‘Ologies’ episode – ‘Thanatologies

Written, hosted and produced by Alie Ward.

#non-fiction, #podcast, #comedy, #science, #interview, #grief, #death, #dying

This podcast episode is for you if… you’re new to exploring the topic of death and dying and like chatty, informal yet informative conversations
This podcast episode may not be for you if…  you are uncomfortable with swearing. There is also a brief mention of assault in this episode.


Ologies is a science communication podcast bought to you by Alie Ward, science correspondent for Did I Mention Invention? on CW and the Netflix Science Series Brainchild. Each episode goes into an ‘ology’ via in-depth interviews with an expert from that field. The conversation is peppered with asides and various soundbites from movies and TV shows to break up the interviews.

This episode dives into Thanatology, the scientific study of death and dying practices, with Cole Imperi. Cole is a thanatologist, author, educator, death worker and founder of The School of American Thanatology. 

Whilst Alie comes into this interview with some anxiety and fear, Cole and Alie get through their conversation with patience, knowledge and humour. They talk about mortality, fearing death and dying, people’s disposition wishes and what it means to be a thanatologist. The interview also goes a little into Cole’s own journey as a thanatologist, how she got into the job, where her interests stemmed from, and some of her experiences working in this field. 

The two chat like old friends about wills and people’s choices and wishes for disposition. Cole makes a valid point about the challenges of people’s wishes (if written on a piece of paper or kept in an email draft like her own) not being found until after they have died. Another good reminder to continue to have these important conversations whilst you’re still alive!

Cole and Alie discuss the ways in which death is avoided in everyday discussions based on a variety of factors, and how oftentimes discussing your disposition wishes with family, friends, etc. can be difficult and often avoided. Cole makes a great comparison between approaching the topic of death and approaching a deer in the woods. Sometimes you need to ease into the topic and skirt around the edges before talking directly about it. 

It’s important to note that this episode features some terminology and laws that are North American-specific, and whilst there are a few similarities it’s a good idea to check what is and is not legal in Australia. For example, Alie explains what a ‘living will’ is, however, in Australia that document is known as an Advance Care Directive. Also, embalming is far more common in the USA and requires a different level of training than simply providing funerals.

This episode is a little over an hour long, so a great one to put on if you’re commuting to and from work. The website has a link to the transcript of the episode and some other useful sites, books and films that are discussed. It’s worth checking out if you are interested in reading more about thanatology!

Thanatoloy is available on the Ologies website and through all your favourite pod players.

Review by Thy O’Donell


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