Deathstination— An Interview with Laura Hardin
There is one thing seeing dead people has helped me with. It is changing my point of view on suicide. It’s not necessarily seeing the dead bodies, but seeing how the living people react to the dead body that is changing me. I don’t view suicide as selfish because I have been to that place. I almost was successful at it when I was 19. I understand the mentality of a person who has committed suicide, thinking you’re a burden, and nobody loves you. Thinking your death would actually be a positive because you wouldn’t be burdening the people you love anymore.
There was one funeral that I directed early on in my career where a gentleman who decided to hang himself. He had a wife and he had two sons. They were Catholic. In the Catholic faith if you commit suicide, a Catholic church will not allow you to have a funeral mass, so the wife wanted his death to be kept very hush hush. Her main concern was if I going to be able to hide the ligature marks around his neck so no one would know he hung himself— that wasn’t an issue at all since he was in a suit with a high collar. When we got to the church she wanted to see him first without anybody else there, so we had to keep everybody out in the parking lot while she looked him over. At the end of the funeral mass when we were recessing out of the church, one of his son’s walked up to the casket. He flopped over it and wouldn’t stop crying. He wouldn’t move so everything stood still while everyone stared. He was about 19 years old.
I wouldn’t ever want to put the people I love in that situation. Now when I get sad or depressed, the thought of wanting to commit suicide will come up, but I’ll remember that experience and think, “Yeah, I’m not going to do anything.” I’ll complain. I’ll say, “I give up,” but the next day I’ll get up in the morning and move on with my life. That’s how the funeral industry has changed me. It’s not necessarily about the dead. It’s about the living.
HS: Is it challenging to be seeing dead bodies everyday? For me and, I assume, anyone who’s not a mortician or in jobs that are ancillary to the funeral industry, seeing dead bodies sounds like it would be really emotionally intense. Is it for you?
LH: It is not for me. Not because I’m cold hearted, but because at the end of the day I didn’t know these people so I don’t have an emotional connection to them. I am able to do the work I do because I’m not devastated emotionally by the deaths. That’s the whole point of hiring me. I’m the person who is clear headed who’s going to know what to do. I can do it because I’m not in the grips of grief.
I took care of my grandmother when she died from beginning to end and that was emotional because I knew her. It was also really refreshing because it gave me control of the situation. I couldn’t control that she died, but I could control what was happening to the body. She was in the mortuary for about three days while we were procuring the documents so she could be cremated. It was a unique experience because not a lot of people get this luxury. Before I would leave work I would go back into the cooler, open up the drawer my grandmother was in, un-shroud her and say, “Goodnight.” Then I would re-shroud her, push her back in, and leave for the day. That was the only time I got any emotion from a dead individual and that was because I knew the person.
HS: That makes a lot of sense. Recently I’ve heard there’s a movement about sitting with the dead relative for three days to let yourself emotionally move on from the death. Have you heard of that?
LH: That’s actually not a strange concept. I mean it’s strange to our society now, but it’s really not a strange concept. In Buddhist cultures they actually have someone who sits with the body and chants prayers in the hopes that their prayers would help get the spirit to where it needed to go. Or at least that’s how it used to be— now we have these things called chant boxes. They are prerecorded prayers by Buddhist monks that are put with the decedent. If you look back in history within every culture, there is some aspect of sitting with the decedent. It’s a strange concept to us now because we fear death, but it’s not a new or original concept at all.
HS: Do you have a favorite death ritual?
LH: People like to talk about Tibetan sky burial, which is pretty cool. In Tibet they don’t have enough wood to build funeral pyres to cremate decedents and they can’t bury people either because the ground is too cold. So they have these individuals similar to morticians, called body breakers, who take machetes and break up the bodies. They will take the decedents remains to a high point, like on a hill, and vultures will come in and feast on the remains.
In my own work I’ve seen people do things I really like. For example, I used to work for one mortuary where we dealt with a lot of Gypsy families, and Gypsies like to party. They would always bring in goats and pigs and would roast them in the parking lot. They would have Crown Royale. We would get the cops called on us because we were being too loud. They would have the decedent changed. They would view the decedent one day in one particular set of clothing. Then we would bring them back in, take them out of the casket, and dress them in something else. Then they would view the decedent again the next day. They would have two, three days of viewing and partying.
Another thing I thought was really neat, was when I was with a Filipino family. They had requested cremation, so they viewed the decedent in a rental casket. We went to the church, and they had everybody write something on a little piece of paper— whether it be a story, a thought, a message for the decedent. One person in the family knew how to fold origami cranes. Before we closed the casket they brought this big box of different colored cranes, containing messages for the decedent, and they dumped them in there with her. She was completely in a bed of these multicolored cranes and she got cremated with all of them.
HS: You were saying dealing with the dead isn’t necessarily emotionally hard for you because they’re not your family, but what’s it like dealing with the living who are around the dead person?
LH: Dealing with the other funeral directors or dealing with the family members of the decedents?
HS: I meant the family so let’s start there, but then I will ask about funeral directors because now I’m curious.
LH: It is nerve wrecking to say the least. You never know what you’re going to walk into with a family. There are some families that come in who are so happy, death positive, and they know what they want. They’ve been through the process before. They’re accepting of the death. They all get along so it’s easy and it’s breezy, and you can laugh and make jokes with them. It’s a great experience to work with them. As much as you don’t want them to experience another death, if they do you hope they come back to use you because you feel like you want to be part of their family.
Now there are some people where they don’t get along with their relatives at all. They come in, they get into fights and you have to play referee — pull them off of each other, call the cops. It’s really exhausting emotionally as a funeral director. You want to pull them aside and scream in their faces that they’re acting ridiculous, “Everybody is sad. Everybody is hurt by the loss. You guys are making a difficult situation even more difficult by acting like jackasses to one another.”
Then sometimes you get families who aren’t angry, they’re not happy, they’re just sad. They cry all the time. It’s really weird when you have someone crying in front of you, and you know you can’t take that pain away from them. You know there is nothing you can do to absorb what they are feeling. All you can do is offer them a hug, give them some tissues, or try to provide them with a drink or some food. You never know what you’re going into and you always have to approach it in a very cautious way.
The most rewarding part for me about working with the living, is when I have people come in who are really skeptical of me— maybe because I’m younger or because I’m a funeral director and everybody thinks we’re in it to steal your money. We’re not. We’re all broke ourselves. You see someone come in with this fear, or this anger, or this hatred toward you, and by the end of the process their whole attitude has changed. They are very thankful and respectful. The best part is being able to prove to people that we’re not stuffy, we have good senses of humor, and we’re not in it for the money. We’re trying to help you in any way we can.
HS: You don’t control when people die so do you have to come in on holidays frequently? Is that part of your life?
LH: I am very fortunate because I’ve worked for mortuaries that believe it is important for their funeral directors to maintain a life outside of the mortuary. But yes, there are times where you will planning for a Fourth of July barbecue when you know the mortuary’s going to be closed, but then a death will occur on the third. The family will come in and say, “We need to have this service tomorrow because everybody’s in town for the holidays.” You have to suck it up, cancel all of your plans, and be there.
Death doesn’t take a holiday. It doesn’t subscribe to a 9-to-5 schedule. There are times where you’ll come in and you think you’re going to be busy but there’s nothing to do so you can leave at noon. There’s times when you think you’re going to have a holiday off but then you end up having to work a funeral service. It’s ever-changing.
HS: What happens to bodies if mortuary offices are closed?
LH: There are always funeral directors on call, regardless if a brick-and-mortar funeral home is open or closed. When a mortuary shuts down for business at night we transfer our phone calls over to something called an answering service. They will always pick up and assist you — whether you are calling to figure out the date and time of a funeral service, or if you are looking to report a death. If a death occurred, they will call a funeral director and relay that there is an immediate need for assistance. That funeral director will call you from their personal cellphone, and sit and talk with you about what’s going on. They will personally go to the home or hospital where the death occurred, and they will pick up the body.
HS: I have a couple more logistical questions. What is legal to do with a body in California. For instance, how long can you keep a body in the home after someone’s died?
LH: Well legally there’s nothing in the books that says you have to use a mortuary, so you can do everything yourself. The only thing you have to do legally is report the death to the health department in the county where the death occurred. You have to get a death certificate completed and signed by a physician. You have to get a permit issued by the health department, or the local registrar, stating they have received the death certificate and have accepted the cause of death (i.e. there is no suspicion in regard to how the person died). Depending on whether you’re burying or cremating you can solicit a funeral home to either take the individual to a crematory or to the burial— most people don’t have vehicles that are equipped to transfer the dead. Legally you can do home funeral services if you want.
In regard to regulations against mortuaries though, we are not allowed to keep bodies out in the open. We legally either have to embalm or put a body into refrigeration within 24 hours of death. As long as we have a working cooler or the decedent is embalmed, the body can stay in our care until the family comes to an agreement regarding what they want to do with their loved one.
At one mortuary I worked for, we had an individual who stayed in our care for three years. The individual was not from America, was not a U.S. citizen. We had to arrange to have the individual prepared and shipped back to their country. There was an embargo, so we could not ship anything from our country to their country. The decedent had to sit around in the mortuary and wait until their home country lifted the embargo.
HS: Wow, what a crazy story. My next logistical question is in terms of dealing with the body. You can bury the body, and depending on the cemetery it can be a natural burial, and you can cremate bodies at the correct location— what are the laws about burying on your family’s property or burning on a pyre at a private beach?
LH: Yeah so, you can’t do those things [laughs].
HS: [laughs] Those are illegal.
LH: Yeah, in order to operate a crematory you have to have establishment licenses and you have to be certified. So no, you can’t take grandpa and put him on the front porch in a bonfire. That also would not produce enough heat to cremate a decedent. It would just char his flesh. You can’t cremate on your front yard. You also cannot bury on your own property, you have to bury within a designated cemetery. People believe that it’s their death they can do whatever they want to do but there are regulations in regards to where you can do certain things.
HS: Right, totally. What is it like working with the other people in the funeral industry? The other living?
LH: In California, the industry is predominantly female now. When I went through the program there were about three or four women to every one man in the program. The only real issue with working at a mortuary with a bunch of women is all of our periods sync up and we all become crotchety old ladies to one another. We are all passive aggressive during one week of the month, which is happening right now [laughs].
I haven’t experienced a lot of outright sexism— where people tell me they don’t like me because I’m a woman, or that I shouldn’t be doing this because I’m a woman, or that I should be at home pregnant. However, there definitely is a bias when it comes to available management positions. Women in the industry typically get overlooked for these positions. They hand them to men regardless of if the man is qualified or not. It’s very subtle. You have to be aware that it’s happening, because they’re not outright saying it.
For the most part, it’s work. It’s like any other work environment. You work with people have different views than you and you have to find some harmony. I’ve worked for some mortuaries where everybody gets along like they’re one big family. We go out and party with each other. It’s all about environment and the different personalities. That’s not isolated to the funeral industry — it’s just the workforce.
HS: It’s interesting to have the death industry normalized — hearing, “It’s just a place we work at.” I definitely feel like there’s this whole shroud of mystery around it our culture places on it.
LH: Yeah I definitely feel like I’m part of the midnight society from Are You Afraid of the Dark. People think we’re in the back stealing organs and selling kidneys on the black market. People think we’re all necrophiliacs and we’re having big fuck parties in the back. No, it’s an office. It’s only unlike your office in that we have dead bodies sitting in a cooler in the back room. That’s the only difference. We’re not satanists, we’re not doing rituals on your loved ones, we’re not having orgies. There’s not a lot of debauchery that goes on in mortuaries, just paperwork — a lot of bureaucracy and paperwork.
I will say this, because I get this a lot on Instagram: Don’t go into the funeral industry just because you are into goth culture. Don’t go into the funeral industry because of money, because there is no money in death care. There is none. We are all broke. I’m not saying that to deter people, I’m saying that because it’s the truth. I get a lot of people who reach out to me on social media asking me how they can become a funeral director or embalmer. They always ask how much money do you make. I worked for minimum wage for many years as a licensed funeral director, until I got my second license as an embalmer. So there’s no money there.
I’m pretty sure you are aware of Caitlin who does Ask a Mortician and Order of the Good Death. She’s doing her part for the death revolution and is encouraging people to be a part of it. I think people misinterpret her message and go straight to thinking, “I should become a funeral director.” But she actually just did a blog post about how she can not encourage you to become a funeral director.
If this is something you want to do, really think about it. Think about what I said about the low pay, the unusual long hours and, having to be a selfless person. How it is very conservative. Working in the mortuary is nothing like the Addams family. We don’t have guillotines and we not playing games with electrical chairs. It’s not goth and it’s not creepy. It’s like any office job. We’re pushing paper and making phone calls. It can be very monotonous work. I would say to anybody listening to this thinking about getting into the funeral industry, do some research. Talk to funeral directors. If you can find a mortuary that would allow it, try to go there and see what it’s like for a day. I guarantee you it’s nothing like you think it is. It is probably far less exciting than you make it out to be in your brain.
HS: Yup. Totally. That’s really good advice for any career actually. What are some of the biggest lessons you’ve learned doing mortuary work?
LH: Biggest lessons [laughs]. Don’t ever tell people good morning when they come to a funeral home, because they’re not having a good morning. You are liable to get your head ripped off and be verbally assaulted by someone.
Other than that, live your life. I am so much more excited about living now I am a funeral director and I realize life is fleeting. Our society has this belief that we’re all going to make it until old age and that’s not the truth. I see just as many dead babies and dead twenty year olds as I see dead 80 and 90 year olds. As cliche as it sounds, it’s really true: you don’t know how much time you have left. You have to seize the day, carpe-the-diem. If it’s your day off and there’s some weird idea you want to do, go do it. Don’t let people stop you from doing it. Don’t stop yourself from doing something because other people may think it’s weird. It’s your life and one day it’s going to be over. You don’t want to sit there and think you wasted your life because you were too busy trying to please other people by conforming to this idea of what a normal person and life should be.
We’re all going to die so do whatever the hell you want to do. Bukowski had a really good quote where he said (I’m probably not quoting it 100% correctly) “Everything will kill you both slowly and fastly, find what you love and let it kill you.” That’s why I try not to be so hard up on people. If you want to go out and drink, go out and drink. If alcohol is what you love, if you like hanging out at a bar, go drink. It’s your body. It’s your life, do what you want with it. It doesn’t affect me. It doesn’t affect my life. You got to do what’s right for you.
HS: Do you think society would be better if people were exposed to dead bodies?
LH: Absolutely. I think everybody should experience something with a dead body. Non-sexually of course [laughs]. I think everybody should experience taking care of someone they loved who died. It’s a very powerful experience to do something as little as even coming in and styling the hair on your mom, or come be present and watch me do my job. You can legally come in and watch your loved one be embalmed or witness the dressing. I have people who do it all the time. They want to come in to watch me dress the decedent, or they want to participate in the dressing, or they want to wash their loved one, or they want to do cosmetics. I think everybody should be as involved as they can be because at the end of the day it will give you some control back in an otherwise uncontrollable situation.
HS: I’m going to switch to Deathstination now. How did you get into Deathstination or how did you have the idea for it?
LH: I was working as a funeral director and I got this really weird idea. I thought it would be really cool to go out on Halloween and put jack-o’-lanterns on famous people’s graves. I looked up some people I thought would probably appreciate having a jack-o’-lantern on their grave and the person I found was Bela Lugosi. He was buried in Culver City at Holy Cross. I asked my friend, “Do you want to go out on Halloween and put this on Bela Lugosi’s grave?” My friend also decided to take the reins and be like, “Oh I found out Darby Crash from The Germs is buried here.” Then I was like, “I found out the original Uncle Fester is buried here, and John Candy and Sharon Tate with her unborn baby, and members from the original cast of The Wizard of Oz.” We decided to look at all of these people’s graves and take pictures with them. I was pretty new to Instagram, but I put those pictures up and I got a good response.
Then I started finding communities on Instagram dedicated to cemeteries and headstones — all these people interested in beauty of cemeteries. I noticed it was more about the photography and less about the decedent. I’ve always been really interested in the questions: Who am I? Where did I come from? How did my ancestors live? I’ve always been very inquisitive about my own history, so I became very inquisitive about these other people’s histories too. Who were these people? I thought other people would be interested in knowing these are more than just headstones. There’s someone buried there who had a really interesting story. I started doing it. People gravitated toward it.
HS: What cemetery did you go to today?
LH: I stayed local today. I feel the most underrated cemetery in Los Angeles county is Inglewood Park Cemetery. It’s in a not so good area. People I think are deterred from visiting because they hear, “Inglewood” and think, “Violence and people getting shot.” It’s actually a really beautiful cemetery. There’s a bunch of famous people buried there and a lot of really big beautiful monuments. I also like it because it’s not one of those cemeteries in Los Angeles county overrun with hipsters.
I used to really like Hollywood Forever but my opinion of it has soured. When I first started doing this, cemeteries weren’t places people wanted to go, Hollywood Forever included. But now, with everything they’re doing with Cinespia, the summer movies they show in the cemetery, and the concerts they have in their masonic lodge, it’s starting to generate a lot of traffic. Negative traffic is generated as well. People are being very disrespectful to the decedents are buried within— their headstones, and their monuments. Because of this, Hollywood Forever has started to police individuals who go into the cemetery just to walk around. I don’t feel as comfortable there as I used to, so I go to Inglewood.
The people at Inglewood Park Cemetery are also always really helpful. Every time I go there I get a cemetery grounds crewman who comes up to me and asks, “Hey, do you need help finding anything?” They’ll take you to graves you never knew about. They’ll say, “Do you know this person is over here? Ray Charles is right there. Want to see Ray Charles?” I found a couple new people there who are aren’t famous but they’re interesting, so I went to take photos of their graves.
HS: Say you find a headstone that intrigues you, how do you go about figuring out their history and what’s interesting about their lives?
LH: I utilize google searches and websites like findagrave.com, billiongraves.com. I use ancestry.com to find documents and census reports. I try to find copies of newspaper clippings and obituaries. Before I go to a cemetery, I will sit down and try to figure out who is buried there. Why should I go there? Then when I find interesting people I go take photos. While I’m in the cemetery I will usually find interesting epitaphs and monuments. I’ll take photos of those out of curiosity. Then I will take the name from the stone and research it online. I also network a lot with other taphophiles, other cemetery enthusiasts. I find out a lot from them.
When I make vacations to go to places outside of California, like I recently did with Goldfield and Tonopah, NV, I typically seek out museums or welcoming centers in these small communities. Most cities have those, and you can go there to read up about the history of the town. When I show up to these historical societies I find people who work there who know a lot about the cemeteries. Then I pick their brain for information. Sometimes they’re generous enough to take me out and show me around.
HS: That sounds really cool. I imagine you end up meeting really interesting people by going to those places.
LH: A lot of older people. I have a lot of friends in their 70s [laughs] who I stay in touch with via email.
HS: The tech-savvy, death-obsessed, older generation of the U.S. [laughs]. What is your favorite part about doing Deathstination?
LH: I get really excited whenever I can find someone who’s not famous but has a really interesting story. I get this feeling that, “I know something no one else knows.” I’m all about finding the common man, the work-a-day person, that got murdered or invented something or did something that was really cool or interesting or kooky or weird.
I also really appreciate the positive feedback I get from people. There have been several times where I’ve thought to myself, “This is really weird. Why do I do this? Does anybody really care about this? Do any of the people following me really read this?” It’s really rewarding when I get feedback from people saying, “I read this and it was really interesting,” or, “Can you help me find that person's grave? I’m going there this weekend.” I can see people are getting inspired to go out and visit graves themselves.
HS: What’s one of the most interesting everyday person stories you’ve found?
LH: When I was up in Colma, CA earlier this year I went to the museum and I was talking to the president of the historical society who told me about this gentleman’s grave who died attempting a stunt. He wanted to jump off of The Golden Gate Bridge, but survive. He was having a difficult time procuring the permits to do such a stunt so he decided, “Eh, I’m going to do it anyways.” He actually did survive the fall, but he ended up drowning. He was wearing parachutes, knee pads, and floating devices. All of this equipment weighed him down, so once he got into the water he couldn’t keep his head above water.
Recently when I went up to Tonopah, NV I learned about the old gravedigger. He is buried within the Tonopah cemetery, but the individuals working to renovate the cemetery have yet to locate where his burial plot is. He was known for going to the saloon and getting beer at a very specific time each day. There was one day he didn’t show up so someone from the bar went down to the cemetery. When they got there they saw him climbing out of a grave. They asked, “Where have you been? We’ve been waiting for you at the bar?” The gravedigger climbs out of the grave and he replies, “I just finished digging this grave. I stayed down here because it feels kind of homey. It feels right for some reason.” He ended up getting sick that night and he was dead by the next morning. They buried him in that grave.
They know what cemetery his grave is in they just don’t know which area. The foreshadowing in that story is so interesting… maybe he knew he was going to die.
HS: That’s crazy, like some sort of otherworldly insight. How do you lose track of a grave? [laughs] Just because it was an old grave, not a fully set up infrastructure, or…
LH: People have been getting buried for many many years, and a lot of cemeteries fall into disrepair. The towns of Tonopah and Goldfield, in particular, are ghost towns essentially. There isn’t anyone to take care of the cemeteries. Over the course of time people vandalize the graves and there’s normal wear and tear— the headstones become weathered or they break and fall, or there are fires. Just life. Things decay and things wash away. Then people have to come in and try to find old cemetery and burial records. When they find where people are buried they work to get them monuments and build up the cemeteries again. That’s what the people of Tonopah and Goldfield are doing currently.
Also, with a lot of western graves too, the headstones used to not be stone, they used to be wooden markers. Those decay very easily.
HS: Where has your favorite place you’ve visited?
LH: My favorite place was actually Goldfield, NV. I’m completely in love with that town. I am considering going up there on a monthly basis to continue doing research and help with locating graves. Goldfield is actually where I want to be buried. You can still be buried there, you just have to notify the city that you’re coming. They don’t have any regulations in the cemetery. You can do whatever you want. Be buried wherever you want to be buried. Have whatever headstone you want to have.
That’s one thing I really hate about cemeteries in big cities like Los Angeles, there’s so much regulation — you can’t go to these cemeteries at certain times of days. They don’t want you there unless you’re there for a funeral, otherwise, you should ignore this place. I hate the idea that cemeteries are something that should be feared, that the living shouldn’t be there and you should be policed while you’re in there. I think you should be allowed to go into a cemetery and walk around. You should be allowed to feel inspired. If you want to go there and have a picnic, you should be allowed to go there and have a picnic.
HS: Nice. I’ve never been there so now I’m curious. I did watch your youtube video on it which was pretty awesome. All of the different stories you found, and you had that man tell one of the stories…
LH: Oh yeah, him and I, we email every week. He actually used to work in the old Tonopah funeral home. He’s not a licensed funeral director or an embalmer but when he was younger he used to work in the funeral home picking up the dead bodies. He got a kick out of having that in common with me. He likes to send me newspaper articles and old business cards from the old funeral home, which isn’t there anymore. He has little artifacts from the old mortuary that he sends to me.
Another one of my favorite places was Mountain View Cemetery in Oakland, California. I was thrown-off when I went there earlier this year because you turn down this street and it looks like a housing development. There are all these cookie cutter buildings, but then you start reading all the titles on these buildings and you realize, “Oh! crematory, chapel, mausoleum.” There are these big gates you drive through, and if it wasn’t for the headstones you would never know it was a cemetery.
People were in there living life. There were people hiking because it’s a really tall steep hill. There were people there doing Crossfit. There were yoga groups going on. People were there with their dogs and dogs were running around the headstones. People were there drawing pictures of mausoleums and taking photos. There were people doing headstone rubbings. There were some families there having picnics. There were little kids playing in between the headstones making flower chains. There were, of course, people like me there to legitimately look for graves. That was really refreshing because you would never see that in LA. In LA if you went in there and tried to start hosting a yoga group, there would be someone there in a matter of seconds telling you to get out. It was refreshing that this cemetery was so full of life.
HS: That sounds awesome. I know someone who lived in Germany and she said the cemeteries there are just like parks. She would go hang out and read a book or you could take a dog there. It wasn’t separated like you see so often.
LH: That’s how it should be, in my opinion— not separated. It should be treated like a park. As long as people are not vandalizing headstones or trying to grave rob, as long as people are being respectful, they should be able to do what they want in cemeteries. There’s been a huge heated debate recently about Pokemon Go. Pokestops are in cemeteries and some people think that is disrespectful. I think everyone needs to calm down and relax. All they’re doing is walking around looking for little imaginary creatures on their phone. Leave them alone. I know a lot of people who work for SCI (which is the big corporation of funeral homes and cemeteries in the United States) and they recently got an email about how to spot people playing Pokemon Go and how to get them out of thier cemeteries. I really feel that’s the wrong message to be putting out. Shame on you SCI and anybody from the corporate office who is listening to this. Let people live their lives. They’re not hurting anything. Ok that was my rant.
HS: It’s really interesting because with Pokemon Go, you are allowed to go wherever living people are and, as long as you are being respectful and not trespassing or robbing people, it’s fine. It seems like that can apply to the dead as well. We should be able to interact with the dead as long as we’re not being assholes about it.
HS: Where is your dream destination?
LH: I have a laundry list of places I want to go. There’s one cemetery in Romania, it’s called Merry Cemetery. Someone took it upon themselves to start creating mosaic headstones that depict how the person died. I would like to go to Germany because my ancestors came from Bavaria— maybe see if I could find my relatives. I would like to go to Norway and see the old Viking burial ships. I would like to see the Salem witch graves over in Massachusetts. I’d like to spend an October in Massachusetts just checking things out. Maybe go to the Philippines and Manila. People actually live in the cemeteries there because it’s one of the safest places to be.
HS: Why is it safe? Because people don’t want to do wrong in the cemeteries?
LH: You know I’m not really sure, but there’s not a lot of crime in the cemeteries so they’ve turned them into housing communities.
HS: That’s fascinating. There are so many places, this can be an endless question.
LH: Oh yeah there’s so many places. You’ve got the catacombs in France. You can go to ossuaries. You can go to Spain or Italy and see saints buried in churches.
I recently featured this little town in Colorado because it won an Instagram contest I held. I’m hellbent on going there now. I’m going to go to Frozen Dead Guy Days in Nederland, CO. It’s a festival that is completely dedicated to a Norwegian man who is cryogenically frozen in a shed in the mountains of Colorado.
HS: That sounds awesome! Ok, last question, which is kind of funny because I found you when you answered this question on one of my Instagram posts. What do you want your funeral to be like?
LH: I want everyone to be miserable. That’s my main thing. I don’t want any, “Don’t weep for me because now I’m free,” bullshit. No, I want you to be miserable. I want people coming to my funeral to break down and cry because they realize they lost one of the greatest people they will ever know in their lifetime. I want people to be sad. That’s what you should do at a funeral, be sad [laughs].
I do not want to be cremated. That’s kind of an odd thing to say in today’s society because we’re very pro-cremation nowadays. I want to be viewed. I want to be in a coffin, not a casket. I want to be buried somewhere where people will have the ability to interact with my grave. I want to be at Goldfield cemetery. I want to have an upright headstone. I would like for my headstone to possibly say what I died from. That’s one thing I like about old Western graves. If you ever go to a ghost town, like Tombstone, AZ, they put all your statistics on your headstone. It wasn’t epitaphs like, “loving mother, daughter, sister.” I swear if anyone puts that sort of crap on my headstone I will haunt them for the rest of their life. I don’t want to be simply known as someone’s mother or sister or wife or daughter. I’m so much more than a woman, I would hate for my headstone to show only that. Then have some black calla lilies and I really like the song Midnight Radio by Hedwig and the Angry Inch — I would like that to be my funeral song.
HS: That sounds good though. Black calla lilies are really cool.
LH: I also like post-mortem photography and Victorian mourning. I’m very into that aspect of death. If you can implement some post-mortem photography, do that. Get the pictures of my dead body up there on the internet (or whatever method we’re using at the time of my death to share photos with other people).
HS: Right, totally [laughs]. Who knows what that will be. Ok, well thank you so much, is there anything else you wanted to say or ask before we go?
LH: I think I’ve said everything I wanted to say, but to sum everything up: be very miserable at my funeral; leave Pokemon Go players alone; stop policing your cemeteries and treating people like they’re weird for wanting to visit. That’s what cemeteries are for.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Image from Laura’s Instagram: Deathstination
Laura is a mortician based in Long Beach who vacations at cemeteries so she can unearth lost stories of the dead. Learn more about Laura in this autobiography she wrote for Adventures in Deathcare. For more from Laura follow Deathstination on Instagram and on YouTube. Deathstination is made possible through supporters on Patreon. If you think what Laura is doing is rad, please consider donating to the project HERE.