Friday, April 14, 2017

A Review of 'Smoke Gets In Your Eyes and Other Lessons from the Crematory' by Caitlin Doughty

"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.  Thrown into a profession of gallows humor and vivid characters (both living and very dead), Caitlin learned to navigate the secretive culture of those who care for the deceased.

Smoke Gets In Your Eyes tells an unusual coming-of-age story full of bizarre encounters and unforgettable scenes.  Caring for dead bodies of every color, shape, and affliction, Caitlin soon becomes an intrepid explorer in the world of the dead.  She describes how she swept ashes from the machines (and sometimes onto her clothes) and reveals the strange history of cremation and undertaking, marveling at bizarre and wonderful funeral practices from different cultures.

Her eye-opening, candid, and often hilarious story is like going on a journey with your bravest friend to the cemetery at midnight.  She demystifies death, leading us behind the black curtain of her unique profession.  And she answers questions you didn't know you had: Can you catch a disease from a corpse?  How many dead bodies can you fit in a Dodge van?  What exactly does a flaming skull look like?

Honest and heartfelt, self-deprecating and ironic, Caitlin's engaging style makes this otherwise taboo topic both approachable and engrossing.  Now a licensed mortician with an alternative funeral practice, Caitlin argues that our fear of dying warps our culture and society, and she calls for better ways of dealing with death (and our dead).

I first found Caitlin on her YouTube channel 'Ask a Mortician.'  I'm not sure when I first found it or how I first found her channel, but I've been hooked ever since.  It's such a weird thing to find fascinating.

I love that this is a memoir about a topic very few people know about or are willing to ask about openly.  I so appreciate that Caitlin is very honest and open about her experiences and what she has come to discover about the funeral industry.  Her tone is much like her YouTube videos in that she speaks honestly, but not in a condescending way like she knows more than you (which, for this subject, is likely absolutely true).  I also like how inviting she is when it comes to considering different points of view on death and everything that comes with death.  She helped me think more openly about the deaths within my family that I've experienced and she invited me to think about my own inevitable death (as Caitlin says when signing off her Morbid Minute videos, "And remember, you will die.").  The best part is that she doesn't make it seem like these types of ponderings are weird, because they're not.  In fact, it's smart to think about these things now.

Another thing that I appreciated about this book was Caitlin's humor in talking about these morbid situations.  I think that's largely how you get through situations like gracefully removing a body from a family's home, dealing with getting cremated human out of the cracks in the crematory, and so on.  It's little things that as someone who doesn't have to deal with death on a daily basis that I never have to think about or deal with as problems.  But death can be as funny as life is sometimes.  It can be serious.  I don't have to think of death as this scary thing that's looming ahead of me.

I wish I could say something more about this book and something profound, but honestly, this book is best read and reflected upon and then discussed with someone else who has also read this book.  I think a lot of this has to do with the stigma that death has.  You know, the feeling that if you want to talk in depth about death and really dig in that there's something wrong with you.  But that's absolutely not the case and more people need to know that.

Whether you consider yourself a death-positive person or if you're looking to challenge your own views about death, this is a great read and you should go pick up this book.

I give 'Smoke Gets In Your Eyes':
Thanks for Reading!


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