How Vanity and the Grave Led to Finding a Death Doula

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As we entered the second trimester What to Expect When You’re Expecting suggested completing the bulk of our baby preparation – including setting up life insurance, last testaments, savings accounts, and funeral preparations. Yup, being pregnant is like having one foot in the grave; moms-to-be and baby are always one event away from tragedy.

Internationally known as Cheap-O the Clown™, I never planned on having a funeral. Worst case scenario: my next of kin would have me cremated and flushed down the toilet. Best case scenario: when called in to identify a Jane Doe, my next of kin would pretend not to recognize me so that the State would be responsible for my remains. No, I’m not being extra; that’s really my dream. There’s comedy gold in that second option. Just give it a minute.

Blowing my ashes on my haters

Unfortunately for pregnant me, not having a proper burial seems exceptionally cruel since my py parents haven’t seen me in-person for almost five years. This led the husband and me to revisit our chat about funeral costs and rituals.

As I reflected on death, I thought of my mom’s cousin who passed away when I was in the third or fourth grade. She was stylish and happy in real life. In death she was stiffed-faced, her skin was ten shades darker, her hair was a goopy frizzy mess, and she had the most unflattering makeup. Who da hell was responsible?! Vilma would never rock the puke purple lipstick and soul glow hair!

My new plan. Clothes: a basic white dress. Face: MAC Studio Fix powder in shade NW50, some chapstick, and a dash of blush. I’d never been too fussy regarding makeup. Feet? Ha! Ain’t got to do jack since the lower half of caskets remain closed. That’s right since I don’t torture myself with extensive grooming while alive I sure wasn’t going to when dead.

In 2008, I gave up the creamy crack and rediscovered my afro. Should I do a twist out? A wash n go? Straight hair seemed easiest, but it wouldn’t properly reflect how I looked on most days. Laying in the grave with an ashy afro wasn’t going to happen. Not over my dead body.

Searching for dat good death wig.

What was a vain curly girl to do? Do I live a video tutorial on how to do my hair? What if the funeral director was unfamiliar with afro-textured hair? What if my tried-and-true hair products were out of stock? Dang, who was worthy to give me my final finger detangling? No one was. Well, except maybe my sister but what if she did before me? Would I have to buy and style a wig for the afterlife?

SO MANY QUESTIONS!

I opened an internet browser and started searching for a black — possibly female — funeral director in Chicago. Nothing. I tried contacting what I thought were black-owned funeral homes but received no response.

My research led me to Caitlin Doughty of Ask A Mortician.  On her YouTube channel, the LA-based mortician answers all sorts of questions about mortality and culture. Caitlin is a busy gal, so I was directed to reach out other members of Order of the Good Death.

Alua Arthur, death doula

Alua Arthur, death doula

“The Order is about making death a part of your life. Staring down your death fears—whether it be your own death, the death of those you love, the pain of dying, the afterlife (or lack thereof), grief, corpses, bodily decomposition, or all of the above. Accepting that death itself is natural, but the death anxiety of modern culture is not.”

The planets aligned a few months later and Alua Arthur a death doula, attorney, adjunct professor, and ordained minister were able to chat!  As with birthing doulas, death doulas help with all non-medical death-related needs.

In our brief conversation Alua explained that in death, nothing major happens to our hair. Fun fact: the visible part of our hair doesn’t have any biochemical activity in it. Therefore, dermatologists consider it dead. So, any products I use in life should work the same after I’ve passed on.

So, did my chances of achieving a bomb twist out increased? Unfortunately no.

I still needed to find a competent stylist. We didn’t have any stats, but Alua doubted that many undertakers specialized in curly girl hairstyles, which was why cousin Vilma looked like Dave Chappelle playing Prince.

That said, nothing is stopping a regular hairstylist from styling your hair for the grave. Fun fact: did you know that R&B singer Monica Brown is also a licensed mortician? If the planets align maybe you can confirm her for your funeral.

 

In the end, I never properly prepared for the afterlife. Lucky for me I survived my pregnancy and gave birth to a healthy human. With any luck, I won’t have to be casket-ready and instead execute my original plans. Consulting with a death doula such as Alua Arthur isn’t only for the terminally ill, it’s for anyone looking for peace with themselves and to prepare comprehensive end of life plans.

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Onicia Muller is a Caribbean writer and comedian currently freezing her buns off in Chicago. A former crime reporter and children’s columnist, she's found her happy place writing about women in entertainment. If you're into oversharing, read her weekly humor column Just Being Funny in The Daily Herald’s Weekender.