John W. Iwanski via Flickr CC /

Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust. In times of mourning, we emphasize the cyclical nature of life and death - and yet, American burial practices are mostly designed to halt the natural process of decomposition. Today on Word of Mouth, a look at the historical forces that pushed America towards embalming and containment, and the growing "green burial" movement. Plus, how American judges are grappling with a difficult to interpret form of evidence that's starting to be introduced in the courtroom - the emoji.

Russell Darling via flickr Creative Commons /

Human beings spend a lot of time satisfying primal urges, but relatively little talking about or studying them. On today’s show, what we can learn by studying hedonism.

Then, at the height of the Ebola epidemic last fall, the hardest hit areas in West Africa not only struggled with containing the virus, but respectfully burying the dead. We’ll take a look at how funeral rites were handled during history’s worst epidemics.

Listen to the full show or click read more for individual segments.

Felipe Tofani via flickr Creative Commons /

In a rare move, Fox News apologized for referring to areas in Europe as Muslim-only “no-go zones.” On today’s show: the origins of the “no-go-zone” myth, and why it persists.

Then, we tackle a very different kind of origin story—the curious experiments that launched the most successful non-carbonated beverage in the U.S.: Gatorade.

And we continue our series on offbeat college courses: The Uncommon Core. Today: "Zombies in Popular Media".

Listen to the full show and click Read more for individual segments.

Pimthida via flickr Creative Commons

From the Trojan war to the current war in Afghanistan, soldiers have been penning farewell letters for centuries. On today’s show, a look into the deeply private “death letter” tradition throughout history.

Then, we’ll kick off our new series, “Good Gig”, with a rare bookseller who found his dream job among the binders on a dusty shelf.

Listen to the full show and click Read more for individual segments.

Reflecting On Robin Williams

Aug 12, 2014
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 In April 2010, WTF host Marc Maron sat down to speak with Robin Williams. Following the news of Williams’ death on August 11, Maron reflected back on that interview and shared some of his thoughts on a conversation that he considers life-changing. The interview is at times delicate, as Williams talks about his battle with addiction and depression, but it also raised a new perspective the comedian which people had rarely seen before.

8.3.14: The Death Show

Aug 3, 2014
Rob Shenk via Flickr CC

Ceased to be, eternal rest, journey’s end, six feet under. First, why do we have such a hard time facing the realities of death? We’ll begin with planning for it….and the importance of getting your wishes in order. Then, we find out what happens when someone dies mysteriously. Death by murder…or owl? And, we’ll talk to the Boston Globe’s obituary writer about the growing number of people writing selfie-obits. Today, Word of Mouth casts off the euphemisms and talks directly about death.

Listen to the full show and Read more for individual segments.

How To Write Your Own Obituary

Jul 30, 2014
TempusVolat via Flickr CC

As part of our investigation into all things death, we spoke with Barbara Bates Sedoric, president and founder of Lasting Matters, about planning for death by saving your family from extra stress to making sure documents are in order. And now one of those documents may very well be part of a new trend that is on the rise.

LastingMatters: Conversations About Death

Jan 30, 2014
Kaity Hemgesberg via flickr Creative Commons

Discussing death should be no laughing matter. Nor should it be easy, pressure-free, and light-hearted, right? Well, according to Barbara Sedoricfounder of LastingMatters, talking about death doesn't need to be somber, and it does need to happen.

In October of 2012, she created Boo's Bucket List Blog, her first ever, with the idea of starting a conversation about death. From there, her posts have covered everything from end of life conversations, funeral planning, and bucket lists.

OldOnliner via flickr Creative Commons

Today on Word of Mouth we wrap up our series Rethink 2014 with, perhaps, the most difficult concept …death. Then we delve into a discussion about the possible disruption of wildlife photography and ethical practice. Finally, Ben Bradlee, Jr. shares revelations on a Boston Red Sox player: Ted Williams. Listen to the full audio and scroll down to read more on individual segments.


Billions of dollars are spent each year to prevent death. We invest in research and treatment of disease; in improving safety; and in educating people to live healthier, longer lives. Yet with all of technological and scientific capability, what do we know of what happens after death? John Martin Fischer is professor of philosophy at University of California at Riverside. He was awarded a 5 million dollar grant to study the afterlife. He’s launched “The Immortality Project." The money will go towards sponsoring conferences and scientific, philosophical, and theological research that advances understanding of immortality and belief in immortality.

Rachel via flickr Creative Commons

If you’ve ever avoided a conversation about death, you are not alone. While death scenes are plentiful in movies and on television, witnessing the real, degenerative, disorienting process of death and dying is avoided…unmentionable…a taboo.  A new Showtime series faces that taboo head-on. “Time of Death” follows eight terminally ill people ranging in age from nineteen to seventy-seven over the course of nine months to their final hours and even moments of life.

Reviews and conversations cropping up around the series praise its raw, sometimes agonizing realism and wonder if anyone will watch; if our death denying culture can take such an unflinching look at death? The Huffington Post’s religion reporter Jaweed Kaleem wrote about the series. He’s covers one of HuffPo’s most unusual beats: death.

Also joining us is Miggi Hood co-executive producer for the Showtime series, “Time of Death.”

merlinprincess via Flickr Creative Commons

In July, NPR host Scott Simon started tweeting from the Chicago hospital room where his mother, Patricia, landed after complications from surgery. For the next week, Scott tweets became a real-time record of her decline for his more than 1.2 million followers on twitter. His raw, often bittersweet posts went viral among celebrities, media outlets and strangers drawn by his example of public grief.   

The extraordinary response to Scott’s twitter vigil stirred up conversations about the taboo topic of death in America – and a debate on social media’s place in mourning. Paul Bisceglio edits the online literary magazine The Land That I Live. He wrote about how social media is changing the way we approach death for The Atlantic.

Courtesy of Scott Simon, via NPR

A few years ago, NPR's Weekend Edition Saturday host Scott Simon interviewed his mother, Patricia Lyons Simon Newman, for StoryCorps. She talked about what a great companion he was; when he broke down, in response, his mother told him to "stop crying."

Danny Gregory /

Danny Gregory is an author and illustrator whose work you might have seen in the New York Times or other publications. He’s also author of several books, including “An Illustrated Life” and “The Creative License.”  His newest is called “A Kiss Before You Go: A Memoir Of Love And Loss”. It’s a collection of illustrations and text compiled from daily drawings Danny did in the year following the death of his wife Patti.

When Loren Williams died in a motorcycle crash in 2005, his mother used his Facebook password to read posts on his wall.

"These were postings from personal friends that [said] he meant a lot to them in their lives, and it was very comforting," Karen Williams told KGW television in Portland, Ore. "There were pictures that I had never seen before of his life and just evidence of the wonderful relationships that he had established."

It turns out Americans facing death want something they also want in life: choice.

The nation is mourning pop star Whitney Houston with heartfelt tributes at last night’s Grammy awards, fan testimonials and revivals of her old hits. “I Will Always Love You” is currently the number one download on iTunes sales. As the curiosity for the triumphs and the unsavory details of her life are revealed, we can only hope to glimpse more of Whitney’s humanity, and her struggles in and out of the spotlight. That’s the kind of affection that drives Frank Decaro.

Photo by Tom Maglieri, courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons


 “Clean coal,” refers to technologies that reduce heavy metal, carbon and other emissions from the burning of coal. The development of technologies that could, potentially, filter greenhouse gases and store CO2 permanently is moving ahead. “Carbon Sequestration” is an important step in testing the potential of clean coal technology. We spoke with Maggie Koerth-Baker, Science Editor for Boing-Boing; she visited a carbon sequestration demonstration in Alabama.


Produced by Chris Cuffe