Ex­plor­ing death and grief, and how strange it can be

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - AUDIO REVIEWS - SARAH MARIA GRIF­FIN

Death In The Af­ter­noon Episode 1: My Room­mate, a Corpse!

Be­cause of the al­most lim­it­less scope of the form, there are pod­casts about ev­ery sub­ject one could imag­ine. I try to keep cover­age var­ied be­tween fic­tion and sci­ence, food and cul­ture – lean­ing away from pol­i­tics and sport, be­cause those sub­jects gov­ern main­stream ra­dio. I’ve lis­tened to pod­casts about art heists and Oprah, about deep space and the far fu­ture – about food, ad­dic­tion and cli­mate change.

The only pod­cast I’ve lis­tened to about death so far is a work of fic­tion, Wooden

Over­coats. Death in the Af­ter­noon is my first foray into lis­ten­ing to a con­ver­sa­tion and sto­ries about the end of life – and it makes a re­mark­ably trou­bling topic some­how light. Not too light. Just hu­man.

The three hosts are as fas­ci­nat­ing as the show it­self: Caitlin Doughty is a mor­ti­cian and fu­neral-home di­rec­tor, Sarah Chavez was raised wit­ness­ing fake-deaths on sound­stages in Hol­ly­wood, and Louise Hung is the video ed­i­tor of Ask A Mor­ti­cian. To­gether, they run The Order of The Good Death, which this pod­cast is a pro­duc­tion of, and they are ded­i­cated to hav­ing con­ver­sa­tions about death and grief and how strange it can be. The tone of the pod­cast is buoy­ant with­out be­ing flip­pant – re­spect­ful with­out be­ing stilted, as they step con­fi­dently into strange and dif­fi­cult sub­ject mat­ter from minute one.

The first case ex­am­ined is one of an el­derly woman who keeps her de­ceased hus­band and sis­ter’s corpses in her home, and ini­tially con­cerns that things might de­scend into a slightly per­verse mock­ing of what peo­ple do when they’re griev­ing prove un­founded. Rather than peer­ing, tabloid style, at the hor­ror of an older lady keep­ing dead bod­ies in her liv­ing room, they dis­cuss stunted grief, how one would keep a corpse, how one would ex­hume a corpse from a grave with com­pas­sion and em­pa­thy.

In an­other seg­ment, Chavez re­lates a story from Hol­ly­wood his­tory with a clar­ity and nar­ra­tive pre­ci­sion rem­i­nis­cent of You

Must Re­mem­ber This. The fi­nal sec­tion dis­cusses the prac­ti­cal­ity of liv­ing with corpses, and dis­cusses the case of the “old­est man in Tokyo”. Each seg­ment links in to one an­other: the struc­ture is re­ally con­sid­ered.

This pod­cast isn’t just about grief and the phi­los­o­phy of the end of life, or strange sto­ries from across the world about weird death. It’s a com­pas­sion­ate, fas­ci­nat­ing lis­ten about how peo­ple cope, or don’t cope, an il­lu­mi­nat­ing study of how peo­ple live around or with death, and the hu­man­ity be­hind them, even when things get very strange.

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