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Notes from a Crusty Seeker

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes & Other Lessons from the Crematory by Caitlin Doughty

Ever since I ran my fingers through my mother's cremation remains, just before sending them sailing into the ocean, I've wanted to know what happened to her body in the gap between the moment I kissed her still-warm face goodbye in the ICU and her transformation into emulsified bone matter. Although I'm not in any rush for it and I really loathe losing anyone I love, I am not turned off by death. It's inevitable and I'm very curious. I realize this is an idiosyncratic thing, but I've found that when someone I love dies, I instantly distinguish the dead body as an object quite different from the being who moments ago inhabited it and lose interest in the container; to my senses, it's suddenly like a well-worn shirt. I also rather enjoy the Buddhist exercise of imagining my own disintegration. So I dove into Caitlin Doughty's book, appreciating it for the treasure that it is: answers!

Doughty went into the death biz to heal herself from a childhood trauma triggered by witnessing a little girl's death. But she finds the whole thing so fascinating that she wants to open it up for everyone. The book is written with delightful humor and an anthropologist/historian's research. You learn everything from the practical "how to" of cremation, to the history of death and body disposal, to rituals of different cultures and death mythology, to the secrets of the embalming industry. Doughty offers a curious reader "The realistic interaction with death and the chance to face our own mortality." (114) This is a very easy book to read—for me, a welcome education from an expert teacher. It was fun, fascinating, exhilarating, as freeing as the aforementioned Buddhist exercise, and validating of my personal decision to avoid the funeral industry and all expensive death rituals.


Years ago I wrote a feature about free (as in no cost) body disposal by using what's left for altruistic purposes: Why I'm Leaving My Body to Science. The article lists resources, in case you're interested in doing the same thing.





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