On the first day of my INELDA death doula training in Raleigh, NC, I sat at a table with a woman who was living and working in the City part-time in 2001 who happened to have commuted back to PA on the day of 9/11 as well as with a woman who lived in Blacksburg, VA, where Virginia Tech sits at the center.
Our facilitator is INELDA Executive Director, Henry Fersko-Weiss, a man who follows the school of The Good Death while carefully avoiding such terminology as if there were a hidden trademark. He urges volunteers in training and would-be professionals to commit to a zen-like state of utility to create the most selfless and supportive environment in the deathbed room for passing peaceably. Someone from the other side of the room asks “Will we be covering the deaths of children?” Another asks “Will we be covering deaths that aren’t planned and happen suddenly—like suicides or tragic deaths?”
As is wont to be with virtually all things, the internet populace is two-party opinionated on the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why: either it’s the worst thing that’s ever happened with regards to showcasing death by suicide in the media, or it’s the most moving call to arms for suicide casualty awareness and youth mental health support.
Scene: February 2017, yours truly + 20 other virtual strangers in an office pod on the second floor of an office building (occupied by Somos Orlando, a latinx outreach program for LGBT folk, families and allies). We are in an 8 hour workshop for mental health first aid targeted specifically to the youth. For 8 grueling hours, we observe interviews with suicide survivors (who go graphically in depth with their stories), we practice mock interventions in hypothetical scenarios that gradually increase their severity with deeper and deeper involvement, we even go so far as to facilitate mental health crisis scenarios by simulating auditory hallucinations—a colleague and I sit this one out, because this scenario hits just too close to our own special sense of unreality.
This excerpt comes from one of my dearest and most favourite of friends. We’ve been going at this ritual of giving each other the most outrageous send-ups on our respective birthdays for the past 10 years (!!!).
I turned 27 on April 1 of this past weekend. Before that happened, I was 26-years-old and on the cusp of a nervous meltdown in my therapist’s office on March 31, which was also also transgender visibility day.
Similar to my recurring ‘Death in the Movies’ feature, I feel it only appropriate to come up with a snappy title for a recurring feature on themes of death and dying in the written word!
A few weeks ago, I was approached by a reader of this blog to contribute a piece to a grassroots magazine devoted to the local art scene. This was a fantasy scenario come to life. In all of my idyllic moments in studying the past masters and beacons of culture, I’ve daydreamed of being the very same sort of Romantic iconoclast. It was actually the hinging principle of why I took two gap years from being a student to go into teaching. Really.
I spent several hours over the course of several days after seeing Get Out combing the internet for a very specific kind of think piece: one that taps into the vein of the typically cis, typically white, typically male obsession with immortality. But it wasn’t there. Or, I should say, it wasn’t in the typical death positive spaces or death and dying circles.
Admittedly, this is kind of a niche point for much of think piece culture, but this *should* be an easy hit in the death positive scene, in the TEDMed scene, in the philosophical circles, since the base conversation point (the obsession with immortality) isn’t necessarily new; Caitlin Doughty specifically uses racial and gendered language it in her ‘Ask a Mortician’ videos and, more intimately, in her memoir Smoke gets In Your Eyes, where she describes a date with a white neuroscientist PhD candidate who’s sole motivator is life-youthful-and-eternal, and exactly why that makes him the most boring and insipid kind of person.
These past two weeks have been a whirlwind. There are some fun and very privileged opportunities that I’ve been able to secure, and I’m very excited to share those here in the next coming weeks; but one of those things I can share right now is my StoryCorps session with the inimitable S. Elizabeth of Unquiet Things, Haute Macabre and, of course, Skeletor is Love fame.
But more than that, Sarah is an incredible friend and ally to me, to our local death community, and to our intersecting communities, which is exactly why I invited her to be my proctor for our local public radio station’s call for persons looking to share their stories about the wake of Pulse; this was cheekily called ‘Taking Your Pulse,’ which is a much more affable moniker than ‘Death in the Gay Den’ is, but I think it hits the same tone in terms of being reflective while still feeling the aftershocks of disbelief.
When I was in high school, I was an avid “LJer”–a person who used an early community-blogging platform known as “livejournal” which, famously, “died off” in approx. 2009 after turning over ownership to a Russian media company, SUP Media. Apparently since then, LJ servers have actually migrated from their native San Francisco California to Russia, and the LJ community (or should we more aptly state, the Zhivoy Zhurnal community) is tied very closely to an online newspaper, the Gazeta, and is largely made up of prominent political pundits who use the blogging interface for political commentary.
And that’s the way the news goes.
Things were different between approx. 2005 – 2008. The ominous Russian presence was mostly just brushed off as “pornbots” (all of which migrated with the American LJ community to Tumblr, naturally). For the rest of us, LJ was a conjoining of platforms that allowed us to vent our teen rage and to find likeminded peers who were members of niche blogging networks (communities).