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11 People Who Turned Up Alive at Their Own Funeral

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by Simon Brew

Picture the scene: You’re at a funeral, or are in the process of arranging one, when the person who’s supposed to be in the coffin turns up to see what’s going on. Stuff of imagination? More often than not, yes. But sometimes, it really does happen.

1. THE MAN MISTAKENLY IDENTIFIED BY HIS BROTHER

Gilberto Araujo of Brazil was pronounced dead back in 2012, after his body had been identified at the local morgue by his brother. Family members of the 41-year-old were standing alongside his coffin in mourning when Araujo turned up at the door.

The untimely funeral was a case of mistaken identity: Araujo worked as a car washer in the town of Alagoinhas, Brazil, where there had been a murder. That murder took the life of another car-washer, who apparently looked like Araujo—hence his brother’s confusion. We can only imagine the two weren’t very close.

2. THE WOMAN WHO CONFRONTED THE HUSBAND WHO’D ORDERED HER DEAD

The story of Noela Rukundo made headlines around the world in 2016. A resident of Australia, she had returned home to Burundi to attend the funeral of her stepmother. Unbeknownst to her, her husband had arranged hitmen to take her life while she was there, and they duly grabbed her.

However, these were hitmen with a heart. When they realized her own husband had ordered her killed, they gave Rukundo her freedom and she flew home, approaching her husband at her own funeral to confront him about his plan. He was sentenced to nine years in prison at the end of 2015.

3. THE CHINESE MAN WHO STAGED HIS OWN FUNERAL

Zhang Deyang was 66 years old when he decided to stage his own funeral. He arranged it himself, wondering how many would turn up given that he had never married and had no children. There was a particular reason for his concern—in Chinese culture, the dead are said to have needs, and their graves are supposed to be visited regularly to ensure those needs are met.

In the event, 40 invitees turned up at Deyang’s funeral, along with several hundred others. Yet he wasn’t happy: 20 relatives and friends didn’t show up. “I can’t believe so many relatives and friends don’t care about me,” he was quoted as saying.

4. THE SERBIAN MAN WHO THANKED PEOPLE FOR ATTENDING HIS FUNERAL

There’s more than one example of someone who arranged their own funeral just to see who would turn up. In 1997, Serbian pensioner Vuk Peric posted a fake death notice in his local newspaper, and sent invites to his funeral. He then watched the event from a distance, eventually emerging to reveal that he was, indeed, alive. He thanked the mourners for attending.

5. THE MAN WHO GOT TWO MORE WEEKS.

Seventy-eight-year-old Walter Williams of Mississippi was pronounced dead on February 26, 2014. As CNN reported, the correct paperwork was completed, his body was put into a bodybag, and he was taken to a funeral home.

Yet Williams didn’t make it to his funeral, because when his body was taken to the embalming room, his legs began to move. Then, the coroner noticed him lightly breathing. Williams was alive.

It was, as it turned out, a short-lived reprieve. Just over two weeks later, he passed away for real. The family double-checked. “I think he’s gone this time,” confirmed his nephew.

6. THE REAWAKENING THAT INSPIRED A HOLIDAY

The village of Braughing in Hertfordshire, England, celebrates "Old Man’s Day" on October 2 each year. The tradition dates back to 1571, and the funeral of a local farmer by the name of Matthew Wall. On the way to his funeral, though, one of his pallbearers dropped his coffin.

It’s a good thing he did, because the jolt promptly woke up Wall up. The farmer would live for over two decades more, finally passing away in 1595. His coming back to life continues to be cause for celebration in Braughing.

7. THE BISHOP WHO WOKE UP AFTER TWO DAYS

Nicephorus Glycas was a bishop working in Lesbos, Greece, when he was declared dead on March 3, 1896. In accordance with tradition, his body was left on display in the Methymni church.

It was on the second night of what was known as "the exposition of the corpse" that things took a turn. For Glycas sat up, reportedly demanding to know what all the fuss was about. Turned out, he’d just been having a long nap.

8. THE MAN WHO TURNED UP DRUNK AT HIS OWN FUNERAL

When Ecuadorian man Edison Vicuna went missing for three days, his friends and family assumed the worst. Especially when the body turned up of a man whose face had been severely disfigured following a car accident. A post-mortem was performed, and the corpse was confirmed to be Vicuna’s.

Only it wasn’t. In fact, come his funeral, Vicuna turned up, drunk, causing mourners to scream in horror. The funeral, as you might expect, was halted, and the body was returned to the morgue, where it was properly identified as belonging to someone entirely different.

9. THE WOMAN WHO WOKE UP—THEN DIED FOR REAL

When Fagilyu Mukhametzyanov of Kazan in Russia collapsed at home following a heart attack in 2011, she was quickly rushed to her local hospital. But the journey was apparently in vain; she was soon declared dead.

This story that follows, though, has both good and bad sides to it.

The good part? She was alive. A few days later, as she was lying in her coffin at her own funeral, she woke up. She saw the mourners around her, crying and praying for her, and quickly twigged to what was happening. She reportedly—and understandably—began yelling, and was quickly rushed back to hospital.

However, the shock of what had happened took its toll. As her husband Fagili Mukhametzyanov recalled, “her eyes flapped. However, she just lived for an additional 12 minutes in intensive care prior to dying once more, this time permanently.” Heart failure was ultimately registered as the cause of death.

10. THE MAN WHO TURNED UP TO THE LAST DAY OF HIS FUNERAL

When a government airstrike killed over 100 people near Damascus, Syria last year, one of the casualties was seemingly Mohammed Rayhan. He had been at the local market, which took the force of the blast, and was apparently dead, buried under rubble.

That turned out to be only half-true.

Rayhan’s family and friends organized his funeral, which went ahead a few days later without the corpse. But said friends and family got a very pleasant shock when the man himself turned up at it. Rayhan had been buried under the rubble following the explosion for 36 hours, but eventually managed to free himself. When he arrived at his funeral, he was still covered in the remnants of the rubble in his hair and beard.

11. THE WAITER WHO RETURNED TO LIFE

Twenty-eight-year-old Hamdi Hafez al-Nubi worked as a waiter in Luxor, Egypt back in 2012. It was while he was working one day that he had a heart attack, and apparently perished. He was declared dead, and his family took the body home, washed it according to Islamic traditions, and readied it for his burial at the end of the week.

The fact that al-Nubi was actually alive was spotted by the doctor sent to sign the final death certificate. He took a closer look at the body when he noticed it was still warm, and discovered that al-Nubi was still breathing. He quickly alerted the man’s mother, and what was set to be his funeral turned into a celebration instead.

All photos via iStock.

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Weird
10 People Whose Hearts Were Buried Separately From the Rest of Them
Richard the Lionheart
Richard the Lionheart
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Though it may seem bizarre today, having your heart buried apart from the rest of your body wasn’t uncommon for European aristocracy of the Middle Ages and beyond. The practice arose in part during the Crusades, when high-ranking warriors had a tendency to die in “heathen” places that weren’t seen as desirable burial locations. But transporting a whole body back to Europe made things pretty stinky, so corpses were stripped of flesh and ferried back to Europe as skeletons, with the inner organs (including the heart) removed and buried where the Crusaders had died. By the 12th century, members of the English and French aristocracy also frequently had their hearts buried separately from the rest of them.

Heart burial became less practical and more symbolic by the 17th century, partly as a religious practice associated with the Jesuits and other Counter Reformation groups. (Some scholars think the heart’s powerful symbolism became particularly important while the Catholic Church was undergoing a moment of crisis.) In Western Europe, it became common for powerful individuals, such as kings and queens, to ask that their hearts be buried in a spot they'd favored during life. In more recent years, Romantic poets and other artists also picked up the practice, which has yet to be entirely abandoned. Read on for some examples.

1. RICHARD I

Richard I, a.k.a. “Richard the Lion-Heart,” ruled as King of England 1189-99 but spent most of his reign fighting abroad, which is how he earned his reputation for military prowess. (He also may or may not have eaten the heart of a lion.) He died after being struck by a crossbow while campaigning in Chalus, France, and while most of his body was buried at Fontevraud Abbey, his heart was interred in a lead box at the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Rouen, France. The organ was rediscovered during excavations in the 1830s, and in 2012, forensic scientists examined it—now mostly reduced to a grayish-brown powder—to learn more about Richard’s precise cause of death (some think a poisoned arrow dealt the fatal blow). The crumbling heart was too decayed to tell them much about how Richard had died, but the scientists did learn about medieval burial rituals, noting the use of vegetables and spices “directly inspired by the ones used for the embalming of Christ.”

2. ROBERT THE BRUCE

Robert the Bruce, King of Scots 1306-29, asked for his heart to be buried in Jerusalem. But it didn't get all the way there—the knight he entrusted it to, Sir James Douglas, was killed in battle with the Moors while wearing the heart in a silver case around his neck. Other knights recovered the heart from the battlefield, and brought it back to Melrose Abbey in Scotland for burial. Archeologists rediscovered what they believed to be the heart in 1920 and reburied it in a modern container; it was exhumed again in 1996, and reburied beneath the abbey’s lawn in 1998.

3. ST. LAURENCE O’TOOLE

St. Laurence O’Toole, the second archbishop of Dublin and one of that city’s patron saints, died in 1180 in France. His heart was sent back to Dublin’s Christ Church Cathedral, where it rested inside a heart-shaped wooden box within an iron cage—at least until 2012, when it was stolen. The dean of Christ Church Cathedral has speculated that the heart might have been taken by some kind of religious fanatic, since it has little economic value, and much more valuable gold and silver objects were ignored. (Weirdly, the thief, or thieves, also lit candles on one of the altars before fleeing.) The item has yet to be recovered.

4. THE PRINCE-BISHOPS OF WÜRZBURG

The prince-bishops of Würzburg (part of modern Germany) practiced a three-part burial: their corpses were usually sent to Würzburg cathedral, their intestines to the castle church at Marienberg, and their hearts, embalmed in glass jars, to what is now Ebrach Abbey. The practice was common by the 15th century, though it may go back as far as the 12th. Their funerals at the Marienberg castle also featured what may be one of history’s worst jobs: a servant was required to hold the heads of the corpses upright during the funeral, which featured the body seated upright and impaled on a pole. The funerals lasted for several days. There were more than 80 prince-bishops; a German cardiologist who made a special study of heart burial says "about 30" of their hearts found their resting places in the abbey.

5. ANNE BOLEYN

According to legend, after Anne Boleyn’s beheading in 1536, her heart was removed from her body and taken to a rural church in Erwarton, Suffolk, where the queen is said to have spent some happy days during her youth. In 1837, excavations at the church uncovered a small, heart-shaped lead casket inside a wall. The only thing inside was a handful of dust (it’s not clear whether it was actually the heart), but the casket was reburied in a vault beneath the organ, where a plaque today marks the spot.

6. LOTS OF POPES

Twenty-two hearts from various popes—from Sixtus V in 1583 to Leo XIII in 1903—are kept in marble urns at Santi Vincenzo e Anastasio a Trevi in Rome. Traditionally, the hearts were removed with the rest of the organs as part of the postmortem preservation process, and kept as relics just in case the pope became a saint.

7. FRÉDÉRIC CHOPIN

Romantic composer Frédéric Chopin died in Paris in 1849, and most of him is buried in that city’s Pere Lachaise, but he asked for his heart to be buried in his native Poland. His sister carried it back to their home country, where it is preserved in alcohol (some say cognac) within a crystal urn inside a pillar at the Church of the Holy Cross in Warsaw. In 2014, scientists conducted a late-night examination of the heart to make sure the alcohol hadn’t evaporated, although their secrecy frustrated scientists who hope to one day examine the organ for clues about what killed the composer.

8. THOMAS HARDY

The burial place of Thomas Hardy's heart in Dorset
Visit Britain, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The English poet and novelist Thomas Hardy wanted to be buried in his hometown of Stinsford, Dorset, but friends insisted that a burial in Westminster Abbey was the only appropriate choice for someone of Hardy’s literary prominence. But when town officials found out that Hardy’s body was destined for the abbey, they threw a fit, and so a compromise was reached—most of Hardy went to Westminster, but his heart was buried in Stinsford churchyard (where it has its own grave marker). A persistent, but unproven, story has it that a cat ate part of the heart when the doctor who was removing it got distracted; a gruesome addendum says the animal was killed and buried alongside the organ.

9. PERCY SHELLEY

When the poet Percy Shelley died sailing the Mediterranean in 1822, local quarantine regulations dictated that his body had to be cremated on the beach. But his heart allegedly refused to burn, and a friend, the adventurer Edward Trelawny, supposedly plucked it out of the flames. After a custody battle among Shelley’s friends, the heart was given to Percy’s wife Mary, who kept it until she died. Her children found it in a silk bag inside her desk, and it is now said to be buried with her at the family vault in Bournemouth, England.

10. OTTO VON HABSBURG

The powerful House of Habsburg practiced heart burial for centuries, with many of the organs buried in copper urns in Vienna's Augustiner Church. In 2011, Otto von Habsburg, the last heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire (which was dissolved in 1918), had his heart buried in the Benedictine Abbey in Pannonhalma, Hungary. The rest of him was buried in Vienna. The erstwhile crown prince said he wanted his heart buried in Hungary as a gesture of affection for the country—one half of his former empire.

Additional Sources: "Heart burial in medieval and early post-medieval central Europe"; Body Parts and Bodies Whole.

This story originally ran in 2015.

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Smoking Just 1 Cigarette a Day Can Significantly Damage Your Health, Study Finds
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Cutting back on smoking is a noble goal, but simply decreasing the amount of cigarettes you smoke—rather than quitting entirely—isn't as helpful as you might think when it comes to the health risks of tobacco use. ABC News reports that new research published in the BMJ finds that smoking just one cigarette a day still increases the risks of heart disease and stroke significantly.

Led by researchers from University College London and King’s College London, the study found that compared to not smoking at all, smoking one cigarette a day resulted in a 46 percent greater risk of heart disease and a 25 percent greater risk of stroke for men, and for women, a 57 percent greater risk of heart disease and 31 percent greater risk of stroke. Even if a person cuts down from smoking 20 cigarettes a day to one, the study found, the risks of developing heart disease and stroke are only halved—not reduced by 95 percent, as would be proportional. (Previous research has found that lung cancer risk, by contrast, decreases proportionally depending on the number of cigarettes smoked per day.)

The researchers examined 141 previous studies, reported in 55 publications, analyzing the risks of heart disease and stroke among men and women who smoked. The studies each examined risks of light smoking (defined as one to five cigarettes a day) and the risks associated with heavy smoking, or 20 cigarettes per day. The researchers adjusted for whether the studies considered factors like age, cholesterol, and blood pressure, all of which can also impact a person’s risk of heart disease and stroke.

The findings show that any amount of smoking carries high risks. While one cigarette a day might seem like nothing to a heavy smoker, its impacts on the body are significant, and shouldn't be underestimated, either by smokers or by their doctors.

[h/t ABC News]

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