Born in the Netherlands in 1984, Claudia Crobatia got confronted with death at a young age because of her unconventional childhood. She had an older father who was a soldier in World War II. Due to his war trauma, as well as his declining health, she came into contact with themes like death and loss quite early in life.
After the death of both her parents, Claudia discovered there is still a lot of taboo around the subject of death. She found that many people don’t know how to cope with it, or even prefer not to talk or think about it at all, leading to death anxiety and death denial. This is in sharp contrast to the modern age in which we live. How can death be so hidden and ignored?
But not only the painful side of death, also the mystical side of the great unknown has fascinated Claudia from an early age. What does it truly mean to die? What happens after we do so?
In 2016, she founded A Course in Dying to expand her research. With the interviews and articles on A Course in Dying she combines knowledge of thanatology, funerary studies and grief counseling to examine how aware we are of our mortality and how death affects us. This resulted in a successful international platform for which she has now developed her first online video course as a death awareness coach and offers guidance in confronting your own mortality.
At the end of 2020 she founded Dutch platform Als de dood, where she continues her death awareness mission in her native language and inspires people in the Netherlands to think about the inevitable end.
Claudia lives in Amsterdam, has a black cat called Samadhi and shares more of her death research and cemetery wanderings on youtube.
How and when did you came up with the idea of becoming a Death awareness coach and “deathfluencer“?
A death awareness coach is someone who guides people into exploring their relationship with death and becoming aware of their own mortality.
The term “deathfluencer” was mentioned by the New York Times in 2020 and used for people who invent new concepts for how we approach the subject of death, who have a large social media following, like the general influencers do. When my online video course “Get Ahead of Death” was released last January, the Dutch media picked up on this quickly and gave me the name deathfluencer.
I prefer to call myself a death awareness coach, but both are titles I happily accept. The word “influencer” does have a bit of a negative connotation as it is seen as something superficial, where people will advertise brands and lifestyles from a purely commercial motivation. The truth is however that everyone who has a social media account is an influencer nowadays, regardless of how many followers you have. Even if you show your content to just one person, you will influence their thoughts one way or another by showing them your life or your ideas.
I started my platform A Course in Dying in 2016 by doing research into how aware we currently are of our mortality and how the subject of death influences us. This has grown into a resource for death positive content and a literal course in which I coach people to become, and live, more death aware – by accepting death is a part of life.
Why do you thing Death need to be “explained”?
In our modern-day society, we have lost our personal connection to death and our rituals related to loss and mourning. Because of this, people are unprepared for death and we find it difficult to even talk about it with others. By breaking the taboo on death we can discover what it means to us, on a personal level, and prepare ourselves for when it happens, both for ourselves as for the people around us.
When you think about it, it is quite strange we do not get death education the same way we get educated in other fields. We learn to become successful, to chase a career, build a family, live a happy and fulfilling life, but no one teaches us anything on how to prepare for the inevitable end.
In your experience, how have funeral traditions changed over time?
The biggest change we can see today is how secularization causes funeral traditions to literally die out. Because less people are religious nowadays, less people still have funeral traditions that stem from these religions. Most of our funeral rituals originate from religion, like burial practices, mourning rituals, how to care for a dying person and so on. Non-religious people are now left to figure out for themselves what makes sense to them, or what feels right, but without any clear guidelines this can be a hard task.
Each person’s death is just as individual as each person’s life is. This is what makes funerals a very personal matter, and I think it is important for people today to have a very authentic funeral.
A type of ceremony that really honors the person for who they were. I think the most important thing to realize here is that nowadays so much is possible – there really are no rules or limits. You can create a beautiful funeral ceremony perfectly fit for your needs, if you do a little research and go beyond the basics that are typically offered by a funeral home.
Just knowing your freedom of choice in this can already make a huge difference in creating new funeral traditions that are right for people in our modern time.
You’re an amazing cemetery scout, which one is the most interesting you’ve visited?
Thank you! It is really hard to pick one, as I honestly love all the cemeteries I visit and especially the ones I create a cemetery review for. Sometimes I come across small, unknown cemeteries, which turn out to have so much incredible history to them.
For example this one in Gouda, a small town here in The Netherlands. I found the grave of the secret daughter of Pablo Neruda here, a Chilean poet and politician.
One of the things I love most about exploring cemeteries is the stories you will find of people you would have otherwise never known. I think it is important to remember these, as it puts a specific place in a new context. By knowing the past, you can better understand the present.
Another cemetery that is among my favorites is Huis te Vraag in Amsterdam, close to where I live. It is a monumental cemetery which is not in use anymore. The last burial took place in 1962. All of the headstones here are covered in ivy and it almost feels like time has stopped when you walk around here.
Is Amsterdam a spooky place?
Amsterdam is an old city with a lot of history to it, part of which is quite dark. We have a small narrow street in the center named “Blood Street” which is connected to a square where criminals were convicted. It is said the blood from these criminals trickled down into Blood Street. The small street was also connected to a monastery where they experimented with bloodletting, which used to be a popular remedy to cure illness, so the name could also originate from there.
I believe any old building can possibly contain some imprint of energy from the past. If a building is several centuries old, it’s very likely one or more of the previous residents have died there. And so it is possible to be haunted.
I visited one of the oldest hotel buildings in Amsterdam recently where I actually went ghost hunting. The Lloyd Hotel used to be a prison in earlier years. The building is not even that old, as it was built in 1918, but because it had different purposes and has housed so many people, even imprisoned people during the time it was used as a jail, it does carry a spooky energy.
There are countless other, much older buildings in Amsterdam that I’d like to explore! Some people say the Anne Frank house is haunted… I’d love to go and investigate that.
Classical existential question: how do you think life after death is like?
When I think of what type of experience can arise for me after death, it feels like a sense of coming home. Like returning to place you know very well and feel very comfortable with, but which forgot of during your time on earth, during the life you just ended.
In a sense I think anything anyone beliefs might await them after their phyiscal body has died is true. Every thought and ever experience is valid.
Like I mentioned earlier, I see death as being just as personal and individual as life itself is. Perhaps whatever we expect death to be, is how it will eventually present itself to us.
Ph from Press Kit