Caitlin Doughty is a death geek. She has devoted her life to promoting death-positivity, a healthier view towards death than is currently embraced by our society at large. By her view, we should accept death as a part of life and stop treating it as the source of all evil or even worse, as a taboo. Her debut book gives a behind-the-scenes look at her work as a mortician, perhaps in more detail than you ever wanted to know, but her frank and honest depiction of death conveys an important message to a society that too often ignores and hides from it.
Ms. Doughty is the founder of The Order of the Good Death – an organization of people connected by death either through academics, art, or a job in the funeral industry. Their mission is to instigate discussions that will help people become more comfortable with the fact of mortality. Ms. Doughty is perhaps most known for her youtube video series called Ask a Mortician, in which she answers questions from viewers about death and the death industry. Fans of her videos will definitely appreciate her new book, Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: and other Lessons from the Crematory. With all the wit, wry humor, and uncanny cheer familiar from her web series, she addresses an important message about the way our culture deals with death (or rather, the way it does everything possible to avoid dealing with it).
With her dark hair and young looks, Ms. Doughty sometimes gets pegged as a real-life Morticia Addams. But her passion for death is no gimmick! The Daily Geekette had an opportunity to interview Ms. Doughty about her cause and the motivation behind her book. In it, she describes the events in her life that lead to her fate as a death acceptance crusader, as well as giving detailed anecdotes about working in a California crematory that may answer burning questions about what really happens to our bodies when we die.
Her goal is to give her readers a peek into the experience in the funeral industry that changed her view of death and what we do with our dead bodies. As she told us, “Nothing can compare to the visceral experience of being there in person, but since we’re probably not going to open crematory summer camps anytime soon, I hope that the book gives some sense of what it was like, and what we can change moving forward.” She makes a case for families being more involved in the deaths of their loved ones, the importance of death rituals, the upside of green burials, and the healthiness of accepting death as a fact of life, rather than some unnatural monster to be feared and denied.
“Our distance from death is farther than it has ever been,” she said, and this is having a detrimental effect on our society and our personal lives. Facing the reality of death can help reduce anxiety of the unknown. It can also lend self-awareness about one’s role as a small part of a complex web of life and can inspire one to be “a better citizen of the world”. “If you’re facing death, learning about death, talking about death, you’re doing your part to help humanity in the future.”
One of the most interesting things Ms. Doughty revealed to us was about being a woman in the funeral industry. “Females,” she said, “actually have much higher and better representation in the funeral industry than they do in educational media.” In fact, she found being a public female on the internet and television much more difficult than being a woman in the death industry.
If her morbid sense of humor and pure fascination with death have you hooked, you can check her out on facebook, where she shares interesting death facts, death related art, etc. daily (at least) with her fans, or as she calls them, deathlings.
Since we all must deal with death at some point in our lives, and since many of our questions about it often go unanswered, I highly recommend reading Smoke Gets in Your Eyes even if you yourself are not a death geek, although beware – some detailed descriptions may cause queasiness to those not yet inured to gore from crime shows and vampire violence as I am.
The book goes on sale on September 15th and can be pre-ordered from Barnes & Noble here.
Are there any other death geeks out there? Do you think it’s important to have open discussions about death? Or is it better not to bring up such a depressing topic if you can avoid it? Let us know what you think in the comments!