How I Coped with Death by Moving into a (Fictional) Funeral Home: Managing Anxiety Through Literature and Creativity, a guest post by Emma K. Ohland
I’ve always been jealous of people who don’t think too much about death. Since I was six years old, I’ve thought about it far too much. By the time I was 16, it was all-consuming and I basically couldn’t think about anything else. It was exhausting to live in my brain. I desperately wanted a way to cope and to tell the thoughts to stop, but I had no idea how.
One day, I realized I could have it much worse, and it brought me a moment’s peace. I didn’t live in a funeral home. That would just make it worse, so thank goodness that wasn’t my life! The concept struck me, though. What happens when someone literally lives with their fear?
I began pursuing that question, needing more and more answers about that life and what it would look like. I especially wondered how that someone would find ways to cope. I read books on the topic, and eventually started building my own world where it was safe for me to think about the scary thoughts.
Funeral Girl is about sixteen-year-old Georgia Richter who lives in her family’s funeral home – she is literally surrounded by death, which doesn’t help her death anxiety. To make matters more difficult, she can speak to the dead. When the ghost of a classmate arrives at Richter Funeral Home, she helps him complete his final request in the time leading up to his service. In doing so, she’s forced to come closer than ever to her fears and grief.
I created a character that began to teach me how to productively think about the concept of death. Instead of messy scary thoughts consuming my brain, suddenly, they had the purpose of telling Georgia’s story. I was helping Georgia make it through, but she was really the one helping me. I developed her fears on the page, which got my fears to live somewhere outside of my head, and I began to see how she learns to cope by speaking to these ghosts. Yes, Georgia copes through a paranormal element that isn’t exactly possible for anyone in the real world, but that’s the joy of fiction. You get to explore a concept like death in ways you can’t in reality. Through Georgia’s story, I was able to talk to ghosts, say things I needed to say, work through thoughts I couldn’t work out in any other way. By writing Georgia’s story and sharing it with the world, I hope the space I found safe for myself can be a place for readers to explore these complicated ideas as well.
When we’ve got these thoughts in our head that seem to be controlling us, one of the best ways to take back control is to put them to use – make them productive. For me, that was writing a book. People may create something in another form, whatever medium calls to them, or maybe they much prefer to consume rather than produce – that’s wonderful too. With stories that deal with issues like anxiety and depression, whether we’re writing or reading them, we’re given a productive way to process those concepts.
There’s always a benefit of using art, especially literature, to delve into conversations that are hard to have in real life, through stories that you won’t see happen in front of you. I hope readers connect to Georgia and feel seen by reading her fears – to see a piece of their reality reflected on the page. But I also hope through the novel’s speculative elements, readers are able to push the boundaries of what reality allows them to understand.
I always like to make it clear that Georgia is not me. In fact, we’re very different. But now, she is a part of me. And so is the fictional funeral parlor of Richter Funeral Home. It went from a location I was truly terrified of to one of my favorite (fictional) places in the world. It’s one of the places I feel safest, and I’ll forever be grateful I got to call it home while writing this book. I only hope readers find a safe space within Georgia’s story and Richter’s walls too.
Meet the author
Emma K. Ohland (she/they) is an author who has been telling stories since before she knew how to write them down. She grew up in the middle of a cornfield in Indiana, but her imagination often carried her away to other worlds. She graduated from Purdue University with a B.A. in English literature. She currently lives in Indiana with her partner, their cat, and their dog. Funeral Girl is her debut YA novel.
About Funeral Girl
Sixteen-year-old Georgia Richter feels conflicted about the funeral home her parents run—especially because she has the ability to summon ghosts.
With one touch of any body that passes through Richter Funeral Home, she can awaken the spirit of the departed. With one more touch, she makes the spirit disappear, to a fate that remains mysterious to Georgia. To cope with her deep anxiety about death, she does her best to fulfill the final wishes of the deceased whose ghosts she briefly revives.
Then her classmate Milo’s body arrives at Richter—and his spirit wants help with unfinished business, forcing Georgia to reckon with her relationship to grief and mortality.
Publisher: Lerner Publishing Group
Publication date: 09/06/2022
Age Range: 12+ years
Filed under: Guest Post
About Amanda MacGregor
Amanda MacGregor works in an elementary library, loves dogs, and can be found on Twitter @CiteSomething.
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