When Caitlin Doughty was a young girl a chance encounter with death kicked off a life-long obsession with mortality. Her book, Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, is her journey into the funeral industry while also exploring what happens to all of us when we kick the bucket.
Like many people, death is not an event I’m looking forward to. I honestly had a bit of trepidation picking up this book as talking about death is not something I’m comfortable with. I can’t imagine that many people are. The fact is that we’re conditioned from birth to both fear death and do everything at all costs to avoid it; we cannot escape it. It eventually comes for us all. We’re not ostriches and we shouldn’t just stick our heads in the sand and ignore it. We need to plan and understand it. Grabbing death by the feet and dragging it out from under the covers is Caitlin’s goal after all. She wants to remove the stigma surrounding death and get it out in the open; get us talking about it and ultimately, comfortable with passing on.
Through her conversational tone and humorous writing style, she made learning about death an enjoyable experience. Her goal here isn’t to shove in our faces the nastiness of what happens to our bodies after we leave them– although, decomposition is a pretty gross thing – her stories are both educational and funny in a way only the mortuary industry can be. You thought your first day on the job at your workplace was tough? Try navigating a grieving family while picking up their recently deceased loved one with no baseline experience for such an operation.
The world of post-life care, while orderly and professional, can still create chaotic situations, just like any other job. Despite receiving blowback from some of her industry contemporaries, it’s Caitlin’s careful and comedic approach that makes many of the more sordid situations go down easily. Never would I have thought I’d be laughing at a cremation-gone-wrong where bubbling human fat began leaking onto the floor and the staff.
If you’ve ever been curious about what happens to us after we die, I cannot think of a better introduction to that world. On a side note, if you want even more of Caitlin Doughty, she has a popular YouTube series called “Ask-A-Mortician”.