A couple of months ago, I came across Caitlin Doughty on YouTube. She created the Ask A Mortician channel where she talks about common practices in the mortuary industry and how we can change it to be more green. After all, many of us are looking for more eco-friendly options when it comes to life. Why shouldn’t our deaths be equally eco-friendly?
In addition to her podcast, creating a non-profit, running a funeral home, and YouTube channel she has written two books. I’ve read both books and they were fantastic! I’ve also been working my way through materials posted on her website. I’ll post reviews for various items as I move through them.
Today, I’m introducing you to Caitlin’s second book, From Here To Eternity. As a disclaimer, before I found Caitlin on YouTube I was already pretty comfortable with my mortality. I do like to take lovey walks through the cemetery. Dias de los Muertos is my favorite holiday. I’m a big fan of Tim Burton and most things macabre (not the fake gore stuff though…as a funeral director Caitlin also shares this view. Zombies are totally dumb in both our opinions. I don’t do the violence either. No horror films here). However, I realize not everyone is comfortable with death.
In From Here To Eternity, Caitlin writes about her travels to various parts of the world where she observes and partakes in death rituals. There is a really good mix of cultures in the book, some of which were new to me. While some practices are tough to read about for non-meat eaters, it’s still fascinating! The more you learn about the funerary practices of other cultures, the more you come to understand how strange our western practices are. Not only are they bad for the environment but there is little dignity and family involvement. It helps one to question western funerary and disposition practices; why do we do the things we do?
First, I love the title. It’s an excellent reflection of Caitlin’s sense of humor. From Here To Eternity sums up the traveling to the ends of the earth thing; as well as stories centered around death.
Next, this book is illustrated — something I didn’t actually expect as there is no mention of an illustrator on the cover. See the back flap! Don’t worry, the illustrations are tasteful black and white pencil sketches-nothing grotesque if you are worried about that! My favorite illustration is the one right next to the title page. It’s of a Buddhist meditation practice where you visualize your own body going through the various stages of decomposition to better acquaint yourself with death and to get used to the idea of what will happen to your body when you die. A lot of people fear death in part because they will have no control over what happens to their bodies. The illustration is my favorite of this concept, even out of Buddhist art. I wonder if I can buy a print from the illustrator…
As a vegetarian, the Indonesia chapter was the hardest for me to get through. While I’m fully capable of acknowledging and honoring the beliefs of others while holding onto my own, I’d be lying if this chapter didn’t pull at my heart and make me a little sick. However, that’s the beauty of Caitlin. She can teach you the norms and customs of the various cultures but she also goes more in-depth as to why these funerary practices are the norm for the culture and what makes them important to the people. It helps you accept them and think of them in a different light. It also again makes you start to look at western death practices as the weirdest of all!
The chapter on Mexico of course was my favorite and the fact that she referenced Ray Bradbury made me love Caitlin even more. I read the Halloween Tree every october, a tradition since we read the book in 9th grade English. I was however already familiar with the story as we rented in on V.H.S when I was younger as a Halloween tradition. I actually have a copy of it on V.H.S but I bought a DVD version a few years ago. I was pleased to learn a little more about Ray Bradbury and the origins of the Halloween Tree — there is a Mexican connection, so I was surprised but not surprised. It was just a very pleasant and unexpected surprise…one where the various paths in your life connect giving you that “it’s a small world, one with the universe” feeling.
The cover is also pretty fun. It’s nice to look at but one night I caught a glimpse of the cover in the dark. The turquoise embellishments seamed to glow. Making the skull on the front look like it was alive! I’m not sure if it was designed to have that glowing effect, or if it’s possible with just the right combination of light reflecting off the plastic library protection and the bright color.
I’m not going to give away any other details about this book but you should definitely check it out! I borrowed a copy from my local library- I was shocked that I my library would have something that’s way way way out there and not mainstream. These days though, my local library is really catching up to my “interesting” requests! I often wonder what the librarians think as they place all my death books on the requests shelf…