So, I Went to a Death Conference …


2 weeks ago I found myself on an early flight out of John Wayne with a final destination of Baltimore, MD.

“Why are you flying to Baltimore?” the nice lady next to me in 26E asked.

“I’m going to a conference.”

“Oh, what kind of conference?”

(sigh) “Well, it’s a Death Conference, I mean a conference on death, it’s death education to be specific.”

“Oh,” she replied, “that’s interesting.” She pointed out Annapolis to me and a few bridges she didn’t know the names of and said no more. Death always kills a conversation.

Thankfully, death doesn’t kill conversations when you’re with a bunch of people who are specializing, studying, measuring and passionate about death. And so I arrived at the Association of Death Education and Counseling (ADEC) conference and found friends, people who didn’t cringe when I said I was from a funeral home, people united with me in our mutual interest and unique purpose.

It would be impossible to convey the amount of information and education that permeated our 3 days so I’ve compiled some of my favorite quotes and take-aways from the conference sessions, I hope you find something inspiring & new (and will feel like it’s ok to carry on conversations with people who go to death conferences):

“We are wired for attachment in a world of impermanence.”

Robert Neimeyer, PhD from his speech accepting the “Life Time Achievement Award”

*To hear some of the brilliance of Dr. Neimeyer (one of the few people I’ve found who wastes absolutely no words) click here – it’s amazing!

“It is easier to care for your feet if you put slippers on rather than striving to carpet the earth.”

Robert Wicks, PsyD from his keynote speech: Riding the Dragon: Strengthening the Inner Life of the Caregiver

“Society treats grief like the flu but losses are actually transformational – they change us. It’s not that loss is a burden we can set down, it is a strengthening of our back.”

John Jordan, PhD from the session: Our Work, Ourselves, Reflecting On Our Own Losses as Thanatologists

“When we are talking to others we are always making decisions about what parts of ourselves we can reveal to them … You may want to share with some and not share with others. you will want to share [your grief story] the most with those whose stories intersect.”

Phyllis Kosminsky, PhD, FT from the session: Our Work, Ourselves, Reflecting On Our Own Losses as Thanatologists

“No one needs to be the prisoner of his own biography.”

Robert Neimeyer, PhD from the session: Our Work, Ourselves, Reflecting On Our Own Losses as Thanatologists

“Death is not always the most profound of losses for some people … lack of grief in non-death losses has resulted in this group of people having a lower rate of seeking help vs. death loss grievers.”
“When defining loss we should be listening to what people are telling us they are grieving, not just what we have traditionally associated with grief.”

Mary Alice Varga from the session: Research that Matters 2014: Non-Death Losses

and probably my favorite quote or simile from the conference,

“Death is like taking off a tight shoe.”

Rebecca Brown, MDiv, CT from the session: Don’t Mean To Dwell On This Dying Thing

*And yes, for you Dave Matthews fans out there the title of her talk comes from his song “Pig”. Rebecca was absolutely phenomenal, she works with teenagers who are sick and dying and does wonderful work with Streetlight to hear this amazing 20 minute talk on TED Talks, click here.

I hope you found these extraordinary quotes/thoughts interesting and I also hope that perhaps they tapped something inside of you, a thought or feeling you’ve had for a long time but couldn’t put into words.

Please, share your thoughts in the comments below – I’d love to know what these bring out in you.

|| what do you think?

Does one of these quotes in particular strike you?

Has your impression of a “Death Conference” changed after reading this?

Will you be joining us next year in San Antonio, TX for ADEC 2015?? ; )

Molly Keating
Molly Keating
Hello! I'm Molly and I run & manage the Blog here at O'Connor. I grew up in a mortuary with a mortician for a father who's deep respect for the profession inspired me to give working at a mortuary a try. Work at O'Connor has brought together two of my deep passions, writing & grief awareness. In 2016 I earned Certification in the field of Thanatology, the study of Death, Dying and Bereavement. I am honored to be able to speak on these taboo topics with knowledge, compassion, and a unique perspective. I want to sincerely thank you for following & reading the blog, I hope that this is a healing place for you.


  1. Patricia Kolstad says:

    Molly . .

    What an incredible opportunity for growth and understanding! You and I have discussed your trip at length and I found it fascinating. Becoming better equipped to provide the necessary care that our families need and deserve is tantamount to just about anything else we can do. I’m always encouraged by the way our Executive Team is so purposeful in bringing and creating quality education for us.

    The quote that pressed hard against my heart was from John Jordan . . “Society treats grief like the flu but losses are actually transformational – they change us. It’s not that loss is a burden we can set down, it is a strengthening of our back.” I realize that now more than ever with the recent death of my brother. Our burden of grief often feels like too much weight, too much to bear it or even cope with it. Moving through our grief and remembering our life before and after the death. . . the memories, the ceremony, the people who attended, the cards filled with love and support, those are the moments when we feel comforted, and in most cases, strengthened. We become, hopefully, advocates of good grieving. Helping others along in their grief, offering words of comfort and hope.
    Thank you so much for sharing these “words of wisdom” from a select group of incredible “death educators. Well done!

    • Wow, thank you so much Aunt Pat!
      I love your insight into John Jordan’s quote and your identification of the different facets of ceremony, service & memory that have served to strengthen you in your grief rather than weaken you.
      These efforts to remember strengthen personalities, create meanings and embed feelings that we need to have in order to feel a peace in moving into another day. I so appreciate your sharing from your experience what your grief journey has looked like and how you have seen a strengthening and a greater purpose as you meet with others going through death with you.

      Love you so,

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *