November 13, 2011

The face of it

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For the first time in my recent memory, The New York Times has published a photo of a corpse of a person who died of natural causes. The paper frequently posts images of the dead taken by war or disaster. Here the body (photographed by Librado Romero), laid out in a coffin, is surprisingly intense, as is the story of the dead woman, Noemi Rivera and her husband Edwin Morales.

Memento Mori was common in Victorian era. The dead were posed and photographed. The treasured images were hung in the parlor. As our culture embraced modern medicine, we moved out of the home into the hospital to die. Our experience with death became removed from daily life, and we became less comfortable with impermanence. In fact, some find it vulgar. One New York Times reader posted the comment “This is a beautiful love story. The photograph is in very poor taste.”

How does it feel to you to look death in the face?

Comments (6)

  1. November 14, 2011
    shari brooks said...

    very interesting question here. I’ve seen death in the face. I watched my mother die right in front of my eyes. I literally saw the “death mask” which I never wish to experience again. That being said, I do find pictures of dead people, in a coffin, eerily peaceful. The absence of the sterile contraptions from a hospital or the bloody wounds from war or violence release fear and allow me to observe a peaceful element to death. I have no problems with the picture featured in this post. The dead person looks peaceful and calm and prepared for the next journey…

  2. November 14, 2011
    Eve Yohalem said...

    I’ve always been fascinated by the Victorian memento mori tradition. That family members would dress, pose and photograph the body of a recently departed loved one – such a start contrast with our modern revulsion toward death!

  3. November 14, 2011
    Brightshadow said...

    When my friend Alexei died a year and a half ago, I realized I’d never seen a corpse before. My family does closed coffin, if the coffin is present at all — usually it’s just ashes or not even those. “Do you recognize him?” said Alexei’s mother, whose flawless gracious manners were even up to this occasion. (She died four months later.) “Yes; he’s the youngest looking person here,” I said. And the liveliest. And the healthiest.

    But I wouldn’t want to go like that myself. My family takes the attitude of: Better to remember them living. And that’s what our memorial rituals are like. As for my actual corpse — if anybody has a use for the parts and I’m no longer using them, fine. The rest to the teaching labs. Once I’m not there (and I do not believe in a soul that survives death, by the way), then I don’t care what happens to the detritus.

    • November 16, 2011
      aftert11 said...

      Your comments clearly prove that one does not need to gaze upon the face of the deceased to have a healthy consciousness about death. And love your “dead pan” delivery.
      Thank you,
      Susan

  4. November 15, 2011
    Sung said...

    Thanks a lot for spending some time to describe the terminlogy for the rookies!

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