Friday, August 27, 2010

Mourner's Kaddish? Visiting a Grave? There's an App For That

Jewish Mourning Ritual
Just last week, I was excited to learn about Bosan, an iPhone app designed for Japanese families that facilitated a virtual grave honoring from anywhere in the world.  I wondered what would be next app for mourners.  Well, here are two more!

Kaddish, the Jewish Mourner's prayer, is recited publicly  every day for 11 months after a parent's death as a reaffirmation of faith.  This requirement can be difficult for many to fulfill properly though, as the prayer is in Aramaic.  Now there is help in the form of an iPhone app to tutor mourners in the pronunciation of this important prayer.  

Jewish Morning Ceremony

Here is a description of the app from its creator, Davka Corporation:

iKaddish teaches the recitation of the Mourner’s Kaddish, which is one of the primary ritual observances of Jewish mourning practice.
 It is the ideal tutor for learning the difficult words and intonation of the Kaddish prayer, which is written in Aramaic. The text is displayed with vowelized Hebrew and transliteration. As the audio is played, both the Hebrew and transliteration are highlighted, one word at a time. Users can pause after each screen, tap the screen and listen again, or go forward to the next section. The program includes audio of the Kaddish in both Sephardic and Ashkenazic pronunciation. iKaddish includes the Mourner’s Kaddish and the Rabbis’ Kaddish.
 iKaddish also contains an explanatory section about the Kaddish that includes the English translation, as well as additional information about its recitation.
Jewish Mourning Grief Ritual

What else is out there for tech savvy mourners?
The 'Mourning Post' app...

death ritual memorial

This application allows you to visit and create memorials in conjunction with the web-site, The Mourning   The memorials you create and visit may also be added to with photos, obituaries.  There is a guestbook that friends can sign and leave a note, and a timeline feature that allows for the posting of important events and chronological milestones from the life of the deceased.

Perhaps most impressive, this app also makes use of GPS, allowing the user to find and visit the funerals, resting places, and other significant locations of friends and family members in the real world.
The drawback on this app, and the Mourning Post site, is a frequent request to pay more for services.  Visitors are asked for payments to upgrade or perpetuate the listing.  This unfortunately gives the impression that the family is asking for money from the visitors- not the message they probably  want to convey.  I think the whole experience would be more meaningful if the revenue end was taken care of completely at the front end of the account creation process.

death ritual technology

death mourning grief ritual

Here is a description and list of features from The Mourning Post:

The GPS feature will allow you to pinpoint all the significant locations and give directions if need be.As you travel the world the markers will appear, at that point you simply touch the marker to visit the memorial.
So if you're guilty of not visiting the gravesite as often as you should, fret not, now you may build a lasting memory and create a beautiful memorial that you can visit anywhere you find yourself thinking of the special one in your life.
So if they have lived in multiple locations or have traveled the globe and accomplished many things, or if you just want to carry the memory wherever
you go, you can now bring it all together into one very unique application.

- Search for memorials where you are or around the globe
- Create and view your own personal memorials
- Memorials feature (see website for details on different types of memorials):
- Information and description of your loved one
- Obituary
- Photos
- Map of locations that mattered to them (even include funeral/viewing locations to help your family/friends get directions)
- Timeline of significant events and accomplishments that occurred throughout their life
- Guestbook
- Share the memorial with your family and friends
- Send flowers

For More information about this app, visit The Mourning Post 
For more on The Mourner's Kaddish app, visit Davka Corporation
To read about the Japanese app, Bosan, visit 

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Ghost Stroller: The Power of Memorial Art

memorial art

What is it that makes a baby stroller, painted white, and padlocked to a street sign in Brooklyn, a national and even an international news story?  This is the power of memorial art.  It is a force that commands our attention in a humble, but confrontational manner.  It is an idea that captivates us, enticing us to confront and ponder issues that make us very uncomfortable.
We may have never seen something like this, and may never know the exact circumstances that brought it about, but somehow we understand the statement intuitively and  immediately.

memorial art

In November 2008, I posted a story about the roadside memorials put up by families after traffic fatalities.  Whether we see these memorials as a touching reminder, a grim warning, or an inappropriate use of public land, we can all agree that they send an arresting and instantly recognizable emotional message.

memorial art

Ghost Bikes take this message one step further.  The bicycle, painted white and chained to a street sign, has become a memorial symbol, now used worldwide to commemorate the tragic traffic death of a bicyclist.  It is both a memorial and a protest, warning motorist of the tragic consequences of being careless about those who share the roads with them.  

memorial art

Here is an example of a memorial with a message about pedestrian fatalities, posted in my August 2009 article about graffiti memorials.  This Portuguese public awareness campaign uses the names of pedestrian victims of auto accidents to make up the bars of crosswalks

Memorial Art

Which brings us back to the stroller.  I find it remarkable that this single stroller in Brooklyn has caught the attention of CBS news, The Today Show,, Vanity Fair, The New York Times, and many others.  It  made news when it left it's first location, and again when it reappeared in another spot.  The news stories are full of questions about the originating circumstances and theories about the social, political or personal message it was intended to make.  There is no question, however about it's impact on viewers.  They know somehow that this is a memorial.  It may be a 'hoax', a social statement, or a personal memorial, but it's broader message seems to be that babies have been lost in our culture due to the carelessness of parents and motorists alike.  No matter how much we choose to look away from it; death, even the death of children, is a very real part of everyday life, and we must come to terms with it.

Memorial art

Despite all the conjecture over whether this stroller is a 'hoax', the same statement has been made whether it is a real or imagined child or children, that inspired it.  And all it took was one stroller, some paint, a chain, and a padlock.  So, what is it that makes this piece powerful enough to garner all this attention?
It is the gift that art brings to a memorial expression.  It is the creativity to place an ordinary object in a slightly different way into our everyday lives that wakes us up to the reality of our mortality.  This is the same gift that art brings to individual memorial expressions.  It is the creative organization of service details and the encouragement of family participation that makes a service unforgettable, or a monument resonate with meaning.  This is what art adds to the experience of mourning and grief, and it is a powerful and healing force.

For more stories on remarkable memorials, visit:

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Bosan: The Grave Honoring App for iPhone

death ritual Japanese Ceremony

Japanese culture has traditionally placed a great deal of importance on visiting and honoring the graves of loved ones and family members.  In today’s busy global world, though, it is often difficult to find the time, or to be in the right place to physically meet this obligation.  

In a previous post, I shared news of an innovative cemetery in Japan where the cremated remains of loved ones were brought to central shrines like an elaborate vending machine, in response to family members swiping magnetic cards.  Now, thanks to iPhone apps, one no longer even needs to be on the same continent to honor and visit a loved one.

Bosan, which in Japanese means grave honoring, is a newly released iPhone app from KnowledgEx which allows you to register information about and carry photos of a loved one’s grave, as well as photos of the deceased.   Whenever you want and where ever you are in your busy schedule, you can virtually honor the grave of your loved one with a prayer, along with offerings of incense, flowers, food and water.  This app also gives you a choice of audio tracks, such as the rustle of leaves, the chirp of birds or crickets, bells or water flowing, to accompany this devotion.

Registration forms and selection menus are all in Japanese

Although the app is available all over the world, so far the only instructions are in Japanese language.  Where there is an opportunity, an app will soon follow, so look out for an English Language version soon, or ask a Japanese friend to help you with Bosan, as I have! 

For more information (in Japanese) about the app, visit iTunes
My thanks to Photographer Mayu Kanamori for brining this app to my attention!
Please visit my post on her project, 'In Repose'

Thursday, August 12, 2010

'Aquamation': What's in a name?

aquamation green cremation

'Creepy' Alkaline Hydrolysis

The news was a-buzz today (at least in Australia) with the story of a new green disposition alternative- Aquamation.  No longer will families have only burial and cremation to choose from.  This new method keeps the mercury from amalgam dental fillings from polluting the atmosphere, and has a very low carbon footprint.  

This is quite an innovation!  The process?  Well, no - the process was developed some time ago at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, and has been used there for years.  True, it was a great innovation at the time, called Resomation, or worse, Alkaline Hydrolysis!, it has made little headway so far, despite its obvious environmental benefits and green bona-fides.  The process, though approved by moral arbiters, was considered unpleasant to think about, and prone to being made fun of in the press as 'sending your loved one down the drain'.  In a culture fixated on being 'natural' it looked too much like a creepy industrial 'solution'.  

aquamation green cremation

'Feeling good' Aquamation
The innovation in this case is the word- Aquamation.  Doesn't this conjure a picture of the natural, timeless power of the ocean?  Provided with a word like this, the news agencies are taking a new tack, and giving a lot of favorable publicity to the process.  It's a feel-good story, not a creep-out story.  I'm glad Australian resomators found a good PR firm before they sent out their press releases,  because as dim a picture as this paints of us as discerning consumers, it paints a very bright one for those of us who would like to see more sustainable options in death.

For more information about green disposition options, visit:

Promession: A Return to the Living Soil

Swedish town Considers Recycling the Heat of Cremation
The Shrouded Way: Emissions and Dehumanization
The Trees Remember: Memorial Plantings
Forest Burial in Germany

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Discussing Death: Twitter Tuesday

Death and dying

A good honest dialogue about death is something that is desperately needed in our culture. Our idea of a good dialogue may not be a statement limited to 140 characters, but a conversation about death, dying and funerals is taking place on twitter

  1. funeral procession ritual discussionWhen me and my mom were driving
    home we had to wait for this long
    ass funeral procession.
    I hate funerals =/ my prayers go out to the family
  2. funeral cremation ceremony memorialA friend's husband died. Too young
    to be so ill. Funeral home, then
    back to my husband. I'm a very,
    very lucky woman.
  3. death talkYou know what "song" I want to hear at my funeral? The sound of tires squealing out of the funeral home parking lot.#likeIcouldhearitanyway

Perhaps the personal distance provided by the tweet makes the expression seem emotionally safer somehow. Perhaps the required brevity reduces the risk of baring our own emotions and fears too much, or exposing ourselves to the uncomfortable emotions of others too much.

  1. Death-discussion Isn't the risk of death 100%?
    RT @
    bbcnews: People with large waist sizes,
    are at increased risk of dying.

  2. death discussionAt a funeral I just heard a preacher compare
    the deceased woman to a pen... or "a fine writing
    utensil" rather. Hmmm..

  3. death discussion funeral Viewing a cremation isn't as freaky
    as you would think.
  4. cremation no funeral-discussionHow you gon come to a wake in a
    funeral parlor and wear short??

  5. no funeral discussion Just thought being in a coffin and wasting
    money on it all, rather have cheap cremation
    and be scattered in interesting places

  1. cheap cremation discussion funeralIf you play "Time to say goodbye"
    at my funeral, I will leave the grave and strangle you.
  2. DukeOff to the cemetery to see my brother
    on his birthday today! x
  3. cremation funeral memorialthank you, it's not unexpected, but it still sucks. She lived in St. Louis and knowing I'll miss the funeral is tough
  4. death dying discussionI'm sending love, my thoughts & deepest sympathy to a family close to me who are grieving the loss of their infant. There are no words.
  5. cremation grounds discussion funeralSince I've to go to the cremation ground and I may not return, please grant me half day casual leave".#indianenglish
  6. ritual death discussionI have to go shopping today. Normally that would be fun, but it's for something to wear to the funeral so... its just depressing.
  7. death dying conversationWe still at the hospice, waiting for the funeral home to come get my grandpa body
Whatever the reason, it seems that the casual and spontaneous nature of the tweet, makes it a method of communication that is used to unselfconsciously broadcast our intimate moments and thoughts to the world. Seeing the thoughts of friends and strangers on this little discussed topic can lead to us sharing our thoughts as well. Even if this never gets past the 140 character level, at least it is a topic of discussion,and that is good for all of us.

For more posts on this subject, visit:

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Funeral service faces a crisis of relevance, and I am passionate about keeping the best traditions of service alive while adapting to the changing needs of families. Feel free to contact me with questions, or to share your thoughts on funeral service, ritual, and memorialization.