Tuesday, November 17, 2015

25 Before 26 Book Review: "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes" by Caitlin Doughty

It's time to cross #10 off my list! It's called "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes - & Other Lessons from the Crematory" by Caitlin Doughty.

And without further ado..

From the author's WEBSITE: 

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.
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?”

I had two reasons for choosing this book:

1. Her name is Caitlin.
2. I'm terrified of death.

The first is an obvious thing. Like when you were a kid and you met someone with the same name as you - and you had that brief moment of "you can't be named Caitlin, MY name is Caitlin", but got quickly over it because it was more cool than anything.

The second..is a tad bit more complicated I guess. I know that my Christian peers are probably reading my admission of being terrified of death and shaking their heads. We're not SUPPOSED to be scared to die, WE KNOW where WERE GOING. 

And so do I. I know I'll go to heaven. I just don't like the idea of dying. Of stopping mid-way through life. I'm terrified that I'll miss out on something. So..I chose this one. I chose to go ahead and read something that I may not like and maybe I was hoping it would change my mind..make the act, the finality, the eventuality of death..okay with me.

I think for the most part, it accomplished that. Doughty's book opened up a world that was unfamiliar, dark and "out of sight - out of mind" to me. She explained various rituals, situations and unfortunate circumstances with humor, realness and great story telling. I really enjoyed it.

Once I got past the story about Padma. But you'll have to read that one to find out..no spoilers here.

1// "There is a reason why the newspaper obituary pages are littered with glamour shots, wedding pictures and portraits from long-ago debutante balls. We want people to remain forever in their prime like a beautiful rosy-cheeked Kate Winslet meeting Leonardo DiCaprio in Titanic heaven decades after the ship had sunk."

I just like that image. And, like millions of others, that is one of my favorite parts of the movie. Her becoming the girl he fell in love with again..them meeting. We're all a little more romantic after watching that part..and it's where we all want to stay. Frozen in time, young, beautiful.

2// "For me, Mrs. Greyhound blew the truth of the matter wide open: Death should be known. Known as a difficult mental, physical, and emotional process, respected and feared for what it is."

We all want to be remembered. It's a common desire in this day and age. We want people to see, hear, feel, touch, taste us long after we're gone - because that means we never actually die - making the process a little easier. Caitlin's entire reasoning for writing this is to see that and raise you a little knowledge about death. That yes, being remembered is fine and dandy, but death is apart of life. It's what everyone comes to, and we shouldn't be afraid that we won't be remembered - we should be afraid that our lives will be consumed by the fear itself. 

3// "Death might appear to destroy the meaning in our lives, but in fact it is the very source of our creativity. As Kafka said, "The meaning of life is that it ends." Death is the engine that keeps us running, giving us the motivation to achieve, learn, love, and create."

Living forever isn't the point. Creating a life you enjoy, surrounded by people you enjoy even more - that's it. If we didn't have an end date, we'd become boring. We'd run out of things to enjoy, to do, or to see. (at this point, I'm tempted to say YOLO..but I won't.) When we have an end date, we become urgent. We feel more. We do things. We don't give in to fear.


You should read this if you're afraid of mortality, interested in death in different cultures (how they react, what they do to the bodies, etc), or you have a thing for the dark matters of life. It's fairly graphic at points, so be aware - but Caitlin's storytelling is honest, passionate, and full of interesting facts. I don't know if I 100% agree on some of her points (especially her thoughts on heaven and God), but I think it was a good book written by a great author. I enjoyed it!

10 down, 15 to go!

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