as a funeral webcast. There are about a 100 ghats along the Ganges River in Varanasi; they’re riverfront steps leading down to the banks of the River. The ghats are used for bathing, washing clothes, and worship rituals; two are used for cremations. Hindus believe that by casting the ashes of the deceased into the Ganges their soul will be transported to heaven, and so they will escape the cycle of rebirth. I didn’t go to Varanasi to look at the cremations but instead to look at the small room where George Harrison studied and learnt to play the sitar while sitting at the feet of Ravi Shankar. I remember there weren’t many tourists, only narrow laneways leading to the ghats, clouds of wafting sandalwood scented smoke, and my eyes constantly stinging from the smoke and incense. I couldn’t see the bodies as they were carried down the ghats and put on funeral pyres because they were wrapped in brightly coloured shrouds. The pyres though seemed alive; steadily hissing and steaming, and spitting burning embers into the air.

image source:wikimedia

At the finish of the cremation, when the wood was burnt and charred, the ashes and any remaining bones are placed into the river. Many of India’s poor can’t afford to buy enough wood for a complete cremation so many half-burnt bodies are thrown into the river, and if there’s no wood for the cremation wrapped bodies are placed in the river and lit on fire. At the other ghats people bathed in the sacred waters; submerging and splashing themselves with the holy water to wash away their sins. Cows were wallowing and enjoying themselves in the same Ganges waters, and people busied themselves washing clothes. I left the ghats covered in human ash and with images of bloated and charred bodies floating in the river. And I left Varanasi without seeing the small room where George Harrison studied and learnt to play the sitar while sitting at the feet of Ravi Shankar; there was a lot of misunderstanding and confusion in the seventies.

image source:disruptionhub.com

I don’t think today’s digital natives will have to worry about funerals and cremations and reading the obits. The technology to create a digital surrogate from a 360-degree body scan is already here, and during their lifetime today’s mortals will have created, and collected over a trillion gigabytes of data about themselves. What else is needed to create a digital avatar? If your avatar was combined with a chatbot then you would be able to text, instant message, and chat from beneath a thin veil of death. And if virtual or artificial intelligence was added to the avatar then if your still living mates were having a barbie they’d just message your digital duplicate and you would Skype in to share a few ice colds from beyond the grave. Just like old times.

Even though I’m planning on having my ashes scattered I probably should start scouring the second-hand shops to find some old wooden beer crates; it’d be good to have a mock-up model of the coffin I’d like for my service.

Death on the Internet: The Rise of Livestreaming Funerals

The Best Way To Utilize Technology For Memorials

The Pyres of Varanasi: Breaking the Cycle of Death and Rebirth

Looking at the Dead

I just don’t like looking at bodies. I think I was around eighteen when my father died. I vaguely remember the coffin in the front of the room at the funeral parlour. It was open. I sat in the back of the room so I wouldn’t have to look in the coffin. The service was at Nelson Brothers. The building is still there; it’s a really cool art deco structure at the corner of Douglas Parade and Stevedore Streets Williamstown.

image source: jmcadam

I think the next time I sort of looked at a body was on a Varanasi ghat on the banks of the river Ganges. I couldn’t see the body because it was wrapped in white sheets, like an Egyptian mummy, and just visible through clouds of wafting sandalwood scented smoke. I remember my eyes stinging from the smoke and the smell of incense and barbecue. I didn’t go to Varanasi to look at bodies. It was a magical mystery tour with our friend Colin Stevens because we thought that George Harrison had studied and learned to play the sitar when sitting at the feet of Ravi Shankar in a small room in Varanasi. We thought it would be really cool to see the room. There was a lot of misunderstanding in the late seventies.

Hindus believe that casting the ashes of the deceased into the Ganges leads to salvation and the guarantee of a good afterlife. If the mourners and deceased are lucky the skull of the burning body will explode and release the soul to heaven. If this doesn’t happen then the chief mourner must crack it open. After the cremation, any remaining bones are thrown with the ashes into the river

image source:tripsavvy.com

We gave a small number of Rupee’s to a boatman to be taken onto the river in a small boat for a from the river view of the cremation ghats. Black vultures were perched on these floating things pecking at them furiously; others were diving straight at them as if they were heat-seeking missiles and after piecing the object with their beak soaring heavenward. We were told that many of India’s poor can’t afford to buy enough wood for a complete cremation so many half-burnt bodies are thrown into the river.

At the foot of the steps people were bathing in the sacred waters: submerging themselves and splashing their bodies; their sins washed away. Cows were wallowing and enjoying themselves in the same holy Ganges waters.

We visited the hospital room on an early 2015 spring afternoon. My brother in law was in a two week prolonged coma. Doctors had diagnosed that he would not wake and estimated that his departure would be in twelve to twenty-four hours. I allowed myself a furtive glance. He looked peaceful and restful as if in a deep sleep. There was a wadded bandage taped across part of his temple. Doctors had drilled through his skull to drain blood that had formed on his brain. Twelve hours later he succumbed. It was April 4th.

The family viewing was two days later. I had a surreptitious searching glance at the body in the coffin: and the glance became a goggle. And I goggled and goggled. There was no wadded bandage on the temple and there was no sign of a hole drilled through the skull. The embalmer had created magic; I thought of the chief mourner at a cremation ghat on the banks of the Ganges.

Some time ago I had decided that I wanted to be cremated: half my ashes left in Nebraska and the other half scattered from the Strand into and onto Port Philip Bay, Australia.

One of my granddads had his ashes scattered over Port Phillip Bay. Grandad Bob rented a room at the Customs House Hotel in Nelson Place. Through the window of the public bar of the hotel, you could see the pilot boats tied at the Gem Pier: a short walk across the Commonwealth reserve. He died as a result of hitting his head on a steel bulkhead or a door on one of the pilot boats. He was an engineer on the small boats that took the marine pilots onto the bay to meet the cargo ships. They exchanged pilots; swapping the pilot who successfully guided the ship through the rip, a dangerous stretch of water in Victoria connecting Port Phillip and Bass Strait, with a skilled wheelman to guide the ship up the Yarra River.

I spent many Saturday afternoons at the Gem Pier with Andrew Lambrianew. We would jettison our bikes on the pier and somehow balance on the edge to swing under the Gem to climb and balance and walk along the stringers and braces to discover nooks where we could sit for hours to talk and watch. We would also walk the pier asking if we could board the pilot boats as they were leaving to meet the waiting cargo ships.

The Gellibrand and Breakwater Piers were further along Nelson Place.

The request in my will is simple: a sprinkling around the seagulls and black swans. I have no wish for sandalwood or ghee or being wrapped in gold or silver. But maybe I should consider a sarcophagus: I could then be discovered by an eminent archaeologist and made available for viewing.

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