Meeting Death on His Feet — Just to Prove a Point

Branwell Bronte Died Standing Up
Branwell Brontë (1817-1848), left.
Branwell Brontë was the brother of Wuthering Heights author Emily Brontë. He is historically noteworthy in his own right as a painter and writer. He would perhaps be better remembered had he not hastened his death through abuse of alcohol and opium.

The approach of his own death really illustrated his tenacity. Although suffering from depression and the final stages of terminal alcoholism, Brontë was determined to prove that he could meet death on his feet. According to William Somerset Maugham, in his book Great Novelists and Their Novels, when Brontë knew the end was near, wanting to die standing, he insisted upon getting up. He had only been in bed a day. Family members looked on while he rose to his feet, and after a struggle that lasted twenty minutes died, as he wished, standing.

Maugham hastened to add a disclaimer:

“I should warn the reader that this account of Branwell’s love and death is such as was gathered from persons who may be supposed to have known the facts; but the author of the article on the Brontes in the English Dictionary of National Biography, writing many years after the event, claims that there is no truth in it.  Perhaps with a little more imagination and less bile against Branwell he might not have been so positive.”

It is such a good story, however, that even if it wasn’t true, it should have been. It certainly was an inspiration to Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy author Douglas Adams, who confessed,

“My favourite piece of information is that Branwell Brontë, brother of Emily and Charlotte, died standing up leaning against a mantle piece, in order to prove it could be done.

This is not quite true, in fact. My absolute favourite piece of information is the fact that young sloths are so inept that they frequently grab their own arms and legs instead of tree limbs, and fall out of trees.” — from The Salmon of Doubt

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I Wonder What the Penalty Is For Disobedience?

Presentation1When the town of Lanjaron, Spain found itself running out of space at its cemetery, the mayor came up with a creative solution: he made dying illegal.

Mayor Jose Rubio issued an edict in October 1999 ordering people “to take utmost care of their health so they do not die until town hall takes the necessary steps to acquire land suitable for our deceased to rest in glory.” The edit ended with the words, “It is hereby forbidden to die in Lanjaron.”

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Death Comes from Above

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How can suicide be the cause of death and not be self-inflicted? How about when the suicide of one person causes the death of another?

Such an unfortunate event happened on August 31, 2009 in Viladecans, Spain. A 50-year-old Ukrainian man was out for a stroll that evening with his wife. Unbeknownst to them, a woman eight floors above chose that moment to end her life by throwing herself off the balcony. She landed on the couple, killing the man and injuring his wife.

The jumper died instantly.

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Disagreeable or Not, Guess What Happened?

John Barrymore (1882-1942)
John Barrymore (1882-1942)

When a concerned visitor expressed fear that actor John Barrymore’s latest illness would result in his death, Barrymore indignantly replied, “Die? I should say not, dear fellow. No Barrymore would allow such a conventional thing to happen to him.”

Those were his final words.

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I Always Thought He Had Beady Eyes…

A glass case contains human remains that have been turned into beads, a practice that is growing in popularity in densely populated South Korea.
A glass case contains human remains that have been turned into beads, a practice that is growing in popularity in densely populated South Korea.

In South Korea, a law passed in 2000 requires anyone burying a loved one to remove the grave after 60 years. Because of dwindling graveyard space and this resulting law, cremation has become much more popular. But families don’t always opt for ashes. Several companies there compress remains into gem-like beads in turquoise, pink or black. These “death beads” are then displayed in the home.

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The Long Goodbye

A Torajan family with their deceased relative.
A Torajan family with their deceased relative.

In Tana Toraja in eastern Indonesia, funerals are major events, involving a feast that may be attended by thousands and last for several days. Because of the elaborate nature of the ceremony, families often have to save for months or even years to be able to afford all of the trappings.

Until the ceremony can be held, the deceased is not considered to be truly dead. The body is instead wrapped in several layers of cloth and housed in a special room in the house. He or she is referred to as someone who is “sick” or “asleep,” and while awaiting the funeral ceremony, is symbolically fed, cared for, and taken out on family excursions.

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Dance With the Dead

Preparing bones for Famadihana
Preparing bones for Famadihana

In some parts of Madagascar, burying a loved one does not necessarily mean that’s the last you see of that person.

The Malagasy tradition of Famadihana, known as the turning of the bones, calls for regular digging up of the dead in order to change their clothes, walk them around the village, and dance with their surviving loved ones. The corpses are then swaddled in clean blankets and put back to rest until the next family reunion.

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