The Root CoFounder, Brigid Morrissey, sat down with The Root member and Special Event Coordinator of a Party to Die For, Denise Taylor, to go more in depth about her storytelling ability and how she turns unfortunate circumstances into teaching moments.
B: What was your childhood like? Do you have a story that describes you in a nutshell?
D: As a child I was creative, active + a talker. My childhood consisted of lots of 'make believe' play. My neighbors had a really cool trunk full of costumes and we'd act like we were the characters on Little House on the Prairie. We were both Catholic families and sometimes would act out Mass and being a priest and reading, singing from the hymn books. I've ALWAYS been a talker. Parents of my friends would call me Motor Mouth, lol.
B: You’ve had several hobbies including soccer, bodybuilding, and storytelling! Recently you just told a story at The Moth story slam. What was that experience like?
D: I've always been comfortable speaking in front of others. Not just in conversation amongst friends and family. In the 4th - 6th grade, I competed in 4H speech contests. I remember when I made the state competition, I was beat by a girl talking about her pet rabbit. My speech was about child abuse + the judges commented it was too advanced a topic for my age. I recall being SO frustrated by that! I've always been about using my voice for change; making a positive difference and bringing attention to difficult subject matters and having those conversations.
The Moth is an open mic night for storytelling. A different theme is announced each month. Those who want to tell a story throw their names in and 10 are pulled each event. 3 judging panels score the speakers to declare a winner and those compete at the end of the year at a GRAND Story Slam. The stories are to be true and are limited to 5 minutes. I've spoken on 4 different occasions. Each time my name has been drawn to speak at the Moth my intention has been the same, using my story to get people to think about and experience life differently.
B: What was your story about?
D: Though I won with my story on AGE, my all time favorite topic is death and how we talk about and experience it as a society. I tied the night I shared the story about my daughter Jonnae passing from leukemia when she was 15. The surprise of her shortened life gifted me an entirely new way of perceiving our time on earth. She chose to celebrate life every day NO MATTER WHAT, as well as promote joy over sorrow. I've been committed to share her story, as well as mine in hopes of helping others move through and heal from difficult, painful seasons.
Life's one big Surprise Party. A Present can be wrapped in lots of pain and disappointment, but there's always a gift to find wrapped in it. The key is to seek it. It's really interesting, the Present of life is the only one given where we focus more on how it's wrapped, then the gift of it.
B: Death is a tough topic. Talk to me about how you’re trying to change that stigma.
D: With the Celebration of Life I imagined for Jonnae (and was able to bring into fruition) I've experienced something different than most when it comes to the end of the shared human experience we call life. To celebrate life as a Surprise Party and see death as the spirit's party hop, not the party being over, is a mission I'm fully committed to. I'm promoting and assisting others in preplanning their Celebration of Life way before death is expected. Through early conversation + discussing the desired experience, family will be encouraged to celebrate, not mourn. It's a natural occurrence to miss the loved one + those feelings will happen naturally. We don't need the somber service to make focus on grief, larger than life.
B: You just did a video for my dad. How did you decide to start packaging videos?
D: I've been to too many funerals where the eulogist admits they didn't know the deceased. Honestly, I think that's the saddest part of the funeral. That all these people who did or didn't know the deceased (but came to support the family) leave not knowing anything more about the 'party hopper' then when they came. I don't want that for those who come to celebrate my life with my family, so I created a life bio video as a surprise parting gift for my family. Instead of a boring slide show no one really watches, or a eulogy by someone who didn't know me, I contemplated what the greatest stories of my life were and who could tell them best and filmed them. As more great stories unfold, I'll update it. The Life Bio video was meant to be a surprise gift for my family in the future (+ still will be whenever my 'party hop' happens) but it was also a huge surprise gift to myself, in the Present. I got to hear people sharing descriptions and stories of me I would never have otherwise. And in the midst of a difficult season, it's been a great reminder of the life I've so fully lived. I can't wait to be gifting more and more with this surprise gift as I film the life stories of clients and share it with them and their families.