The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

Archive for May 26th, 2010


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– photo by Mitch Waxman

Kinda personal post today, its been a bad day.

Yesterday, Tuesday the 25th, your humble narrator was helping out on a Working Harbor Committee tour of New York Harbor. The goal of this tour was to encourage a group of inner city kids to continue their education beyond secondary school and to present the notion of a career in the maritime industries for their consideration. Several notable speakers made the case while I shot pictures of the event, and of course- passing tugboats and other watercraft. That’s when the phone rang.

It was a Doctor, a nursing home staffer on Staten Island that had been caring for my Mom. He adjured me to make all haste toward their facility as her time was near. Trapped onboard the ship, however, I would either need to return to Manhattan and catch the Staten Island Ferry or jump ship and swim – the irony was that my actual location in the Kill Van Kull was a mere mile from their inland location. Within moments, the phone rang again, and the Doctor informed me that Mom had died.

from wikipedia

The Kill Van Kull is a tidal strait approximately 3 miles (4.8 km) long and 1,000 feet (305 m) wide between Staten Island, New York and Bayonne, New Jersey in the United States.[1] Spanned by the Bayonne Bridge, it is one of the most heavily travelled waterways in the Port of New York and New Jersey.

Kill Van Kull connects Newark Bay with Upper New York Bay. The Robbins Reef Light marks the eastern end, and Bergen Point its western end. Historically it has been one of the most important channels for the commerce of the region, providing a passage for marine traffic between Upper Bay and the industrial towns of northeastern New Jersey. During the colonial era it played a significant role in travel between New York and the southern Thirteen Colonies, with passengers changing from ferries to coaches at Elizabethtown. Since the final third of the 20th century, it has provided the principal access for ocean-going container ships to Port Newark-Elizabeth Marine Terminal, the busiest port facility in the eastern United States, and Howland Hook Marine Terminal.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

My mother has been dying for nearly 10 years, with periods of intense illness followed by long lulls spent in a half life of pharmacological stasis. Her once vast intellect had shattered, her body weakened, and finally her physicians ordered her to give up the smart little apartment she had bankrupted herself for. She checked into a nursing home, which was her last mailing address.

Suffering from dementia, she ended up on the sixth floor, where the screamers are. Her life became something very close to my personal vision of hell- an institutionalized and undignified existence without a shred of freedom or self determination. Confused, sick, confined.

Don’t get me wrong, the old lady was no angel, this isn’t one of those stories. Just like every other post here, at your Newtown Pentacle, this description of her fate was neither good nor bad- it just is.

Today, a priest who never met anybody in my family will officiate at a ceremony in some town on Long Island that we have no connection to at a burial ground which adheres to a peripheral and unfamiliar religious system. He will speak in a language that nobody present will understand, and say prayers that were ancient when Rome was founded. At the end of it, the extended family will disperse to diners.

People will try to comfort me, offer open ended promises, and search my face for emotional cues to follow. Problem is that I’m a cold fish, very hard to read, and will appear aloof. Nobody can do or say anything right now, and the offers are appreciated, but one of the traits my Mom beat into me was “freak out later, take care of business now”.

from wikipedia

The Jewish funeral consists of burial, also known as interment. Cremation is not considered a viable possibility. Burial is considered to allow the body to decompose naturally. Burial is intended to take place in as short an interval of time after death as possible. Jewish law forbids embalming. Displaying of the body prior to burial does not take place.

In Israel the Jewish funeral service will usually commence at the burial ground. In the United States and Canada, the funeral service will either commence at a funeral home or at the cemetery. Occasionally the service will commence at a synagogue. In the case of a very prominent individual the funeral service can begin at a synagogue or a yeshivah. If the funeral service begins at a point other than at the cemetery the entourage accompanies the body in a procession to the cemetery. The funeral itself, the procession, the burial, are referred to by the word levayah, meaning “accompanying.”

Levayah means “accompaniment” because the funeral procession involves accompanying the body to the place of burial. Levayah is Hebrew and it also indicates “joining” and “bonding.” This aspect of the meaning of the word levayah conveys the implication of a commonality between the “souls” of the living and the dead.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The great commonality of human existence is that nobody dies well. There is no “good death”. As long time readers can attest, I understand the actual physical processes of death in arcane detail, and it ain’t nice.

Mom, however, died in a bed with a team of experts doing their level best (within the legal restrictions of her wish to not be subjected to “heroic measures” commonly called a DNR order) to save her. How lucky, and wonderful an end, for in her last moments- Mom had regained control over her life again. That’s something.

The Pentacle won’t be updating with anything new for a day or so, your humble narrator has to engage with the funerary industrial complex for the next couple of days.

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi, indeed.

from wikipedia

A do not resuscitate document is a binding legal document that states resuscitation should not be attempted if a person suffers cardiac or respiratory arrest. Abbreviated DNR, such an order may be instituted on the basis of an advance directive from a person, or from someone entitled to make decisions on their behalf, such as a health care proxy.

DNR documents are widespread in some countries and unavailable in others. In countries where a DNR is unavailable the decision to end resuscitation is made solely by physicians.

Written by Mitch Waxman

May 26, 2010 at 1:14 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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