I am always interested in information and facts – I am a social scientist after all – and when science and/or fact intersects with death and dying/death practices, I am particularly interested. Add art and culture to the mix, you have me captivated.
According to Sonya Vatomsky there is a good deal of myth and misinformation surrounding the Victorian-era practice of photographing family members after death, and her article focuses on the use of posing stands in photographing the living, not as props for the deceased.
Photography is always about ‘time’ – we photograph so casually and ubiquitously now in our own culture, we capture “The Moment” without a thought for the technology behind image generation – and time used to be the essence of early photography in that the person or scene being photographed needed to be very still for a set period of time. The time required in early photographic methods could be over half an hour (not a problem when you are a mountain range, more of an issue when you are a human who wants to stretch your limbs) of non-movement to avoid blurring the image. Posing stands were used to aid the living in holding still, not to support a body post-mortem, and may have been in place for perhaps a minute and a half of perfect posing for an image that preserved a memory for your life.
Vatomsky’s tip for Victorian photography viewing? If a person looks alive they probably are.
Death on Earth – Adventures in Evolution and Mortality provides an eclectic mix of personal observation and questioning, scientific information, and observations from death professionals in conversation with the author. At times I found that the wonderings of the author overlapped the focus of the writing in ways that clouded the chapter focus – however, perhaps this is simply part of humans grappling with the unknowns at the End Of Life. I read Jules Howard’s book whilst travelling, which I like because I can read without distractions. Don’t be fooled by the size of the book, although it looks an innocuous paperback there is a lot of information inside, along with a variety of perspectives on death, mortality, sex, and life.
Yup, sex. Because one of the aspects of life that is frequently obscured in discussions of death/dying/mortality is the fact that without sex there is no life, and the two are inevitably intertwined. As a sex-positive End Of Life Doula I was quite delighted to see that the importance of sex to reproduction and thence to death, the life cycle of life on earth, and the impact sex has at all levels of life was not glossed over in this book.
There is a lot of attention paid to the scientific and the factual, which I particularly enjoy, so if you are looking for a fluffy, comforting read this may not be your first port of call. As an End Of Life professional and social scientist, however, I found the book thought-provoking, occasionally quite funny, and sometimes frustrating; arguably all of these are the hallmarks of a good book. The parts I struggled with relate to discussions attempting to equate the responses of other animals to those of human animals, and is a personal bugbear of my own… many other readers may not even notice.
For those of us curious about the arc of life and what constitutes death and happens to physical remains after death (along with some interesting information about ritual and cultural narratives around death for humans) this is a good addition to your bookshelf.
Wondering if you are the only one to miss sex as part of your grief process? You are not alone, sex is integral to many people’s intimate relationships well into older age.
I am a sex-positive End Of Life Doula, you can comfortably talk about sex, loss, desire and grief with me.
You can hear me talk about the Difficult Story at Long Story Short: Storytelling Live (November, theme of “Yes”) on my YouTube channel.
You can also subscribe to my channel here.
This is the excerpt for your very first post.
I am now a part of the End of Life Doula Directory!
You and your pets, friends, and family can find me here:
This is the excerpt for a featured post.
The death of a beloved pet or companion animal can be a devastating loss.
I can be there helping you to navigate your options and choices when your pet is terminally ill. I can also offer support during End of Life planning and journey for your pet, & am able to help you design pet-friendly/-inclusive memorial services.
I can also help you to plan and create sensitive remembrance projects of your pet. Artworks, poems, books, story-based works, photographic pieces – these are just some of the options available for you to have a unique keepsake of your relationship with, and memory of, your pet or companion animal.