A little more on Sunland #7: Death in Culture

A little more on Sunland #7: Death in Culture

We wanted to keep digging on some of topics that were uncovered in yesterday’s Sunland event, so below is a little more for you. We hope you read and click around and learn a little more!


Q: Was there a moment when you decided this is what you wanted to do?

I knew I was intensely interested in Anatomy as soon as I began college…figuring out how I was going to find a good paying job that allowed me to study anatomy is what led me to funeral service education.  It also had the physical anthropology aspect through studying the history of death practices.  About 3 months into my internship in  the funeral home in Placerville I realized it was definitely what I was meant to be doing.  I felt excited to go to work everyday to continue to get better at embalming and I was less intimidated by funeral arranging and comforting the family members of the deceased.

Q: What’s a typical day like for you?

A typical day at the anatomy lab when there is a new death involves organizing paperwork, making sure the serology (blood test of the cadaver) has come back clear, then embalming.  Embalming usually takes around 3-4 hours depending on the cadaver.  During parts of the embalming we are also tackling other tasks like cleaning and setting up for the students, answering emails, etc.  Every day is different which makes it incredibly enjoyable.

Q: Scientifically, what the most interesting part about your job?

Definitely the human body.  The idea that I can raise an artery and a vein to use the circulatory system to embalm a body and make it look alive again is the coolest thing ever.  The change is immediate and I can see it happening.

Q: Have you had an experience that changed the way you think about death?

Funeral service education has completely changed the way I think about death.  I never really even considered death as what had to happen for a cadaver to exist.  I was completely shielded, and through school and working in a funeral home I had to learn to face death head-on and invite it inside.  If I didn’t completely allow death a seat at my table I don’t think I could have successfully finished the program.  Now I think about death daily, it is what has to happen for me to continue to do what I love.  I love embalming and I enjoy caring for the deceased.

Q: What’s a surprising fact about your job most people wouldn’t know?

It is rewarding, at the end of every day I feel like I served a purpose.

Q: If there’s one thing you’d like to impart on people about death, what would it be?

Death is not contagious.  Our culture is very good at pushing death out of sight and I don’t think that is healthy, seeing a dead loved one, being part of a funeral/burial/cremation etc is important.  Ask questions, expose yourself to death so it becomes less scary and more approachable.  Everyone is going to have to deal with the death of someone close to them eventually and it can only help you be better prepared by at least thinking about death beforehand.

Q: Do you only think about death scientifically, or do ever think spiritually or mystically?

This is a question I battle with daily…I have a deep understanding of death from a scientific perspective, but during school when I was deep in my “empathetic grief cloud” I was only comforted by the idea of “something bigger”.  This “something bigger” is definitely spiritual and it changes shapes daily. All I know is the human body is the most amazing vessel…as for what happens after you die, I have not the slightest idea.  If there is nothing after, I feel at peace knowing I was lucky enough to have experienced the world around me in my very own human body.

And some more links, playlists, articles and good things to explore…..

Sunland #7 Resource List

Poor Boy, You’re Bound to Die – History Net
Why Are So Many Lullabys Also Murder Ballads? – PBS
Teenage Tragedy Songs – Wikipedia
List of Categories (Teenage Tragedy and Murder Ballads)
Teenage Tragedy Playlist – Spotify
Nick Cave Murder Ballads
People Take Warning – Pitchfork
Murder Ballads Lists – 1, 2, 3, 4

Black Death – History Channel
The Influenza Epidemic of 1918 – National Archives
Black Death: The Greatest Catastrophe Ever – History Today
The Five Deadliest Outbreaks & Pandemics in History – RWJ Foundation
Brush with Black Death: How Artists Painted Through the Plague
Art and Death in the Middle Ages – Metropolitan Museum

A Brief History of the 27 Club – Rolling Stone
27 Club – Wikipedia
Do musicians die young? The truth about the 27 Club – The Guardian

Fascination with Death
Gothic Subculture Not to Blame for Violence – LA Times
Why Were Victorians Obsessed with Death?
A Morbid Fascination – Goth & Death
The Metal Crypt
Walt Disney’s Curious Fascination with Death – USA Today
Death Obsessed – The Atlantic
Santa Muerte – Time Mag
La Santa Muerte: Mexico’s Saint of Delinquents and Outcasts – VICE
Dia de los Muertos – Nat Geo
Lena Dunham – “I’ve been obsessed with death since I was born.”
20 Iconic Death Scenes – Indiewire
Best Death Scenes – AMC
Death Portrayed in Art