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!
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.
Tickets are free but highly encouraged: https://www.facebook.com/events/501818557026388/
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.
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.
More information can be found on Philly.com: https://www.philly.com/health/fop-fibrodysplasia-ossificans-progressiva-mutter-museum-exhibit-philadelphia-20190228.html
Morbid Curiosity in Museums and Historic Sites
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.
We’ve buried 2018 and are looking forward to a smooth ride into the new year! Thanks to everyone who’s come out to our monthly Death Parties, who’s interacted with us on social media and all of y’all fighting the good fight for death positivity. Let’s make 2019 a great one!
Do you folks follow our Death Party Twitter account? How about our Instagram? You should! We post all sorts of Death Positive stuff, pictures from our monthly meetings, re-tweets of death and death adjacent content and much, much more!
The Twitter: https://twitter.com/deathpartyph
We had an amazing year of programming at Death Party Philadelphia in 2018, with our monthly meetings covering diverse topics that span the death positivity community. We’ve discussed Death and Disability, Compassion Fatigue, Cemetery Semiotics, Human Taxidermy with tattooed skin, Dying (legislation) in Pennsylvania and even a screening of the feature documentary The Nurse with the Purple Hair (with exclusive introduction by iconic director Sean S. Cunningham and a Q&A with the film’s subject Michelle Lasota) and we still have one more Death Party Party of the year!
On Sunday, December 16th we’ll be meeting at our regular spot to bid farewell to 2018 with our annual holiday party and Secret Skeleton gift exchange- but that’s not all! We’ll be discussing 2019 programming and we’d love to round table topics and presenters for next year’s schedule.
If there’s a subject or presenter you think would fit our model, or if you’d like to speak at one of our monthly meetings, please join us and pitch the idea! We’re nothing without the voices of the Death Positive community, and we’d love to add your voice to our sometimes off key choir.
We can’t promise that we’ll have time in our calendar for every suggested topic but we’re ready to listen.
Ho ho ho!
It’s almost December, which means it’s almost time for SECRET SKELETON! Do you want to talk about death with a lively group of Death Positive folks? Do you want to exchange presents? Join us at DEATH PARTY PHILADELPHIA!
On Sunday, July 29th, please join us for a screening of, “The Nurse with the Purple Hair,” and discussion immediately following with the documentary subject and DPP friend, Michelle Lasota.
Our Facebook event page has more information:
About, “The Nurse with the Purple Hair,” and Michelle herself:
“The Nurse with the Purple Hair is a warm and inspiring documentary about end-of-life care. The film features hospice nurse Michelle Lasota and is directed by world-renowned filmmaker Sean Cunningham. The film honors hospice professionals and the mind-body-spirit services they provide.”
Michelle graduated as an RN in 2003. When Michelle’s father died unexpectedly in 2004, she was working as a surgical nurse at Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles. She returned to Philadelphia and switched to hospice nursing. She says: “It was a personal healing journey. For me, everything that I didn’t get to do for my dad I was now doing for all of these other people. So it was really important to me.”
Michelle serves as a level 3 RN on her hospice unit, and as preceptor to nursing students to newly hired employees. In 2010 she received a UPHS nursing excellence award in recognition of Nurse/Patient-Family Relationships.
Michelle makes her home in Philadelphia. She has two little boys.
For more information please visit: