Sunday, June 7, 2015

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes:
And Other Lessons
from the Crematory

Caitlin Doughty

Published 2014

First Sentence
"A girl always remembers the first corpse she shaves."
Publisher's Description:

A young mortician goes behind the scenes, unafraid of the gruesome (and fascinating) details of her curious profession.

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

Dear Reader,

I want to become best friends with Caitlin. She is so freakin awesome. Yeah, I know I don't KNOW her, but after listening to this book... I feel like I do. My attraction to Smoke Gets in Your Eyes surrounds my morbid fascination with death, customs and culture. Caitlin Doughty brought all of those things and even more. She gave the readers/listeners a part of herself, so that when you finished the book you'd feel that connection. She not only tells crazy stories about her time working in the crematorium but how different cultures treat death, the origins or certain deathly rituals, her own opinions on after death customs. Everything about this book was entirely engaging, begging to be heard. It brought up my own questions, ones I've thought about and others pestering me to delve into the mystery of death.

Right from the beginning, Caitlin tells it like it is. People are afraid of death and it gets swept under the rug. We don't want to face it head on. However, because of this, society creates customs that if looked at from an alien race would look unsavory and crooked. Have you ever wondered where the custom of burial came from? How about the preservation of the body? Going further, the usage of formaldehyde and super glue to create a "natural" look on a corpse? Caitlin will open your eyes and show you how crazy and desperate these customs truly are. The act of burial using formaldehyde isn't very old, it became popular during the civil war. So why is this looked upon as the "right" way and given substantial weight within religious traditions? Tradition is passed down from generation to generation and Caitlin explains that we are in a current cycle that hopefully can change.The question is... why should it change? First of all, the chemicals used to embalm a human being are very toxic, to the embalmer and to the earth the bodies are laid to rest in. Secondly, death has become a business, we are confronted with salesmen right after tragedy and heartbreak, broken down to give the "best" to the late departed, during the "worst" time emotionally possible.

Before reading this book, I had given lots of thought to how I want to be laid to rest, after quite a bit of research I found a few places willing to do a "natural" burial. This slow moving trend is available in places like upstate NY or Vermont (not surprising here since people will probably think of this as hippie talk). One of the organizations has a gigantic plot of land that they will offer natural burials that can be marked with a favorite plant or tree. The thought is that the site would be a nice memorial but not like a graveyard, more of a nice park with flowers and trees. I started dreaming of my funeral (if I'd even call it that) in a place like this with my body covered with a natural shroud, the ceremony consisting of beautiful memories and ending with a planting of a willow tree. I would then be visited from time to time and maybe even years later, someone would sit beneath my willow branches and read my favorite book. Now if THAT isn't a pleasing thought about death, I don't know what is!

Happy Reading,

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory

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