Hey friends! It’s been over a year since we’ve gotten together physically but with more and more folks getting vaccinated and a year of honing our social distancing skills we’re thinking it’s high time we start dipping our toes into the “what comes next?” waters.
We’re mulling over a mask mandatory, distancing required trip to our beloved @laurelhillcemetery on Sunday April 11th – wander around the grounds, say hi to squirrels, enjoy the day. Who’s interested?
We’ve sworn off Facebook, so the planning will be a little wobbly, but keep your eyes on our Instagram Account @deathpartyphl for up to date info!
Much like Pennsylvania’s own Punxsutawney Phil, we’ve been hiding underground here at Death Party Headquarters, waiting for August to come around before poking our heads out of the ground so our shadows can decide if we’re going to have six more weeks of 2020 being a huge, flaming, messy, surreal, disaster.
I’d like to say that our prognosticating penumbra came back with better news, but it just wouldn’t be 2020 if there wasn’t disappointment queued up, so, for the time being, we’ll still be distancing, wearing our masks, and obsessively washing our hands in an attempt to protect ourselves and our community.
And let me tell you, we sure do miss our community. (that’s you!)
We (Shawn & Julia) have been radically limiting our time on social media- taking the step of disconnecting from Facebook altogether has been a breath of fresh air but it’s also left us out of the loop with what’s going on with our friends and family – sorry we haven’t been more present during what’s been a weird few months.
But we’re still here, still talking about how to transition DPP into the new normal, and still very much looking forward to keeping the death positive conversation going. Stay tuned for news on future (virtual) meetups and online presentations!
As we say goodbye to 2019, we here on the organizing side of Death Party Philadelphia are infinitely thankful to each and every one of you who came out to our monthly meetings this year; who shared our message via your social media channels, who generously donated to our yearly fundraiser, and, most importantly, who added your voices to the death positivity conversation. We appreciate you.
We’re already working out the scheduling of our 2020 programming year, and we’ve got so much amazing stuff planned so far! First up is DEATHBOOM with our friend Megan Carmichael, who’ll be joining us all the way from Southern California. While we’re going to try to stick with our ‘last Sunday of the month’ scheduling, please note that Megan will be joining us on Sunday, January 12th, 2020!
We hope you have a happy and relaxing Holiday season, and we can’t wait to see you next year at Death Party Philadelphia!
Baby boomers are aging, they are continuing to amass financial wealth, they are comfortable spending, they have never been satisfied doing things as they have been done before, and they are going to change the way our society handles death. Presenting an economic analysis of the current landscape, profiles of deathcare professionals, evaluation of different training opportunities and specific steps for entering the deathcare industry regardless of your professional background, Megan will probably convince you to give your 2-weeks notice by Monday morning (j/k).
About our Presenter: Megan thinks and writes about the intersection of death and daily life for her blog, www.dailylifeanddeath.com, and other publications. Her background in marketing and wealth management led to working in the deathcare industry after the loss of her mother in 2017 and her father in 2019. She lives in Ventura, CA with her husband and two young children.
Join Death Party Philadelphia member Allison Matia for an exploration of the relationship between death and the nervous system.
As technology and medical science advance, the distinction between life and death becomes ever more ambiguous. Historically, death was defined as loss of cardiac function. With the advent of life support technology, vital functions can be maintained artificially after the nervous system fails to sustain them. This phenomenon has led to a paradigm shift in the way death is defined.
In modern times, death is diagnosed using neurological criteria. While we now use a neurological definition of death, the criteria for this definition are still difficult to articulate due to the many different physiological processes that sustain life and the various ways in which technology can maintain them when the nervous system fails.
This presentation will explore the history of how death has been defined, how death is currently defined, and the physiological and technological factors that make the exact point of death so difficult to determine and define.
The following points will be presented:
The definitions of and distinctions between brain death, coma, and persistent vegetative state.
The criteria physicians use to diagnose death.
Legal implications of how death is defined, most notably, when organs can be legally harvested for donation.
Allison Matia is a Neuroscience Ph.D. student at Rutgers University where she studies the neural representations of odor mixtures at multiple points in the olfactory circuit. She is interested in disseminating the tenets of Death Positivity more broadly into U.S. culture.
For our June meeting, please join Dr. Rachel Oristano and Death Party Philadelphia for an in-depth discussion on the intersection of death and the wellness industry.
Every industry has its pros and cons, and the Wellness Industry is no exception. This talk will include a critical look at some of the negatives, such as an analysis of “Anti-Aging” and how that relates to death denial, the cultural obsession with youth, and ethics in treating potentially terminal illnesses. These points will be compared against the positive aspects of the Wellness Industry as they relate to Death Positivity, such as appreciating the wisdom and experience from elders in medicine, the emphasis on sustainability, and the value of quality of life in hospice care.
About June’s guest speaker:
Rachel Elizabeth Oristano is a Licensed Naturopathic Doctor, Licensed Acupuncturist, and Certified Nutrition Specialist. Dr. Oristano received her Naturopathic Doctorate, Masters of Science in Oriental Medicine, and Doctorate of Science in Oriental Medicine from the accredited National University of Natural Medicine in Portland, OR. Prior to attending NUNM, Dr. Oristano graduated from Haverford College with a Bachelor of Science in Biology, a Minor in East Asian Studies, and a Concentration in Neural and Behavioral Sciences. She furthered her scientific research experience working in the Aaron Gitler Molecular and Cell Biology lab at the University of Pennsylvania before pursuing her career in natural medicine. Currently, Dr. Oristano practices in East Falls, PA and focuses on mental health, using nutrition, acupuncture, and mind-body medicine as her primary treatment modalities.
On Sunday, April 28th, the staff of West Laurel Hill Cemetery welcomed Death Party Philadelphia for an amazing behind the scenes tour of the funerary facilities housed on their nearly 200-acre property in Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania.
Despite celebrating their 150th anniversary, the Cemetery is anything but archaic; West Laurel Hill is leading the charge for green burial (including a pet aquamation- body disposal via alkaline hydrolosis) and creating a forward-thinking culture for the future of death care.
Death Party Philadelphia’s members were treated to an unforgettable tour, with the nicest guides and funeral home staff we could have hoped for; we can’t wait to return to the grounds for a more casual tour of their space.
In keeping with February’s DPP meeting facilitated by Beth Savastana about the importance of morbid curiosity in museums, DPP member Shawn Porter spent the morning at The Mütter Museum for the unveiling of the skeleton of Carol Orzel- a South Philadelphia native with fibrodysplasia ossificans progressiva (FOP) who bequeathed her remains to the College of Physicians of Philadelphia.
Join Death Party Philadelphia on Sunday, February 24th, as we welcome Beth Savastana, Program and Volunteer Coordinator at Laurel Hill Cemetery! Drawing from her years of academic and professional experience, Beth will make the case for museum and historic sites using the display of human remains and other “morbid” content to generate interest and revenue. While acknowledging the valuable educational and cultural benefits associated with putting death on display, Beth will also examine the ethical debates that continue to surround these types of exhibitions. This meet is a must for any card-carrying Laurel Hill and Mütter Museum member, so don’t miss it!
Beth Savastana has embraced death starting at a young age with an obsession of mummies and archaeology. This led her to receive a B.A. in Archaeology from Lycoming College. Two years later she continued her education with an M.A. in Museum Studies from The University of Leicester in England. While there she chose her dissertation topic on museums derived from former medical collections and the educational and financial benefits that can come from displaying them today. Serendipitously, she began working at Laurel Hill Cemetery in 2014 and has been living her thesis since by helping the public get pumped about death in Victorian times and encouraging all to view cemeteries as beautiful museums…not places of fear and dread.
Death Imitates Art: the Mortal/Immortal Body of Elizabeth Siddall
Join Death Party Philadelphia for our very first meeting of 2019, where Kelly Crodian-Shuff will recount a true gothic tale of close encounters with artistic temperaments, doomed romance, and a tragic muse disturbed from her grave. This highly illustrated and immersive presentation will examine the enigmatic figure of Elizabeth Siddall, model and muse to the Pre-Raphaelite artists of the Victorian era and famously dead wife of painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti.
Siddall was idealized in paint and poetry by Rossetti both before and after her death and was notoriously depicted as Ophelia in John Everett Millais’ iconic painting of Hamlet’s doomed lover. Although an artist and poet in her own right, Siddall’s own voice has long been eclipsed by the uncanny way in which her own story seems to blend with those of the withering maidens she embodied on the canvasses of male artists. However, unlike Ophelia or Dante’s Beatrice, Elizabeth Siddall was a very real person; one whose true self has been irrevocably lost to time, even as she continues to inspire art, music, and poetry 157 years after her death.
Our discussion of the Tale of Elizabeth Siddall will explore what happens to a person’s image once it has passed permanently outside of their control. Is it possible for the dead to have agency? How does the objectification of certain bodies in life lead to exploitation in death? And most importantly, is the work of a muse ever really done?
Kelly Crodian-Shuff is a longtime Death Party Philadelphia contributor with a background in Women’s and Gender Studies who really likes Kate Bush. She currently works as a nonprofit administrator and lives in West Philly with her spouse and cat.