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Table of contents
- Fatawa - The reason for washing the dead before burial
- The woman who washes the dead
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Physically you are wearing gloves, even gowns when the occasion calls for it. You are not actually coming into contact with the dead person. I would help families dress the body in the home before taking it away if they wanted. After a few years, I was spending all of my time just in our offices making arrangements with families, rarely seeing the bodies unless there was a service. At that point someone else had prepared the body for viewing, I might help rearrange the hands, or touch up the hair or makeup, but I had very little actual interaction with the deceased.
Barriers have a way of crashing down when it is someone you know, especially an unexpected death of your peer. This was Kathryn. I needed time to sit with her to digest that. I was there to support Lisa. I was the professional. I was the one experienced in death.
Fatawa - The reason for washing the dead before burial
I took a few minutes just to touch her face and hands, rationalizing the cold I felt with the woman I had known. I finished removing the plastic sheet she had been wrapped in, leaving her hospital gown on. I covered her in a cloth sheet up to her neck. I had offered to have her bathed before Lisa got there, but Lisa was emphatic that she wanted to be involved with everything. Lisa arrived with three suitcases. She had been having trouble deciding what to dress her in, so she brought everything. We could use her own shampoo, conditioner key for us curly haired girls , and soaps.
It would help her smell like her again, rather than smelling like hospital. Outside the door to the prep room, Lisa started to cry.
- Washing the Dead.
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- Danielle & Brooke Set.
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Her head is really sunken in on the side where she had the craniectomy. Her skin is a bit mottled with patches of red. There are some grey sticky spots on her arms and legs, probably left over adhesive from the medical tape. We can see red veins in her arms and legs where blood has settled. She cried, hugged her, touched her, talked to her for a bit. With a task at hand, we put on aprons.
We removed the remaining tubes and IVs that were on her. I made the conscious choice to forgo the latex gloves for this washing. I wanted to be me, her friend doing this for her, not her funeral director. I turned the water on warm. Lisa laid out the things she had brought. I handed her a washcloth. We started at the shoulders, each of us on each side of her. We passed the soap back and forth as we worked our way down her body.
We inched her gown and sheet down as we went, before giving up and removing it all together. Flecks of blood and the medical adhesive washed away. Lisa decided to clip her nails and shave her legs. I used a comb to get the knots out of the hair that she still had. Once those curls were clean and flowing, she looked much more like herself. Lisa and I talked some as we worked, told some stories but we were both very much in our own heads working through this.
The woman who washes the dead
Only after the fact did I think we should have had music playing in the background. Once Kathryn was clean and dried, Lisa went to choose the clothes. She had been debating whether to put her in a dress, or in street clothes. While Kathryn looked great in a dress, she really was a T-shirt and jeans kinda girl.
Lisa and I worked together to get her dressed. We laughed a bit at how difficult it is to dress someone who is not cooperating. I compared it to dressing my tantrum-ing two-year-old, no wait, this was easier. When we were done, tears caught in my throat. The change was so remarkable. I had come into the room with a body that had been through so much.
She looked beat up, cold, lonely, and pained. Paul Island. The next day: another carcass.
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Some were already dead. Others were well on their way—emaciated, sick, and unable to fly. Paul is the largest of the four Pribilof Islands, which together support more than 2 million seabirds. The team stepped up its surveys, braving biting winds and crashing waves to comb the beaches on all-terrain vehicles. Over the next few months, it located more than bodies, a rate that was about 70 times higher than normal. Stranger still, most of these birds were tufted puffins—a species that very rarely washes up dead. In the previous decade , the team had only ever found six puffin carcasses, and never in the winter months.
To work out how many puffins had actually died, Timothy Jones of the University of Washington used the locations of the known bodies and data on local wind patterns to simulate where the dead birds were coming from. He estimated that between 3, and 8, tufted puffins perished in the final months of What killed these birds? Most of them were intact, with no signs of either predator attacks or disease. Some of them had saxitoxin —a potent poison made by algae—in their stomach, but at levels almost times lower than what would be considered safe for humans to eat. Instead, the most likely cause of death was starvation.
The birds were extremely thin, with weak flight muscles and very little body fat.
Tufted puffins look like fancier versions of the more widely known Atlantic puffins, with elaborate yellow eyebrows that sweep backwards down their neck. On land, they have a clownish, goofy disposition. But in the sea, they become grace personified, using their streamlined body and sickle-shaped wings to fly underwater in pursuit of small fish. The climate of the Bering Sea is changing rapidly. In recent years, the sea ice that would have extended southward in the winter has become unprecedentedly thin and sparse. And that has affected everything from tiny plankton to titanic walruses. Read: There is no escape for corals.
Pollock, cod, and other fish like to congregate in large numbers at the edges of this pool, providing excellent hunting grounds for puffins and other sea birds. In the warmer waters, the plankton have shifted toward smaller and less energy-rich species, and the fish that eat those plankton have become similarly thinner in calories. These changes hit the birds at the worst possible time—when they change their coat of feathers. Puffins use their body feathers as a wetsuit that keeps water away from their skin and helps them retain heat.
To keep that suit secure, they regularly replace all their old plumes in a dramatic synchronous molt.