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The importance of talking about death, according to these Colorado 'DeathWives'

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DENVER — Erin Merelli and Lauren Carroll want to make one thing clear: you are going to die.

“It’s going to happen, it’s inevitable, there’s nothing we can do to change that,” Carroll said.

It may sound morbid, but the pair are very used to having conversations like this one — Merelli and Carroll are death educators, death doulas and the founders of DeathWives.

“At DeathWives we want to make understanding death and learning about death accessible for people,” Merelli said. “We’re all going to experience it, and so how can we bring that to people in a way that’s digestible and easy to access — and even affordable?”

While the DeathWives offer a variety of services — grief camps, end-of-life doula services and death-work coaching, to name a few — their primary focus centers around education. They currently offer a range of courses to serve a variety of needs: Death doula certification courses prepare future doulas for a career in death work; a "Plan your own Funeral" course educates people about all of their end-of-life options, from a traditional funeral to services like water cremation and natural burial. Educating the public about these options is one of the DeathWives’ most important goals.  

“We are not a one-size-fits-all society, we’re not one-size-fits-all humans, so why should our death care be that way?” Carroll wondered.

Deciding on and preparing for end-of-life services can help unburden families when the time comes. Merelli experienced the effects of this herself this past February, when her sister Stacey died unexpectedly.

An altar for Merelli's sister.

While nothing can take away the pain of grief, “My work has helped me tremendously during this time in terms of knowing what to do,” Merelli said. “I was really grateful that I knew what to do, that she wanted water cremation, that she wanted to become flowers in a garden and be returned to the Earth … people have choices about all of this.” 

According to the DeathWives, one of the ways to make people more comfortable with death is to talk about it more. They encourage families to bring kids to funerals and have open and honest conversations about end-of-life desires. 

“I believe that the reason death is so taboo in America is because it’s literally behind closed doors,” Carroll said. She explains that in America, people go from hospitals and nursing homes directly to funeral homes. Oftentimes, the family is absent during the dying process.

“If you don’t know what it is, or what it looks like, it’s terrifying,” Carroll said. Merelli added, “people are afraid of what they don’t know.” 

Sometimes more than death itself, people are afraid of the grief associated with losing someone they love.

“We’re professional grievers,” laughed Carroll. She insists that talking about it helps. “That’s where we find out that we’re not alone in it. Then it’s not so scary when we can cry together, and we can celebrate the life together.”

Carroll compares death to the “big energy” of birth or watching a perfect sunset. Or sitting in a river and looking around at the stillness. “That’s death. And it’s humbling and it’s beautiful.” 

Merelli chimes in. “And it’s also life.”


Alexis Kikoen is a Senior Producer with Rocky Mountain PBS and can be reached at alexiskikoen@rmpbs.org.  

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