Tuesday, May 24, 2016

The End of the Line For Formaldehyde


Original Article via

By Amy Cunningham, Editor of The Inspired Funeral
I used to associate the National Funeral Director’s Association (NFDA) with Brooks-Brothers-clad lobbyists who never questioned the utility of highly toxic embalming fluids. So imagine my delight last week–it really felt like Christmas–when I opened my May 2016 copy of “The Director” magazine (the NFDA’s glossy trade journal) and found a remarkable article called “Excising a Health Risk: The time to look into formaldehyde-free products is now” by the NDFA’s environmental compliance counsel of twenty-five years, Carol Lynn Green.
Among Green’s talking points:
1. Formaldehyde-free embalming products serve an important risk-reduction function in embalming.”
2. “OSHA will change how it limits formaldehyde exposure, setting more stringent standards and/or imposing restrictive work practices.”
3. “Today’s memorialization practices, the shorter period between death and memorialization, and consumer interest in green products and practices, create a niche market for formaldehyde-free embalming products.”
My translation: just as we wisely stopped using poisonous arsenic to embalm in the decades after the Civil War, so too we should seek alternatives (in both funeral practice and products) to formaldehyde-reliant end-of-life rituals. Might we learn something from traditions that eschew chemically preserved corpses? After all, it’s been five years since the U.S Department of Health and Human Services labeled formaldehyde a human carcinogen potentially dangerous to the people working around it.
Lest you suspect from my tone that I am “anti-funeral industry,” allow me to recount a conversation I had some years ago, when I was a mortuary school graduate in search of the required year-long residency. I quickly realized I was interviewing in the wrong funeral establishment when my prospective boss stated that all his residents spent the first three months in full-day, five-day-a-week, embalming practice. Line them up, and move them out! But as we continued to chat about the merits of strong fluids and wax reconstruction, he told me a moving story that illustrated the sacrifices he personally was willing to make. He described the day he collected from the Kings County Medical Examiner’s office the body of a heroic police officer, who’d been shot and killed in the line of duty, and written up in all the newspapers.
“I wanted to make this great cop look good again so badly,” he said with real sincerity. “that I managed the whole ‘post’ by myself.”
A “post” is jargon for a post-autopsied person cut open in a Y incision from shoulder joint to mid-chest to pubis by a pathologist to determine cause of death, then stitched back together with the plastic bag of cut-up, weighed, and analyzed viscera wedged into the abdominal cavity. It takes a long time and significant chemical exposure–with the deceased’s chest cavity open like that, formaldehyde pooling–even with the best ventilation, to make such a body wholly presentable. My new buddy inhaled so much toxic formaldehyde that day to get the officer’s body right, that he was faint and dizzy as he staggered out of the prep room, and had to be supported just outside the door frame by two employees.
This story touched me deeply. The sense of civic responsibility, this man’s devotion to making the funeral right, his willingness to endure a horrendous experience–all of that stirred me. But his resignation regarding “the hit” he had to take, inhaling a chemical in a quantity that could lead to health consequences (stats show increased risk for myeloid leukemia and ALS in career embalming room workers) still puzzles me. Some embalmers are just that selfless. But others aren’t in a dialogue with their bodies. They still smoke cigarettes. One I know used to work in asbestos. All, of course, need the job, otherwise, who’d do it?
So I was impressed, but perplexed by my prospective employer’s belief that formaldehyde toxicity can’t be avoided in the funeral biz, and that other employees should suffer as much as he has suffered. My heart goes out to this man’s wife and family. And to his staff, quite frankly.
The upshot of Carol Lynn Green’s article is not to halt embalming entirely for those funeral consumers who expect it, know what it is, and still want it. It’s to find methods and chemicals that won’t threaten the health of dutiful funeral workers, and get funeral home owners curious about what they might add to their menu of funeral options. Funeral firms must get ready for Baby Boom customers who feel that death can be managed naturally with no toxic chemicals at all (look at those long lines at Whole Foods, people). When strong preservative is required–due to air travel, warm climates, delays in service scheduling–funeral directors will still use formaldehyde. One might hope that, now, with the NFDA’s straight forward encouragement,  funeral directors will embrace formaldehyde-free fluids and stop tarnishing their legacy in the effort to celebrate someone else’s.
I wrote Carol Lynn Green right away and told her she was a “change agent.” She certainly is courageous.
I’m reminded of a moment I savored years ago when my younger son Gordon shouted across a grocery store aisle: “Hey Mom, it says here on this package: ‘no dyes and no artificial preservatives!’ Your team is winning!”

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Facebook’s operating chief opens up about her personal struggles after her husband’s death last year.

Original Article via

Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook Inc.’s chief operating officer, on Saturday opened up about her personal struggles since the death of her husband last year, in a commencement speech at University of California at Berkeley.
Her speech at Berkeley contrasted with the tone of her commencement speech at City Colleges of Chicago two years ago. That address focused on ambition, confidence and gender inequality, themes she hit on in her 2013 book “Lean In.”
It was the first time Ms. Sandberg spoke publicly about the aftermath of the passing last May of her husband Dave Goldberg, chief executive of online-questionnaire provider SurveyMonkey. Wavering between tears and laughter, and wearing a graduation gown in Berkeley’s blue and gold, Ms. Sandberg talked of the irony of finding gratitude through death, took a couple digs at Silicon Valley rivals, and revealed her New Year’s resolution.
Here are four excerpts from Ms. Sandberg’s speech at Berkeley:
Following the death of Mr. Goldberg, a psychologist friend of Ms. Sandberg suggested she think about how much worse things could be. It was counterintuitive: She said she had believed the way to recover was to try to find positive thoughts. He replied, “Dave could have had the same cardiac arrhythmia driving your children.”
Ms. Sandberg said she was overwhelmingly grateful that the rest of her family was alive and healthy. “That gratitude overtook some of the grief.”
“The easy days ahead of you will be easy. It is the hard days—the times that challenge you to your very core—that will determine who you are,” Ms. Sandberg said. “You will be defined not just by what you achieve, but by how you survive.”
This year, Ms. Sandberg said her New Year’s resolution was to write down three moments of joy before going to bed each night. “This simple practice has changed my life. Because no matter what happens each day, I go to bed thinking of something cheerful. Try it.”
Working Life
In her first job, Ms. Sandberg said her boss found out she didn’t know how to enter data into Lotus software. She went home convinced she was to be fired. “I thought I was terrible at everything…but really I was just terrible at spreadsheets.” Understanding that her weakness was about one skill, not her entire professional potential, would have saved her a lot of anxiety that week, she said.
Ten days after she was widowed, Ms. Sandberg went back to work. “I remember sitting in my first Facebook meeting in a total haze, thinking, ’What is everyone talking about and how could this possibly matter?’” Ms. Sandberg related. “But then I got drawn into the conversation and for a second—the briefest of all seconds—I forgot about death.”
After Mr. Goldberg died, Ms. Sandberg’s rabbi told her time would heal, but for now she should “lean into the suck.” “Not what I meant when I said ’lean in,’” she joked.
Ms. Sandberg also made a friendly jab at Alphabet Inc.’s Google, a company that Facebook competes with for job candidates (and Ms. Sandberg’s former employer). “Everyone who has made it through Cal has already experienced some disappointment. You wanted an A but you got a B. OK, let’s be honest—you got an A-minus but you’re still mad. You applied for an internship at Facebook, but you only got one from Google.”


Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Japan’s Creepy Corpse Hotels Could Do Some Good in the States


Original Article via
With 49% of Americans projected to choose cremation in 2017, we may need to address overcrowded crematoriums the same way Japan has. 
Dead people take up a lot of space, an issue Japan is beginning to comprehend. Approximately 110,000 people died in Tokyo in 2014, but there are only 26 operating crematoriums in the city. As the death rate continues to rise in Japan, the country has begun to explore alternative storage methods, if you will, to offer relief to overcrowded crematoriums. That solution comes in the form of “corpse hotels,” where bodies are stored in pristine conditions for up to four days before space is cleared at crematoriums for their arrival.
The new corpse hotel called Sousou is located in the city of Kanagawa, where 75,000 people died in 2014. As the city only has 20 operating crematoriums, it suffers from the same overcrowding issues as Tokyo. Located on a suburban block, the grim exterior of the hotel stands out among its surroundings with navy curtains covering all the window. The hotel may be slightly out of place, but it provides a place for families and friends to visit their loved ones before the body is shipped off to the crematorium a few days later.
Sousou representative Hisao Takegishi referred to the facility as a “funeral refugee,” a crucial step in dealing with the overcrowding issue at crematoriums. Sousou provides a section for relatives to relax and discuss their options with the staff, while the bodies of their loved ones are preserved in highly air conditioned other rooms in other parts of the building. The facility’s staff hopes to expand the business into other, more crowded cities like Tokyo where the disturbing nature of the building wouldn’t interfere in the lives of local residents as much.
Japan’s corpse hotel idea calls attention to a similar issue in the United States. Although interring bodies is still popular in America for religious reasons, according to data from 2014, the percentage of Americans who want to be cremated had risen from 3.5% percent in 1958 to nearly 40 percent, and there’s evidence to suggest that statistic will only increase. The number of crematoriums in the United States has increased to keep up with the trendiness of cremation, but it’s likely we may run into a similar problem like the one in Japan.
Members of the staff bowing as they say goodbye to one of their guests

Noting the projected 49 percent of Americans that will choose cremation in 2017, Barbara Kemmis, executive director of the Cremation Association of North America, said, “If we don’t address the capacity issue and increase the number of crematories, it could take up to two weeks to cremate someone in 2040.” Japan’s solution has secured a four-day waiting period between storage at the corpse hotel and cremation, putting the length of two weeks in perspective.
With the ever-increasing popularity of cremation in the United States, it looks like we may have to get dead serious about investing in some of these corpse hotels.
Photos via Youtube/Freeclick (123)
Cover Image: Reuters
[H/T: Inverse.com]

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

New Jersey Woman Honors Sister’s Memory With White Castle Urn


Original Article via

Stacey Parrinello, a woman from Manalapan, New Jersey, is paying tribute to her late sister Mel Burrows’ memory with a custom- made White Castle cremation urn, designed by Minnesota-based Foreverence, a company dedicated to celebrating the lives of loved ones with individually designed, 3-D printed, urns. Each as unique as the lives they represent.
Mel was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer in 2015, and as a special treat after her treatments, she and Stacey would sneak out of the hospital and pay a visit to their local Castle. “Let’s treat ourselves,” became the catch phrase of the sisters’ special trips and is prominently featured on the urn.
“It might seem a bit silly to some people, but White Castle provided a sense of normalcy during Mel’s treatments. And that was a true gift, because those days were difficult for all of us,” said Parrinello. “The time we spent together at White Castle is something I’ll always cherish and look back on fondly, because I loved that Mel was able to find such joy in one of life’s simple pleasures. The White Castle urn is a way I can honor her and cherish some of the last memories we shared together.”
To honor Mel’s memory and legacy, White Castle is inducting both Burrows and Parrinello into the 2016 Cravers Hall of Fame class. Bonded by unique and compelling commitments to the Crave, the Cravers Hall of Fame encourages White Castle’s most avid fans to submit original stories about their relationship with White Castle, and why White Castle is meaningful to them.
“We are humbled by Mel’s story, and truly honored that our small, two-by-two hamburgers were able to impact her life in such a positive way,” said Jamie Richardson, vice president of White Castle. “As a special gift from our family to hers, we are donating $10,000 to the American Cancer Society in her name. White Castle brought joy to Mel during some difficult times, and our mission is to share her story and give back to others on her behalf.”
Stacey will be invited to the 2016 Cravers Hall of Fame induction ceremony in October at the White Castle headquarters inColumbus, Ohio. The deadline for entering the 2016 contest is June 30, 2016. The judges set criteria to evaluate each story based on the following: brand loyalty, creative presentation, originality and magnitude of the Crave. Previous winning entries have included tattoos, epic road trips, moving family traditions that have spanned generations, tributes to fallen friends, two movie stars, the former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives and one rock legend.
Entries are submitted online at whitecastle.com/CHOF, where rules and regulations also are posted.
“Our mission is to honor and celebrate the lives of family members and friends in a unique and personalized way. We were touched by Mel’s story, and were more than happy to create a custom-made White Castle urn to memorialize the fond memories she had with her sister,” said Pete Saari, founder and CEO of Foreverence.
For those interested in learning more about the White Castle urns, a link is now available on White Castle’s online store.
For more information, visit www.whitecastle.com or www.foreverence.com.