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Transom Podcast

52 EpisodesProduced by TransomWebsite is an experiment in channeling new work and voices to public radio through the internet, and for discussing that work, and encouraging more. Our podcast offers some tasty little audio morsels to go.


The D-Word

“The D-Word” on PRX

About The D-Word

What is the D-Word? – It’s a 30-minute documentary that attempts to explore our rather neurotic relationship with that five-letter word: death.

It was produced as part of my thesis project for an MSc in Science Media Production at Imperial College London and so is my first try at producing a feature length documentary piece. It explores the subject through the voices of those who deal with death on a regular basis and is my attempt at making sense of a particularly complex human issue.

Why Death?

It’s a subject that resonates with me personally – just under two years ago a close friend of mine decided to take his own life. Being 23 at the time, death wasn’t really something I’d had much ‘experience’ with and I found it particularly difficult to make sense out of what had happened. I realized that I’d gone through most of my life not having to confront or even think about death. It was through this event that I was forced to finally pay attention.

At the time there was a huge degree of emotional confusion and I often felt many different, conflicting things at the same time. Grief, anger, guilt and apathy were all things that I experienced and I never knew what it was that I was meant to be feeling. I had no point of reference.

I also discovered that experiencing death in this way was quite isolating – people don’t like talking about death (it makes them nervous I think) and they treat you differently as a result – I believe that this stems from the fact that most people don’t really know how to talk about death anymore.

Delving into Death

Following all this, I really wanted to create something that delved into the subject of death and attempted to address some of the issues, which I myself had experienced. As such it became a very personal project, but I was keen to avoid focusing upon my own experiences. Instead I used them more as a guide to allow me to ask the right questions.

A hospital mortuary

Travelling to the north of England, I went to visit pathologist Dr Stuart Hamilton at the mortuary of the Sunderland Royal Infirmary. This was one of the most interesting interviews I recorded for the piece, but one I entered into with the greatest trepidation.

I simply didn’t know what I was going to encounter, I’d never been to a hospital mortuary before. It obviously brought thoughts of my friend’s death to the forefront of my mind, but at the same time, there was no denying that I felt a sense of excitement. As a Biology graduate it’s hard to gross me out, so there was a real sense of fascination accompanying my visit to the mortuary. It felt like I was getting a rare opportunity to peer into a world which most people would not ordinarily see.

There was some apprehension as I first entered the central refrigeration room. The temperature drops immediately as you step into it, causing the hairs on the back of your neck to stand up in the most cliché of ways. The mortuary was also a sonically rich environment, with the mechanical hum of the refrigeration units becoming one of the dominant characteristics of the room.

When Stuart later came to open up the doors of the refrigeration units, it was as if he purposefully intended to ramp up the suspense, opening several of the doors before we eventually came to one with a body lying inside. It was strange looking in at that body, once belonging to a conscious being, but now covered by a white sheet. But it was strange not because of any fear or repulsion. It was because I didn’t really have any reaction to it. I think that surprised me.

Death is what it is…

What was obvious from this interview, and in fact all of the subsequent interviews, was that death was a very normal part of life. Those I interviewed demonstrated that death shouldn’t be something that we fe...

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