Death: A Part of Life – Radio Miniseries
“A lot of the time, we’re not prepared for it, because we don’t want to talk about [death]. Well, we’re gonna talk about it.”
This five part mini-series, led by news broadcaster Bill Kelly, explores practical and emotional concerns related to death, dying, grief and preparing for the inevitable.. Over the five episodes, a variety of panelists provide insight regarding coping, planning, and care and support systems. They also spend time explaining the variety of options that are available when a family or group are preparing for a death or faced with a life-threatening diagnosis. The series is based in Ontario, Canada, so there are some local and regional specific references that may not be relevant. However, overall, the series is focused how death is managed personally, socially, economically and politically.
You can listen to all episodes of Death: A Part of Life on the CHML website.
Passed On looks at rituals in death and dying within modern African American communities through a historical, cultural and personal lens. Author, Karla FC Holloway examines the ways in which burials and rituals have become a critical part of preserving black culture and identity. She also talks about how segregation, social vulnerability, and systemic violence have shaped 20th century African American death industries- from funeral services to pop culture representation. From the slavery to lynching, medical experimentation and lack of medical care, street violence, police brutality, even the painful and violent loss of her son, Holloway discusses how centuries of tragedy have robbed the African American community of the luxury of thinking a good long life was a given. She also touches on how this type of shared experience has led to a type of extravangance within African American death rituals and the roles that they play for the family as well as the community.
Passed On is available on Amazon.
A buddy film in which one of the buddies is a corpse. This film is bizarre and surreal, yet somehow very tender and endearing. There is also a surprising amount of farting throughout the film. It starts when Hank (Paul Dano), hopeless, stranded on a desert island, is about to attempt suicide and notices a body washed up on shore. The body, Manny (Danielle Radcliffe), is slowly reanimated over the course of the film as Manny and Hank set off on an adventure to go home. Manny the corpse seems to be a reflection of Hank’s memories. Hank teaches Manny how to live, about love and desire, even naturally bodily functions. While Manny’s body a number of useful tools to help Hank survive- starting with becoming a fart- powered jet-ski. Yes, there is a bit of comedy, but there is something captivating about the relationship between Hank, a suicidal hopeless man, teaching Manny, a lifeless corpse, how to build a life. Overall, I’m still not sure how I feel about the film, but I can’t stop thinking about it.
Alice Isn’t Dead – Podcast
Alice Isn’t Dead is a serial fiction podcast from the creators of Welcome to Night Vale. It follows truck driver Alice as she searches across America for her wife, who she had long assumed was dead. In the course of her journey, she will encounter “not-quite-human serial murderers, towns literally lost in time, and a conspiracy that goes way beyond one missing woman.” Although most of the stories are paranormal, a lot of the narrative in Alice Isn’t Dead surrounds Alice’s grief for her wife, which is lovely, and sad, and complicated. And, like other Night Vale presents podcasts, Alice Isn’t Dead does lots of neat things with the medium, which stands it out miles ahead from other fictional podcasts.
Visit the Night Vale Presents website to see the various listening options for Alice Isn’t Dead.
What Remains of Edith Finch – Video Game
What Remains of Edith Finch is a first-person narrative adventure video game for PC, Xbox One and PlayStation 4. In the game you play as Edith Finch Jr, the last remaining member of the Finch family, and are tasked with exploring the Finch house and its surrounding areas. As you explore the house, you’ll encounter various shrines and memorials dedicated to each deceased Finch relative. Interacting with these memorials reveals a “vignette” for the player to play with — ultimately experiencing how each family member died. Each vignette in What Remains of Edith Finch is completely unique from the last, and the game is subsequently captivating and emotional all at once. The game is a super gorgeous example of how the medium of video games can encourage players to interact with death and loss directly.
“Divers” by Joanna Newsom – Album
Joanna Newsom is an American musician, harpist, and piano player, whose music is melodic, and warm, and haunting all at once. Her most recent album “Divers” —which was released in October 2015— is centred around her “fear of loss”, following her marriage to her husband (comedian Andy Samberg) in 2013. In an interview with Uncut, Newsom described this feeling as “… a very heavy thing, because you’re inviting death into your life. You know that that’s hopefully after many, many, many, many years, but the idea of death stops being abstract, because there is someone you can’t bear to lose.” The themes of mortality and loss are ever present in the album, never backing down or shying away from expressing her fears and grief, and by the end, Newsom seems to stand tall, overcoming her death anxieties, as she invites the listener to stand alongside with her in this acceptance of mortality.
The Keepers – Netflix Docuseries
On November 7, 1969, Sister Cathy Cesnik vanished on her way to purchase a present for her dear friend. Two months later, her body was discovered near a garbage dump in Lansdowne, Maryland. To this day, Sister Cathy’s murder remains a mystery, but two of her former students will not rest until her murderer is brought to justice and the conspiracy surrounding Sister Cathy’s untimely death is blown wide open. Beautifully executed, Netflix’s rivetingly honest docuseries The Keepers takes you deep into the mystery of Sister Cathy’s murder, a case almost 50 years in the making, and explores the desperate need for closure for the survivors of victims of violent crime. Ten out of ten highly recommend that you binge watch all seven episodes!
Ghostland – Book
When it comes to death positive literature Colin Dickey is no amateur. In fact, he is quite the expert. Author of Cranioklepty: Grave Robbing and the Search for Genius and Afterlives of the Saints, Dickey does not disappoint with his latest book, Ghostland. Dickey explores the afterlife from the perspective of space and place, and discusses how we inhabit the architecture of the spirit world. He uses the haunted house to illustrate how the dead affect everything around them, including our own anxieties, long after they have left the realms of the living. From the story of The House of Seven Gables to the Merchant’s Museum in New York City, Dickey reminds us that the work of the dead never ceases, whether we believe in ghosts or not.
Get yourself a copy of Ghostland at your local library, bookstore, or here.
Death Note – Manga / Movie / Anime
Based on the acclaimed Manga Series turned Anime, Death Note follows high school teen dream Light Turner, who stumbles across a supernatural notebook. Light discovers that death will come to anyone whose name he jots within its pages. Inspired to take to the streets with his newfound powers, Light goes full vigilante. But Light’s obsession with using the book to take out evil attracts the attention of a mysterious detective name L, whose only aim is to stop Light as the death toll spirals out of control. Another Death Note plus: it is now a Netflix Original Film! The mind-bending manga is a must read and the anime is equally a must see, but if you don’t have time to catch up with this no-holds-barred series, check the out movie on Netflix.
Ladybug, Ladybug – Film (1963)
Based on a real event that was featured in a 1963 issue of McCall’s magazine, when an alarm sounded in a rural school, signaling a nuclear attack within the hour. This film feels like an extended episode of The Twilight Zone, particularly episodes like The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street and The Shelter. Ladybug, Ladybug focuses not on the experiences of the adults but of the schoolchildren. Beautifully directed and featuring some excellent cinematography, viewers of the film follow one group of children and watch how they react as they grapple with the idea of death, survival, and the denial of death from the adults around them.
Destroyer – Comic Book Series
Like all stories that have found a permanent place in our culture’s consciousness, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein continues to strike a chord because of its timeless themes of creation, responsibility, prejudice, and isolation. Victor LaValle’s Destroyer is a timely and important take on the Frankenstien story, centering on scientist Dr. Jo Baker, a descendant of Edward Frankenstein. When her 12-year-old son is gunned down by police, without consequence, she is consumed by grief and a fueled by the desire for justice to be served. Destroyer continues to explore the themes of Shelley’s original work, and thoughtfully incorporates modern day manifestations of them. The most compelling theme here for me is grief as a motivator, and how it can isolate and transform you. In this interview LaValle discusses the theme of grief in Destroyer in depth.
Keep an eye out for easter eggs in Destroyer, including Dr. Baker’s hair paying homage to The Bride of Frankenstein, or her son being named Akai, after Akai Gurley who was shot and killed by a police officer in 2014.
Issue 1 of Destroyer is available here.
Deathfolk Magic by Bye Bye Banshee – Album
I had the immense pleasure of getting to hear the premiere of Jezebel Jones’ Deathfolk Magic during her live performance at the Death & the Maiden conference earlier this year. Jones describes the album as a ‘death positive project’ with songs about natural burial, decomposition, Santa Muerte and pet loss. As corny as it sounds death, folk, and magic are the perfect adjectives to describe this audible momento mori that Jones has conjured up in her beautiful and moving songwriting and performance. A must have for any deathling’s collection.
Deathfolk Magic will be released on October 1st. You can hear a preview and purchase here.
Sarah Chavez is the executive director of The Order of the Good Death and co-founder of the feminist death site, Death & the Maiden. With a costumer father and a celebrity publicist mother, Sarah spent her childhood on the sound stages of Hollywood, immersed in the pop culture dream factory of Los Angeles. She currently resides on a farm in California, where she does things for her Italian Greyhound, and cooks decolonized funeral and death ritual foods. You can follow Sarah on Twitter and Instagram.