5 People & Groups Leading Conversations About Death

Death is a taboo subject in many cultures. But having an open dialog about mortality can help people better prepare for their own deaths and for the loss of a loved one. The individuals and groups listed here work to inspire conversations about death and make the subject less mysterious and scary. Whether you're dealing with grief or simply curious, consider checking them out. This video was made with Ezvid Wikimaker.

Individuals & Organizations That Discuss Mortality

Name Description
Megan Rosenbloom Medical librarian, author, and advocate for the death positive movement
Death Cafe Series of events in various locations where people talk about death over tea & cake
Cole Imperi Founder of the School of American Thanatology, podcaster, and expert on death, dying, and grief
Death Talk Project Organizer of workshops, rituals, Death Cafes, and other events that promote useful, honest conversation about how people die, mourn, and remember
Sarah Chavez Death positive advocate working to help people live & die better

What Is The Death Positive Movement?

The death positive movement is an attempt to change the cultural stigma surrounding death and dying. In many societies, death is seen as a taboo subject that is often avoided. Members of the death positive movement believe that this does more harm than good, making it so that people are unprepared to deal with death when it inevitably comes for themselves and their loved ones. Other tenets of the movement include the belief that laws governing death and end-of-life care should ensure that people's wishes are honored and that death should be handled in a way that doesn't do significant harm to the environment. Another important aspect of the movement is the idea that people should make their friends and family aware of their end-of-life wishes, and have the necessary paperwork in place to back those wishes up. This is something that many people put off because they don't want to confront their own mortality, which can put their family in the difficult position of having to make life-or-death decisions on their behalf without knowing what they would want.

Death Cafes & Planning Your Own Death

The Five Stages Of Grief

One way to describe grief is in five stages. These reactions might not occur in a specific order, and can occur together. Not everyone experiences all of these emotions:

  1. Denial, disbelief, numbness
  2. Anger, blaming others
  3. Bargaining
  4. Depressed mood, sadness, and crying
  5. Acceptance, coming to terms

When To Contact A Medical Professional

Most people are able to come to terms with grief with the help of their friends, family, and support groups. And being open and honest about death and loss can be a therapeutic experience for many. But if you're experiencing more severe symptoms of grief, like these, you should reach out to your healthcare provider for help:

  • You can't deal with grief
  • You are using excessive amounts of drugs or alcohol
  • You become very depressed
  • You have long-term depression that interferes with your daily life
  • You have suicidal thoughts

Cole Imperi On The Way We See Death

In Depth

Although death is arguably the only certainty that living beings have, it's a subject that many in the modern world would rather not confront. Yet a growing chorus of voices have begun to call for society to take a more open and honest look at the end of life. In no particular order, here are five people and groups working to change contemporary culture's relationship with mortality.

Beginning our overview at #1 is Megan Curran Rosenbloom, a medical librarian, writer, and leading figure in the Death Positive movement. Driven by a fascination with humanity's responses to mortality, she is part of a research project investigating the phenomenon of books bound in human skin. Known as The Anthropodermic Books Project, this effort involves acquiring and chemically testing volumes alleged to incorporate human remains.

Rosenbloom is the author of Dark Archives, an exploration of the historical phenomenon of skin-bound books, and gives talks and interviews discussing her investigations in this area. She is also the founder of Death Salon, an initiative creating events for intellectual and artistic exchanges on the subject of mortality. Rosenbloom's writing has appeared in publications including Lapham's Quarterly and the Journal of the Medical Library Association.

Rosenbloom's writing has appeared in publications including Lapham's Quarterly and the Journal of the Medical Library Association.

Following up at #2 is Death Cafe. This project creates group directed discussions, with no specific agenda, on the subject of dying and bereavement. Founded by Jon Underwood, the creator of the non-profit organization Impermanence, this initiative has grown to include events around the world. Participants share ideas and stories, working to come to terms with loss and the inevitable end of life.

Attendees at Death Cafe meetings can create write-ups sharing their reflections on the events, and the organization shares blog posts ranging from dark humor, to ideas about the afterlife, to remembrances of lost loved ones. The group also offers a guide for those looking to organize a gathering, and a space to view artwork and videos dealing with mortality.

At #3 we have Cole Imperi, a writer, speaker, and educator on the subject of dying and grief. A certified thanatologist, she teaches a course in end-of-life care, as well as providing a monthly exploration of Tarot symbolism and a number of webinars on topics related to death. Imperi also offers services for death care businesses, including mystery phone shopping and brand consulting.

Imperi also offers services for death care businesses, including mystery phone shopping and brand consulting.

Imperi shares educational resources on subjects such as emotionally traumatic events, the anthropology of plants in death rituals, and the digital remnants of deceased people. She has also pioneered the practice of Thanayoga, the use of yoga for grief management. Imperi hosts two podcasts, The American Thanatologist and Life, Death & Tarot. She sells a variety of merchandise and services through her online store.

Entry #4 is the Death Talk Project, which organizes events to enable honest conversations about the end of life. Holly Pruett, the group's founder, is a life cycle celebrant and an organizer of PDX Death Cafe. From its beginning in 2015 with an all-day gathering dedicated to sharing thoughts about mortality, this project has worked to create social and educational events grappling with finality and loss.

Events the Death Talk Project has hosted include grieving ceremonies, conferences for discussion and learning, and artistic workshops exploring impermanence. The group also organizes screenings of films that examine various aspects of mortality, and shares resources on related topics. The Project's blog posts organizational news and reflections on living and dying.

The group also organizes screenings of films that examine various aspects of mortality, and shares resources on related topics.

We'll conclude with #5, Sarah Chavez, a writer and advocate exploring the intersection of feminism and death positivity. She is the executive director of the Order of the Good Death, an organization dedicated to confronting life's impermanence, and to empowering people to take control of their end-of-life care. Chavez writes about topics like emerging trends in life remembrance, and alternatives to the funeral industry.

Chavez is the founding member of The Collective for Radical Death Studies, which examines ethnocentrism and oppression in relation to mortality, and the feminist project Death & the Maiden. She co-hosts a podcast discussing the pragmatic realities of dying and burial, and writes a blog focused on the relationship between food and rituals of remembrance.