No, am NOT getting kick backs from the NY Times for leading my readers to its articles! Can’t be helped, with some of the best writers on living expansively issues on staff. All hail Paula Span & John Leland, with a special place in my heart for two Janes – Gross & Brody!
Going analog – at home – is a whole new world for me, especially on the weekends, when our local libraries cut back the amount of time someone can fritter… I mean spend on their computers. Assigned 40 minutes yesterday, so didn’t dig deeply enough into my digital subscription to find John’s article on America’s changing attitudes toward death. Praise be, he has a dandy short piece in today’s issue, spotted while perusing the print edition this a.m. at Be Well, my beloved café/away-from-home office.
In Sunday’s lengthier piece, John discussed attending Shatzi Weisberger’s FUN-eral. As the 88-year old former nurse explained, “I have been studying and learning about death and dying, and I want to tell people what I’ve learned. Some people are coming because they love me, and some people are coming because they’re curious about what the hell it’s about.”
John was there because covering a revamped/revitalized funeral was a natural build on three years of becoming friends with & writing about a variety of seriously-old (85+) New Yorkers.
The centerpiece of the standing room only party, held in the commons room of her Upper West Side apartment? A biodegradable cardboard coffin on which enthusiastic guests were writing greetings, from “Go Shatzi! (but not literally)” to “Shatzi, many happy returns … as trees, as bumble bees, as many happy memories.”
At 88, Shatzi has become a prominent voice in the “positive death movement.” My heart leapt at the description – didn’t know there was a movement to describe what I experienced seventeen years ago with Mom, three years ago with my sister Mim & even with Dad, who died in 1973 before the first wave of integrating more humanity into death & dying yet still held a remarkable attitude toward what he was experiencing rather than crumpled & devastated at the prospect of dying at 62.
Shatzi & her “Go, Death!” compadres speak to my concern that American culture finds death to be icky, a topic to be avoided rather than embraced, resulting in a silence that diminishes the lives that lead up to it.
I think about my oldest brother. After decades of a relatively distant relationship, they became close over the last twenty years of Mim’s life. But he still has not seen her online memorial service – the first of its kind in our church, inspired by the unescapable fact that the best minister to capture my sister’s unusual persona was retired & living in Arizona. I can’t understand WHY Peter has yet to see it, but he hasn’t. Which is too bad, since it is a wonderful collaboration, a heartfelt tribute to a creative & complex spirit.
Schatzi would understand the inspiration behind Mim’s tribute, honoring a woman who exited this world cracking up hospital staff who’d swing by for a visit if they felt down in the dumps, knowing that a patient facing death within days would make them smile at her jokes & feel awed by her “bring it on!” attitude.
More & more people feel like Ms. Weisberger, who simply got fed up with Death American-style after sitting with a dying friend who was was so terrified at the prospect of her death, “she couldn’t even talk about it… And then she died. So that was a problem. We had not dealt with the issue – myself, herself and the others.“
Schatzi Weisberger used her FUN-eral to educate her friends about having a positive death experience. She showed them the burial shroud she plans to have cover her for burial (she considers cremation to be environmentally unfriendly), which she got from Amazon. Friends have agreed to was her body, in keeping with Jewish tradition, and another will bring dry ice to preserve it before burial. But she assured one & all that she’s in good health, good spirits, and will wait her own good time to have the good death for which she has so carefully prepared!
Schatzi Weisberger does have a final wish – “I really want to experience my dying. I don’t want to die in a car crash or be unconscious. I want to be home, I want to be in my bed, I want to share the experience with anybody who’s interested.” She doesn’t expect death to take her hand in a spectral grip, but with a friendly touch.