I first became aware of Caitlin Doughty when I encountered her videos on YouTube; her channel is called Ask a Mortician. The videos are entertaining and informative while still being respectful of the subject matter. Caitlin is a mortician who is the co-owner of a funeral home in Los Angeles and is a graduate of medieval history. Some of her videos reflect her interest in history. A small sampling of her video topics include Iconic Corpse: The Head of Jeremy Bentham, Oven Crypts in New Orleans, The Real Moby Dick Was So Much Worse, and more recently and pertinent to current events Our Funeral Home is Overwhelmed With Bodies.
Caitlin is also the founder of The Order of the Good Death. The Order is a group of funeral industry professionals, academics and artists exploring ways to prepare a death phobic culture for their inevitable mortality. The Order has a website where they explore such things as green death technology, natural burials, the death positive movement, planning your funeral, fictional and non-fictional book recommendations and more. The Order of the Good Death also has a presence on a variety of social media.
Caitlin Doughty has published three books. All three are available at the Thunder Bay Public Library – both in physical book form and as electronic books through CloudLibrary.
Her first book is called Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: and Other Lessons from the Crematory. She describes her experiences with death as a child, her summer volunteering at a hospital transferring corpses to the hospital morgue, and her time as a crematorium operator in San Francisco. When expressing her personal experiences, she also examines them with comparisons to historical death practices throughout the world and makes us aware of changes in the American cemetery death industry.
Caitlin’s second published work is entitled From Here to Eternity: Traveling the World to Find the Good Death. It explores how other cultures care for their dead. One place she visited was a region in Indonesia where the locals keep bodies in their home for months to years. The family cares for and mummifies the body while having conversations with the body as if it is alive. She explains that the Mexico City Days of the Dead parade didn’t inspire the James Bond film Spectre, but the film inspired the parade. She also visits a place in North Carolina where they turn corpses into compost for forensic study; their end goal is eventually to have composting centers in urban areas where there is re-composition of the bodies into soil. She critiques the current funeral systems in the United States for passing laws and regulations interfering with diverse death practices, and how it has become in a relatively short time so expensive, corporate, and bureaucratic.
Her most recently published book is winner of the Goodreads 2019 Choice for Science and Technology. It is called Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs? Big Questions From Tiny Mortals About Death. Caitlin has found the questions children ask about death to be the most direct and provocative. In this book she answers dozens of the questions she has received from kids. The short answer to the title question is: No, your cat won’t eat your eyeballs after you die (not right away at least). In one chapter she gives the reasons why you can’t preserve your dead body in amber like a prehistoric insect. She gives a short list of things that have been found preserved in amber and explains that getting useful DNA from animals in amber isn’t possible (in case you have any future dreams of cloning yourself).
The Library’s collection has books that appeal to a wide variety of interests. If you’re intrigued by titles like these and need to get a library card to check them out, please send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll set you up.
Will Scheibler is with the Thunder Bay Public Library (www.tbpl.ca). If you have a comment about today’s column, we would love to hear from you.