We had the good fortune of connecting with Erin Merelli and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Erin, what’s something about your industry that outsiders are probably unaware of?
Death is big business, Most people don’t know that the parlor-style funeral home they entrusted the care of grandma to may very well be owned by a corporate giant that is exploiting their grief and making a terrible environmental impact with their practices. The funeral industry is corporate and rather monopolized, with a handful of businesses owning the lions-share of the funeral parlors and cemeteries across the country. So while you may think that your loved one is in the hands of the people you met at the funeral home, the reality may be that their body was brought to a centralized warehouse to be embalmed and prepared. Embalming, by the way, is never required by law. It’s a rather antiquated practice that does have its place, but should not be commonplace. People have options around how they want their body to be treated after death and we urge them to become educated on it before they are in a a space of grief themselves.
What should our readers know about your business?
When you hear the word ‘deathwives’, do you think of the word ‘midwives’? That is the easiest way to liken what we do at Deathwives to a more well known practice. Just as a midwife attends to the order of a good birth, a Deathwives attends to the order of a good death. We believe that our cultural death aversion leads to an outsourcing of care at the end of life, and that this is problematic. It leaves a void for mourners in the grief process, and makes industry out of the sacred. We are working to fill those caps, offer alterative care options, and widen the narrative around death and dying in America. Deathwives was founded in 2019 by Erin Merelli & Lauren Carroll, both single moms and close personal friends of grief. What began as a humble offering of in-person death classes was quickly embraced by local media, and before long we had the demand for more classes. We began building a program and, thank you covid, pivoted to an online platform in the summer of 2020. There is an eagerness and a readiness among the people – they want to study this. The great mystery comes for us all, and we do believe that it is human nature to be curious about it. Our curriculum has grown to include 6 unique courses on various aspects of deathwork, from the environmental impacts of death (and the many options therein, including some green options!) to the grief journey. We offer professional training for Death Doula’s and Home Funeral Guides, and are busy now creating recorded deliveries of our work in an effort to meet the demand. It is pretty exciting for two women who have navigated the empty belly of grief to get here. This work is a calling, and we couldn’t be more thrilled that so many people are hearing the call. We believe that deathwork is community work – it belongs to the community. The more people who are trained to offer it, the stronger and healthier our communities will be. For this reason we make all of our classes affordable and accessible. Our long term goals include buying property – a charming abandoned summer camp in the hills – and opening a fully green cemetery, free of embalming and martials that don’t break down, where we give an honorable burial to the homeless and the unlcaimed, and where we would offer week long death education programs and grief camps. Contact us to help.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Denver is a great city to visit in the warmer months. The restaurants in Lohi and Rino are eclectic and vibrant. There’s a cool little speak easy north of downtown called Williams & Graham. We will start there with a craft cocktail and the very best gnocchi I’ve ever had. There are some great restaurants/bars around, I love El Five and Root Down. I am a funeral girl, so we will have to visit Fairmount Cemetery in East Denver the next day. It is the most beautiful place in the entire city. The Lumber Baron Mansion is haunted and lovely and offers traditional high tea, so that’s on the menu, and afterwards, a drive to the foothills to see Red Rocks and hike the trails nearby. Outside of the city, the best of Colorado can be found at the hot springs and the small mountain towns near them. Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
I could shout out to so many people! This world is a brilliant symphony of collaboration, none of us able to climb mountains or overcome valleys without one another. One place that has been foundationally helpful to me is the enchanted Lumber Baron Mansion in North Denver. I have worked there as an Event Planner for a number of years, and when Deathwives first began offering Death Education Workshops, they hosted us in this beautiful, well-above-our-humble-budget mansion. They believed in our work and made it affordable for us to offer it to the community in style. We could not have asked for a better launching pad. I would also shout out to Stacey Mitchell, my sister and the best stylist in Denver. She has supported me with good hair and occassional bail outs from the time I was a 19 year old new mother until now,