Death Salon: My Thoughts

John Bellingham's skull on display at St Bart's. Photo credit:

John Bellingham’s skull on display at St Bart’s.
Photo credit:

I’ll admit it: Georgina is more deathly than me. Apart from a period as a Goth in my teens, and an aesthetic appreciation for all things horror, death has never featured strongly in my thoughts.

So when I went along to the Death Salon at St Bart’s, I had no idea what to expect and was a bit intimidated. However, the warm welcome and engaging speakers soon swept away any lingering fears, and I was instantly hooked, drawn in to this marvelously macabre world where funerals, autopsies and decomposition were acceptable topics of conversation over tea and biscuits!

I won’t go into detail about the speakers, but the highlights of the Salon for me definitely included Kristoffer Hughes being hilarious and lovely, Dr Paul Koudounaris‘ fascinating discussion of Bolivian skull rituals (skulls that solve crimes and help people with marriage problems!), Katherine Crouch talking about archaeology and human remains  and of course, the many impromptu chats with interesting people at tea break.

Of particular note for me was the emphasis on ‘Natural Burial’ that was prevalent throughout the conference. Natural burial means no embalming, a simple shroud or wicker casket, no headstones, and a grave in a woodland or meadow that also acts as a living habitat for wildlife. To me, the idea of gently returning to the earth is beautiful and that’s certainly the way I want to go out, and it was inspiring to learn more about it thanks to the Natural Death Centre.

My trip to the Death Salon has changed the way I think about death and dying, not as a thing to be feared but simply as part of the natural process of life. But more than that, it has changed the way I think about life. As Dr Nathan Heflick mentioned in his talk, thinking about mortality can actually increase your positive attitude to life, and I feel more committed to living well and enjoying my time here when I consider death as the ultimate non-negotiable deadline.

I have come away from the Salon convinced that open and honest discussion of death is a Good Thing, and I am grateful for the work of all the people who organised this and similar events and their associated websites and communities. I hope that in some small way this blog will contribute to the conversation.



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