Rosh Hashanah

A shofar made from a ram's horn is traditional...

A shofar made from a ram's horn is traditionally blown in observance of Rosh Hashanah.


Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, begins today (September 28, 2011) at sundown. I like holidays, so even though I do not personally celebrate Rosh Hashanah, I like to acknowledge it all the same.

So for all those who don’t know what Rosh Hashanah is, here’s a brief introduction (courtesy of

‘Rosh Hashanah literally means “Head of the Year” in Hebrew. It falls in the month of Tishrei, which is the seventh month on the Hebrew calendar. The reason for this is because the Hebrew calendar begins with the month of Nissan (when it’s believed the Jews were freed from slavery in Egypt) but the month of Tishrei is believed to be the month in which God created the world. Hence, another way to think about Rosh Hashanah is as the birthday of the world.

Rosh Hashanah is observed on the first two days of Tishrei.  Jewish tradition teaches that during the High Holy Days God decides who will live and who will die during the coming year. A a result, during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (and in the days leading up to them) Jews embark upon the serious task of examining their lives and repenting for any wrongs they have committed during the previous year. This process of repentance is called teshuvah. Jews are encouraged to make amends with anyone they have wronged and to make plans for improving during the coming year. In this way, Rosh Hashanah is all about making peace in the community and striving to be a better person.’

Sounds like something all of us should consider doing in our own lives.

Do you celebrate Rosh Hashanah?


Beware of the Bronze Thieves

Bronze Vase - Photo Credit:

You’ve probably heard of thieves stealing copper wire and selling it to the local scrap yard. But copper is old news – the new king of scrap is bronze. And enterprising thieves (with no morals) get their supply of bronze from the cemetery. Yes, the cemetery.

Does your loved one have a bronze plaque or flower vase on their grave? As evidenced by the following news reports, you might want to check and make sure it’s still there…

In January, 2011 a thief left 120 vases behind when he was spotted at Gracelawn Memorial Park in New Castle
County, Delaware.

In April, 2011 two Pottstown, PA men were charged with felony counts of theft, receiving stolen property and institutional vandalism for allegedly stealing more than 200 bronze vases from Highland Memorial Cemetery.

Thieves stole dozens of bronze vases from a cemetery in repeated thefts over the past month, causing tens of thousands of dollars in damage, authorities said. The Yuba County Sheriff’s Department said at least 60 of the heavy metal ornaments were ripped out of graves at the Sierra View Memorial Park by suspects who apparently posed as mourners.

That last report really gets me…these thieves decided stealing in the dark of night wasn’t good enough, they would just go in the daytime and pretend to be mourners! But this lowlife gets the prize:

Police are looking for a thief who stole nearly four dozen bronze flower vases from plots at a Rio Rancho, NM cemetery. Most of them were taken from the veterans section of the cemetery. Authorities say a thief stole eight bronze plaques – totaling $65,000 – from a foreign war memorial, making off with the only official list of all the deceased veterans who belonged to the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 6919 in Morningside, Md. The list reportedly dated back to World War I.

Stealing from veterans? Really?? Have you no heart?

A bronze vase can cost upwards of $300 while top-of-the-line bronze markers go for about $4,000, but scrap yards typically pay $1 – $1.50 a pound for bronze so it’s not as if the thieves are making millions off their ill-gotten gains. However, it’s still worth the risk especially since it’s unlikely that they will be caught. Most cemeteries are unable to patrol each and every acre they own, let alone install video cameras to catch thieves and vandals. So when nobody’s looking, off goes the bronze.

How sad and frustrating for the families that are victims of this petty crime. It truly is shameful that this kind of robbery even exists. So next time you visit the cemetery, look out for any suspicious ‘mourners’ and always alert cemetery management if something looks off.

Have you checked on your loved ones grave lately?

Bellefontaine Cemetery

Bellefontaine Cemetery, located at 4947 West Florissant Avenue, is one of the largest and oldest cemeteries in St. Louis, MO. Established in 1849, it was created to accommodate a growing city population. The founders saw the need for a spacious rural cemetery and thus purchased 138 acres north of the city and named it Bellefontaine. The first internment took place on April 27, 1850.

The development of the cemetery had excellent timing, as a cholera epidemic hit the city that year and many of those who perished were buried in Bellefontaine. The cemetery now has 314 acres of beautifully maintained grounds, over 14 miles of paved roads and numerous monuments and mausoleums, including the Wainwright Tomb, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Some famous people buried in Bellefontaine include:

  • William Clark – Born: August 1, 1770 | Died: September 1, 1838. Explorer (yes, the ‘Lewis and Clark’ explorer).
  • Adolphus Busch – Born: July 10, 1842 | Died: October 10, 1913. He co-founded the Anheuser-Busch Brewing Company (which is now a subsidiary of Belgian-owned Anheuser-Busch InBev. The beer still tastes the same, though). 
  • Sara Teasdale – Born: August 8, 1884 | Died: January 29, 1933. An accomplished poet, she won the 1918 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for ‘Love Songs.’

If you happen to visit St. Louis, consider a visit to Bellefontaine Cemetery. It truly is an outdoor museum with a lot of history – a St. Louis landmark that is off the beaten path and is open to the public year round.

So…I suppose you’re wondering if it’s haunted. Well, aren’t all cemeteries haunted? I’ve never experienced any ‘paranormal activity’ during my visits there…but then again, I don’t make it a habit to go looking for ‘paranormal activity.’ Rumors abound that the cholera victims buried in Bellefontaine haunt the grounds, and there are stories about the members of the Lemp family, who have a tragic history involving suicide and are buried in the Lemp Family Tomb, which is the largest tomb in the cemetery. So I don’t know if it is haunted and there’s nobody who really knows. The dead tell no tales.

Here are some pictures* of the cemetery:

Bellefontaine Cemetery

Busch Mausoleum

Old Mausoleum

Inside the Old Mausoleum

Elks Rest

Captain of the Ship

* All pictures courtesy of Beth Santore – Grave Addiction


World Alzheimer’s Day – Sept 21, 2011


Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia among older adults and unfortunately has no cure. Although dementia is not considered to be a normal part of aging, most people who are afflicted are over 65 years old and 1 in 8 older Americans suffer from this disease. Alzheimer’s devastates individuals, families and communities world-wide.

World Alzheimer’s Day brings together people with the disease, their families and caregivers, leaders, medical professionals and media to focus on education, raising awareness and the need for more research. So show your support today – GO PURPLE, learn about Alzheimer’s and spread the word.

Some facts about Alzheimer’s1:

  • 43% of people aged 85 and over have Alzheimer’s disease.

  • It is the fifth-leading cause of death for those aged 65 and older.

  • Early symptoms are difficulty remembering names and recent events, apathy and depression. Later symptoms include impaired judgment, disorientation, confusion, behavior changes and difficulty speaking, swallowing and walking.

  • The cause or causes of Alzheimer’s disease are not yet known. But it is believed to develop as a result of multiple factors rather than a single cause.

  • Nearly 15 million Americans provide unpaid care for a person with Alzheimer’s disease or another dementia.

  • 61% of family caregivers rated the emotional stress of caregiving as high or very high.

  • Currently there is no cure.

Do you know someone suffering from Alzheimer’s disease? Do you care for someone with Alzheimer’s disease?

1 From Alzheimer’s Association ‘2011 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures’ report.

Ash Scattering 101

We humans are a creative bunch. We have all kinds of ideas about all sorts of things. And we usually try to sell those ideas to each other on a daily basis. Just think of all the ads you see or hear from people trying to sell you a new! different! buy now while stocks last! widget on a daily basis. Hey, even this blog is trying to sell you something (please – buy now while stocks last!).

Some ideas are more creative than others. For those who are in the market for scattering ashes – as in the ashes of your cremated loved one or pet – look no further:

Ash Scattering Via Skydive – from the Blue Sky Goodbye website:

We truly believe that no greater freedom exists than the feeling of free falling though the sky. The wind in your hair, the sun warming your face, and a view so majestic, it is unlike anything you’ve ever seen. Away from the constraints of all things human, it is there that you become one with the Earth. Saying a final goodbye to a loved one and having their ashes dispersed via sky dive is the ultimate in setting them free.’

Creative, no? Not only is this service free (they accept donations), it’s legal (in Arizona) and you get a nifty tribute video as a memorial keepsake.

Photo Source:

Ashes For Fishes – just because you’re dead doesn’t mean you can’t save the environment. Eternal Reefs puts your ashes to good use helping the marine eco-system. Here’s what they do:

‘Eternal Reefs takes the cremated remains or “cremains” of an individual and incorporates them into an environmentally safe cement mixture designed to create artificial reef formations. The memorial reefs are taken to a curing area and then placed in the permitted ocean location selected by the individual, friend or family member.’

If you love the ocean, this could be the perfect final resting place. You’ll have to dig deep in your pockets though – a memorial reef for you and your spouse/partner/whomever costs about $5,000. So, a little pricey but still creative. And environmentally friendly.

Photo Source:

Theme Park Ashes – Back in 2007, one person allegedly tried to scatter the ashes of their loved one in the popular ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ ride in Disneyland, CA. The LA Times reported the following:

A witness described the substance as a baby powder that quickly dissipated,” Disneyland resort spokesman Rob Doughty said. “We reopened the attraction after determining that there was no hazard to our guests.” Disney officials said they were unaware of any confirmed ash-scattering incidents in the park, and they didn’t believe it to be a problem. From time to time, guests do ask permission to disperse ashes on park premises. “The answer, Doughty said, is always no.”

I guess some people really love those rides. Creative, yes. Legal, not so much.


Photo image via Wikipedia


As cremation continues to grow in popularity (and put gravetenders like me out of business – buy now while stocks last!) the list of interesting and creative places to scatter ashes will only get longer. I wonder what people will come up with next?

Where would you want your ashes scattered?

Death Wars: Body Disposal – Cremation vs. Cadaver

Which Way to the War
Image via Wikipedia

Yes, this topic may be gruesome to some people but death happens every day and therefore the decision on how to dispose of the body is also made every day. OK, maybe the words ‘dispose of the body’ are a bit harsh – feel free to think of it in whatever soothing terms appeal to you.

Today in ‘Death Wars,’ we consider the relative merits of cremation versus cadaver. And by cadaver we mean a medical cadaver, the kind that gets dissected by medical students in a lab. Not to be confused with a crash test cadaver, a forensic study cadaver or a touring-the-world cadaver. Please note that this comparison is totally unscientific and cannot be proven in a court of law or any other authoritative venue.

Cost About $1,000, depending on what bells and whistles you (or whoever cremates you) add. Free! Just find a med school that’s willing to take you
Odor Scale Minimal Pretty darn smelly
Social Acceptance Gaining in popularity Not so much
Contributing to a Life-Saving Medical Discovery Miniscule Better than average
Special Effects Extreme heat (1800 – 2000 degrees Fahrenheit) Tie Tie It’s a cadaver…enough said.
Zombie-fication Possibility 40% (think Freddy Krueger) 99.9% (think Friday the 13th)


And the winner is…Cadaver!! If you decide this is is how you want to ‘go out’, just think of all the numerous first year med students who will forever be in your debt. And if they take a picture and post it on Facebook, at least you won’t be alive to see it.

Would you donate your body to science?

Is Dignity Therapy For You?

Image by J. Paxon Reyes via Flickr

I heard about this on the radio the other day. I caught the tail end of the story – this woman was talking about always carrying around a 50 page document created by her late mother, and the document was basically a memoir of sorts, spoken by her mother and recorded by a ‘dignity therapist.’ This gift from her mother must be very special if she always keeps it by her side (because really, how much does a 50 page document weigh??).

For those of us who have lost loved ones, being able to hold on to their memory is important and having something tangible like a recording, a video, a journal or an ethical will helps the memories last longer. Some people may not want a therapist knowing all their secrets but it could be curative…and revealing. Harvey Chochinov, a psychiatrist at the University of Manitoba in Canada and the person who created dignity therapy, says “When you are standing at death’s door and you have a chance to say something to someone, I absolutely think that proximity to death is going to influence the words that come out of your mouth.”

So basically people facing imminent death will probably say things they would have never said while they were alive. And depending on what they disclose, it could be a good thing or a bad thing. Just ask Jackie Kennedy’s grandkids. But don’t wait – if you have words of wisdom to share with family or close friends do it now. Write it down, record it, film it, paint it on a large canvas, whatever works. Just do it now because tomorrow may be too late.

What will you share before you leave?