The Benefits of Contemplating Death
The Benefits of Contemplating Death
Embracing Death to Live a More Fulfilling Life
The Benefits of Contemplating Death, aka The BCD, is a multi-platform art piece focused on embracing death to live more fulfilling lives. The first year consisted of a slightly-more-than-monthly online publication that came out every new moon, New York time.
Here you will find the archive of this first year, which consists an amalgam of art, writing, photography, and interviews. There will be occasional updates here, but The BCD now continues on through my Death & Descent photography and through Moons of the Month.
Branding, Web Design, Photography, Social Media, & Writing
Death Messages are the thoughts you've been having about death that you haven't had a place to share, until now. With our society being all hush-hush about death, it can be hard to find a place to voice our experiences. Death Messages are a way to share your memories, fears, beliefs, and more.
Mail your Death Messages to:
PO Box 322
Port Washington, NY 11050
Descent Shoots are based on an ancient Sumerian myth where Inanna, the goddess of heaven and earth, decides to go visit her sister Ereshkigal, the goddess of the underworld. During the photoshoot, the model re-enacts this myth in order to confront the loss of identity that surrounds death. Reflecting on the impermanence of life allows the model to remember how precious each moment is and strip away that which is unimportant in their lives.
Moons of the Month
Moons of the Month is a slightly-more-than-monthly moon calendar subscription that comes out every new moon. Each calendar is my own design, and is dedicated to celebrating the cycles of life and death. The moon grows and recedes, as do our lives. The continuous transformation of the moon reminds us that nothing lasts, so we should cherish every moment that we have.
Memento Mori Pin
No matter how we look or how successful we are, we will all die. Use this pin as a reminder to take advantage of every moment you have— put your everyday worries into perspective, show your loved ones how much you care, and follow your dreams.
- 1" circle
- High-quality, cloisonné hard enamel
- Brass plating
- Rubber clutch
Limited edition of 100 pins.
While creating, "Plaisirs Coupables," Amelie du Petit Thouars faced death when her mother died of cancer and during the Paris terror attacks. In this interview, Amelie discusses how these events affected her creative life and tells us the specific inspiration behind her pieces.
When Patrick Morris’s parents were diagnosed with terminal illnesses, he was forced to navigate the flawed mourning customs we have in the West. Instead of avoiding the grief and existential weight of death, he explored his experiences in his paintings.
To celebrate the official launch of Volume 2 of The BCD, I’m going to take some time to reflect on Volume 1— what we loved, what we didn’t, and how that will shape the future of The Benefits of Contemplating Death.
Little Wounds is where the illustrator Daphne Deitchman share's her cute, yet dark work. She self-describes her art as, "A celebration of the beginning and the end of life." Read her interview and see her work below:
The definition of memento mori according to Merriam-Webster is, “a reminder of mortality.” This idea has been executed in many ways over the years to serve different ideological purposes— from highlighting the uselessness of material objects to reminding people that whatever your socioeconomic class, you too will die. In this article, I will give you a brief overview of memento mori art, and offer ways to incorporate memento mori into your life.
Do you remember when you first had the inspiration to take photographs of women killed by crime?
The first draw had to be when I saw a book by Luc Sante called ‘Evidence’. Sante had collected rare crime scene photography from New York in the 1920s. The images transcended the violence into an almost visual poetry.
Colleen Longo Collins loves her grandmother as much as it is possible for one human to love another, and her grandmother loves Colleen unconditionally. Colleen’s grandmother grew up in the French Riviera, in Cannes, moved to Santa Barbara in her early 20s, and made a career for herself in the LA fashion world. Growing up, Colleen took refuge at her grandmother’s house because her mother was creating a career and her father was emotionally unstable. In her grandma, Colleen found a person who was always had time to hear about her life, to paint her nails, to look through closets of clothes from around the world. Her grandma modeled femininity for her, but more importantly modeled love. Without further ado an edited interview with Colleen Longo Collins:
The Death Card offers perspective on life that allows us to find new life amidst breakdowns. The three aspects of Scorpio can guide us through actual deaths, deaths of identity, and more. Find out which aspect you relate to most and how to apply them to your life below.
Hi. Hannah here, giving an into to this guest post by Alison Cebulla. This article discusses suicidal fantasies and past usage of hard drugs. This isn't about condoning drug use or suicidal thoughts, but rather about sharing an honest human experience in the hope that others can relate to an aspect of existence that we might normally be afraid to discuss openly.
If you, or someone you know, are in immediate danger call 911. If you are having suicidal intentions please call the national suicide hotline at 1-800-273-8255— it's available 24 hours every day.
Introducing: Death Messages
These are the thoughts you've been having about death that you haven't had a place to share, until now. With our society being all hush-hush about death, it can be hard to find a place to voice our experiences. Death Messages are a way to share your memories, fears, beliefs, and more.*
Mail your Death Messages to:
PO Box 322
Port Washington, NY 11050
I knew something was up from the fact that the voicemails only asked me to call them back as soon as possible. I knew it was about Grandpa. I knew that I couldn’t take the news in front of Laura. I went to the bathroom. Dad got to it quick. Grandpa didn’t make it. I was sitting on the toilet. I had looked at Laura’s feet, really looked at them, for the first time that morning.
How could I go to New Orleans and not take a death photoshoot? This is the land of vampires, ghosts, corpses that won't stay buried, zombies, and a general shroud of mystery. So I traipsed into the swamp-like backyard of the AirBnB I was staying at tried to make some of that mystery palpable through imagery.
"Thinking about death has been one of the only things that have given me the courage to break free."
I created this photoshoot-slash-death-confrontation experience and I had never been the model in the situation. I didn’t know what my subjects were going through. It seemed like a good idea for me to get in front of the camera so I could:
- better understand what the process was like for my models
- have the models perspective inform my future shoots
Alua Arthur of Going with Grace is an end of life planner— a job she created from the collision of death midwifery and frustration at not having anyone to walk her through the logistics of death. Through her work she has noticed what helps people approach their end of life with a sense of peace, recognized the importance of leaving “shoulds” behind, and has learned to see everyday losses as practice for death. Most importantly, she’s seen how much families are helped when loved ones have advanced healthcare directives. Without further ado, an edited interview with Alua Arthur:
For all of you who think I’m insane since I spend my time focused on death, I just want to let you know that you’re right! But you’re also wrong. Here’s what the research says about contemplating death:
Descent Shoots are photoshoots where a model reenacts the myth of Inanna’s Descent to Ereshkigal.
HS: Is it challenging to be seeing dead bodies every day?
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.
Learn about what it's like to be a mortician, who travels to cemeteries for vacation. Find out whether it's ok to hold your own funeral pyre, what you're supposed to do when your pets die, and where the best cemeteries in LA are.
Lisa Greig opens her TEDx talk by saying, “I’m dying, but then again so are you.” She is a social worker who believes focusing on having a happy death will result in a fulfilling life. In this interview she shares insights from working in trauma centers and with bereavement clients. She answers the questions: How do you help a friend who’s loved one has just died— and what shouldn’t you do? What will help when you lose someone? How do you prepare for a tragic accident? How do you talk to an aging grandparent or parent about their end of life wishes? And so much more. Enjoy this edited interview with Lisa Greig.
1. “Sabriel” by Garth Nix
Do you love foreign, magical worlds? ME TOO. This young adult novel follows Sabriel who is a good necromancer, called the Abhorsen, who puts people raised from the dead back to rest. Nix creates a fascinating version of death that parallels the underworld in the Inanna/Ereshkigal descent myth. Sabriel has to traverse both death and life to rescue her father who has been trapped by a powerful “denizen of the dead.”
If you’ve been following along you remember the overview I gave of Descent Shoots in V1I1. I am continuing the explanation of these shoots with my interpretation of the 7 gates of death found in the myth of Inanna’s descent to Ereshkigal. In the translation of the myth (which you can read HERE) the individual significance of each gate is not discussed beyond noting what piece of regalia is stripped from Inanna at each barrier. I felt it would help my models connect more deeply to the descent process if each gate had a particular significance. To give each gate meaning, I applied a loose interpretation of the seven chakras, mixed with my understanding of the tangible to disintegrated spectrum.
Fourth of July is a wildly celebrated holiday when we all get together to drink and be merry. Hot dogs, burgers and coolers of Budweiser have become iconic staples of Fourth of July festivities. But as time moves further and further away from the Revolutionary War, many have forgotten that there is a lengthy death toll associated with one of our most feted holidays. Despite 241 years having passed, the dead continue to influence our lives. They are part of the reason we are free.
Kayla Jones lived with soft tissue sarcoma for 10 years. Only when she was told she had no options left did she find a cure— in Lima, Peru. Kayla is a mom and a motivational speaker who spoke for the American Cancer Society in 2007. Between 2007 and 2009 she volunteered to comfort dying hospice patients by doing 13th hour work. Now she is a mountain climber as well. What follows are her insights on cancer, death, and life— without further ado an edited interview with Kayla Jones:
A Slice of my Death Inspiration: Mass Graves, Morgue Photos, Body Farm, Right to Die, Crematory Lessons.
Unearthing the Secrets of New York’s Mass Graves
Do you know where unclaimed bodies in New York City go? Do you know what happens to your body after it’s been used for science? Nina Bernstein reveals the history of Hart Island, NY, where corpses are ferried twice a week to get buried by paid prison inmates in mass graves.
About six months ago I did a death-themed photoshoot with my family friend, who is an amazing artist and a therapist. I was telling her about my early photographic exploration of #thebenefitsofcontemplatingdeath, and she immediately told me about this book she was reading. The book wasDescent to the Goddess by Sylvia Brinton Perera. It is about a Sumerian myth that is one of the oldest myths about the underworld. In the book Perera discusses the value of confronting death and assimilating our shadow selves. Well, I had been looking for a way to deepen the death photoshoots for awhile and this myth seemed like a perfect structure.
When I was little I was very concerned about my dad dying. Long story short — my mom took me to go see The Lion King in theaters when I was two and a half (#typicaldisney). So I told my dad I didn’t want him to die. His response? He told me that when he died I could take him to a taxidermist and prop his stuffed body up in my bedroom so he would always be around. (I maintain that this story encapsulates who my dad is better than any other anecdote, haha.) Over the years he has come up with other out there schemes about what to do with his body post mortem. These include: