Well here it is! A new weekly blog topic and my first guest author! I have been wanting to do something that hit on another passion of mine and also step away from “products” as well, so I am starting a new series “Book Review Friday!” I am not sure that I will keep in on Friday’s though, I might end up moving the day to Monday, give us something to look forward to on that dreary day. This is my first guest author, my beloved soul sister and future sister-in-law: Natasha Leavitt. She writes a beautiful piece and I truly hope that you all enjoy. Now on to the review!
Caitlin Doughty, founder of The Order of the Good Death, Undertaking LA, and the YouTube channel Ask a Mortician, brings us a memoir that shines a light into the mystified world of the modern funeral industry : Smoke Gets in Your Eyes & Other Lessons from the Crematory. Through her story, we witness what really goes on behind the curtains of a funeral home, and the ways in which this flawed industry reflect our broken relationship with death.
Throughout the entire story, we are confronted by the corpses of people from every walk of life. Homeless veterans, suicide victims, infants, the forgotten elderly and the dearly beloved. The technicals of her job as a crematory operator in San Fransisco include collecting bodies from homes and hospitals, carting boxes of bodies from the freezer to the cremation machine, sweeping out and packaging the ashes. As she goes along each day with her work, she begins to wonder why the dead are left with total strangers, instead of in the care of their loved ones.
Caitlin compares our societies complete disassociation with death to the very involved practices around the world. One practice she witnessed first had at the crematory. A Chinese witness cremation. Instead of our typical wake and burial, the entire family gathered at the funeral home with bowls of fruits, and followed the body of their deceased uncle to the cremation machine. They wailed and sobbed and expressed raw grief as one family member pressed the start button for the flames.
Realizing how an involved ritual and ceremony could bring a family together, strengthening that sense of community, Caitlin begins to turn her life’s work toward demystifying death and the pursuit of death positivity.
Through her experiences as a crematory operator, she brings us on this honest journey of discovery as she finds her true calling; to break the stigma around death and welcome people to be involved in the care and burial of their loved ones, as well as embrace their own eventual demise. In other words, she invites us to take part in the good death.
At 254 pages, Smoke Gets in Your Eyes was a fast read. I am typically a slow reader, but was able to enjoy this book within the checkout-return period of my local library. Caitlin Doughty is a quirky and witty character, and her cheerful personality shines through in her writing. The nature of the book is somber subject, and some sections were more difficult to read than others. But, I believe that her anti-sugar coating policy is a necessary element in her battle against the death taboo stigma. Her humor and honesty combine to bring us the story of how she came to be the death positive crusader she is today.