Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory by Caitlin Doughty
As I mentioned when I first picked up this book, I used to want to be a mortician. At Career Day three years in a row, I attended the sessions hosted by my town’s sole funeral home. At my grandmother’s wake, I tried to get the funeral director to allow me downstairs (he didn’t). However, don’t get me wrong… I’m not a morbid person. As I write this, I’m currently donning a shirt with little foxes and hearts emblazoned all over it. I’m also wearing tie-dyed socks. I love life… I just have a great fascination and appreciation for the death industry.
Caitlin Doughty’s insight into this industry was hard-won via her first experiences with death at a young age and her own time helping people say goodbye to their loved ones. And with that insight, Doughty recognizes a major issues with the way we have been sanitizing death for decades. There is a happy medium between tribes that ingest the corpses of their family members and a country that allows it’s people to order a cremation without leaving the glow of their laptop screen.
Doughty’s voice is straight-forward, humorous and respectful. The work she has been doing to change the future of the death industry is noble and I think that in a few years, we will see major changes with this young woman acting as the catalyst.
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.
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, Caitlin 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, Caitlin's engaging style makes this otherwise taboo topic both approachable and engrossing. Now a licensed mortician with an alternative funeral practice, Caitlin argues that our fear of dying warps our culture and society, and she calls for better ways of dealing with death (and our dead).