Turn to White: Islamic Funeral Traditions in Morocco

For the Islamic of Morocco, white has always been the new black when mourning a death
Morocco blue

Credit: whowhatwhere.com

Morocco is dripping in color and culture. Muslims, Berbers and Arabs dot the hillsides and winding roads. Cityscapes are flushed in burnt yellows and deep, majorelle blue with a kaleidoscope of tiles. However, this abundance of color is forgone when it comes to the simple, white fabric of Islamic mourning garments that one finds in Morocco.

Morocco in white

Tangier, c. 1890
(Credit: Space and Place)

Traditionally, when an Islamic loved one dies in Morocco, he or she is buried facing Mecca within 24 hours (an act known as qibla). The family foresees the care of the body beforehand in the home, washing it and chanting as it is wrapped in white linen.

“…this abundance of color is forgone when it comes to the simple, white fabric of Islamic mourning garments that one finds in Morocco…”

Protective objects are placed around the grave of the dead, including twigs of myrtle that are believed to please the “angels” with their scent. Mourning in Islam is a famously extensive process; with its various, time-sensitive rituals and rules it seems, in some ways, to not be such a far cry from Western Victorian era mourning behavior. For example, when a woman’s husband dies, his “widow gives a feast forty days after [his] death, which theoretically marks the end of the mourning period. Ideally, it should also correspond to the obligatory idda, or three-month period between widowhood, or divorce, and remarriage.” White becomes the color of grief, providing a stark contrast with the Western tradition of all-black funeral garments. The color isn’t obligatory, but definitely predominant.

Morocco, Morocco street

Credit: Clement Jousse

“Protective objects are placed around the grave of the dead, including twigs of myrtle that are believed to please the “angels” with their scent.”

There is something very freeing about the presence of white at Islamic funerals in Morocco. As relative as our associations with color may be, white is arguably the most neutral – the most calm – of the lot. Black, too, has an inherent element of neutrality. But it does not have the same levity as white. The writings of the Prophet Muhammad in the Hadith stress the preciousness of white garments as symbols of cleanliness. Thus, when a loved one has died, it is seems only fitting that he or she be buried in an atmosphere of such purity in the tranquil, dusty Moroccan hills.

Posted in Cultural Perspectives | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Medicare Now Offering Some Patients at Select Hospices the Option of Receiving Palliative and Curative Care Concurrently

With the new end-of-life care pilot program, “Medicare Care Choices Model,” one could die in peace rather than suffer through overly aggressive treatments.
Holding Hands when facing the end of life

Credit: medicinenet.com

Medicare recently announced that 141 hospices will be allowed to have its patients participate in receiving both palliative and curative care simultaneously as part of a new initiative. This new initiative, the “Medicare Care Choices Model,” plans to evaluate whether letting patients with life-limiting illnesses opt for both types of care will “Increase access to supportive care services provided by hospice, improve quality of life and patient/family satisfaction, and inform new payment systems for the Medicare and Medicaid programs.” Contrastingly, the current system forces Medicare patients “to forgo curative care in order to receive services under the Medicare or Medicaid Hospice Benefit.”

Firstly, there is a limited amount of hospices that are allowed to work under this model. In addition, the restrictions surrounding participation involve not having used the hospice benefit within the last month before beginning the new model. Indeed, it is noted as being open to “beneficiaries with advanced cancers, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, congestive heart failure and human immunodeficiency virus/acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (HIV/AIDS).”

The 141 hospices chosen in the Medicare Care Choices Model

The 141 hospices chosen
(Credit: innovation.cms.gov)

Interestingly enough, due to the high interest in Medicare’s decision to invest more attention in studying the benefits of allowing patients both types of treatment, this model grew from its initial plan of 30 hospices with a three-year duration to one of over 140 hospices with a five-year duration. The model will be divided into two phases with some hospices beginning on January 1, 2016 and the others starting in January 2018.

“And this matters because death is relational. It leaves an emotional legacy.”

This promising program offers so much hope for the terminally ill and their loved ones when it comes to facing difficult end-of-life decisions. As Katy Butler, author of Knocking on Heaven’s Door: The Path to a Better Way of Death, best put it in her recent New York Times op-ed piece, this type of program might be one stepping stone to “start to reduce the widely recognized problem of overly aggressive medical treatment, and attendant suffering, near the end of life.

Studies have found that about a third of Medicare patients have surgery in their last year of life, and 17 percent die in an intensive care unit or shortly after a stay. Too many families have cursed, in hindsight, the false hopes, unheld conversations and rushed medical decisions that led them there. And this matters because death is relational. It leaves an emotional legacy. Everything we do affects those we love, including the manner of our dying. Witnessing death in an intensive care unit often leaves family members with depression, anxiety and complicated grief. So does taking one’s life without saying goodbye.” We can only hope that better options will permanently exist sooner rather than later so that both the dying and their loved ones can truly rest in peace when the end comes.

Posted in Something Special | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


Warren Zevon Sings One of His Last Wishes While Dying of Cancer

Think of me in your dreams and "Keep Me in Your Heart For Awhile"
shadows

Credit: smashinghub.com

Singer-songwriter Warren Zevon had a prolific career starting in the 1970s producing many well-loved (now classic) songs and albums. Some for the likes of famous singers, i.e. Jackson Browne, Linda Ronstadt and popular films, like “Werewolves of London.” In 2002, he found out he had terminal cancer due to asbestos exposure as a child while playing in the attic of his dad’s carpet supply store.

In his last interview with David Letterman, Warren Zevon let it be known that his not seeing a doctor in two decades was “a phobia that didn’t pay off.” When Letterman asked him about his new view of “life and death (that) I don’t know,” Zevon replied “not unless I know how you are supposed to enjoy each sandwich.”

While typically Zevon’s lyrics were that of outlandish humor, once he was diagnosed with a terminal illness, as expected, he began to view life through a new lens. His songs swang the opposite direction to that of seriousness of his heart. They now spoke in words and melody as gifts to his loved ones who would survive him and to others walking the same road towards death.

Warren Zevon

Credit: haikudeck.com

My personal favorite is the very intense “Keep Me in Your Heart” (released on his Wind album), a hauntingly deep melody and a classic I could listen to over and over again. The lyrics reach out to those he loves, drawing them in to always remember him. It’s a song as a gift for those left behind to listen, yearn, feel the pain, cry and allow their heart to ache along with the mood of the lyrics. It’s a song to truly mourn by. Do listen to the song below and allow yourself to feel his pain – and perhaps your own if you have just lost a loved one.

“Shadows are falling and I’m running out of breath
Keep me in your heart for awhile

If I leave you it doesn’t mean I love you any less
Keep me in your heart for awhile

When you get up in the morning and you see that crazy sun
Keep me in your heart for awhile

There’s a train leaving nightly called when all is said and done
Keep me in your heart for awhile

Sha-la-la-la-la-la-la-li-li-lo
Keep me in your heart for awhile

Sha-la-la-la-la-la-la-li-li-lo
Keep me in your heart for awhile

Sometimes when you’re doing simple things
around the house
Maybe you’ll think of me and smile

You know I’m tied to you like the buttons on
your blouse
Keep me in your heart for awhile…”

Read the rest of the lyrics here.

Posted in A Right of Passage | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Monday Hearts for Madalene

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

Monday Hearts for MadaleneMy Heart Is Always Aflame In Your Love

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.

Posted in Hearts for Madeline | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Peace” by Langston Hughes

Hughes’ funeral poem reflects on the futile nature of war when the ultimate price soldiers pay for peace is through their deaths
Darkness with moon and tree and clouds

Credit: monoawards.com

War and its consequences wreak havoc on countless lives with its numerous casualties — whether they are civilian members or the soldiers involved on either side. In his poem, “Peace,” one of my all-time favorite poets, Langston Hughes, captures the irony of war’s goal to achieve peace no matter what — even if the very origins for the fighting become unclear. In its eight short lines, “Peace” encourages readers to reflect about whether war is actually worth all of the pain and grief that loved ones endure when the soldiers fighting to attain the precious goal of peace end up losing their lives in the process.

In a sense, whether “winners or losers” should rejoice or mourn the outcomes of the battles fought should not really matter unless they are mourning those individuals who lost their lives in the process of achieving peace in such violent and gruesome manners.

Hughes commences his poem in a solemn tone when he says, “We passed their graves:/The dead men there,/Winners or losers,/Did not care.” By mentioning how the “dead men…did not care,” Hughes is emphasizing how futile war can be when those involved in fighting for peace are not there to enjoy its benefits. In a sense, whether “winners or losers” should rejoice or mourn the outcomes of the battles fought should not really matter unless they are mourning those individuals who lost their lives in the process of achieving peace in such violent and gruesome manners.

Langston Hughes

Credit: Wikipedia.org

In the second half of “Peace,” Hughes discusses how “In the dark/They could not see/Who had gained/The victory” demonstrates the overall finality of death. These lines make readers think: What is the point of fighting for something — regardless of how important it might seem in the beginning and while you are fighting — if you do not get to enjoy the rewards and benefits of the outcome in the long run?

Thinking the ultimate consequences of starting wars might prevent more people from committing to something that will ultimately end in many families losing beloved members and having to struggle and cope with the grief over their permanent absences.

The stark brevity of each line reinforces Hughes’ message that people ought to think more about whether war is absolutely necessary. The ultimate consequences of one war might prevent more people from committing to something that will end in more loss in another, in more families having to struggle and cope with the grief over their permanent absences. It shouldn’t have to be a question about whether life is worth sacrificing when it comes to the choice of fighting in violent and gruesome ways rather than talking it through and reaching agreements in a more diplomatic manner.

“Peace” serves as a great example of a funeral poem that both honors the lives lost of soldiers and leaves those mourning them with a lot of food for thought about war’s consequences. Death and grief are ultimately inevitable. We are brought to ask ourselves, however, to what extent war could be avoided.

Posted in The Next Chapter | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Breathing Light: James Turrell at LACMA

A retrospective of artist James Turrell's work offers a personal, spiritual experience to viewers
James Turrell

James Turrell
(Credit: artsconnected.org)

Artist James Turrell (b. 1943, Los Angeles) played a pivotal role in the West Coast’s Light and Space Movement during the 1960s and 70s. The movement was rooted in the flexibility of perception and manipulation of space, and Turrell’s pieces targeted the viewer’s senses like homing darts, enveloping him or her in an environment seeming to exist outside of space and time. Not that long ago, I visited the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) and saw Turrell’s “Breathing Light,” which I could only describe as a masterpiece of purple — a visceral space created by violet light that, oddly enough, created the perfect atmosphere to ponder death.

“Turrell’s work, by pushing the limits of our own perception and physical norms, becomes a hot spot for existential thoughts. Indeed, for being such contemporary works, Terrell’s “lights” feel timeless, creating a spiritual atmosphere.”

James Turrell Light Tunnel

James Turrell’s “Light Tunnel” at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
(Credit: Cynthia)

Turrell’s work, by pushing the limits of our own perception and physical norms, becomes a hot spot for existential thoughts. Indeed, for being such contemporary works, Turrell’s “lights” feel timeless, creating a spiritual atmosphere. If you ever have the chance to visit one of his works, take it as an opportunity to have a conversation with yourself about life, death and your attachment to the physical world.

James Turrell The Color Inside

“The Color Inside” by James Turrell
(Credit: utexas.edu)

“I was maybe 5 or 6, and my grandmother would begin sitting me in the Quaker meeting house. I asked my grandmother, ‘What am I supposed to do?’ and she said, ‘Just wait, we’re going inside to greet the light.’ I liked that—this idea to go inside to find that light within, literally as well as figuratively.”

— James Turrell

Look closely, and you’ll find that light loves to take center stage in innovative art. The impressionists revolutionized the French Salon scene with their sun-drenched landscapes. Similarly, albeit much later, David Hockney transported viewers to California with his blinding, delicious pools. What all of these works and movements have in common is the desire to bring emotion into art, to move past the unfeeling goal of merely depicting something to instead start a conversation within us.

Stepping into one of Turrell’s works almost feels like stepping into the afterlife, or a rather hip mausoleum. A strange, comforting sense of unity and anonymity is created for the viewers, who are all bathed in the same light. It’s as if Turrell knows something about the connection between the physical and the “great beyond” (whatever that may be) that we don’t – but we sure are glad he’s willing to share it with us.

Posted in Soulful Expressions | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment