I'm a strong believer that death is not a dirty word and is a topic worthy of conversation. In 2012 I got a call from my dad saying my mom, whom I had seen just two days prior, was dead. With nothing to lose, I packed up my things and traveled the world. I was looking for an escape, what I found was connection. In every country I visited, I found stories of people who had lost loved ones and were questioning their mortality. I returned from that trip dedicated to telling those stories and talking about death and dying in a world that doesn’t.
My work spans multiple platforms and conversations: I write, teach a grief expression workshop, and create interactive art installations and social experiments for people to engage with this conversation and each other. I've been accepted to Ideas Island for next summer— an island retreat in Sweden where people are invited to work on their ideas for free— where I have plans to create a podcast series. When I'm not trying to convince people to read William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying, I live and travel in my 1970 VW bus named Bessie.
The REAL story
On a Tuesday morning in 2012 I was heading to work when I got a phone call from my dad. He told me my mom was killed by a big rig truck driver who was driving under the influence of meth and swerved into her lane, head on.
In the following days, months, and years, I learned a few very important things:
- Few people talk openly about death, even though it is one of the most fundamental aspects to being alive.
- Few people know how to support those who are grieving, and when they try it is often inappropriate or offensive.
- Grief is messy, is far from linear, and is something we all share—whether it is grief for ourselves, for others, or for the world.
- Our language and way of viewing death is often archaic and outdated. Why do we say “I lost my mom/sister/friend/dad/brother”? (Where did they go? Should we go looking for them?)
On the night of my mom’s death I told myself the only way I would survive was by being honest and open with myself and others. When people asked how I was doing, I told them honestly, even if it meant admitting I was not doing well and stringing together expletives to describe it. Even if it meant drinking myself into a crying mess on Thanksgiving in front of my very religious never-touched-a-drop-of-alcohol grandma while giving zero fucks about it*; even if it meant going to a bar on my 23rd birthday with my older cousin, trying to keep up with his drinking, blacking out, sobbing about missing my mom on bar, being carried out of said bar, and waking up to a video of myself telling people they’re "all gonna die"**. I would wear all of it— my pain, sadness, anger--openly for the people to see. This openness brought its share of criticism, sure. You don’t get drunk every night and throw “fuck” into every sentence without getting a serious amount of side eye.
Through my willingness to share my experience I realized something else: almost everyone has a story of a friend or family member dying that has changed the way they see their mortality and the world.
Logically, this sounds like a “duh” statement, but in a culture where talking openly about death is taboo and shrouded in silence, this felt like a new discovery. Giving friends, family, and even strangers permission to share their story is what lead to the creation of this community.
Death Dialogue is a place to talk openly about death and dying. Here, I invite you to tell your own story around death, ask big questions — and maybe even the wrong ones — about life and death, examine your mortality, and reflect on the culture of dying both here and around the world. This is not a grief group —though your grief is welcome here— and you don’t have to have had someone close to you die to be a part of this community.
Only requirement? Be human! Death is an inevitable part of life. We’re here to explore more of what that means.
In a world filled with messages of “live to eternity!”, we instead acknowledge death as something normal and inevitable — though never easy — and as something worthy of a conversation. It’s what makes us human. So let’s talk about it.
*Yeah, that happened. And despite my differences with my grandma in how we move through the world, I adore her.
** That happened, too. A little embarrassed about it, but not ashamed. It’s a part of my story.