Ikipalin: The Dani Finger Amputation Ritual

The Dani of New Guinea traditionally practiced finger amputation when mourning the loss of loved one
Credit: dailymail.co.uk

Credit: dailymail.co.uk

The experience of grief is an intensely physical one; grief is often accompanied by sleep disturbances, loss of appetite, digestive disruptions and cardiac problems.  There are cultural practices around the world that believe intentional physical pain is an important part of expressing the emotional pain of grief and an essential part of the mourning process.

The Dani tribe, who live in a town called Wamena in the Cyclops Mountains of western New Guinea, traditionally performed a finger cutting ritual to express the physical pain of grief. Though the practice is now rare and in fact officially banned, ikipalin is a finger amputation ritual traditionally carried out by females of the tribe after the death of a loved one. Ikipalin symbolizes the pain of mourning and is performed with or without tools.

Before amputation, a string is tied around the upper half of the finger for 30 minutes, to cut off circulation and numb the finger before cutting it. After the finger is amputated, open sores are dressed with leaves treated with traditional herbs, in order to stem bleeding, prevent infection and to aid in the formation of new callouses on the tip of the remaining part of the finger. It is generally a close family member who performs the amputation.

Dani Tribe

Credit: indonesiatravelingguide.com

For the Dani, fingers symbolize harmony, unity and strength. Fingers, despite their different lengths, work together cooperatively to perform tasks. In this way, fingers, in the Dani culture and belief system, function like a family. According to the Jakarta Post, the Dani believe misfortune due to the death of a family member can be eliminated through finger amputation. The practice is also viewed as a sacrifice to appease spirits. If the dead person was a powerful figure, finger cutting would drive away the equally powerful spirit that might linger posthumously. An alternative Dani mourning custom to ikipalin involved cutting off an ear.

The Dani also have a slightly less pain intensive manner of expressing grief through physical manifestation–smearing the body with ashes and clay and refraining from bathing for several weeks.

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In Adelaide’s Memory

A grieving mother finds comfort and purpose in creating clothing for children lost through pregnancy
Appropriate size diapers for stillborn children in different gestational stages.

Credit: teenytears.blogspot.com

When Keira found out she was pregnant with identical twin girls, her joy doubled. There were two car seats, two cribs, two minds — Keira’s and her husband’s — coming together to figure out how to help these girls find their individuality in the world that would label them “the twins.” After learning that the chance of having identical twins was only .003 percent worldwide, they were in awe of the miracle that was taking place in their family.

But soon their joy was clouded with apprehension; they learned that their precious girls were at risk for a rare and dangerous condition called Twin to Twin Transfusion Syndrome (TTTS), that would put both of their lives in danger if it progressed. TTTS occurs when twins receive unequal amounts of blood from the shared placenta and blood supplies. In more severe cases, the abnormal amounts of blood, one receiving too little and the other one too much, may result in heart failure and death.

The twin girls were at risk for a rare and dangerous condition called Twin to Twin Transfusion Syndrome

Emberly and Adelaide in utero
(Credit: Teenytears.blogspot.com)

In the days that followed, Keira’ family hoped for the best, but the news kept getting worse: she found out that she did have a severe case of TTTS, and it was progressing. A laser ablation surgery, in which a laser device severs the veins and arteries in the shared placenta, had to be urgently performed to give both babies a chance to survive. The heart of tiny Adelaide stopped four days later, and Keira could no longer feel one of her babies kicking. She felt a complete lack of control, a sense of having failed Adelaide as a mother, whose most important job was to keep her child safe. The danger of losing Emberly was still present, and Keira did everything she could to keep her little survivor safe while preparing for birth – and for death.

“Having clothing appropriate for her size and condition provided invaluable experience for my husband and me, an opportunity to do something for her as her parents.”

What is a parent to do when the remarkable journey of bringing a new life into the world instead results in a death? According to Scientificamerican.com, stillbirths in America add up to about 26,000 each year, with each little life ending before it began, without leaving any tangible trace of their existence, except for touching the hearts of those who loved and welcomed them.

Keira recalls waiting for the arrival of her daughters, “I started to try to figure out what clothing I would be able to use, so that she wouldn’t be buried naked, and what keepsakes I wanted to try to gather in our brief time with her.” During the fleeting moments she had with Adelaide, Keira wanted to wrap her daughter in clothing made just for her. She also wanted to have something that Adelaide has physically touched in this world to hold on to forever, but she knew that there was no commercial clothing that would fit.

Appropriate size clothing for stillborn children in different gestational stages

A tiny tunic by Angel Outfitters
(Credit: Pinterest.com)

Keira’s search led her to Teeny Tears Bereavement Diapers and Angel Outfitters – two volunteer service organizations that provide appropriately sized and easy to use diapers and clothing to hospitals and bereavement support groups, offering them free of charge to families who have suffered a loss of a child through pregnancy or in NICU. Being able to dress Adelaide was empowering, and made a difference for Keira, “Having clothing appropriate for her size and condition provided invaluable experience for my husband and me, an opportunity to do something for her as her parents.”

Angel Outfitters’ beautiful tunics, hats, baby bunting, and Teeny Tears’ diapers are handcrafted by volunteers, who are often angel families themselves. They refer to their lost children as angels, since for the brief time they were with their families, love was their only experience in the world. Every clothing item comes with a card, which allows the volunteer to donate in memory of their own angel, creating a personal connection between the newly grieving parent and the donor.

Art inspired by grief after losing a twin to TTTS

Keira’s art for Chalk It Up, a chalk art festival in Sacramento, CA

Christine of Angel Outfitters explains the importance of having this connection between the donor and the bereaved parent. “Our buntings, made with love, tell parents that someone understands that their child existed, that they are special, loved, real, and that they matter. The love that goes into these outfits tells a grieving parent that someone understands that their loss is tremendous.”

“The love that goes into these outfits tells a grieving parent that someone understands that their loss is tremendous.”

Angel Outfitters does much more than provide a unique and much needed service for parents who have lost a new child — the process of creating these Angel Outfits allows the volunteers to heal from their own loss. In time, Keira herself began to create clothing for Angel Outfitters and Teeny Tears. “Sewing these beautiful, tiny clothing items was/is my therapy.” Working with fellow loss moms has led Keira to meaningful friendships, and she takes comfort in knowing that through the outfits made in Adelaide’s memory, she is helping other families feel less alone.

“Sometimes the smallest things take up the most room in your heart.”

— A.A. Milne

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Memorial Song: “Missing You” by Diana Ross

This touching tribute to a fallen friend mirrors the pain of those left behind
Marvin Gaye

Credit: Wikipedia.org

Of all of the premature deaths in music, Marvin Gaye’s was perhaps the most shocking. Not only was he murdered at gunpoint, but the killer was his own father. At just 44 years old, Gaye left his mark on the R&B world, only to have his life brutally taken away before he had the chance to enjoy the fruits of his efforts.

Less than a year after his death, Gaye’s good friend and labelmate Diana Ross penned one of the most powerful tributes from one artist to another. They both had a deep respect and appreciation for one another’s talents, creating an album together in 1973. Her song to him, written months after his death, is a reminder of how painful losing someone suddenly can be for those who survive.

Ross is nearly inconsolable in this song, trying to sort through the memories she had of her friend, while asking why he had to be ripped away from her so violently. She sings,

“There was so much you gave me

To my heart
To my soul
There was so much of your dreams
That were never told
You had so much hope
For a brighter day
Why were you my flower
Plucked away”

She goes from a friend memorializing the things about Gaye that made her love him, while also questioning why she has to experience this immense loss. This is a theme that plagues many people who have lost loved ones, especially in violent ways.

Here, there is no long, drawn out illness. There is no saying goodbye. There is no knowledge that her friend’s death was peaceful in the end. She is forced to say goodbye on her own, knowing that his final moments were filled with shock, pain and confusion.

This is a hard fact to swallow for anyone who cares about their loved ones. The last thing we want is to know that they were ever hurt. Yet Ross’ song manages to navigate this with grace and dignity.

Read the full lyrics for “Missing You” here, and watch the video below.

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Monday Hearts for Madalene

Page Hodel creates the most beautiful hearts in an ongoing celebration of love

Spring 9_editedMy Heart Always Spells “L-O-V-E” for You!

It’s an honor for SevenPonds to share with our readers the story of the Monday Hearts for Madalene project, a true account of the power of love in the midst of death.

The project’s origins take us to 2005: the moment Page Hodel encountered Madalene Rodriguez and fell “instantly, dizzyingly in love with her.” The couple’s first meeting was electric, and Page felt inspired to do something unique for the woman who captured her heart. So, she began leaving handmade hearts – made from flowers, leaves, and other materials – on Madalene’s doorstep.  The hearts became a ritual, and they were there to greet Madalene as she left for work every Monday.

“To start her week with a visual reminder of our beautiful love.” Page Hodel

Just seven months later, Madalene was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and passed away on June 20th, 2006. But Page’s love for her hasn’t ceased, and she continues to make a heart for her every Monday in celebration of her life.

If you would like, you can also receive Page’s “Monday Hearts for Madalene” by emailing her at page.hodel@gmail.com with “subscribe” written as the subject. Images of the hearts can also be purchased on individual cards and in her beautifully compiled book, Monday Hearts for Madelene. Please also visit her website and Facebook  page. A portion of all sales will go to the Women’s Cancer Resource Center in Oakland, California (www.wcrc.org). See more Monday Hearts for Madalene here.

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Compassionate Companions: Understanding the Final Moments of Life

Honolulu hospice Kokua Mau offers holistic care tips for those accompanying loved ones in their final moments
A hospice worker companions a woman at the end of life

Credit: kokuamau.org

Kokua Mau means “continuous care,” a fitting name for the non-profit hospice in Honolulu, Hawai’i. Beyond offering palliative services, this organization provides information on their website that empowers regular people to understand what happens psychologically and physiologically at the end of life, so that those who are accompanying their loved ones in their final moments can do so in a compassionate and informed way.

Their website discusses, simply and clearly, what is observable and how to respond in a way that helps the dying person transition.

Their website discusses, simply and clearly, what is observable and how to respond in a way that helps the dying person transition. Topics include: the last stages of life, withdrawal from the external world, visions and hallucinations, loss of appetite, change in bowel and bladder functions, confusion, restlessness, and agitation, changes in breathing, congestion in lungs or the throat, change in skin temperature and color, hospice death, saying goodbye, and being present at the moment of death.

An elderly couple shares a loving moment

Credit: kokuamau.org

Kokua Mau offers helpful reminders such as, “Dying requires energy and focus. Try not to distract the dying person from this necessary preparation. Allow time for silence.” Some helpful tips to make the transitioning person comfortable include preventing chapped lips with lip balm, avoiding exposure to harsh lights, abrupt sounds or sudden movement, and always identifying yourself, remembering that the dying process involves fluctuating shifts in conscious awareness and memory.

It is often emotionally and psychologically difficult to relate to dying people because their state is so altered.

It is often emotionally and psychologically difficult to relate to dying people because their state is so altered. Yet, we all have the ability to apply the holistic perspective of Kokua Mau to support the process of those we love, and care for them with their best interests at heart up till their very last breath.

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When Art Meets Science with the Mission of Eliminating Breast Cancer Tumors

Modern artists explore other options to traditional medical science
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“Shamanic Tumor Extraction Process” Step 1 – Breast cancer MRI

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We have all heard of the relationship between art and science. In fact, many a book has been written on who actually envisions the future first: art or science? The verdict seems to weigh heavily toward art creating the thoughts via form as a representation of the future, and then science to follow up for mathematically creating the reality.

As some artists grapple with their frustration about the limits of traditional medicine, they explore other possibilities of eliminating breast cancer tumors. The project “Object Breast Cancer” does just that. An artist chose to investigate how a shaman extracts a tumor through representation of their own art process. The intent is to open up future possibilities in how the medical profession approaches tumors.


Step 2 – MRI image is translated into an abstract algorithm-based mesh wire form
(Credit: http://objectbreastcancer.tumblr.com)

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Step 3 – Mesh wire form is made into a mold
(Credit: http://objectbreastcancer.tumblr.com)

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Step 4 – Final bronze tumor extracted from the cast process
(Credit: http://objectbreastcancer.tumblr.com)

The project “Object Breast Cancer” wrangles with what the artist terms the “invisible monster,” an unseen breast cancer malignancy, since most breast cancer has “no image.” The project addresses the 1.3 million women who are diagnosed each year with breast cancer through art installations, sculpture and jewelry.


Breast cancer tumor necklace to raise awareness
(Credit: http://object-breast-cancer.hostedbywebstore.com)

Society is looking back into old traditions for solutions. A shaman is a person regarded as having the power to heal through means of a ritual that may involve a trance-like state. One project explores this: “Shamanic Tumor Extraction Process” (see images above) is an installation art piece where the shape of a tumor is determined by an MRI, which is then molded in a studio, where artists pour bronze into the mold. It is intended to identify malignant shapes and “cast them out” as a shaman would. This molding process takes place while Guillermo Arevalo and Janice Weil provide traditional Shaman chanting.

Tumors are typically only measured by length, yet the project caused renowned surgeon Dr. Alex Swistel, Associate Professor of Clinical Surgery, to investigate 3-dimensional features of such tumors.

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