Introducing: Death Curious
At Parting Stone, we are forward thinkers and innovators. We love learning, appreciate a good sense of humor, and believe that everyone deserves to be empowered with good and equitable education about death. However, since beginning our journey as a start up in the death care space back in 2019, we’ve also discovered that, for most people, there is a huge gap in knowledge around end of life options and modern death care. The more we investigated this phenomenon, the more we discovered how many people out there are unfamiliar with the death profession, and are uncomfortable talking about, or even thinking about death. This means that many people don’t have access to honest conversations about death, dying, and end of life care. That’s why we are so excited to introduce our newest brand, Death Curious.
Death Curious provides death positive education for death curious people. Death Curious is a place for getting curious about all things death and dying, exploring new ways to make end-of-life care better for everyone. We believe that death should never be a taboo subject, and learning how to talk about it honestly and intentionally improves life for everyone.
A bit of backstory...
The voice behind our Death Curious brand is Alexandra “Aries” Jo (they/them), Director of Outreach and Education at Parting Stone. They are a queer first generation death care professional, and life-long death curious person. They have a personal history that connects deeply to why the world needs death positive education like Death Curious so much. They’ve shared a bit about their story with us. Alexandra says:
“Over the holidays last year, I visited my grandparents in Alabama. Since my family was caught unprepared for my mother’s death 16 years ago, and part of my job now is helping people understand the value of good death education and end of life planning, I wanted to make sure my grandparents had their end of life wishes planned and documented - both for their comfort and mine. This is a conversation I’ve tried to have with them over the phone multiple times over the past few years, with no luck. The subject would be changed, they would give short, uninformative answers, or our time would be cut short. I thought the conversation would be easier in person, but I learned that the problem runs deeper than that.
When I finally sat them down a couple of days after xmas, it was awkward. They got sad, uncomfortable, frustrated, even though I tried to explain that the conversation was important to me. I think it made them think about my mom/ their daughter’s suicide. I think it made them confront their age in a realistic way (they are in their early 80’s). And it reminded me how, when my mother died, no one was able to talk about it in real or healthy ways, EVER. Not my family members going through the grief together, not my friends, not my teachers. In that conversation with my grandparents, I felt guilty for insisting on spending our limited time together doing something that upset them, even though I knew it was an act of love to have this conversation. Eventually, after a long time, and lots of work to mine more information from them, I was able to uncover valuable insights about what is important to my grandparents when it comes to being remembered and honored. I learned about what both of my grandparents want at end-of-life beyond “do not resuscitate” and “just cremate me, it will be easier,” and a lot of that information surprised me, even though I know them well.
Alexandra (Aries) Jo, Director of Outreach and Education at Parting Stone, photographed by Anna Casehofmeister at the Madrid Community Cemetery in Madrid, NM.
Death is Scary...
Alexandra’s story makes it clear that healthy conversations about death are important for everyone. Death is the only thing in this world guaranteed to happen to every single living being. No one can escape it. And that thought is absolutely terrifying. Facing our own mortality, the mortality of everyone we love, and the ephemeral nature of being is hard. Alexandra has done some research around why death is so scary, and has become such a difficult subject to approach in our modern world. They discovered that, because death is scary and is hard to directly confront, many of us unfortunately experience pervasive cultural taboos around talking about death or even thinking about death. Death isn’t a part of our everyday lives in modern culture, like it was before the early 20th century. This removal of death from our every-day has led to a phenomenon that sociologists, historians, and anthropologists call Death Avoidance.
Death avoidance has intense real-world implications like personal anxiety, frustration with living family members who are unwilling to talk about end of life issues, harmful end of life care for marginalized populations like queer, trans, and bipoc folx, distanced relationships from people we love, and lack of good, personal death planning, as well as larger negative societal impacts. These problems result in disappointing memorials, self-doubt about end of life decisions we make for our loved ones, disenfranchised and complicated grief, and grief avoidance. These are just a few of the abundant, complex, and harmful challenges related to death avoidance.
Terror Management Theory is a psychological research theory which posits that a fear of death in human beings causes us to make decisions which insulate us from the deep fear of living an insignificant life destined to be erased by death. According to psychologists, this is the root of issues like prejudice, greed, gluttony, xenophobia, racism, homophobia, lack of empathy, materialism, and more. These issues are destructive to our society, but can subconsciously foster brief, fleeting feelings of security, which is why our subconscious minds turn to them when we don’t know how to process the truth of our mortality. Death avoidance, our contemporary inability to talk about death honestly and societal unwillingness to confront our mortality, is what leads to these larger, harmful, cultural issues that TMT researches.
However, there is also research that shows how having a healthy relationship with our mortality can actually lead to a happier, more fulfilled life. A recent study from Science Daily revealed that, “Thinking about death can actually be a good thing. An awareness of mortality can improve physical health and help us re-prioritize our goals and values[...]. In constructing a new model for how we think about our own mortality, Vail and colleagues performed an extensive review of recent studies on the topic. They found numerous examples of experiments both in the lab and field that suggest a positive side to natural reminders about mortality.” This research found that normalizing thinking about and talking about death in our daily lives can lead to a higher inclination to help others, making choices that are better for the environment, and living healthier lifestyles. Thus, when we are left to think about death and mortality in isolation, fearing the cultural taboos around talking about it, our minds turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms like prejudice and greed. When we are more comfortable thinking about death in honest ways, we make more positive choices and feel more connected to ourselves, our communities, and nature.
Changing How We Confront Death with Curiosity
If more people knew how to talk about death in real and honest ways it wouldn’t be such a taboo subject, and the people who NEED to talk about death and grief– for processing their own experiences, for helping loved ones at end of life, or for planning for their own end of life– would have support and feel connection, instead of feeling shame and isolation. And, in general, being more comfortable with our mortality can help us lead happier lives, and actually spend less time dwelling on our fears.
Death Curious is a platform for death exploration and a community of like-minded, death positive people. We imagine a future in which talking about death is normalized, comfortable, and even encouraged. Through death positive education, our goal is to help you better understand your own mortality, gain confidence talking to others about theirs, and to build a supportive community of mortality explorers.
Follow us on TikTok and Instagram @deathcurious, find our website and blog at deathcurious.com, and sign up for our email newsletter to stay Death Curious! We’d love to have you in our Death Curious community!