Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory, by Caitlin Doughty, (W.W. Norton & Company), 272 pages
Smoke Gets in Your Eyes is a charming piece of nonfiction. Charming might seem like an unlikely descriptor for a book that begins in a crematory and moves on from there to ponder contemporary attitudes toward death and the way these are reinforced by the funeral industry—but in the hands of Caitlin Doughty, charming is exactly what this book is.
Doughty is like that one friend you had in high school (or perhaps college): chipper, clever, kind, morbid and fascinated by all things death-related. She might sneak out to underground clubs in the evening or make dinner table conversations uncomfortable—but her good sense and generous spirit make her someone you can rely on.
As the founder of the Order of the Good Death and the creator of the blog Ask a Mortician, Caitlin Doughty has dedicated herself to making death, well, normal. She would like to see us reclaim death from the funeral industry. This doesn’t mean abandoning the use of funeral directors, but it does—literally—mean taking a hands-on approach to death. She wants to help create a world in which we die at home, in which we have hours or days to sit with our deceased loved ones, in which we clean and prepare the body for burial. Admittedly, such issues are not as simple as an easy e111 applications, but together we can surely bring about change for the people who deserve it.
To accomplish this goal, we need to question the value of both the keep-the-patient-alive-as-long-as-possible-without-regard-for-quality-of-life philosophy that dominates our healthcare system and of the “medicalized” funeral industry that removes the deceased (and death itself) as quickly as possible from the eyes of mourners with claims that this is necessary for reasons of sanitation and disease prevention.
Whether or not you wind up sharing Doughty’s goal, Smoke Gets in Your Eyes is a rewarding, even comforting read. Doughty invites us to look at, rather than to deny, our own mortality. She wants us to be able to continue caring for each other not just until death, but through the processes of death and afterwards. And under her guidance these are hopeful, comforting activities.
Smoke Gets in Your Eyes goes on sale today. I urge you to get your hands on a copy as quickly as possible and to spend some time with Doughty. Buy this book for someone you love and use it to open a conversation that may be challenging, but will assuredly be rewarding. Share this title with your book club and take the opportunity to examine the encounters we’ve had with death and the ways we might (or might not) like to see those change.
I received a free electronic advance copy of Smoke Gets in Your Eyes for the purpose of this review. I would like, however, to emphasize that my enthusiasm for this book is a result of Doughty’s skills as an author and thinker.
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