So, I Went to a Death Conference …

2 weeks ago I found myself on an early flight out of John Wayne with a final destination of Baltimore, MD.

“Why are you flying to Baltimore?” the nice lady next to me in 26E asked.

Photo Courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/TPopova

Photo Courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/TPopova

“I’m going to a conference.”

“Oh, what kind of conference?”

(sigh) “Well, it’s a Death Conference, I mean a conference on death, it’s death education to be specific.”

“Oh,” she replied, “that’s interesting.” She pointed out Annapolis to me and a few bridges she didn’t know the names of and said no more. Death always kills a conversation.

Thankfully, death doesn’t kill conversations when you’re with a bunch of people who are specializing, studying, measuring and passionate about death. And so I arrived at the Association of Death Education and Counseling (ADEC) conference and found friends, people who didn’t cringe when I said I was from a funeral home, people united with me in our mutual interest and unique purpose.

It would be impossible to convey the amount of information and education that permeated our 3 days so I’ve compiled some of my favorite quotes and take-aways from the conference sessions, I hope you find something inspiring & new (and will feel like it’s ok to carry on conversations with people who go to death conferences):

“We are wired for attachment in a world of impermanence.”

Robert Neimeyer, PhD from his speech accepting the “Life Time Achievement Award”

*To hear some of the brilliance of Dr. Neimeyer (one of the few people I’ve found who wastes absolutely no words) click here – it’s amazing!

“It is easier to care for your feet if you put slippers on rather than striving to carpet the earth.”

Robert Wicks, PsyD from his keynote speech: Riding the Dragon: Strengthening the Inner Life of the Caregiver

“Society treats grief like the flu but losses are actually transformational – they change us. It’s not that loss is a burden we can set down, it is a strengthening of our back.”

John Jordan, PhD from the session: Our Work, Ourselves, Reflecting On Our Own Losses as Thanatologists

“When we are talking to others we are always making decisions about what parts of ourselves we can reveal to them … You may want to share with some and not share with others. you will want to share [your grief story] the most with those whose stories intersect.”

Phyllis Kosminsky, PhD, FT from the session: Our Work, Ourselves, Reflecting On Our Own Losses as Thanatologists

“No one needs to be the prisoner of his own biography.”

Robert Neimeyer, PhD from the session: Our Work, Ourselves, Reflecting On Our Own Losses as Thanatologists

“Death is not always the most profound of losses for some people … lack of grief in non-death losses has resulted in this group of people having a lower rate of seeking help vs. death loss grievers.”
“When defining loss we should be listening to what people are telling us they are grieving, not just what we have traditionally associated with grief.”

Mary Alice Varga from the session: Research that Matters 2014: Non-Death Losses

and probably my favorite quote or simile from the conference,

“Death is like taking off a tight shoe.”

Rebecca Brown, MDiv, CT from the session: Don’t Mean To Dwell On This Dying Thing

*And yes, for you Dave Matthews fans out there the title of her talk comes from his song “Pig”. Rebecca was absolutely phenomenal, she works with teenagers who are sick and dying and does wonderful work with Streetlight to hear this amazing 20 minute talk on TED Talks, click here.

I hope you found these extraordinary quotes/thoughts interesting and I also hope that perhaps they tapped something inside of you, a thought or feeling you’ve had for a long time but couldn’t put into words.

Please, share your thoughts in the comments below – I’d love to know what these bring out in you.

|| what do you think?

Does one of these quotes in particular strike you?

Has your impression of a “Death Conference” changed after reading this?

Will you be joining us next year in San Antonio, TX for ADEC 2015?? ; )

 

 

Molly Keating

About Molly Keating

Hi, I'm Molly and I write for the blog here at O'Connor. I grew up in a mortuary with a mortician for a father who's deep respect for the profession inspired me to give working at a mortuary a try. Work at O'Connor has brought together two of my deep passions, writing & grief awareness. In 2016 I earned Certification in the field of Thanatology, the study of Death, Dying and Bereavement. I am honored to be able to speak on these taboo topics with knowledge, compassion, and a unique perspective. I want to sincerely thank you for following & reading the blog, I hope that this is a healing place for you.
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  • Patricia Kolstad

    Molly . .

    What an incredible opportunity for growth and understanding! You and I have discussed your trip at length and I found it fascinating. Becoming better equipped to provide the necessary care that our families need and deserve is tantamount to just about anything else we can do. I’m always encouraged by the way our Executive Team is so purposeful in bringing and creating quality education for us.

    The quote that pressed hard against my heart was from John Jordan . . “Society treats grief like the flu but losses are actually transformational – they change us. It’s not that loss is a burden we can set down, it is a strengthening of our back.” I realize that now more than ever with the recent death of my brother. Our burden of grief often feels like too much weight, too much to bear it or even cope with it. Moving through our grief and remembering our life before and after the death. . . the memories, the ceremony, the people who attended, the cards filled with love and support, those are the moments when we feel comforted, and in most cases, strengthened. We become, hopefully, advocates of good grieving. Helping others along in their grief, offering words of comfort and hope.
    Thank you so much for sharing these “words of wisdom” from a select group of incredible “death educators. Well done!
    Lovingly,
    AP

    • Wow, thank you so much Aunt Pat!
      I love your insight into John Jordan’s quote and your identification of the different facets of ceremony, service & memory that have served to strengthen you in your grief rather than weaken you.
      These efforts to remember strengthen personalities, create meanings and embed feelings that we need to have in order to feel a peace in moving into another day. I so appreciate your sharing from your experience what your grief journey has looked like and how you have seen a strengthening and a greater purpose as you meet with others going through death with you.

      Love you so,
      Molly

  • Anne Anderson Collins

    Molly,
    I am so glad you were able to attend such an awesome conference and able to sit at the feet of some of the best and learn.
    I believe my back is getting stronger also. Having completed my first year alone without Lou seemed impossible from the perspective of looking ahead. Looking back, it wasn’t, just not my vote.
    Everything we learn builds upon the foundation of what came before. The building blocks that come out of experiences like this will shape you long after the specific details fade.
    Thank you for sharing
    Anne

    • Anne,
      I’m so glad that John Jordan’s quote resonate with you & that you can identify the anatomy of it in the past year that you’ve had. There is strength in carrying the burdens that have been giving them to us and there is relief when we are able to show them to others and share it for however long.
      You’ve made it through a year and now another one looms ahead, I’m glad you know it’s not impossible and that you’ve seen a strength in yourself you weren’t sure was there.

      Molly

  • Becky Finch Lomaka

    Molly, I am so glad I was able to share my first experience attending the ADEC conference with YOU! It is so true that to convey everything that soaked into my brain over the three days is impossible.

    You captured some amazing quotes. I think my favorite is Dr. Neimeyer’s quote, “We are wired for attachment in a world of impermanence.” Another quote that resonated with me was from Dr. Wicks, who stated, “Even in your suffering, you can think of others. Even in your pain, you can remember you are a part of community.”

    Both of these quotes focus on the importance and the value of community in the grieving process. We are not meant to go this journey alone.

    Thank you for sharing this wonderful insights!!

    Becky

    • Oh Becky, I love that one from Dr. Wicks – I should’ve compared notes with you before putting this up!
      It was such a pleasure going on this trip with you and having such an overwhelmingly positive, open and enlightening experience.

      Thank you for being such a wonderful travel partner 7 for helping me soak all of this in ; )

      Molly

  • Michael Thomas

    Im so jealous of you Molly! You get to go to all of these cool events, and meet cool people, and most of all, talk to these people about our work! Sign me up for that!

    Great blog. These quotes are prodding to my understanding of this profession, and has opened my mind to different viewpoints of the “process” and our profession. Thank you!

    Michael

    • Michael – you are so right, I do get to do so many cool things – but I’ll have you know that I wouldn’t be able to do any of this with the pride and confidence I have if people like you weren’t making my stories possible. We are all a part of this machine but it would be fun to switch places sometimes and see what the other side is like.
      I love that these quotes are having the same effect on you that they had on me – there are so many other ways to experience, look at and understand grief – it’s just an incredible piece of every life that shapes and burdens all of us into hopefully stronger and better, more compassionate people.

      I hope to see you at ADEC one day!

      Molly

  • Chuck Ricciardi

    Molly,

    Thanks for sharing your experience with us, it sounds like you had an enlightening time. It is always interesting and sometimes even comical when we communicate to people what we do. In my two plus decades of working at O’Connors and being in the death care industry I seem to get one of two responses almost every time. People either run away from you as fast as they can or they gravitate towards you and never leave your side asking question after question.

    I love the quotes you shared, they can be a quick and helpful means to conveying a thought or topic. I hope you continue your journey of education and enlightenment.
    Love,

    Chuck

    • Chuck,
      Thank you so much – I know how much you like inspirational quotes, I always love the ones you share with us and I was hopeful you would enjoy this alternative kind of post.

      It’s fascinating what you can learn about people just by observing their reaction to the word “death” – you typically don’t have to say much more to figure out if they’re comfortable, eager to share, or terrified.

      Thanks for sharing Chuck!

  • Jeff Turner

    Molly, Thank you for giving us a glimpse into the ADEC conference. Professionals get better at their profession because of events like this where the best and brightest in their field of expertise come together to share what they know. I am energized by the ideas that you shared and want to know and do more with them. I love this about our team and the funerals service professionals who are our co-laborers across this country and the world who want the very best healing and meaningful events for the families we encounter who are deep in the journey of their own grief.

    • That’s right, in order to be the best we must pursue and surround ourselves with excellence. I can’t even begin to tell you about this amazing week and how much I am already looking forward to next year. I feel so blessed to work for a business that prizes my learning experiences as highly as I do – perfect job!

      Molly

  • Mark

    Hi Molly….Thanks for sharing your thoughts from your conference….the one quote that really spoke to me was by Mary Alice Varga…..she said “We should be listening to what people are telling us about their grief…” Listening has become a lost art….maybe we should stop and think why God gave us 2 ears and only 1 mouth….Mark

    • Love that math equation, Mark! Ha!
      You are so right though, about the lost art of listening and listening to understand which is so different than listening to respond or share about yourself. It’s the valuable, loving & compassionate kind of listening that is hard to do but such a blessing!

      Molly

  • Chad Harris

    Excited to be in San Antonio next year — despite only being an hour from Baltimore, I wasn’t able to attend the conference this year. It’s always so thought provoking and very enriching, both personally and professionally. Plus, it’s nice to be around folks who “get it” and don’t shy away easily when it comes to discussing death.

    • That’s right, Chad. I kept hearing over and over from people, “I feel like I’ve found MY tribe, like I’ve found MY people.” It was so wonderful to be in such an open and vulnerable environment where the topics are emotional and so are we.

      Excited to meet you in San Antonio! Thank you for reading & sharing!

      Molly

  • Adena,
    That is a GREAT story! Oh my gosh, I love the “Death Merchant” – that’s a new one and yes, I can certainly see how it would disarm and raise curiosity – I’ll have to find my own version of the death merchant I think ; )

    I think it’s so wonderful that you had an opportunity to pursue your incredibly unique, compassionate and wonderful dream. Our Care Center staff (all Cypress College Graduates) are amazing people and have some of te the hardest jobs here. I applaud you for the wonderful healing work that you do for the dead and the living- thank you for sharing Adena! Wonderful to have you along!

    Molly

  • Shayna Mallik

    Wow, Molly the conference sounds so interesting! You are so lucky to have met and heard from all these great people who don’t cringe at the word death or I work at a funeral home. I am very jealous of you to be able to hear these people speak and meet them must have been amazing. Thank you so much for sharing a little bit about the conference.

    Shayna

    • Shayna,
      It was a wonderful experience and something that I hope we can begin replicating here in our own small way as we move forward with providing more and more educational programs. I’m so glad you found this so interesting & informative and that it made you want to be there! Maybe someday you’ll have to come!!

      Molly

  • Joanna Ramirez

    Molly,

    Sounds like the conference went very well and you got to learn a lot. Thank you for sharing these quotes with us and your experience.

  • Fitz

    Hi Molly,
    Thanks for sharing your experiences and some of your favorite quotes from ADEC. It sounds like it was a great week for you.
    I could particularly relate to John Jordan’s quote: “Society treats grief like the flu but losses are actually transformational – they change us. It’s not that loss is a burden we can set down, it is a strengthening of our back.”
    We observe first hand how death can be transformational both positively and negatively. The positive works of the celebrants we refer for services and how transformational the service can be on the families grief journey are immeasurable.
    Regards,
    Fitz

    • That is such a powerful quote and I think it helps us see grief for what it really is – a burden that stays with us an diminishes in it’s perceived weight as we grow stronger and more accustomed to it.

      Celebrants help in that process so dramatically as do all of the elements of service that we strive to give our families – thanks for sharing your insight Fitz!

      Molly

  • Kari Lyn Leslie

    Molly,

    Thank you thank you thank you for sharing!!
    I was so curious about your trip, and seeing the Rebecca Brown video, WOW!!
    I hope we can go to lunch and talk more about what you learned.

    kari

    • Kari,
      I can’t tell you how much I would love that! Wasn’t she amazing? She just blew my mind with her compassion, creativity and insight.

      So glad you enjoy the video!

      Molly

  • Amy

    Molly,
    Great information. I feel the same way, when people say oh where do you work and you answer O’Connor Mortuary. You either get someone really excited to talk to you or someone that wants nothing to do with you.
    This is all very great and helpful information. Thanks for sharing
    Amy

    • Thank you, Amy. I’m glad you found the quotes helpful. Hopefully, someday we’ll figure out ways of talking about our jobs that helps everyone to feel an interest and pull to ask more questions. I’ll let you know if I ever figure it out!

      Molly

  • Lori

    Molly,

    What a wonderful experience this conference was for you. It is such a proud moment for me to see you continue to spread your wings and expand your role.
    If I ever left my, soon to be, 2 mile radius, I might consider stowing away with you next year also.
    In the meantime, the quote that hit me the most is –

    “When we are talking to others we are always making decisions about what parts of ourselves we can reveal to them … You may want to share with some and not share with others. you will want to share [your grief story] the most with those whose stories intersect.”

    – Phyllis Kosminsky,

    I find this extremely helpful when speaking or meeting with families. It is knowing when and if there is a right time to share with them so they know I can relate to them in order to connect.

    Another great post!
    Lori

    • Lori,
      I LOVE that quote. There are some things that we know and have sensed but never, ever put into words. This is one of them for me and I found it so valuable to just consciously be considering as I speak with others, “am I safe?” – I’ve never done that before but I know that it will help me to share more appropriately and grow the right relationships.

      Thank you for sharing & picking that quote – I just love it for you : )

      Molly

  • Tom

    Thank you, Molly, for sharing the information you gleaned from the death event. The perpetuation of our species is based on social activity.

    • Thank you, Tom. I suppose it is though I had never thought of it that way. Rather ironic that our social activity and subsequent perpetuation was, in this instance, focused on death.
      Thanks for sharing,
      Molly

  • Erin Fodor

    Thank you Molly,

    What great quotes to take away from the conference. I am a fan of the quote by John Jordan: “Society treats grief like the flu but losses are actually transformational – they change us. It’s not that loss is a burden we can set down, it is a strengthening of our back.”
    Everyone copes with the loss of a loved one in many different ways. For some, the experience may lead to personal growth, even though it is a difficult and trying time. There is no right way of coping with death. And this is where the different views of death come from. I have learned a lot about myself through the stages of grief, whereas my brother who has not properly grieved still has grieving problems to work on.

    Thank you again for the post. Maybe someday I will have the opportunity to attend the ADEC.
    Erin

    • Erin,
      You’ve seen first hand and felt these kinds of attitudes toward grief that are so in conflict with the actual grief experience. Thank you so much for sharing about the ways you’ve seen healthy, experienced grief be so different from grief that has not been acknowledged or dealt with healthfully. It is so difficult to watch others grieve differently than us but there is a unique journey for each and every person as they experience a totally unique loss.

      I hope your brother finds peace either through you or in his own way.

      I also hope you’ll be at ADEC one of these years, too!

      Molly

  • neil

    Hi Molly –

    I would love to join you and Becky next year, yet I don’t think HR will allow us all to be together out of state? I am very excited that you have been so willing to dive into such a taboo field. I know over the course of time you will make a tremendous impact on our community, profession and our firm, you already have!!!

    “We are wired for attachment in a world of impermanence.”
    – Robert Neimeyer, PhD from his speech accepting the “Life Time Achievement Award”

    This quote is so real, I have learned this and forgotten this time & time again. I started to learn this in my yoga practice years ago, and with our profession is speaks louder everyday.

    Thank you for being so willing to learn and share your experiences with us, we still have so much to learn.

    • Neil,
      I’m sure that somehow it would be illegal for you to join us, what a bummer! You would love this place.

      I LOVE the quote you chose of Dr. Neimeyer’s – they were the very first words I heard him say and he had my attention fully from that moment on.

      I also love how you said that this is a lesson you feel you’ve remembered and forgotten many times – I think that is the case for many of us. We might see or feel it fleetingly but it’s a difficult concept to live with day-to-day. We need to attach, we long to and it’s difficult to do so if we are always dwelling on impermanence. As I believe your Yoga class would condone – everything in balance and moderation.

      Thanks for sharing, Neil!

      Molly

  • Joe Lavoie

    Thanks Molly , Id love to go that would be a great company event if it could happen that way . I am very glad you and Becky had the opportunity to attend and I’m sure be touched in many ways. All the quotes have a special meaning as to how you look at them I am so glad you shared them with us. Thanks again as always getting us to think on a different level.
    Sincerely Joe Lavoie

    • Joe, thank you. What a dream it would be to all go and share in this experience, oh my goodness, it would make my year! As it is, I’m happy that what I’ve shared with you has been positive and stimulating to your perspective on grief, you are someone who is always wanting to learn about how you can be the best and I believe our further adoption of ideas like these will only strengthen us as a place of trust and truth.

      Thank you for reading, Joe!

      Molly

  • Nice post Molly! I personally like “death is like taking off a tight shoe.”

    • Thank you, Jeff! I can’t tell you how that quote seemed to just roll over me and strike me with it’s imagery of release and freedom. So powerfully beautiful. Thank you so much for reading & sharing your favorite quote!

      Molly

  • Rosemary

    Thank you, Molly, for sharing the conference with us. What a great opportunity for you to learn and grow in your profession! My favorite quote was the one “Society treats grief like the flu…” How true that is. We so much need to get past that attitude so that we can begin to really help people who are grieving.

    • You’re so right, Rosemary. I couldn’t agree with you more about how drastically the attitude toward grief is in conflict with the actual experiences of grief. We treat it like it’s treatable when in fact, there is no cure, there’s rarely even an answer.

      Thank you for sharing your insight, I so appreciate it!

      Molly

  • Lauren

    I never knew that there were death conferences until working here. If I was the lady on the plane, I would have been kinda shocked to hear such a thing and then ask you a million questions. I bet that was a great conference with lots of interesting talks. Thanks for sharing those quotes and providing links! I really liked, “We are wired for attachment in a world of impermanence.”

    • Lauren,
      I SO WISH you could have been there! Those were the very first words out of Dr. Neimeyer’s mouth when he got up to give his speech. He instantly had my full attention with that arresting and profoundly moving sentence. The guys is amazing. I hope you’ll watch that 2 minute little video as well, he’s inspired me greatly and I’m sure he would touch your heart, too. Thank you so much for reading & finding all of this as interesting as I do!

      Molly

  • Stacy

    Thank you for sharing your experience at the death conference. I know what is it like to have those awkward social moments when you tell someone where you work or what you do for a living and it either ends a conversation or in my experiences raises a lot of questions. I am certain this is a very positive and educational experience for you. Having gone to mortuary school we always get opportunities to participate in conferences like these. The quote that most appealed to me is “No one needs to be prisoner of his own biography.” Truly inspirational and uplifting. Although death is a profound mystery it is a part of life that is transformational.

  • Elsa

    Molly,
    What a great opportunity that must have been to share thoughts and knowledge about the death care profession with other as passionate as we are here. Its always great to hear what you all learn from these great meetings. Thank You for sharing.

  • Jenn

    I would love to attend a death conference, even attending the local Orange County Funeral Directors Association meetings was always enlightening. Usually, they would have a guest speaker come in and talk about a funeral service related topic. One in particular I remember was not Funeral service specific but focused on the difference in generations, from the baby boomer generation to generation x and how it affects businesses with new-comers coming in and their perspectives on the funeral home. It was interesting because most funeral homes are run by older men or families that have owned it for generations and you have these new apprentices or service directors joining the field and they worry about websites, and technology and it is scary and upsetting to the older generation who is very set in their ways, it was helpful to understand their perspective and also for them to understand where our generation is coming from, not in a judgmental way but just a different way of doing things and how we can learn from each other. Anyway, sorry about the tangent but it just reminded me of how even though its a “death conference” there are some topics that are applicable to life, business and interpersonal relationships that are taught at those kind of conferences that can be so helpful. Knowledge is power!

  • Shasta Cola

    That sounds like it was great experience for you, Molly. It is interesting how the subject of death or where we work with others outside of our industry tends to shut down conversation or even cause others to think we are weird and unusual. I like the quote about how death is transformational. I know that is true, we are never who we were before, it’s not something people can just get over and go back to the way they were. But hopefully it becomes a learning experience and we become stronger because of it.

  • Jon

    Molly, I had a very similar experience on my flights to Indy for the Graystone boot camp. The quote that stood out to me was this one:

    “Society treats grief like the flu but losses are actually transformational – they change us. It’s not that loss is a burden we can set down, it is a strengthening of our back.”

    – John Jordan, PhD from the session: Our Work, Ourselves, Reflecting On Our Own Losses as Thanatologists

    It’s not just the grief that gets treated like the flu but those that work in the industry too.

  • Jon

    Molly, I had a very similar experience on my flights to Indy for the Graystone boot camp. The quote that stood out to me was this one:

    “Society treats grief like the flu but losses are actually transformational – they change us. It’s not that loss is a burden we can set down, it is a strengthening of our back.”

    – John Jordan, PhD from the session: Our Work, Ourselves, Reflecting On Our Own Losses as Thanatologists

    It’s not just the grief that gets treated like the flu but those that work in the industry too.

  • Carrie Bayer

    Molly, this is a great blog. I’m so glad you had such a great time at the conference & that you learned so much that you can share with the rest of us. The quote that I like is about putting on slippers rather than carpeting the earth- I love my slippers & live in them as much as possible. They truly do help me care for my feet. However, the message I got from that quote is that sometimes you need to let go of things around you & concentrate on yourself. I need this reminder quite often because I consistently bite off more than I can chew & find myself struggling to get everything done. The result is my own burn out which leaves me depleted of time & energy to attend to my own needs- grief being one of them. I am still working thru my grief from losing my brother-in-law as well as other losses in recent years.
    Thank you so much for these valuable quotes, they are perfect for so many reasons! XOXOX Carrie

  • Christopher Iverson

    Molly,

    This quote speaks to me. As we know, a lot of Americans see death in such a negative light, even though many celebrate the goodness of resurrection in their faith traditions. You are at the forefront of the re-thinking of death and how we live through loss.

    “Society treats grief like the flu but losses are actually transformational – they change us. It’s not that loss is a burden we can set down, it is a strengthening of our back.”

  • Mitch

    What great insights. Most people don’t know it is ok to feel grief. Normal. Everybody tries to rationalize it. That’s too bad.When a death occurs, you find yourself in a new normal. That’s ok, normal. Thank you for posting these, we need to be reminded.