Archive of ‘ars moriendi’ category

The New Faces of Death: Interview with Sarah Troop

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It is likely that in the year 2015, you know someone involved in the death industry. You may have a friend going to school for funeral services or have an embalmer or mortician in your circle of acquaintances. If you don’t know anyone involved in the eternally bustling business of death, it is possible that you know someone – a relative, an ex, a wretched high school Algebra teacher – who has passed away. And if not that, you are all too keenly aware of your own mortality and have spent no small amount of time fretting about the idea that yep, you’re gonna die one day.

Perhaps it is this last, irrefutable fact that is so integral to the revival that the hitherto taboo topic of death is experiencing of late. As evidenced by the popularity of New York Times best-selling memoir Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory by mortician Caitlin Doughty, people are ready to start challenging their fears and misconceptions, move past their death anxieties to death acceptance, and connect with others who are doing the same.

Or they are at least ready to start reading about it!

Nonetheless, this “Death Positive” movement is being embraced by those who would hope to explore their relationship with death socially, culturally, and  – most importantly – on a personal level.

I had the opportunity to speak with five women passionately involved in this vital conversation; women who seek to educate our repressed society regarding the various facets of death and how to cultivate a relationship with death that is liberating, humanizing, and ultimately, life-enhancing. From mourning and memory to pathology and the intricacies of the human body, from the meaning of a “good death” to The Order of the Good Death and The Death Salon – we invite you to read further, learn much, and meet the new faces of Death.

Death Salon: Mütter Museum on October 4-6, 2015.

Death Salon: Mütter Museum on October 4-6, 2015.

Sarah Troop is a museum curator and historian who writes and recreates historical and cultural recipes for her blog, Nourishing Death, which examines the relationship between food and death in rituals, culture, religion, and society. She is also co-founder of Death & the Maiden, which explores the relationship between women and death by sharing ideas and creating a platform for discussion and feminist narratives. She is the executive director of The Order of the Good Death and serves as the Social Media Editor for Death Salon. Sarah is also an author and advocate for improved care and support of families experiencing infant and child death and was a contributing author to the companion book for the Emmy nominated film, Return to Zero.

S. Elizabeth at Unquiet Things: How did you become interested in death, and how did that lead to your current role in the death industry and as a death-positive activist?

Sarah Troop: As a Mexican-American I was fortunate enough to be exposed to very death-positive attitudes. My Grandmother, who is very vivacious, speaks about death frequently and planned her funeral early. For years she has told me what songs she wants played or what color limo she should rent for the family to ride in, exclaiming, “It will be such fun! Darn it, I’m going to miss it!”

I spent my childhood on sound stages watching countless deaths being meticulously created over and over again. When an actual death occurred on a set my father was working on, it completely altered everything. Observing the subsequent aftermath of this incident revealed a lot to me about the strange lack of relationship we have with death and dying. It was only reinforced more throughout childhood, and as an adult, when my questions and interest in death and dying were consistently met with negative, uncomfortable responses.

When I began working professionally with history, death was something I could explore in a more socially acceptable way. Although much of my work is solitary research, a large part of it was also sharing that research with the public in an accessible, entertaining manner through public engagement events and through social media. It was through social media that I – and so many others working with death – were able to connect, which led to what I’m doing today.

photo by Eli Papayanopoulos

photo by Eli Papayanopoulos

What drew you to your particular profession?

When I see people or objects, or even a street corner, they have fascinating, hidden stories to tell – and I want to know what they are! My love of history was actually sparked by culinary history. There was a cookbook in our house that recipes with the origin stories of each dish, which I find fascinating.

With my food and death research I am working to tie the historical and cultural research (the past), to practical ways we can use food to honor death, dying, mourning, and memory (present and future). In writing about history, being a museum curator, and working with the Order of the Good Death and Death Salon, it allows me to do everything I love and work with the most amazing individuals.

What do you want people to take away from the work that you do?

Helping and comforting someone is what I hope to accomplish the most and there’s a big part of me that likes to provoke and challenge people intellectually and emotionally. I put a lot of thought and care into what I choose to share on social media. I posted a piece that elicited a response from a man whose parent had died. He and his family were carrying around guilt and confusion about the death, but after reading that piece he understood his experience was normal and not his fault. He could finally come to an understanding and be at peace with what happened. I see responses like that quite a bit. If I can help people, support them or even teach them something, that is most important.

As for Death & the Maiden, which I created with the wonderful Lucy Talbot, it explores the large role women are currently playing in death care. A large part of our intention was to provide an inclusive space to highlight the work and experiences of those individuals, (female, genderqueer, non-binary) but also as a place to inspire.

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What are some of the most common misconceptions you’ve run into about your job, and to a larger extent, the death industry in general? What do you do to disabuse people of those notions – or not?
In my museum work, and I think this is in small part a symptom of location, it’s that a woman is not capable.

As for the death stuff, people are often confused at first. Death is something everyone experiences yet, they know nothing about it. I can’t tell you how many jaws I’ve seen drop when I say something like, “Embalming is not a legal requirement.”

The issue that seems to cause the most strife is the way we handle grief in our culture and the lack of ritual. People are rushed through the process and told to move on. Consequently, grieving people are forced to hide how they feel and are isolated in their experience of loss, just when they need love and support the most.

Many people find working with the dead or talking about death creepy, macabre, morbid – how do you enroll those people into the conversation?

Really, everyone loves a good story so I use that to my advantage; by contextualizing death in telling the story behind an artifact, a favorite food, a piece of clothing, or a person, I can tie death into pretty much anything. Through the story I can evoke empathy or emotion and once you’ve tapped into that, people are pretty open.

What I find often is that people desperately want to talk about death. I am often taken aside and pulled into quiet corners where I become a sort of vessel for people to pour their fears and curiosity into.

Can you tell us about the death community in your area, is it welcoming and/or responsive to what you are doing?

There is no death community where I am currently living, so I’ve tried to create opportunities for conversations or experiences myself. I slip in death-themed stuff at the museum whenever I can. Last year I created a school program where I talked about the pioneer experience of children their age including deaths along the way, how would they deal with the corpses, things like that. I also created a hands-on Cabinet of Curiosities exhibit for kids with bones, taxidermy specimens, biological specimens, some Victorian mourning jewelry. This creates an opportunity for kids to experience and talk about death.

What is your role within the Order of the Good Death, and can you tell us a little bit about what you talked about at October’s Death Salon?

My day-to-day role is a supportive one: answering emails, handling social media, promoting the work of fellow Order members – a lot of little things like that, but I also get to be creative. I help generate content for the Order blog or do research for videos, which is a lot of fun for me.

For Death Salon: Mütter Museum, I wanted to explore what happens when one of the most death positive cultures in the world deals with one of the most tragic events imaginable – the death of a child. I encountered this practice for the first time while I was in Mexico doing research, not long after the loss of my own child.

It is believed that when a child dies before the age of 7, they transform into a supernatural being – a sort of hybrid between a saint and an angel called an angelito. The child then acts as a mediator between the living family and God. Family, friends, and neighbors all gather to celebrate the child and surround the family with love and support for the next 24 to 48 hours with food, drinks, and fireworks that accompany the child’s ascent to heaven.

Although I don’t hold the same beliefs, after researching and learning about the angelito rituals, I felt comforted and understood by my ancestors. In Mexico, I was surrounded by representations of death – in music, art, food, conversation – my loss was acknowledged, and I did not feel the need to hide my grief or feel guilt for upsetting others as I do here in the US. That is something I want to change – this culture of silence, which is why I am finally sharing my story. In my small way, I too, am breaking that silence.

Death Salon: Mütter Museum on October 4-6, 2015.

Death Salon: Mütter Museum on October 4-6, 2015.

What can we do to open up the conversation on death? To not just increase awareness of it, but to make more sense of death and dying and allay our death anxiety?

This is work that each individual must take up of their own accord. Read, meditate, talk, engage with life. Death is so much a part of life and by engaging with death you will discover ways to live more fully.

The next thing is raising death positive children. Mind you, you cannot do this if you haven’t done the work yourself. Read fairy tales, play outside – these things offer engagement with death on levels children can relate to and readily engage in.

How have your views on the afterlife affected your involvement in the death industry, or vice versa?

I’m absolutely fascinated with beliefs and “experiences” of the afterlife. I studied parapsychology through the Rhine Research Center for a couple years, but I don’t believe in an afterlife where our consciousness continues to exist.

However, our corpses have an opportunity for an afterlife. We can advance science, learning, and understanding by donating our bodies to science or continue another’s life through donation of our organs. We can be naturally buried and facilitate new plant growth, be a diamond, part of an ocean reef, or even be a firework! I really encourage people to contemplate, research, and plan for the afterlife of their corpse!

And lastly, what is your ideal death scenario – your dream death, as it were?

Painless – and I mean that physically and emotionally. It is important to me that everything is planned and accounted for so there are no questions or burdens on loved ones. Shirley Jackson, my favourite author has written very few books, and I’ve read all but two. I put them aside to read at the end of life, so I have something wonderful to look forward to.

(This article was originally posted at Dirge; the site is no longer active.)

Links Of The Dead {December 2017}

photo from Giovanni Raspini's Vanitas Mundi exhibition

photo from Giovanni Raspini’s Vanitas Mundi exhibition in Milan

A gathering of death related links that I have encountered in the past month or so. From somber to hilarious, from informative to creepy, here’s a snippet of things that have been reported on or journaled about in or related to the Death Industry recently.

This time last year: Links of the Dead {December 2016} | {December 2015}

💀 Old Timey Superstition: Death Comes in Threes
💀 In Photographs of Estate Sales, Price Tags Mark the Possessions of the Dead
💀 “At the Gate”; The sudden death of a loved one makes the poet reflect
💀 When Google Thinks You’re Dead and You Try to Fix It.
💀 Colossal Memento Mori: Mass by Ron Mueck
💀 They say writing is cathartic, but writing about my parents dying almost killed me
💀 High-Tech Suicide Machine Makes Death a Painless, Peaceful, Optimal Way to Go
💀 When you only know your friend through the Internet, grieving their death is complex
💀 Cashing in on the donated dead: The Body Trade
💀 Can a Chatbot Help You Prepare For Death?
💀 Saving Skin: The public lives of posthumous bodies
💀 Over the Garden Wall: Children, Death and the Mystery of the Unknown
💀 “We started this together and we will end this together”: The Art Of Rebecca Reeves
💀 The Grave Girl thoughtfully discusses the grieving for someone you don’t actually know.
💀 Say you’re mortal. You’re also a book lover. Where’s the intersection between these two things?

Links Of The Dead {November 2017}

AJ Hawkins, "It's Okay To Decay"

AJ Hawkins, “It’s Okay To Decay”*

A gathering of death related links that I have encountered in the past month or so. From somber to hilarious, from informative to creepy, here’s a snippet of things that have been reported on or journaled about in or related to the Death Industry recently.

This time last year: Links of the Dead {November 2016}
Two years ago: Links of the Dead {November 2015}

If you love the illustration featured here, it’s available as wearable art!

💀 DMs From Beyond the Grave Are Changing How We Grieve
💀 Illusions While Dying
💀 Murder Ballads, Gender, and Who Deserves to Die
💀 Clearing Up Some Myths About Victorian ‘Post-Mortem’ Photographs
💀 Your Guide TO The World Of Coco
💀 Claudia Crobatia visits the beautiful begraafplaats Daalseweg cemetery in Nijmegen.
💀 Why death may not be so final in the future
💀 8 Myths About Dead Bodies You Probably Think Are True
💀 From Solitary Deathling To Attending Death Salon Seattle
💀 4 Ways to Give Your Body Back to Nature After You Die
💀 Finding peace with your ghosts: Advice from a funeral director
💀 This ‘Swim Reaper’ Instagram Account Is Absolute Gold
💀 Hong Kong Has No Space Left for the Dead

this, that, and the other thing {xli}

tumblr_ozqiv6pXRs1w35hv2o1_1280Sailor Moon Texts is my new favorite thing

 
 

English-EerieEnglish Eerie – a solo rural horror game

 
 

1_IS_TaHRqQG99TJA10N8ImgLaura Ingalls Wilder’s Magical Objects: On The pleasure and longing associated with storied possessions

 
 

ChristopherRelander17_05Finnish Landscapes Captured Within Jars by Christoffer Relander

 
 

tumblr_ozxgjcn7Hm1qccpz7o6_500Exquisite insects handmade by Heather Everitt, via Geyser of Awesome

 
 

DPPs7zPUQAADYFvBad Books For Bad People, Episode 16: The Monk

 
 

JillTracy_LilyDaleJill Tracy Reveals The Secret Music of Lily Dale

Links of the Dead {October 2017}

October Shadows by William Basso

October Shadows by William Basso

A gathering of death related links that I have encountered in the past month or so. From somber to hilarious, from informative to creepy, here’s a snippet of things that have been reported on or journaled about in or related to the Death Industry recently.

This time last year: Links of the Dead {October 2016}

💀 A 1903 Proposal to Preserve the Dead in Glass Cubes
💀 In the U.S. market for human bodies, almost anyone can dissect and sell the dead
💀 Assited Suicide – When Dying A Dignified Death Is Better Than Living, And Why
💀 The woman who cleans up after ‘lonely deaths’ in Japan
💀 Iris Schieferstein’s Death and The Maiden
💀 What to Wear at the End of Someone Else’s Life
💀 If You Love Marie Kondo, Swedish Death Cleaning May Be for You
💀 The Movement to Bury Pets Alongside People
💀 Caitlin Doughty Recommends Coffee Table Corpses
💀 12 of the Most Beautiful Cemeteries Around the World
💀 Video: see inside the Museum of London’s secret bone archive
💀 Kyrgyzstan’s bread that feeds the dead
💀 Grave concerns: Haunting tales from the ancient burial sites of Tayside and Fife
💀 The Saintliness of Undecayed Corpses

Links of the Dead {September 2017}

“Still life with skull”, by Louis Jules Duboscq, ca. 1850

A gathering of death related links that I have encountered in the past month or so. From somber to hilarious, from informative to creepy, here’s a snippet of things that have been reported on or journaled about in or related to the Death Industry recently.

This time last year: Links of the Dead {September 2016}

💀 Canada’s first pet cemetery is now abandoned.
💀 What It Feels Like to Die
💀 When Relatives Die They Become Ancestors
💀 A respectful, eco-friendly way to say goodbye
💀 Death’s Garden: I Found Love on Find-a-Grave
💀 What it’s like to dissect dead bodies for a living
💀 The Ethics of Life Extension
💀 Fear of death and losing a loved one motivated the creation of Almost Heaven
💀 The dead and dying have been ignored by politicians for too long
💀 Like ‘Car Talk,’ but With Dead People
💀 ‘Empty’ is a project created to pull back the curtain on what that grief might feel & look like
💀 Nikki Bella and John Cena Have an Intense Discussion About Their End-of-Life Wishes
💀 Is it Possible to Be Scared to Death?

Links Of The Dead {August 2017}

Michael Zavros, White Peacock

Michael Zavros, White Peacock

A gathering of death related links that I have encountered in the past month or so. From somber to hilarious, from informative to creepy, here’s a snippet of things that have been reported on or journaled about in or related to the Death Industry recently.

More reading: Links of the Dead {August 2016}

💀 Why Your Dog’s Death May Be The Most Difficult Event Of Your Life
💀 Japan Unveils a Buddhist Funeral Robot
💀 Everything Dies! A Coloring Book About Life!
💀 Friends honor artist’s last wishes with kiddie pool water ballet
💀 The Joys of Soul Midwifery
💀 Meet the “Death Positive” Women Changing the Funeral Industry
💀 With a Glimpse of Mortality, Losing Sight of the Wild
💀 The Ecology Of Death

Links Of The Dead {July 2017}

Conquering Princeling by Tia Kinsman

Conquering Princeling by Tia Kinsman

A gathering of death related links that I have encountered in the past month or so. From somber to hilarious, from informative to creepy, here’s a snippet of things that have been reported on or journaled about in or related to the Death Industry recently.

More reading: Links of the Dead {July 2016}

💀 The One Thing No One Ever Says About Grieving
💀 This Is Why So Many People ‘See The Light’ Near Death
💀 The Lady Anatomist Who Brought Dead Bodies to Light
💀 Want to Cut Your Carbon Footprint? Get Liquefied When You’re Dead
💀 I’m Terrible, Thanks For Asking
💀 9 Secrets of Coroners and Medical Examiners
💀 When photography was new, it was often used to preserve corpses via their images
💀 DIY coffin-building workshop reviving dying art of casket-making
💀 What I Learned Hanging Out with Corpses Around the World
💀 Death Becomes the Wounded (In Conversation with Daphne Deitchman of Little Wounds)
💀 Photographing Victorian Corpses Exposes the Beauty of the Human Body
💀 Life in Death at Tower Hamlets Cemetery
💀 Japan’s “Corpse Hotels”: It’s There That No One Will Stare
💀 A Year Gardening the Grave of a Stranger
💀 The Professionals Who Want to Help You Plan Your Death
💀 ‘Stop the corpses rolling into my garden’: Desperate man’s plea as bodies from cemetery fall into his land

Links of the Dead {June 2017}

Artist credit: Matsuyama Miyabi

Artist credit: Matsuyama Miyabi

A gathering of death related links that I have encountered in the past month or so. From somber to hilarious, from informative to creepy, here’s a snippet of things that have been reported on or journaled about in or related to the Death Industry recently.

More reading: Links of the Dead {June 2016}

💀 When Your Loved One’s Last Wish Was ‘No Funeral’
💀 ‘Story of Flowers’ Tells an Epic Animated Tale of Life and Death
💀 A Controversial Trial to Bring the Dead Back to Life
💀 Why does cinema still demonise grieving mothers?
💀 This Farmer Wants To Give Animals A Better Life — And Death
💀 A Guide to Architects’ Mundane and Monumental Graves
💀 When a Pet Dies, Helping Children Through the ‘Worst Day of Their Lives’
💀 Why Trips To The Cemetery Aren’t Just For ‘Big Fat Goths’
💀 Feminism, politics and death: my mum died the night Hillary Clinton lost
💀 One Year After the Pulse Massacre, an Orlando Group Confronts LGBT Death Head-On
💀 Even in death, everyone is striving for that perfect no-makeup makeup look.
💀 Watching funerals streamed online offers a new way to deal with death
💀 What to Know About Donating Your Body to Science

…and finally, A Sad Farewell to the Man Who Started The Death Cafe Movement, Jon Underwood.

Links of the Dead {May 2017}

Symbiosis, Dan McCarthy

Symbiosis, Dan McCarthy

A gathering of death related links that I have encountered in the past month or so. From somber to hilarious, from informative to creepy, here’s a snippet of things that have been reported on or journaled about in or related to the Death Industry recently.

More reading: Links of the Dead {May 2016}

💀 The 12-year-old who helps out at the family funeral home
💀 Finding the plot: England’s tombstone tourists
💀 In Green-Wood Cemetery, Sophie Calle Invites You to Bury Your Secrets
💀 Ancient Funerary Garden Discovered in Egypt for First Time
💀 When I Miss My Mom, I Put on Her Eye Cream
💀 This Brooklyn couple made hard cider from Green-Wood Cemetery trees
💀  The Director of The Human Centipede On Confrontations With Death In The Horror Genre
💀 Pop Goes The Reaper! A new series on death positivity in pop culture
💀 A Letter To My Mother That She Will Never Read
💀 These Extremely Loving Pet Owners Preserve Their Pets For Eternity
💀 Medieval Death Bot tweets about how people in medieval England died and it’s fascinating
💀 Bring Soup, Not Salad– and other rules for those in mourning.
💀 Beauty in Decomposition: An Interview With Artist AJ Hawkins
💀 Meet the Funeral Therapy Dog Who Helps Mourners Process Their Grief
💀 Passed away, pushing up daisies – the many ways we don’t talk about death
💀 How Close Is Too Close? When Death Affects Real Estate
💀 Speaking with the Dead Is an Effective Way of Mourning
💀 Kieran Crowder ‘Liberates’ Ashes, Makes Art
💀 What happens when a spouse dies in the middle of a divorce?
💀 The Uncanny Body: Jennifer Firestone’s Gates and Fields
💀 Misconceptions about HIV/AIDS and the funeral arts in the year 2017
💀 Playing With Death: The Morbid Curiosity Game
💀 The Grave Girl Explores Upsala Swedish Cemetery in Sanford, Florida

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