Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory by Caitlin Doughty
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
A thoughtful, fascinating, and even sometimes funny look at what goes on behind the scenes of death. Read how working with the dead helped a young woman learn to live with purpose and face her own mortality without fear, and how practicing the modern arts of embalming and cremation opened her eyes to the way Americans have come to grasp a false, Hollywood-ized version of death which requires everything from makeup to eye plates to maintain.
The author argues for a return to a more family-oriented approach, in which family members care for their loved one before and after death, and the family members prepare the body themselves, mourning and then having the burial or cremation soon after. As I am a believer in this method myself (though all of my family members have been embalmed), I of course found the arguments compelling. After reading this, I definitely know I do not want anyone else I love to be embalmed, ever. I personally love the idea of being buried in one of the mushroom bags mentioned in the book and elsewhere on the internet.
This book is not for everyone. If someone you care about has died recently, you might want to wait a while before reading. Otherwise, I really think it would be good for all Americans over, say, age 16 to read this book. Everyone will probably find one chapter difficult to get through. As a mother, the chapter about dead babies was hard.
I was surprised, though, at how much gorier the author could have been if she'd wanted. While there are definitely some gruesome descriptions, most of them could have been much worse if she had not held back. I am pretty squeamish where movies and tv are concerned but can usually watch surgeries just fine. Even so, I've only been around carefully prepared dead bodies. I did not expect to be able to finish reading a book on such a subject, though I have recently considered becoming a mortician. As to that... after reading about one process in particular, I have decided that I am not mortician material! But anyway, I was able to handle the book. So if you're a little worried about it, go ahead and give it a try. You can always stop reading if you need to. Just consider having someone around to talk to if you need it.
In many ways, this is a book to share. Read it and then share it with someone you care about and most of all, talk about the things you read in it. It has already contributed to some interesting conversations with my husband.
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