A Good Death
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Hey y’all! Has anyone else’s life been crazy the last few weeks?!? I feel like I haven’t posted in ages though I know that’s not true but I had to stop in the midst of my crazy week to tell you about the book I finished last night, “From Here to Eternity: Traveling the World to Find the Good Death” by Caitlin Doughty.
Now, this may not sound like your cup of tea and we’ve already established my taste for the slightly offbeat but this book was great! It is cleverly written and provides a poignant and personal look into death rituals around the world. Each chapter gives you short glimpses into cultures where death is not the unmentionable subject that it has become in mainstream American culture.
The books author, Caitlin, is a mortician in California who wants to bring back death positivity and the natural way, so to speak, of handling death. On top of running a funeral home and writing multiple books she also runs a YouTube channel called Ask a Mortician where you can, well, ask a mortician all the deathy questions you secretly want answers to but are too ashamed to ask your mom. Along with her death answers she does segments on iconic corpses, death advice, deathstinations, Morbid Minutes and a special segment about how magical (or insane) the middle ages were for everyone. The history nerd in me loves these videos.
Now, you may be thinking how dreary and morbid this sounds but somehow Caitlin makes death not so scary. She actually puts the FUN in funeral which is impressive in the American Culture which is kind of her point. I’ve mentioned before how I’m fascinated by the Victorian concept of Memento Mori but somehow in the last century America has transformed the idea of death from a part of life to something taboo that must be hidden as quickly as possible. We are terrified of dying and corpses and cemeteries and coffins and hearses and basically anything that can be connected to the subject of death and while I agree that the thought of dying or losing a loved one is quite disconcerting it shouldn’t be so wrapped in fear that we aren’t capable of dealing with it when it happens. I hate to tell you but you aren’t getting out of this life alive. You, my friend, are terminal, unless, the Lord chooses to end the madness and call us home. (Looking at you Revelation 22:20!)
I’m not pointing any fingers because Heaven knows reading about something and actually dealing with it are two different animals. I mean I would like to think that I will be able to handle my parents’ deaths in a mature and graceful way but I honestly don’t think I could bathe and dress their bodies. I don’t like to touch wet food in the sink but I do know that I can be more open and honest with them and myself than is expected in this culture.
Another thing I find very interesting about the book is how regardless of religion she was visiting, each experience provided a platform for personal reflection. I’m sure many of her readers will wonder why people cremate or allow themselves to be feasted on by animals but I can only imagine that the western idea of preserving a loved one, putting them in an “air tight” container and then burying them in a vault must seem insane to the rest of the world, as well. We treat our dead like leftover lasagna you hope to comeback to at some point in the week which shows how unwilling we are to accept the finality of death.
Personally, my death doesn’t bother me as much as the death of my loved ones. Losing my parents seems very scary to me but I also know that ignoring their future deaths is stupid and yes, we’ve discussed some of their wishes though to be fair many of my father’s request are closer to a Bill Murray movie plot from 1987 than a feasible act. Regardless, I need to start asking the big questions now because none of us are guaranteed tomorrow. So, decide what you want and what you’re loved ones want. If death scares you find out why and try to combat that fear in a logical way.
Wow! This book review took a serious turn. I didn’t start this post with the intention of discussing our impending death but maybe that was the best part of the book. It gave me a chance to view death outside the social norms that I was raised with and maybe it will benefit you in this way?
Doughty Death Stuff
Smoke Gets in Your Eyes (Amazon)
From Here to Eternity (Amazon)
Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs? (Amazon)
The Order of the Good Death (Website)
Ask a Mortician (YouTube)