About Dr. Kriss Kevorkian, PhD, MSW
An internationally known expert in grief, death and dying, and leading authority on environmental and ecological grief
Kriss Kevorkian’s work on environmental grief, a term she coined through her own copious research, is nothing short of visionary. We need Kevorkian’s advocacy and tenderness for the natural world and all the creatures that reside within it now more than ever as we face off with the dire effects of climate change.
~ Jordan Rosenfeld, journalist and author
Dr. Kriss Kevorkian’s Biography
My paternal grandfather had an enormous influence on my life. He survived the brutality and trauma of the Armenian Genocide. Fortunately, he and his brother escaped, but they had to leave the rest of our family behind. Two years before I was born, my grandmother died. I inherited many things from my grandfather including his love of Nature, the sea, and his empathy. I grew up in Los Angeles, and was fortunate to attend Westlake School for Girls, now known as Harvard-Westlake. In 7th grade, we took a field trip to go whale watching and it was the first time I saw whales in the wild! My grandfather understood my love, fascination and sheer excitement at seeing whales in the wild! I knew then that I was going to study whales and become a whale biologist! When I was 16, I began volunteering at the American Cetacean Society.
After the death of my grandfather, my life fell apart. While I was attending Humboldt State University (HSU) majoring in zoology and marine biology, the funding for my education stopped. In order to pay for school, I trained to be a radiologic technologist at Children’s Hospital in Los Angeles. I’ve gotta say that I had never heard of some of the diagnostic exams we had to perform that seemed like torture! If you’ve had a barium enema, I’m sorry! 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 HSU 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 finally found my niche! 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. It was then that I returned to my love of whales as I researched the decline of the Southern Resident Orcas for my dissertation on environmental grief. That connected my passion for whales with the lessons that grief and death teach us to appreciate all we have.
It makes sense that I ended up in this field. I knew grief intimately through the trauma and losses my grandfather experienced, as well as my own, and then 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 hospice work, I was a deputy coroner and 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 that I share with others.
After teaching in traditional universities in the US and the UK, today I teach part time for an online university in their MSW program. When I’m not teaching or offering support to those in grief and at the end of life, Mourning Meetings, or offering environmental and ecological grief support groups, I spend my time working on getting legal rights for Nature through an organization I founded, Legal Rights for the Salish Sea. I am a Climate Leader/Mentor with the Climate Reality Project, a member of the Steering Committee for the Meaningful Movies Project-Gig Harbor, and I host a Death Cafe in my community. I’ve been an environmental advocate for most of my life so I really don’t know any other way to live that doesn’t involve doing all I can to save whales, help nurture and support Mother Earth and all her inhabitants.
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 Workfrom Senator Wes Chesbro.
Former Co-Chair of the Los Angeles County Bar Association
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 my 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