About Kriss Kevorkian, PhD, MSW

In our Western culture, although death has come out of the closet, it is still not openly experienced or discussed. Allowing dying to be so intensely present enriches both the preciousness of each moment and our detachment from it. ~Ram Dass

Dr. Kriss Kevorkian, internationally known expert on grief, death and dying, and leading authority on environmental grief and ecological grief

(Pronouns she/her/hers)

Photo by Brian Smith

My paternal grandfather had an enormous influence on my life. He survived the brutality and trauma of the Armenian Genocide. When I was born, I should’ve just been handed over to my grandfather because he was my world! I inherited many things from him including his love of Nature and the sea. I grew up in Los Angeles and was fortunate to attend Westlake School for Girls, now known as Harvard-Westlake. In 7th grade, our class took a field trip to go whale watching and it was the first time I saw whales in the wild. My grandfather and I shared the same love, fascination and sheer excitement of seeing whales! I knew then that I was going to study whales and become a whale biologist. When I was 16 years of age, I began volunteering at the American Cetacean Society.

After my grandfather died, my life fell apart. I was attending Humboldt State University/Cal Poly Humboldt majoring in zoology and marine biology when the funding for my education stopped. In order to pay for school, I pivoted a bit and trained to be a radiologic technologist at Children’s Hospital in Los Angeles. Doctors and nurses told me that I had a great way with children, and suggested that I pursue social work. I did just that, and returned to Humboldt State for my bachelor’s degree in social work (BSW). My professor, John Gai, told me that I was going to perform my senior internship at hospice. I didn’t know what hospice was at the time, but I took to it like a fish to water. I went on to get my master’s degree in social work (MSW) and after years of working in hospice, I pursued a doctoral degree in thanatology, the science/study of death, dying and grief. I returned to my love of whales as I researched the decline of the Southern Resident Orcas for my dissertation on environmental grief.  It’s not often easy describing my work to people because most don’t know what thanatology is. I make it even more difficult when I add that my specialty is biocentric thanatology, meaning that I not only work with humans, but with all beings. I believe that all beings should be recognized whether or not humans believe they have value. And, yes, I do realize that this isn’t how most people might think, but perhaps they will as time goes on.

It makes sense that I ended up in this field. I knew grief intimately through the trauma and losses my grandfather experienced and shared with me, as well as the grief I’ve encountered in my life, and then I delved deeper to understand what grief and death meant. Even my experience as a radiologic technologist was helpful because I knew the diagnostic exams that people had to undergo in order to be diagnosed with a life-limiting illness. In addition to working for hospice in end-of-life and palliative care, I worked as a deputy coroner assisting with autopsies, and I got to see death from that perspective. I am forever grateful to have met the people I did through hospice, and I am indebted to them for the valuable lessons they taught me.

When I’m not teaching graduate psychology and/or graduate social work students, offering support (Mourning Meetings) to those grieving and/or at the end of life, or offering environmental and ecological grief support groups, I spend my time educating my community and elected officials to recognize the inherent rights of the Southern Resident Orcas through an organization I founded, Legal Rights for the Salish Sea.

I kindly invite you to contact me if I can be of service to you, and/or if you want to learn more about the rights of Nature.


Dr. Kriss Kevorkian’s Achievements

Certificate of Recognition for Outstanding Social Work Service
from Assemblywoman Virginia Strom-Martin

Certificate of Recognition for Outstanding Contribution in the
Field of Social Work from Senator Wes Chesbro.

Former Co-Chair of the Los Angeles County Bar Association
Bioethics Committee

Former Chair of the Death and Dying Subcommittee of the Los Angeles County Bar Association Bioethics Committee

Former Co-Chair of the San Fernando Valley End of Life Care Coalition

Facilitated and discussed her research on environmental grief at the 60th Annual DPI/NGO Conference, Climate Change: How It Impacts Us All at the United Nations Headquarters in New York

Founder, Legal Rights for the Salish Sea

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