This past weekend I had the lucky fortune of attending Death Salon: Seattle put on by the Order of the Good Death. If that name sounds familiar, I’ve mentioned it before. This event was put on for all of those individuals and organizations that are involved in the #deathpositive movement — including (but not limited) to: funeral home directors, writers, artists, and genealogists (like myself!) etc. It was a wonderful experience and I highly suggest attending one if you can get to it (next year it is in Boston!)
Saturday started with a walk up to Red Square (below) on the University of Washington campus. Before we registered, most of us attendees talked among ourselves and made new friends. It was an early morning (8:30 AM!), but us bleary-eyed deathlings were there and had a purpose — to learn as much as we could.
9:30 AM – Sarah Chavez –Death and the Maiden: Why Women Are Working With Death and the Future of the Death Positive Movement
- Sarah Chavez’s talk on women in the death positive movement was a great starter to the conferences weekend. She spoke about our role within the death positive movement and how working in it is reclaiming our bodies, our space, our lives and our identities. With a little bit of history, Sarah talked about how death has always been a woman’s place until the last century when gender roles and industry forced a change and it became privileged men who were in charge of the dead.
You can learn more about Sarah and her work at:
10:00 AM – Chanel Reynolds – Getting the GYST of End of Life Planning
This informative session on planning for life after death in a practical manner really helped push some gear forward for me. I was at a lost of where to start with any end of life planning for me and my husband. It all seemed so overwhelming, but Chanel really helped bring it back home in a simple and easy manner.
11:00 am – Death with Dignity Panel – Moderated by Sally McLaughlin with Peg Sandeen and Nancy Niedzielski
These three women really opened my eyes to what Death with Dignity was all about. When most people hear the term they think “assisted suicide” and Dr. Jack Kevorkian. Assisted suicide is really a misnomer in this case — this isn’t suicide. This is just hastening a death that is inevitable due to terminal illness. People who are dying want to be able to control how they die so they are not in pain and suffering and the Death with Dignity acts are here to do just that. It is a compassionate way to let those in your life with terminal illness go.
You can find more information on Death with Dignity and what it means at the following:
1:30pm – Taryn Lindhorst –Death is Coming: Recognizing the Signs and Symptoms of Death
This particular lecture was really interesting as it focused on the individuals dying and how you can recognize the signs and symptoms of death in those that you love — especially those that are aging or have terminal illness. It made me reflect back onto how my late grandmother (LINK) and how the signs of her earth were obvious if you were paying attention.
2:00 pm – Angela Hennessy –In the Wake
Out of all the lectures and presentations during this weekend of death and dying, Angela Hennessy’s talk entitled “In The Wake” which spoke about black bodies in death and life affected me the most. As a genealogist and feminist, I value intersectionality in my work, research and life and Angela’s words about the intersection of race and death really spoke to me. She shared a video during her presentation that I would like to share with you:
This song by Jannelle Monáe was released “as an ode to the Black Lives Matter movement. She posted a message on Instagram explaining how the song is a “vessel” to express the grief experienced by those communities that are subjected to excessive police force and vigilante violence. ‘This song is a vessel. It carries the unbearable anguish of millions. We recorded it to channel the pain, fear, and trauma caused by the ongoing slaughter of our brothers and sisters,’ Monae’s post read.”
You can find Angela here:
3:00 pm – Death Writers Panel moderated by Megan Rosenbloom with Carol Cassella, Christine Colby, and Bess Lovejoy
This panel of writers (Carol, Christine and Bess) really helped me delve back into my writing roots and look at what I wanted to do in that realm. Last August (2016), I graduated from Western Washington University with my degree in Journalism Public Relations with a heavy emphasis on writing. Ever since I was a litlte girl I’ve written stories, book reports, and articles about subjects that fascinated me. I was able to ask them how on earth you pitch stories about death, dying and the dead to agents and publishing houses, as that is something that can be a bit tricky!
You can find these women here:
3:30pm – Caitlin Doughty –Post-Mortem Pet Possibilities
This lecture was the one I was most looking forward to when I first got my tickets to #DeathSalonSeattle. My good friend Caitlin (coincidence much!?) had told me about Caitlin Doughty and Ask a Mortician about four or five months ago and I was fascinated the second I started watching the YouTube videos. Caitlin Doughty is the founder of the #deathpositive movement and I was looking forward to her speaking.
Caitlin spoke about something you usually don’t hear about when you think of death — pets. She addressed the idea that people tend to think of the death of a pet as somehow “lesser” than a human being, and how it doesn’t have to be that way.
You can find Caitlin here:
After Caitlin, the official sessions for Death Salon Seattle were over, but lucky me, I was able to attend the Paws for Reflection fundraiser which was held later that evening. It includes two talks about pets and what happens when they pass. The first one was by sisters Darci Bressler and Joslin Rothare, owners of Resting Waters Aquamation, a place to holistically take care of your pets remains after death. The second talk was by one of the funniest speakers this past weekend, Dr. Paul Koudounaris. His insight into pets, pet death, and pet cemeteries made me want to go out searching for any pet cemeteries I could find.
You can find these folks at:
And, as a special part of this fundraiser, I was able to get a commissioned portrait of my families cat Tigger, who passed away earlier in August by artist Landon Blair.
After a long day of death and dying it was time for me to sleep, and that I did. But the very next morning I was up on the campus of the University of Washington for another full day of death lectures.
9:30 am – Megan Devine –It’s OK that You’re not OK: Death Positivity in the Face of Grief
This particular lecture hit me harder than I expected. In most of our Westernized (i.e. American) culture of grieving, death and dying, we are expected to “buck up” and “be strong” under the pressures of death, loss, illness, violence and disasters. But what if we didn’t have to be? Megan Devine explore these thoughts in her lecture to us and really brought the point across that it is okay to be not okay.
10:00 am – Decolonizing Death– Matt Ignacioin conversation with Sarah Chavez
This was a fascinating conversation with Matt Igancioin about Decolonizing Death and the discussion behind the erasure of Native American death customs. He focused on what we could do to decolonize death rituals and really intersectionally talked about death in general. In addition to Angela Hennessy’s lecture, this lead the conference in being an intersectional death positive place.
11:00 am – Using Theatre To Start The Conversation about Death and Dying– Peggie Dickens in conversation with Elizabeth Coplan
While I wasn’t at the theater performances on Friday night, Peggie and Elizabeth came and spoke to us about using theater to express death, dying and grief in a safe and secure manner. In fact, Elizabeth was in my lunch group for Sunday and was really able to speak to that.
11:30 am – Brian Flowers –Green Burial: The Intersection of Ecology & Ritual
This particular lecture was one of the ones I was also looking forward to as I am deep in research about green burial and what it can mean for me and others. Turns out that Brian Flowers and his green cemetery are located only about 15 minutes away from where I live (Bellinghamster shoutout!) and he spoke deeply to my feelings about green burial and why it is important.
1:30 pm Tanya Marsh –Regulated to Death: Re-Imagining the Funeral Services Market
Tanya Marsh’s talk on law and regulations took me back to my college days at Western Washington University and my media law class when she talked about the different regulations that are still in place in the death industry and that are strangling (no pun intended) it to death.
2:00 pm – Alternative Deathcare –Jeff Jorgenson in conversation with Nora Menkin
As the afternoon went on, to be honest, it was hard to pay full attention with a full brain of information on death and dying, but I was able to tune in for Jeff Jorgenson and his conversation with Nora Menkin about the struggles of running a green funeral home (the only one!) in Seattle. You can find information about both their organizations here:
3:00 pm – Death Cafe, a short film by Phoebe Holman
This lovely little short film spoke about the prevalence of Death Cafe’s, which are public gatherings where people meet for tea and to discuss their thoughts and fear surrounding death. Started by the late Jon Underwood in England, there are over more than 4,000+ Death Cafés worldwide. For more information on Death Cafes, click here.
3:15 pm – Recomposing with Katrina and Caitlin
The last lecture of the Death Salon was led by Caitlin Doughty with Katrina Spade, the founder of the Urban Death Project. Katrina Spade is started a new process that she is developing called recomposition, where the bodies of the deceased are composted into usable dirt instead of cremation or burial. I found this new technology fascinating and listening to Katrina Spade speak, I knew this is something that people could potentially be interested in. In fact, my husband had heard her speak on NPR a few months earlier and let me know his feelings on the subject:
According to the website, the mission of the organization is:
“Our mission is to create a meaningful, equitable, and ecological alternative for the care of the deceased. At the heart of our work is a system called recomposition, which gently transforms bodies into soil.”
You can find Katrina here:
This entire weekend reinvigorated my love of discussing the topic of death and dying and really helped me focus on what I wanted to bring to the table, mainly with genealogy and the death positive movement.
Have you ever been to a Death Salon before? Share your experiences in the comments below!