On Death and Dying

As usual Rob is at his best when writing from personal experience.


Alan's picture
Alan on May 1, 2003 - 13:39 Permalink

A very useful book on the relationship North Americans have to death is Ivan Illich’s Limits to Medicine: Medical Nemenis, the Expropriation of Health. I read it first around 1990 after CBC’s Ideas did a series on his writings. It was the only time I ordered one of the transcripts. In one section, the book describes how in the medieval funerals once were celebrations with dancing. I would make one observation. Our strangeness is as much about dying as death. We are fairly immune to death as we don’t think of it. From the number of boomer joggers — sorry, “runners” — out there there is a lot of thinking about dying going on.

Wayne's picture
Wayne on May 1, 2003 - 14:07 Permalink

I don’t run to avoid death, but to enjoy life. And a few extra beers and a dish of Ice Cream with it. The trouble is when you start to slow down, due to aging, the ice cream starts to catch up with you. I have no problem with aging, however. It sure beats the alternative.

Alan's picture
Alan on May 1, 2003 - 14:12 Permalink

Running is fine as long as you are kicking a ball when you do it and confine yourself to a space 100 yards by 200 yards with 21 other people.

art's picture
art on May 1, 2003 - 16:07 Permalink

I was once in a research course in the late 1980s where I ended up going through the 19th century census returns for small communities in Ontario. I was struck by how many farming families would give two or more children the same name until I realized it wasn

Oliver Baker's picture
Oliver Baker on May 2, 2003 - 16:59 Permalink

Art, did the census data indicate that the like-named children were alive at the same time? Could it be that parents picked the name of a child that died for their next child? The death and new birth might happen within the space of one census.

art's picture
art on May 2, 2003 - 17:56 Permalink

Hi Oliver, that definitely happened too, though there were cases where the children were between 2 and 16 (adult workers by 18th century standards I guess). The other morbid tidbit on this topic I forgot to mention were funeral ads from the early 1900s, which often prominently displayed children. I used this example several years ago in a computer science lecture, of all places, but you can see some at: http://zeus.uwindsor.ca/librar…

I know I have the paper I wrote somewhere, though mortality was not the focus (I think it was something on population spread). It’s funny how you forget the focus of an activity that happened over a decade ago but the interesting tidbits stay with you forever.

Oliver Baker's picture
Oliver Baker on May 2, 2003 - 20:17 Permalink

Interesting. I’m still unsure about the alive-at-the-same-time issue, though. Sorry: I think because I have no idea what census data is. With the same-named 2 and 16 year-olds, does the mere existence of census data imply that they were alive at the same time? I now remember that besides the Newhart example (which I hadn’t known) the boxer George Foreman is supposed to have named all his sons after himself—distinguishing them George Foreman I, George Foreman II, George Foreman III. (I don’t think he changed his name to George Foreman 0, but then there’s no Roman Numeral for 0). Hmmm. Now I wonder: Did these early Ontarian namesakes share middle names as well?

Alan's picture
Alan on May 2, 2003 - 20:34 Permalink

From the Gaelic background, having similar first and middle names was not extraordinary as they were intended to be used collectively, ie John Morris Rankin, to identify the individual. The fact that a brother might be John Douglas Rankin does not look odd in that context while it does to the WASPy world.

Rob Paterson's picture
Rob Paterson on May 2, 2003 - 20:38 Permalink

I have come across two Island friends whose parents were name doubles of a prior child who had died before they were born.

Most died in child birth and hospitals were death traps.

I think that you are right — death has become a rarity and when it happens we hide it. The Victorians hid sex but celebrated death.

I wonder if the boomers, myself included, now watch in a compressed time period of a decade the death of our parents whether this may change our consciouness as we too come to terms with our own mortality?

Alan's picture
Alan on May 2, 2003 - 21:00 Permalink

Most died in child birth and hospitals were death traps.”

I am 40 and one of the first generation of our family to be born in hospital. In the 1930’s in industrial Scotland, home births were the rule still. WOuld that not have been the acse in PEI, too?

art's picture
art on May 2, 2003 - 21:35 Permalink

To be honest, I don’t know enough about census returns of the time to be sure though I suspect the census-takers were supposed to list the living. I remember that middle names were not included, and there was some sort of ethnic designation, something to the effect of “Scottish”, “Irish”, etc. Very interesting about George Foreman, I would love to be in his house at Christmas when they hand out presents.