Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory by Caitlin Doughty
for what happens to your body when you die, for the secrets of the mortuary business, for options about what to do after you die
Most people want to avoid thinking about death, but Caitlin Doughty—a twenty-something with a degree in medieval history and a flair for the macabre—took a job at a crematory, turning morbid curiosity into her life’s work. With an original voice that combines fearless curiosity and mordant wit, Caitlin tells an unusual coming-of-age story full of bizarre encounters, gallows humor, and vivid characters (both living and very dead). Describing how she swept ashes from the machines (and sometimes onto her clothes), and cared for bodies of all shapes and sizes, Caitlin becomes an intrepid explorer in the world of the deceased. Her eye-opening memoir shows how our fear of dying warps our culture and society, and she calls for better ways of dealing with death (and our dead). In the spirit of her popular Web series, “Ask a Mortician,” Caitlin’s engaging narrative style makes this otherwise scary topic both approachable and profound.
I fucking loved this book. It answered a lot of the questions I never knew where to find answers to.
Example #1: is cremation a more natural or environmentally friendly option over casket burial? Answer: no not really.
I don’t know, there were a lot more, but I loved learning more about what’s done to a body after death, at least in California, USA. There’s a little warning at the start of the book about how it deal with dead bodies (duh) and has some stuff that’s not for squeamish folks. I don’t think of myself as squeamish, but I also don’t like gore and violence. This book was fine for me though, and at no point did it feel like too much.
The thing that I objectively thought might be too much for people was during a cremation when the liquid fat from a person all poured out and covered her from chest down. It still didn’t seem that bad though so to each their own? Part of that is because Doughty approaches it all with a really chill, clinical view. Bodies aren’t scary even when they’re dead, and she conveys that really well so it’s easy to ride along with her.
It was so informational too. There’s so much about mortuaries that’s hidden, and apparently that’s done so quite deliberately. In part to squeeze lots of money out of grief and death, like for silk lined caskets for a dead person which I think needs no explaining why a dead person won’t give two shits about the state of their coffin. There was also extremely detailed walkthroughs of the process of cremation, as well as the process of readying a body for display to a family. It all sounds extremely bizarre through her neutral lens. It’s kind of like when you step away from your own traditions and notice from a distance that they seem super weird if you’re not accustomed to them.
So anyway, just dig a hole and huck my body in it when I die. I’d like to decompose in peace, please.