A good death

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First Posted: 10/11/2014

Anyone with a proclivity for the morbid and slightly unsettling knows her name: Caitlin Doughty, otherwise known as the captivating mistress of death, curious mortician, and all-around bereavement know-it-all. In her debut memoir, “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory,” Doughty discusses life as a mortician through death.

Since the introduction of Doughty’s website, The Order of The Good Death, has come both videos and blogs about every topic navigating the journey of death — from excrement to implantations in corpses. In other words, all delicious, all unfiltered forays into the finer points of mortality. As a result, Doughty has gained quite the cult following, bringing eccentrics and the like together one curious crematorium tale at a time.

In her introduction, Doughty discusses the issue with the preoccupation to escape death: “Looking mortality straight in the eye is no easy feat. To avoid the exercise we choose to stay blindfolded, in the dark as to the realities of death and dying. But ignorance is not bliss, only a deeper kind of terror.” Of course, Doughty soon rips the wool from our eyes, and we find that with death comes permanence. The only thing to fear then is a life unlived.

As a child, Doughty grew up fascinated by death, a journey that ultimately led to her studying Medieval history before taking a job as a crematorium assistant. Realizing she had finally landed her dream job, Doughty returned to school, becoming a licensed mortician and the rest is misery and lots of it — but the good kind. The book then takes readers through that initial period, stemming six years where we come to know Doughty as well as all the strange nuances surrounding death. Of the collection, personal favorites include: “Push the Button,” “Direct Disposal,” and “The Art of Dying”.

The work is incredibly vivid and detailed, and therefore, not recommended for the easily squeamish or offended. All things considered, the book is flawless, written with skill and great awareness as Doughty thrills and enlightens readers, making them laugh along the way. Rather than fearing death or seeing it as some sort of sentimental process, Doughty has a way of comforting her readers by scientifically explaining the process of death while providing a compassionate perspective in knowing that we all will, at one time or another, die the good death.