I've wanted to be a forensic anthropologist or pathologist since I was 9 years old. For those of you who don't know, forensic anthropologists analyze skeletal remains to figure out information about a person or the manner in which they died. Forensic pathologists analyze corpses through autopsies to determine the cause of death and manner of death.
So, basically, at 9, I decided I wanted to work with dead people for the rest of my life.
Are you weirded out now? Is that super odd to you? Are you wondering how weird a child I was? Or how weird of a teenager I am? You certainly wouldn’t be the first – but how I wish you were the last.
I have always found beauty in the things most people turn away from. I believe that the human skeleton is beautiful and the fact that it can tell your story after death is magical. The process of decomposition is fascinating and certainly worth understanding. Tim Burton’s Coraline and The Corpse Bride were on repeat, movies I adored with all of my heart and I never once found them frightening. Gremlins was, and still is, one of my favourite Christmas movies. The Adams family was a favourite from the moment I watched it. I wanted to be Morticia Adams: roaming around in long black dresses, making off-kilter jokes, and caring for my man-eating plants. I never understood black clothing at funerals. I always wanted neon or bright colours and loud music at mine. I was obsessed with ghost stories and the concept of communicating after death. I wanted to be like The Ghost Whisperer, helping people move on. I still think it is absolutely fascinating.
Death never has and never will be a hush-hush subject for me. I have never avoided it in discussions or turned away at the sight of gore. It’s odd to me how something so intrinsic to human life is locked away in a weird “do not discuss, or else” box. As if when we talk about it, the Grim Reaper will appear and take us away.
I find it funny how we have no issue with those working as doctors fixing up human bodies but the minute those human bodies are no longer fixable we must shield our eyes. If we discuss them or dare to try to understand why they couldn’t be fixed? Well then we must be sick or weird or creepy. Working with death is supposedly disgusting, but working with sick people with open sores and vomit and bloody coughs is commendable.
When I tell someone I want to pursue this career, I do not want to hear “I guess someone has to do it,” because, yes, someone does, but this is no chore that I am being unwillingly forced to complete. This is a choice because I care about helping those who are no longer able to help themselves, translating the story that is woven into bodies and waiting to be heard. I want to help families find comfort and closure. I want to help bring justice. Shouldn’t someone care about the body after the person has died? Wouldn’t you want someone to care about you after you’ve died?
The beauty, the importance, and the honour in doing jobs regarding death, such as a forensic anthropologist, pathologist, mortician, and coroner, are inconceivable to many because humanity has decided that death is a no-go territory: a place where conversations go to die.
I want this to change. I understand an actual or personal death is frightening but not the idea of death in general. We don’t want to leave things behind; we don’t want to go before we have time to do what we all want; we don’t want to die painfully – but discussing death will not bring it to your door. It is difficult, but it must not be ignored. If death was introduced to us at a young age as normal and fascinating then perhaps we wouldn’t live a life governed by a fear of the ending. We may not have power over how we die but we do have power over how we talk about it and how we deal with the subject. Let's shift the mindset. Let's find a way to change our perception. It all starts with an open-minded conversation.
If you are someone who is captivated by what happens to human bodies when they stop living, how systems stop functioning, how we handle death, and what happens after we die, do not shy away, no matter how many people give you a hard time about it. Pursue your interests with the open mind you were gifted with, and work to break the taboo topic of death.
If you are the person at the beginning who thought I was weird, perhaps you are right. Although I would suggest a re-evaluation of why you deem me as such.
Please, for the love of all things dead, refrain from pulling a face when I mention my career path. I do not want to hear, “Ew, Why would you want to work with dead people? Doesn’t it freak you out?” The answer will always be no.
Death has never freaked me out.