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Meet Shannan Guillory of I Do Death in South LA

Today we’d like to introduce you to Shannan Guillory.

Shannan, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
Most stories in the funeral industry start with an obsession with death and all things morbid, or a familial obligation, but not mine. My start in the funeral industry was a random one. My college roommate had a friend whose parents happened to own several mortuaries. I started as an assistant and was fortunate enough to gain hands-on experience through watching them work. They were kind enough to coach and encourage me to explore the industry, and I fell in love with it. I obtained my Funeral Director’s License in 2010 and knew that death care was where I was meant to be.

People are usually shocked when I tell them what I do for a living. Most of them ask me if I get scared or if it grosses me out, and the answer is always no. I understand that most people fear death, and that fear tends to stem from a lack of understanding. That is why I launched I Do Death in 2017. I also recently released my first coffee table book, “Dear Grief, You’re a B*tch”, and the corresponding journal that encourages people to write their own stories. I want people to be open and honest with their feelings, and confront their fears of the unknown.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Definitely not. The traditional funeral industry works very hard to create this glamour surrounding death. When I floated the idea of starting a blog about my experiences, a few of my colleagues looked at me like I was crazy. There are other funeral directors/morticians who also believe in working to destigmatize talking about death, and while that’s awesome, I didn’t see very many women and even fewer people of color. Then, I experienced a traumatic personal loss. Throughout navigating my own grieving process, I realized that we have it all wrong. Death isn’t about the flowers, or the pretty casket, or the church memorial. It’s about the people. I realized then that I have a responsibility to share my transparent experience in hopes of educating and uplifting others. My career is a choice that doesn’t come without its fair share of sacrifices. Unfortunately, that also sometimes means choosing the families I serve over my own. I’ve missed weddings, birthday celebrations, baby showers, and family events. My friends have had children and some of them have no idea who I am. While a difficult choice, it’s one I would make over and over again. There’s something about walking a family through the most difficult time in their life that is unlike any other human experience. We get a peek into an incredibly fragile part of their circle and are allowed entry in order to help repair it.

Please tell us about I Do Death.
I Do Death started as a blog that was intended for me to write about how my work made me feel. I honestly didn’t expect anyone other than my mom and a few friends to read it. I didn’t think anyone would care. It’s grown into so much more. I don’t even like referring to readers as an audience. It’s interactive, and I love that. It’s a community. It’s a cause.

The topic of death is stigmatized, especially in the Black community. I seek to catalyze the healing power of dialogue for the people who nurture us. I’m working to change the conversation surrounding death, in a comedically digestible way that is diverse and targeted to underserved groups.

What makes me most proud about I Do Death, has very little to do with the cause itself. It’s the people. It’s reading the email submissions and social media messages about people’s own experiences. It’s hearing how one of the tips I posted helped someone comfort a friend who experienced a loss. It’s people reaching out to ask how to better support those around them. The support network is growing far bigger than typing “sorry for your loss” in the comments section, and I couldn’t be happier.

Do you look back particularly fondly on any memories from childhood?
I went camping a lot as a kid with my church Pathfinders group (google it, it’ll take too long to explain). On one trip in particular, there was a meteor shower that was supposed to happen around 3am. A group of us snuck out of our tents and hiked a short trail to the picnic area and sprawled out across the benches to watch the lights streak across the sky. I’d never seen anything like it. I grew up in South Central Los Angeles, so we rarely ever got to see the sky unencumbered by city lights. We ended up getting caught, and the counselors had us hike to the nearest pay phone to call our parents to tell them that we snuck into the woods without a chaperone. Our punishment was to break down the entire camp by ourselves, and I remember being grounded for quite sometime after that. I never believed it wasn’t worth it. That was the moment, in my little 11-year-old mind that I realized how small we were in such a huge world. It was magical.

Pricing:

  • “Dear Grief, You’re a B*tch” coffee table book options start at $10.50

Contact Info:


Image Credit:
Stephanie Conde

Getting in touch: VoyageLA is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

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