Afterlife Burial Defying Death

Adventures of Momento Mori

Meg, here. There’re some new death kids on the block, and they aaiight. The Adventures of Momento Mori launched about a month ago at the deliciously named (why didn’t I think of that? why?!). The videos at their YouTube channel Yo! Mori take a listicle approach—short, shocking, wacky bits of death-related trivia aimed at short attention spans that constantly need their minds blown.

The real meat—or the promise of meat, or Quorn for us vegetarians—is in the podcast. Here’s their blurb:

The Adventures of Memento Mori or, (A Practical Guide for Remembering to Die) is a bi-weekly, 30-minute podcast exploring death. Satirical and philosophical, the show follows host, D.S. Moss, as he attempts to reconcile his own impermanence. The show aims to change how people think about mortality. Moss challenges listeners to welcome death as part of life’s cycle, thereby compelling them to live more meaningful lives (himself included).

It’s a young podcast and it shows, with some super echo-y interviews that undoubtedly cause endless heartache and will never happen again. Episode 2: Communicating with the Dead left me bemused to listen in on spooky stories and a modern séance then be served the tidy conclusion that “it was all  a subjective experience made meaningful in our brains,” seeking patterns and profundity because we’re monkeys like that. Don’t get me wrong—I don’t want woo served without science—but it sounds like they want it both ways, and you can’t have it both ways, at least so says derisive adult me. Twelve-year-old me squees because GHOSTS!

Whether this is them refining their voice or me being a total grump, the podcast clearly has producing and editing chops and, frankly, it’s fun. Transhumanist presidential candidate Zoltan Istvan is interviewed in episode 3 from inside his 40-foot coffin bus. Episode 1 gives us a template for straight-forward, no-nonsense, gitterdone conversations about end-of-life planning (pro tip: frame the executorship of your will as an honor, not a burden).

Suffice it to say, The Adventures of Momento Mori is now favorited in my Stitcher, and you can get it from iTunes, SoundCloud or streamed directly from their site. It’s a decent one I reckon will become damn great.

Plus, that hipster nerd skull! Duuuuuuuude.

Burial Cemeteries Grief + Mourning

Grave Matters… Muahahahaha!

Grave Matters (podcast)
BackStory, with the American History Guys (May 23, 2014)

This week the genius history podcast BackStory rebroadcasted their show “Grave Matters” in honor of Memorial Day.

Did you know that the term “funeral parlors” was a marketing riff on the Victorian parlor room of the home, the inevitable site of the wake and funeral? To kick the dour image of death, the parlor eventually morphed into the “living” room. BOOM!

Do check it out. Always informative and entertaining, BackStory is one my (Meg’s) favorite podcasts.

Death + the Law Funeral Industry

Casket Trust-busting on the Horizon?

Consumer Advocates Want More Competition in Casket Market
April Dembosky, Marketplace (August 2, 2010)

American Public Media’s Marketplace has a short radio segment about a consumer advocacy group suing the three major casket companies for monopolizing the market. A federal judge will decide later this week whether the companies’ distribution policy of selling caskets to anyone but delivering them only to funeral homes creates an unfair market for competition and consumers who want more choice.

A possible word slip by a casket company official may be indicative of the industry’s attitude. From the transcript:

Mark Allen from the Casket and Funeral Supply Association of America insists there’s plenty of competition in his industry. “I’m contacted every week by a new upstart company that’s trying to get some advice for getting started in this industry.”

A new “upstart” company? Doesn’t he mean “startup”? So much for downplaying hostility.

Defying Death Suicide

TAL: Trouble Bridge Over Water

This American Life: The Bridge
originally aired May 7, 2010

Act One, Bridge Over Troubled Water

We posted last December about the Cliffs of Tojimbo in Japan, a popular tourist destination but also suicide hotspot, and the man who made it his mission to talk down and counsel would-be jumpers.

Act One of This American Life‘s episode The Bridge follows a similar situation in China, where Chen Sah patrols a four-mile long bridge thronged by thousands of pedestrians every day and averages one suicide per week. In standard This American Life fashion, the story is at once tragic, hopeful and bewildering, as reporter Mike Paterniti is embroiled in his own rescue of a jumper, a young man whom Chen then scolds and threatens to punch in the face for being a coward.

Afterlife Death + Popular Culture

The Sisters Fox

Episode 27: The Sisters Fox
Nate DiMeo, The Memory Palace (March 12, 2010)

In his latest podcast at The Memory Palace, Nate DiMeo tells the story of the Fox Sisters in mid-nineteenth century America. These girls spooked their parents and neighbors with tales of communing with the dead. Naturally, this turned into a sell-out show in New York City, where the teenager sisters wowed the rich and famous with their necromantic talents.

While there were plenty of skeptics, believers abounded. Why? Says DiMeo:

They wanted to believe. This was the 1850s — people just died all the time from diseases, minor flu and infections. Things that don’t kill us now. Their family members, their friends, their kids would die in childbirth, in accidents at work and at home, why wouldn’t they want to believe they weren’t gone? That those they lost could be found.

Soon people were holding séances like we hold dinner parties. They were putting their faith in tarot readers and mystics. Some were just scam artists, others were just wrong. They were just seeing things that weren’t there. But all of them together were changing America, in the way its people thought about death and life. And this modern spiritualism… stayed at the center of American life for decades to come.

Listen to the podcast!

Death + Crime Grief + Mourning Suicide

The Rest in Pieces

This American Life: How to Rest in Peace
originally aired November 2, 2007.

This episode of This American Life re-aired yesterday, providing me a driveway moment (well… a snow-deranged street parking moment). If you missed it then or in 2007, have a listen online to these three stories exploring how the rest — the living left behind — find peace or stay in pieces.

Examining the emotional impact of the right to die, the last story is particularly striking. A growing old but generally healthy woman prepares herself and her family for her suicide because she fears suffering (and making her family suffer) the dementia that consumed her own mother. Her son is left in the horrible position of wanting to comfort his mother and respect her wishes while being sick with shock and grief about her oncoming death.

Death + Crime

Vote or Die… or, “and”

Episode 20: This Ungainly Fowl
Nate DiMeo, The Memory Palace (October 16, 2009)

Poe, painted by Oscar Halling in the late 1860s.In honor of Election Day in the United States and in roundabout follow-up to Edgar Allan Poe’s century-late funeral, check out the above recent podcast from Nate DiMeo of The Memory Palace.

Nate describes the circumstances surrounding Poe’s mysterious death, who was found in the street outside a Baltimore tavern, delirious and dressed in another man’s clothes. Taken to the hospital, he floundered in and out of consciousness; unable to articulate what had happened, he died a few days later.

One theory, as Nate relays, is Poe was randomly kidnapped and coerced into a vicious form of voter fraud known as “cooping”: in between quick clothes changes, threats, beatings and drugs, he was carted by thugs around the city to different polling stations and forced to vote.

Listen to the podcast! You know, after you exercise your right and duty to vote, once, not drugged or smacked around, and wearing your own clothes. (It’s short — under 5 minutes. By the by, The Memory Palace has some wonderful treasures… sort of like a This American Life for the 19th Century. Do explore!)


“Dead Spiritualist Silent”

Radiolab: Proof
originally aired August 10, 2009.

It appears Radiolab had more great death meditations than they knew what to do with. Following up on their July 27 episode, “After Life,” all this week they will be releasing short podcasts with additional thoughts on death.

Monday’s segment features Mary Roach, author of Stiff and Spook, discussing spiritualist Thomas Lynn Bradford’s quest for proof of an afterlife in 1921. His scheme involved committing suicide then shouting back to a psychic, who would then relay to the world the good news that death does not exist, only Summerland — the Spiritualist post-life realm of lush rolling hills, beauty and peace. But, as the New York Times reported, “Dead Spiritualist silent.” Alas.

(We won’t be posting all of Radiolab’s death segments this week — we just wanted to get the word out. In case you’re wondering, yes, DeathRef has a crush on Radiolab.)


Radiolab: After Life… Now with John Troyer!

Radiolab: After Life
originally aired July 27, 2009.

So somehow John got on Radiolab. Sure, it’s only a few seconds, but MAN this guy gets around. In addition to our own professor of death, Radiolab serves up an author, a biologist, a neurological psychologist, a geologist and a paleontologist to pontificate in short vignettes about what happens when we die. Educational, quirky, evocative — you know the Radiolab drill.

(And if you don’t, do yourself a favor and give it a listen — Radiolab is consistently stellar.)

Death + Technology Defying Death

Better Living Through Not Dying: Cryonic / Belief Suspension

This American Life: Mistakes Were Made
originally aired April 18, 2008.

This American Life does it again. “Mistakes Were Made” looks at the rise and fall of cryonics—the freezing of people at the moment of death with the hope and belief that death in the future will be merely a disease: curable if not entirely preventable. Interviewing Bob Nelson, president of the Cryonics Society of California in the ’60s, this podcast superbly captures the optimism, naivete and undeniably quirky drama of the cryonics movement.

Hard science and religion tend to dominate discourses of death; cryonics goes to show that imaginative, techno-magical thinking—that technology and the future will save us from biology—makes an equally fascinating contribution to our ideas about the natures of both life and death.

Defying Death

RadioLab: Unconventional Ways to Stay Alive

RadioLab: Stayin’ Alive
originally aired June 2, 2009.

Robert and Jad explore keeping on keeping on.

Funeral Industry

TAL: Business of Death

This American Life: Business of Death
originally aired April 18, 1997.

This American Life delves into the death business, with readings from Thomas Lynch (The Undertaking: Life Studies from the Dismal Trade), Michael Lesy (Wisconsin Death Trip, Forbidden Zone), David Sedaris and more. An oldie but a goodie. 🙂