Archive of ‘death and dying’ category

Links Of The Dead {January 2018}

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 {January 2017} | {January 2016}

💀 Feminist Death Work: A History
💀 My therapist died. Is it okay to go to her memorial services?
💀 We’ve got to start talking about grief in the face of deaths that are not beautiful.
💀 Death as Entertainment at the Paris Morgue
💀 ‘The Bright Hour,’ By Nina Riggs And ‘The Art Of Death,’ By Edwidge Danticat
💀 Death Salon with Nuri McBride
💀 How Do We Bury the Writing of the Dead?
💀 Two new books that can help both those in mourning
💀 Smell of death tells undertaker bees it’s time to remove corpses
💀 The new death industry: funeral businesses that won’t exploit grief
💀 Drive-Thru Funeral Home
💀 What to do with the remains of notorious criminals.
💀 WeCroak: An app to remind you that the end is near
💀 Breakfast, Then Death. A piece of short fiction by Claire L. Smith
💀 For the Living, a Donated Face. For the Dead, a Lifelike Replacement.
💀 French YouTube channel, Le Bizarreum, explores death through historical and archaeological cases.
💀 On why writing about grief sometimes means you have to sneak into a defunct cemetery

The New Faces Of Death: Interview with Bess Lovejoy

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illustration: Mark Stutzman

(The New Faces of Death is a series I originally wrote, beginning in 2015, and which was published at Dirge. The site is no longer active or updating.)

The New Faces Of Death is a series of profiles and interviews in which we celebrate five influential women passionately involved in the Death Positivity / Death Acceptance movement. Women who seek, in different ways, 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.

Our first installment highlighted Sarah Troop, Executive Director of The Order of the Good Death and Social Media Editor for Death Salon, as well as blogger and writer at Nourishing Death and Death and the Maiden.

Today we focus on Bess Lovejoy,  a writer and editor who lives in Brooklyn. She is the author of Rest in Pieces: The Curious Fates of Famous Corpses a bestselling book which promises tales of the zany adventures of famous folks who have shuffled off this mortal coil: “The famous deceased have been stolen, burned, sold, pickled, frozen, stuffed, impersonated, and even filed away in a lawyer’s office. Their fingers, teeth, toes, arms, legs, skulls, hearts, lungs, and nether regions have embarked on voyages that crisscross the globe and stretch the imagination.”

She is an editor for Mental Floss, and a researcher for books and film. Her work has appeared in The New York TimesThe Wall Street JournalTimeSmithsonian.comThe BelieverLapham’s QuarterlyThe Boston Globe, The Public Domain Review, Atlas Obscura, and elsewhere. Previously, she worked on the Schott’s Almanac series for five years.

She is a member of The Order of the Good Death and a founding member of Death Salon.

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How did you become interested in death and how did that lead to your current role in the death industry or as a death positive activist?

I’ve been interested in death since my late teens. Not so much the physical act of death as the idea of mortality, the idea that life is finite. I was sort of surprised that I wasn’t hearing more people talk about this basic fact, and that people seemed to go about their businesses ignoring it. I just thought it was an intellectually and emotionally interesting thing to contemplate, something refreshingly honest in a world that seemed full of fakery.

When I decided I wanted to write a book, I stumbled upon the idea of Rest in Pieces. When I started to get active on social media as I was researching/writing the book, it led me to connect with a group of death-positive activists and really progressive funeral directors. They enjoyed the morbid tidbits I was gathering on the strange fates of famous corpses for my book, and I enjoyed learning more about the practical realities of death. It kind of hooked into an interest that had been bubbling along for the past 15 years or so.

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What drew you to your particular profession?

I’ve always known that the only thing I’m good at is writing, researching, editing. And even that’s debatable, some days!

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

In a general sense, I work to connect people to the hidden histories of the world around us; stories that make the places and objects surrounding us become more alive, more intimately connected to us. We’ve often been presented a version of the past that’s scrubbed of all the death, sex, and magic, as well as a lot of class and gender issues, so I try to find those stories and share them.

With the death-oriented stuff, I’m trying to remind people of the realities of death and the virtues of confronting it: less fear and an enhanced sense of living.

I’m inspired by Montaigne, who said: “He who would teach men to die would teach them to live.”

I also want remind people that they have choices about how they die and what will happen after death, and the importance of being prepared.

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?

People think I’m incredibly brave, or have an iron stomach, and neither of those things are true. I’m actually extremely sensitive and I don’t like blood and gore much at all. But I just have the will to follow my curiosity. If you open your mind just a crack, a lot of what our culture thinks is “gross” is terribly fascinating.

I don’t “get off” on suffering and pain. For instance, I’m not into serial killer stuff, partly because I grew up around a number of them in the Pacific Northwest. So people will tag me on Facebook when a new serial killer documentary comes out, because they heard I “like morbid stuff,” and it drives me crazy. Or send me stories about dead babies. Argh!

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

In any given room, half the people will open their mouths in fascination and step forward, and the other half will retreat in terror. (That’s an exaggeration, but I’ve seen a simila scenario giving readings.) I think it’s important to respect people’s boundaries, so I never push. I just lay out the facts, and tell the stories, when and where I’m asked to. People can take it or leave it. But I do find that sensitivity, openness, and humor help people feel more comfortable. Humor is kind of the gateway drug into the macabre world, but it has to be done with taste.

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

I’m lucky in that I came from Seattle to NYC, and both places have a nice death-positive network. Seattle is where Death Over Dinner started, and it’s the home of the People’s Memorial Co-Op, one of the first (if not the first) funeral co-ops in the nation. And there’s fantastic green funeral directors like Jeff Jorgenson . New York has people like the fearless Amy Cunningham, a great green funeral director and educator, and the Morbid Anatomy Museum, where the death-curious can go for wonderful talks, among other things.

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

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

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?

For me, it’s fairly informal. I’m part of a group that contributes to what (I hope) is interesting and insightful death-positive content out there in the world. We share interests, we cross-promote, and to be perfectly honest, I think it removes some of the competitiveness that would otherwise be there.

At Death Salon I spoke briefly about Hart Island, which is New York’s potter’s field. There are close to a million bodies there, and burials have been going on since the 1860s.

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, to allay our death anxiety?

Whenever people talk about it, that’s useful. Gradual, open, honest conversations – preferably in comfortable settings – reduce the fear and the anxiety and lessen the stigma. Being confronted with the physicality of death is also helpful – I felt much less fearful about cremation when I saw cremains for the first time.

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

I’m really not sure what I think about the afterlife. I have no certainty on the subject, and I’m only interested abstractly. It’s a great mystery, but most of the time I don’t feel like I’m burning to answer that question. I like keeping it at arm’s length. This occasionally creates mild conflict with others who are more spiritual or religious and think they know for sure what’s going to happen – but for a writer, I think skepticism and an open mind is a useful combination.

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

I’m still working on what my ideal death scenario would be. I know I’d like to be in a beautiful place, to have been able to say goodbye to loved ones, and to have struck some balance between not being in too much pain and not on too many drugs. After death, I’d like to be cremated and scattered in Puget Sound, I think, or perhaps in the San Juan Islands, where my family used to camp growing up.

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

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

Respect The Zombie; or, On Mourning The Death Of George Romero

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My stories are about humans and how they react, or fail to react, or react stupidly. I’m pointing the finger at us, not at the zombies. I try to respect and sympathize with the zombies as much as possible. –George Romero

With the news of George Romero’s death, there’s a peculiar hole in my heart that I am not certain will ever be filled. Romero’s films had a profound impact on me at young age, and have been a part of my life, in some form or another, ever since that time. I felt I knew him intimately, and yet I never met the man–and if given the chance, I probably wouldn’t have (I’m not really big on meeting celebrities. Or people in general, I guess.)

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Where were you when you saw your first zombie? I think I was ten years old, in 1986, and it was Romero’s 1968 film Night of the Living Dead, whilst seated upon an ugly floral sofa in the living room of my family’s small house on Viking Drive, the empty, troubled house that I still dream about to this day. From the opening scenes of Barbara and Johnny’s ghoulish encounter in the cemetery where they trekked to place a wreath on their father’s grave, to the expository radio and television updates on the zombie phenomenon, presented with such deadpan expression: “…the wave of murders…in the Eastern third of the nation is being committed by creatures who feast upon the flesh of their victims,” and those unforgettable scenes of the bloody aftermath of the gas-station pump explosion and little Karen Cooper (the OG Ghoul Next Door) hacking her mother to death in the basement of that abandoned farmhouse…these are scenes I have watched so many times that their shadowy afterimages are burned indelibly behind my eyelids, and I can replay them in an instant.

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When I was eleven or twelve years old, a book suddenly appeared on my mother’s bookshelf. I suspect it was a gift from her boyfriend at the time, whom I believe was really quite fond of my sisters and I, and delighted in introducing us to all manner of gruesome, gory movies. I’m not sure my mother really appreciated the gift of this book–in retrospect, it just doesn’t seem like her cup of tea. It was very much my cup of tea, however, and captivated by its lurid cover, I would steal into her bedroom time and time again, sneaking The Zombies That Ate Pittsburgh from her shelf, secreting myself away in my bedroom and devouring the story of George Romero and his fascinating filmography. For a period of several months, I thought of nothing but this man and his zombies, but far from working myself into a state of terror, I just grew more and more fond of this visionary and his shambling undead creations.

Already a fan of horror, and of ghosts and monsters, (thanks Scooby Doo in my formative years!), the concept of the zombie was relatively new to me at that time, but my interest in it grew to influence my every decision regarding reading, viewing, and even listening, for years to come. I believe that’s what got me into Iron Maiden; after all, their iconic mascot sort of looks like some crazed, skeletal, undead flesh-eater, you know?

I think it was easier to fixate on these ghastly monsters and fantastical stories of the macabre instead of focusing on my own life, which was becoming increasingly chaotic. In the grips of addiction, my mother had grown quite monstrous, her frightening rages unpredictable and inconsistent–I never knew what might set her off, how to deal with it, or how to prevent it from happening, again. I became paralyzed with fear anticipating the fury of her next explosion, numb with guilt and shame and recriminations: why is our mother like this? What did we do to make her angry? How close are we to becoming that family on the street, the ones that the neighbors call the police on once a week? (We were somewhat lucky, there was already another family that had us beat in that regard.) In the face of my mother’s alcoholism, I found myself shutting down, shutting people out, becoming a zombie myself. These many years and mommy-issues later, monsters, and zombies in particular, are still a safe haven for me. How funny is that?

Martin

But, although I’m very familiar with Romero’s oeuvre, I’ve still only seen Night of the Living Dead! Well, and maybe snippets of Creepshow. I suppose after having read about these films so often, I almost feel as if I have already seen them? I did see the Dawn of The Dead remake, and I saw The Crazies remake, and well, I guess I suppose I have seen most of Land of the Dead, but I barely remember it, so I am not certain that counts.

At any rate, I was terribly saddened to hear of George Romero’s passing. Thinking about his life and his body of work dredged up a lot of issues for me–old bones I thought I’d buried deep, as well as the good stuff, too, the lifeblood that sustained me in troubled times, and the passion it sparked in me for the themes he touched on in his work and all my related interests that grew from that. Without him, I’d be a very different ghoul today.

I shall miss George Romero–the “Godfather of the Dead”,  “father of the modern movie zombie”–tremendously. To celebrate his life, I have commenced watching all of the films I’ve come know and love from reading about them so very long ago, and which influenced me in ways I am still discovering today. To start with, one that Romero called his “most realized film”, Martinwhich is actually not a zombie film at all! A story about a confused, misunderstood youth committing a series of vampiric murders, Martin has long since intrigued me. I also think that since I so closely associate Romero and his zombies, it might be easier on my heart to watch a film that would seem to be so distanced from that.

What are some of your favorite George Romero films? How are you holding up since the passing of our beloved storyteller? Disembodied hugs for you all can be found here.

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