In most Western and Westernized cultures, the reality of death is a subject that we avoid because it makes us uncomfortable. Even participants in religions that celebrate death as a release to a paradisiacal realm will avoid talking about or facing the death experience, unless it’s through the lens of their religious beliefs. The rest of us tap dance around the subject, enjoying death-related fiction involving vampires, zombies, and serial killers, while we recoil in mind-numbing horror at the thought of being in the same room with a corpse. Chelsea Tolman is a funeral director, mortician, and embalmer with over 15 years of experience. In her book, “Speaking of the dead”, she attempts to provide the balm that allows us to engage in the real world of death’s circumstances and give us a peek behind the curtain at what it’s like to be a professional in the death industry.
This book is a collection of Chelsea’s recounted stories that illustrate the unique perspective of being a professional in the death industry. She covers a wide range of emotions and circumstances from light hilarity to deep sadness and grief.
Chelsea also takes the time to celebrate the diversity of cultures, describing in intimate detail the way some religions and nationalities treat their dead. All get equal respect, including the careful corpse wrappings of the Bhai, the pronated wailing women of the Far East], the colorful dancers of Africa, and the grass skirts of the Tongans. She expertly weaves these stories of culture in with the experience of grief and loss to reveal how we all share the basic human essence of missing our dead.
Finally, “Speaking of the dead” serves as Chelsea’s heartfelt attempt to show to the world that the experience of caring for one’s dead is one that should be embraced and cherished, rather than avoided and feared as it largely is at present. She details the loving care she gives to the bodies and how she encourages the loved ones to participate and catalyze their own progress at closure. The tenderness she shows in wrapping infants in blankets, smoothing an old man’s hair, or applying a young woman’s make-up invites you to step over the gap from macabre avoidance to emotional acceptance and understand that death is simply another part of the human experience that we should all embrace.