After my mother passed away last month, I took a trip to Iceland to clear my head and renew my energy. The landscape and climate perfectly fit my mood, yet it being unknown territory put things in a different perspective and helped me transition into a new beginning. I visited two cemeteries during my stay in Iceland’s winter wonderland: one in downtown Reykjavik and a smaller one in Vik. If you’re into snow covered graves and tiny wooden churches, I have some treats in store for you!
All posts by acourseindying
As my mother entered the final phase of her life due to terminal cancer, these past few months I was faced with the challenge of putting A Course in Dying into practice. What was most remarkable to me during this process is how some of my experiences were not at all like how I had imagined them to be. In the light of truth and the ultimacy of reality, I feel it is important to share this honest account with you. To give you an insight into the various scenarios of how we cope with death and loss.
Rick Strassman (Los Angeles, 1952) is a medical doctor specialized in psychiatry and the author of the acclaimed book “DMT: The Spirit Molecule” in which he shares his groundbreaking research on N,N-Dimethyltryptamine (DMT) during which he administered 400 doses of the powerful psychedelic drug to 60 volunteers at the University of New Mexico’s School of Medicine. The participants reported having profound near-death and mystical experiences, hence its nickname “the spirit molecule”. DMT is present inside the human pineal gland and can be found in animals and plants as well. Shamans in the Amazon extract it from a mixture of plants known as ayahuasca and use it to go on spiritual quests. I asked Dr. Strassman about his own experiences with death and his thoughts on the connection between DMT and the dying process.
Mesmerizing installations, sculptures and films are only a few of the mediums through which multidisciplinary artist Hans Op de Beeck reflects on our complex society and the universal questions of meaning and mortality that resonate within it. His works place the viewer in non-existent but familiar surroundings that evoke a sense of absurdity for our postmodern existence. Hans was born in 1969 and lives and works in Brussels. I was pleased to chat with him about the way he translates his experiences of impermanence and loss through his art and how the reality of death can alter one’s view on life.
Dutch author Arnon Grunberg was born in Amsterdam in 1971, made his debut at the early age of 23 with his autobiographical novel ‘Blue Mondays’ and soon became known as the enfant terrible of the Dutch literary world. His latest novel ‘Moedervlekken’ (Birthmarks) was inspired by the events surrounding the death of his mother, who was a survivor of Auschwitz. He lives in New York and writes for several newspapers, including the The New York Times. I got the chance to ask Mr. Grunberg a few things about his perspective on death, how he deals with the loss of his loved ones and his wishes for his own funeral.
Throughout human history, we have invented rituals to remember and reconnect with the dead. Studying the social evolution of these rituals can help to make sense of what we are doing today. But not all our rituals can be so easily explained. In this piece I want to reflect on the ways we attempt to make sense of bereavement: meaning-making through death rituals.
Back in August I took a summer school thanatology course at the Radboud University in Nijmegen: Death and Meaning Making in Europe. As part of the program we went on an excursion to a nearby crematorium to learn how the process of cremation actually works. I imagine you guys are just as curious as I was to see what goes on behind the curtains, so I will share my findings with you in this report.
LA-based art historian and demonic cat expert extraordinaire Paul Koudounaris is best known as the photographer and author of a collection of stunningly beautiful books including Memento Mori, Heavenly Bodies and The Empire of Death. Through his work he has exposed an entire world of long forgotten macabre glory to the public, making many morbid enthusiast’s hearts beat faster. I picked Paul’s brain about his definition of death, his love for cats and the paranormal experiences he’s had with the inanimate subjects of his research.
Here is the second part of the cemetery tour we did through France this summer. In the first part we took you to Camburat and in this one I decided to combine the two remaining reviews for Figeac and Loupfougères, as they both have similarities and I don’t want to bore you with too much of the same.
Let’s start with the graveyard of Figeac. Located in south-western France, right under Camburat, Figeac is a medieval town with a cozy center with plenty of restaurants and a cute market. Unlike the other two towns we visited, Figeac has its cemetery in the center of the town, right next to the city hall and across from a private middle school. The entrance gates were closed, but luckily we found a side door that was unlocked and granted us access to its gorgeous grounds.
Born in New York, Laurie Lipton started drawing at the young age of four. She developed her own incredibly detailed drawing technique while traveling through Europe and has since created an astonishing body of work. Through her drawings, she confronts the viewer with complex existential subjects and invites him to explore the true nature of everyday reality. I asked Laurie a few questions about her thoughts on the subject of mortality and discovered how the Mexican Day of the Dead has made a lasting impression that continues to inspire her to this day.
The Boogeyman, Dracula, mutated monsters, zombies and man-eating werewolves. These are just a few of the mythical creatures man has created to project his fears onto. We tell each other scary stories about these horrifying beings to channel our own shadow side. Our fear of death is ultimately at the core of all our other fears. But what death exactly is or looks like, we do not know. To put a face and voice to this counterforce of life, we have created numerous images to give death an identity throughout history. Here are a few of the most impressive embodiments of the Big Unknown.
This summer, my love and I went on a fantastic road trip through France. Besides chasing the sun and enjoying the stunning surroundings, this was the perfect opportunity to check out some of the smaller cemeteries in the French countryside. This cemetery review is the first of three reviews of tiny and fairly unknown graveyards in the south of France. In this first one we take you to the tiny village of Camburat, in the Midi-Pyrénées region of southwest France.