“Billy Don’t Be a Hero” by Mitch Murray and Peter Callander

Song reflects grief and anger at the loss of a soldier

“Billy Don’t Be a Hero,” an anti-war song, premiered in the United Kingdom, where it was performed by the group Paper Lace. In 1974, Bo Donaldson and the Heywoods performed the song in the United States. It shot to the top of the charts for a full two weeks and sold three million records.

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

Credit: amusingplanet.com

Most listeners believed that the song referenced the Vietnam War. However, by 1974, the United States was pulling troops out of Vietnam. The war was almost over. This, as well as references like “soldier blues,” a term that was not used in Vietnam, has led some historians to speculate that the war this song referred to was the American Civil War.

“Billy Don’t Be a Hero” begins with the narrator observing a recruitment event. He sees his friend Billy waiting to sign up while his fiancée sobs,

“Billy don’t be a hero, don’t be a fool with your life.

Billy don’t be a hero, come back and make me your wife.”

And as he started to go, she cried, “Billy keep your head low,

Billy don’t be a hero, come back to me.”

Billy joins the war in spite of his lover’s pleas.

Military funeral

Credit: blog.funeralalone.co,

The next verse finds Billy’s unit badly outnumbered on the battlefield. The sergeant asks for a volunteer to bring back more men. Billy volunteers and is killed while trying to accomplish the mission. The narrator relates:

I heard his fiancée got a letter

That told how Billy died that day.

The letter said that he was a hero.

She should be proud he died that way.

I heard she threw the letter away.

Since the United States has been involved in the War on Terror for the last 15 years with no end in sight, many people have lost loved ones who were serving their country. Some, like Billy’s fiancée, feel their loved ones died in vain. Others are proud that the people they loved died in defense of their country. Still others experiences complicated grief, because of the difficulty reconciling their feelings about war with their feelings of loss.

Many veterans’ organizations offer counseling and education to help those whose loved one has died in service. Some, like Billy’s fiancée, are angry at their loved ones and don’t want any reminders of the person who was killed. Some believed their loved one died for a good cause.

In September of 2016, I attended the Veterans of Foreign Wars National Convention, where my father, who died in March, was being honored as a past Commander in Chief. While waiting to take our seats, I met a woman whose son had died in a Blackhawk training mishap. She gave me a card with his name on it and tearfully said that the only thing that made his death bearable was that he had died doing what he had loved to do.

There are many different responses to losing a loved one in a war. “Billy Don’t Be a Hero” illustrates one of them. If you are grieving the death of a soldier, reach out to local veterans’ organizations. They may be able to help you.

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Body Transportation is Less Regulated Than You Might Think

In some states, transportation of bodies only requires a driver's license
transporting a body in a van today


If you live in Pennsylvania or New Jersey and own a car, you could start a new career transporting bodies to funeral homes or crematoriums — all it takes is a valid driver’s license.

The New York Times points out that in many states there are few, if any, rules governing the transportation of bodies, and that this under-regulation can lead to serious health and economic consequences. Critics are worried that loose regulations will negatively impact families and drivers alike.

In areas such as New York City, a driver who transports bodies must be designated by a funeral director, medical examiner or coroner. The drivers work alongside these other professionals and use specialized tools such as gurney-equipped vans (which their employers provide.) In many of these locations, drivers must be licensed, trained and thoroughly vetted before they are allowed to transport the deceased.

By contrast, states such as California and Pennsylvania don’t require drivers to have any special licenses or even permission from a funeral director or coroner to transport a body. Many drivers work on-call, and employers are not legally obligated to offer drivers any training whatsoever.

In California, a group of drivers have filed a lawsuit against their employer, alleging that they were not properly trained and had to provide their own transportation equipment, such as vans, gurneys and body bags. The also had to pay out of pocket for their business expenses and were told to be on-call 24 hours-per-day every day of the week, with no holidays or sick leave.

In addition to the economic problems that arise from under-regulation, the lack of rules compromises workplace safety. Some contagious pathogens continue living long after a person has died, and drivers can become infected or transmit infections to others if they don’t know how to protect themselves. The bodies themselves may also be at risk. Families expect their loved ones to arrive at the funeral home or crematorium safely, but if drivers aren’t well trained, they could accidentally damage the body during transport.

A coroner vehicle driving along the road

Credit: flickr.com

Due to the sensitive nature of after-death care, some funeral directors and drivers have been pushing for more regulation in recent years. Good drivers not only need to know how to carefully move a body without contracting disease or causing damage, they also need to be sensitive to the feelings of the person’s loved ones. It’s easy to offend a family by aggressively moving a body, and untrained drivers are more likely to commit this faux pas.

Nevertheless, professionals in the funeral industry are split are on whether additional regulation is a good idea. In an interview with the New York Times, George R. Kelder, the executive director of the New Jersey State Funeral Directors Association, argues “I am not certain that the mere transport of remains requires a license or a registration…I think that would add an expense.” Yet he also admits that basic training in the safe handling of bodies is an essential part of the job. “Just like the police and first responders, they have to be trained in personal protection,” he said.

Peter Rukin, a lawyer representing the California workers, took it one step further.  “I would ultimately like to see industry-specific state regulation ensuring that workers who perform removals for county coroners’ offices and the private funeral industry receive appropriate labor and health and safety protections.”

Insofar as these types of regulations are determined on a state level, progress towards a developing nationally recognized standards is unlikely to happen any time soon.

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“If you would indeed behold the spirit of death, open your heart wide unto the body of life. For life and death are one, even as the river and the sea are one.”

- Kahlil Gibran
sunset over the ocean denotes life and death

Credit: youtube.com

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Through the Eyes of a Child

Including children in the dying experience

Join SevenPonds each month as Tani Bahti, RN, CT, CHPN, offers practical on-hand guidance to demystify the dying process. As an RN since 1976, Tani has been working to empower families and healthcare professionals to have the best end-of-life experience possible both through education and the development of helpful tools and resources. As the current Director of Pathways, Tani is also the author of “Dying to Know, Straight Talk About Death and Dying,” considered by SevenPonds to be one of the most practical books on the topic. Founder Suzette Sherman says this is, “the book I will have at the bedside of my dying parents some day, hopefully a very long time from now.”

A child's eyes as she experiences the dying of someone she loves

Credit: Pixabay

Only 9 years old, Daniel proudly and perfectly drew up his dying father’s medication in a syringe. In the midst of the helplessness to change the course of his father’s terminal state, this was something he could do to make a difference. He would help his dad feel better.

Because 80 percent of deaths still occur in a hospital or care center, the dying experience becomes less normalized and less inclusive of the entire family. Children are often blocked from visits, even when a loved one is dying at home.

Children pick up on signs of distress in adults. If they do not understand what is happening or are not included in the dying experience, it can increase their own fears or sense of guilt. They may worry that they have done something wrong or that they are somehow responsible for the person’s dying and believe that’s why they can’t see them.   They may create a scary picture of what is happening, and the resulting anxiety and distress can result in acting out behaviors such as anger, neediness, destruction or withdrawal.

If you are working with a hospice program, the social worker or bereavement counselor can help you determine the best approach for working with a child, depending on their age, relationship to the person who is dying and other circumstances.

An abundance of  childrengirl-1641215_1280’s books are available that help normalize the dying process for children — to help them understand the life cycle and acknowledge their sadness. Many are specific to losing a grandparent, a parent or sibling, and most are geared towards specific ages (for instance, toddlers, preschoolers, school-aged children or teens.) When you read these books together, both the parent/reader and child are comforted, and this shared experience can strengthen their connection while minimizing fears. It also gives the child a chance to ask questions that help avoid potentially damaging misinterpretations.
Encourage simple expressions of love.  This may include drawing a picture of the child’s favorite memory with the person who is dying, or taping the child while they sing a special song.  If they are unable to present their gift in person, let them know how much their gift helped the dying person feel good when it was received.

One 5-year-old lovingly rubbed her grandfather’s feet each day, just to listen to his contented and grateful moans. Another would gently brush her mother’s hair while singing to her. They learned the power of connection by providing comfort, and witnessed the natural physical changes that accompany terminal illness.

Children are sometimes able to experience things that adults cannot, and given the chance, their sharing can benefit the adults:

“Oh no! We don’t want her to see her nana. It will upset her. “ The family was at odds with the idea that 3 year old Cecelia should be allowed to visit her beloved grandmother, Irene, who was close to death on the hospice unit.  Irene and Cecelia shared a special bond, and the separation was difficult for them. They both repeatedly asked for a visit.

day-686665_1280After some discussion with the hospice team, the family agreed, but the tension was papalpable as they stood around Irene’s bed as Cecelia approached. The little girl approached the bed slowly, then recognized her nana’s face and squealed as she jumped on the bed to give her a hug.

After a moment, she pulled her head back, looking just above her nana’s head, and began to giggle. Not expecting this reaction, the family asked the little girl why she was laughing. The little girl pointed up and happily explained, “Look at all the angels who are here with nana!”

The family surrounding the bed relaxed, then smiled, then joined in the giggles, grateful for the magic of sharing the experience through the eyes of a child.

Take a look at a copy of Tani’s book “Dying to Know — Straight talk about Death and Dying” to help demystify the process and find words of wisdom on many aspects of dying.

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Monday Hearts for Madalene

Page Hodel creates beautiful hearts as a tribute to enduring love
Handmade heart

Our Hearts Are Intertwined

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  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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“My life is an open book. But it is very poorly written and I die in the end.”

Book Opened

Credit: Social Science Space

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