Jon Underwood 1972 - 2017 Founder of the Death Café movement.

I have only recently started to learn about the amazing work of Jon Underwood and the Death Café movement, and will be attending my forst Death Café next month with a view of starting up my own? So I was shocked and saddened to hear of Jon's untimely death in June of this year. I thought I would pay tribute to him by sharing part oh his wonderful obituary that is featured in the August edition of the Funeral Director monthly. These words are not my own but I have edited them to make the article a little shorter.  

Jon Underwood was a businessman and charity worker who founded the Death Café movement in 2011. He died suddenly at the age of 44 from an undiagnosed Acute Promyelocytic Leukameia. born in Chester England in 1972 he was educated at Queens Park High School and Chorpus Christi College Oxford where he studied Philosophy and Economics. 

Jon was married to Donna whom he met at university. They had two children frank and Gina, where they lived as a family in Hackney in East London. Jon was a practising Buddhist and remained close to his spiritual teacher, Geshe Tashi throughout his life. In September 2011 from his home in Hackney Jon started the very first Death Café. It would go on to become a huge success with almost 5000 Death Cafés being run in over 50 countries. The venus are diverse and welcoming. Popping up in a wide variety of locations Death Cafés can be found in funeral homes, at festivals, coffee shops, tea rooms, schools and universities not to mention peoples private homes. Death Café has recieved unprecedented media coverage spanning the globe includong the fron page of the New York Times.

Jon also built and manged Funeral Advisor in association with the Natural Death Centre charity and also ran impermanence an umberella company which brought together his different commitments to doing good in the world, by encouraging society to deal with death in interesting and innovative ways. Jon's wife Donna said 'Jon was uniquely and unusually aware that life is short amd appreciated his life fully, reflecting on this through daily practice. 

Through his life Jon Underwood helped hundreds of people all over the world to reguarly come together, drink tea and eat cake whilst taking time oiut to remeber what really matters. He has single handedly changed cultures around death and end-of-life awareness, not just in the UK but across the globe. Death Café is a remarkable achievement. It's continuing quest to break down barriers and help people come to terms with life's impermanence will be a remarkeable and valuble legacy. 

Jon's mother, Sue and his sister will continue his work on the Death Café movement, as Jon requested. 

Vladamir Lenin 20 April 1870 - 21 January 1924

As I have just returned from Russia I thought I'd add probably the most famous embalmed corpse to my 'Dead Famous' gallery. Please note though that this text is taken from other sources and they are not my own words!

Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, better known by the alias Lenin was a Russian communist revolutionary, politician, and political theorist. He served as head of government of the Russian Republic from 1917 to 1918, of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic from 1918 to 1924, and of the Soviet Union from 1922 to 1924. Under his administration, Russia and then the wider Soviet Union became a one-party communist state governed by the Russian Communist Party. Ideologically a Marxist, he developed political theories known as Leninism.

Lenin died at his Gorki home on 21 January 1924, having fallen into a coma earlier in the day. His official cause of death was recorded as an incurable disease of the blood vessels.

Pathologist Alexei Ivanovich Abrikosov had embalmed the body shortly after Lenin's death, but by 1929 it was determined that it would be possible to preserve the body for much longer than usual; therefore, the next year a new mausoleum of marble, porphyry, granite, and labradorite (by Alexey ShchusevI.A. Frantsuz and G.K. Yakovlev) was completed.

In 1973 sculptor Nikolai Tomsky designed a new sarcophagus.

One of the main problems the embalmers faced was the appearance of dark spots on the skin, especially on the face and hands. They managed to solve the problem by the use of a variety of different reagents in between baths. For example, if a patch of wrinkling or discoloration occurred it was treated with a solution of acetic acid and ethyl alcohol diluted with water. Hydrogen peroxide could be used to restore the tissues' original colouring. Damp spots were removed by means of disinfectants like quinine or phenol.

Until the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, the continued preservation work was funded by the Russian government. At that point the government discontinued financial support and now private donations support the preservation staff. However in 2016 the Russian government planned to spend 13 million Rubles from the federal budget, in order to preserve Lenin's body.

 

St Valentine AD 176-14 February 273 AD

Think you know the story of St Valentine? Think again. Like most love stories his was filled with misery and hate. And ended up in rather a grizzly death!!

Valentine, a Christian priest in the Roman empire, was beaten, stoned, and finally, decapitated on Feb. 14 roughly 1,700 years ago in Rome, according to hazy accounts that have been passed down through history.
Some versions of the legend say Valentine’s crime was performing marriages for young Christian men and women in an age that favored open relationships. Young marriage was also frowned on because it was seen as making fighting men less tough.

Valentine may also have attempted to convert people, and even the then-emperor Claudius II, to Christianity. One version of his story says that Valentine healed his jailor’s daughter of blindness when he was in prison awaiting execution (in other versions, it’s the daughter of a judge.) Before being taken out to die, he wrote the girl a note signed “your Valentine.”
Romantic? Not so much.

The history around the man himself is incomplete, comprising more than one person—St. Valentine of Terni and St. Valentine of Rome—who may or may not have been the same. Even the date of his death is unclear—various versions say it took place in 269, 270, 273, or 280 AD.
Pope Gelasius marked February 14th as a celebration in honor of St. Valentine’s martyrdom in 496 AD. By this point, Christianity had moved from subversive fringe group to the main religion of the Roman empire. Some historians believe that Valentine’s Day was instated in order to suppress the pagan ritual of Lupercalia, a fertility rite in which single young men and women were paired off in a type of sexual lottery.

Not all saints came to such a violent end, but violence and martyrdom—one route to sainthood—do rather go hand-in-hand, as a full list of martyred saints shows.
According to Catholic Online, St. Valentine is patron saint of engaged couples, happy marriages, love, lovers, and young people, but also of plague, travelers, epilepsy, fainting, greetings—and bee keepers.

 

 

Pope Pius XII 1876-1958

Pope Pius XII I think one of the most famous victims of failed embalming. Born in 1876 he died on 9th October 1958 aged 82 years old. His cause of death was recorded as acute heart failure. Giving that he was to have a state funeral the popes body embalmed but not in the usual way. 

For his embalming, the Pope had not wanted his vital organs removed, demanding that his body be kept in the same condition "in which God created it". His physician Dr. Riccardo Galeazzi-Lisi claimed that he and an embalmer from Naples, Professor Nuzzi, had used a new system with the same oils and resins with which the body of Jesus Christ had been preserved. However, the weather was so hot that the body decomposed rapidly, and the public viewing had to be terminated.

His funeral procession into Rome was the largest congregation seen in the city up to that date. Pius XII was buried in the grottos beneath St. Peter's Basilica in a simple tomb in a small chapel.

Abraham Lincoln 1809-1865

Embalming the dead has been happening for thousands of years. Many of the rich and famous have also undergone this after death treatment. From popes to politicians. Actors and actresses, kings and queens. I think the most famous exhibited embalmed person has to be former communist leader Vladimir Lenin. His body to this day continues to lie in state in Red square Russia. 

Modern arterial embalming was first invented on the battle fields of the American civil war. Carried out by surgeons rather than undertakers this practice gained fame an notoriety for its scientific practice and the people whom this was practiced on. One of them being American president Abraham Lincoln. 

After being shot in the back of the head by John Wilkes-Booth Lincoln dies shortly afterwards. His body was prepared with a form of arterial embalming practiced in Europe. The fluids drained and replaced with an arsenic based embalming fluid. He was then shaved leaving only a goatee beard on his chin and dressed in a black suit. His body was then transported by train to Washington DC for his funeral. President Lincoln was accompanied by his embalmer a doctor named Henry Cattell so that he could perform 'touch ups' along the way. 

The journey to Washington was 1654 miles long and took 13 days to complete. The body was viewed by hundreds of people thousands of times. 10 years later Lincolns body was exhumed and the coffin opened. He was by all accounts in perfect condition. His features still recognisable. Strengthening the case of Dr Henry Cattell possibly one of the finest embalmers of the day.