A Better Understanding of Death

Last Thursday Death & the Maiden’s Lucy Talbot attended the Good Funeral Awards, as we had been nominated for the “Most Significant Contribution to the Understanding of Death” award 2016. Here Sarah and Lucy (the Maidens) reflect on the values at the core of their mission and introduce to you the other nominees in the category. Most of which you will find are female.

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Last week we were immensely honored and grateful to be nominated for the “Most Significant Contribution to the Understanding of Death” award at the Good Funeral Awards, considered the “Academy Awards of the funeral industry” in the UK.

In the short time Death & the Maiden has existed we have had the distinct honor of being able to showcase the work of multiple nominees, past and present. This year we are both excited and humbled to be recognized alongside so many people and organizations we admire, such as fellow relative newcomer The Corpse Project and seminal organization The Natural Death Centre.

In learning more about each individual, project or organization also dedicated to changing our death-phobic society’s relationship with death, we noticed that almost all of them are women.

Before we proceed, for those of you who may be learning about us for the first time, Death & the Maiden is a was founded by Sarah Troop, Executive Director of the Order of the Good Death, founding member of Death Salon and Lucy Talbot, Master of Arts in Death, Religion & Culture. At the advent of the current wave of the death acceptance movement the observation was widely made by press, funeral industry professionals and advocates, of the overwhelming number of women participating and expressing interest in death – from academics, to health care professionals, to artists.

As founders, our aim with Death & the Maiden was to create a space of exploration -examining the relationship between women and death by sharing ideas, inspiration and creating a platform for discussion and feminist narratives. To foster a supportive and inclusive community, and to amplify the voices of those actively creating the future of death. Among our contributors are scholars, death doulas, scientists, morticians, museum professionals, artists, anthropologists and activists to name a few.

In the press, women working with death are often reduced to stereotypes of the nurturing, sensitive party planner – portrayed as selfless martyrs, and endlessly compared to Morticia Addams or even  tragic Disney Princesses – viewing the unique individuals, their work and the movement through a narrow lens, acknowledging only a fraction of the picture.

Being shamed or discouraged for being interested in our mortality or death professions begins early, particularly for girls. A large portion of emails received at The Order are from young girls expressing a love of science and a passionate interest in becoming a death professional only to be discouraged by family and friends and told that such work is “morbid” and “not for girls.” Also of concern is the recent firing of a trans funeral director in the U.S. This is not only disturbing but discouraging and we want to change that narrative.

In addition to this, as women and non-binary folks many of us are often forced to confront death in ways that men are not – you can read more about this issue in a piece we recently ran here.

Every week we see new blogs, websites and social media accounts dedicated to exploring topics of death, however the vast majority of them are limited in scope, providing only one narrative that fits into the good or beautiful death. We believe that we will never change our death denying cultural attitudes if we continue to keep death confined solely to feel good, “Upworthy” type subjects – death is difficult, painful and hard to confront, too.  At Death & the Maiden we strive to portray death in its entirety and invite our contributors and audience to confront this often challenging topic through science, literature, art, first person narratives, culture, history and current events.

Here, death has a face and it belongs to all of us.

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As helping others understand death better is at the heart of our mission, we really wanted to highlight the other people and organizations nominated for the “Most Significant Contribution to the Understanding of Death” award – it comes as no surprise that almost every one of them is headed up by a woman.


Lucy Coulbert at The Individual Funeral Company


An independent funeral company that encourages family involvement and bespoke funerals. Lucy says, “Sometimes people want to arrange the entire funeral themselves and do not actually need me apart from taking their mum to the crematorium.”

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Jane Duncan Rogers at Gifted By Grief 


Jane believes passionately that society needs to be more open about grief, death and dying. She shares her wisdom and her compassion to share information and inspiration. She says, “To be sticking our heads in the sand and finding these topics difficult to mention is complete madness, given we are all going to be affected by them sooner or later. It’s my intention to open up conversations about these topics and bring them out of the closet.”

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Claire Turnham at Only With Love  


Claire is the founder of Only With Love which provides one of the most important services in the death positive movement, family led home funerals. She offers knowledgeable guidance and support through every aspect of a home funeral.

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Sandy Weatherburn at Social Embers 


A uniquely modern need, Social Embers provides helpful support, information and services that relate to end of life and the internet. They offer support for professionals like undertakers and hospices, as well as online memorials and advice for families and individuals.

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Beyond Goodbye


Run by the family of Joshua Amos Harris Edmonds who was tragically killed in an accident abroad. On Beyond Goodbye, the family shares their own experiences but serves as a resource to others who have been bereaved, particularly by a sudden, out-of-order or untimely death. There is so much wonderful content to discover on Beyond Goodbye, including their film, also titled Beyond Goodbye which is “intended for a wider audience and will have value for all those who are recently bereaved as well as anyone interested in healing power of creating a funeral ritual without recourse to conventional undertakers.”

josh


Bristol Culture


They hosted the acclaimed exhibit, Death: The Human Experience encouraged visitors to consider ethical issues, different attitudes to death and how different cultures have dealt with the end of life. In addition to the ongoing exhibit at the Bristol Museum and Art gallery they hosted many events that delved into the subject of death.

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Tamworth Co-operative Funeral Service


An independent funeral home co-operative with various locations. A hallmark of Tamworth is that their staff members all live within the local communities they serve and are aware of its traditions and local customs. It is evident how much thought and care has gone into their services which includes a catering suite and a Bereavement Advice Centre that offers free support.

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The Corpse Project


“Research and public listening project exploring what we do with our bodies after death and asking if some practices are better than others – both for humans and for the earth.” Core members of The Corpse Project work closely with the public, special interest groups, scientists, artists and academics. Their work with often overlooked groups like teens and members of the trans community are particularly notable.

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The Natural Death Centre


A cornerstone of the death positive movement and pioneer  in the field. If you visit only one of the nominees we’ve listed here, it should be the NDC – we are all standing on a foundation they have spent many years building and we are grateful.

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Pride of place at the event was this incredible cake pictured below (yes it’s a cake!)

Made by our dear friend Conjurer’s Kitchen.

Huge congratulations to the award winners at Tamworth Co-operative Funeral Service.

And to runners up Jane & Jimmy Harris of Beyond Goodbye.

Thank you to the Good Funeral Awards team for all your hard work.

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2 thoughts on “A Better Understanding of Death

  1. Congratulations to Tamworth and Beyond Goodbye for their achievements and thank you to the Maidens and all the other finalists in this Most Significant Category. I was honoured to be nominated alongside you and feel proud of the positive way we are all working to make a significant difference in this work.

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  2. Congratulations to Tamworth Co operative and Beyond Goodbye for their significant achievements at the GFG Awards. I was hugely honoured to be nominated alongside you and all the other finalists in this category and am proud of the positive way we are all contributing towards a better understanding of death. Thanks to the Maidens for their generosity in writing this blog. Its great to see everyone here!

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