"Morbid and illuminating" (Entertainment Weekly)—a young mortician goes behind the scenes of her curious profession.
Armed with a degree in medieval history and a flair for the macabre, Caitlin Doughty took a job at a crematory and turned morbid curiosity into her life’s work. She cared for bodies of every color, shape, and affliction, and became an intrepid explorer in the world of the dead. In this best-selling memoir, brimming with gallows humor and vivid characters, she marvels at the gruesome history of undertaking and relates her unique coming-of-age story with bold curiosity and mordant wit. By turns hilarious, dark, and uplifting, Smoke Gets in Your Eyes reveals how the fear of dying warps our society and "will make you reconsider how our culture treats the dead" (San Francisco Chronicle).
|Publisher:||Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.|
|Sold by:||Barnes & Noble|
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About the Author
Table of Contents
Author's Note 9
Shaving Byron 15
Puppy Surprise 28
The Thud 48
Toothpicks in Jell-O 64
Push the Button 84
Pink Cocktail 105
Demon Babies 129
Direct Disposal 147
Unnatural Natural 169
Alas, Poor Yorick 185
Eros and Thanatos 205
Solo Witness 257
The Redwoods 273
Deth Skool 284
Body Van 300
The Art of Dying 315
Prodigal Daughter 335
Notes on Sources 349
A conversation with Caitlin Doughty, author of Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons From the Crematory
You're a mortician? Really? Aren't morticians all creepy old guys in suits?
Yes, I'm really a mortician. No, we're not all creepy white men in suits (although, don't worry, if you're looking for one of those there are no shortage of them in the industry). Young women are entering death-related fields in very high numbers. Soon ladies will rule mortality with an iron fist, mark my words.
At the crematory I worked in, there were no suits at all. The men I worked with (ok, so it was all men) wore California casual, button ups and khakis. Except for Bruce the embalmer, who wore personal protective equipment so as not to get covered in blood splatters. Hazards of the job and whatnot.
Smoke Gets in Your Eyes is the story of your initiation into the funeral industry. What was the strangest thing you saw?
I'm asked this all the time, and it's hard to say "strangest." Things that looked totally strange to me when I started working with dead bodies, severally bloated and decomposed corpses for example, are part of a totally natural process. Our bodies are supposed to do that when we die! We just don't look at them as natural because we're so used to seeing chemically preserved bodies in the United States.
Aren't you freaked out by dead bodies?
I'm not, although I'll be honest and say that you never really get absolutely comfortable around them. Even after years of doing this work I still get grossed out sometimes. But grossed out is different than freaked out. Gross is fluids. Or snot. Or decay. But freaked out implies I'm worried about spirits or bodies that are out to get me, which they definitely are not.Did you leave anything out of the book because it was too scary or weird?
Absolutely not! I made a very conscious decision that I wanted to be completely honest about everything I saw and all the things that go on behind the scenes in mortuaries and funeral homes. Even if that makes it harder to read for some. Not everyone wants to hear the logistics of grinding bones after a cremation, or how deceased babies are handled, but the only way we are going to break through our cultural death denial is through brutal honesty.
What's the worst thing about how we handle death in our culture?
It's the denial. It's the idea that, "death is going to happen to everyone eventually...oh, except me, of course." When we took the dead human body out of "polite" society and handed it over to professionals, we gave away the reality of death as well. If you've never seen a real dead human, it's very hard to believe death is real. Of course you don't think it will happen to you, you've never seen any proof! A society where the general populace has no physical or ritual interaction with the dead is an unhealthy one. I stand by that.
Should I give my body to science?
Depends. On the pro side: it's free death care. And you and your family get to have the feeling that you may be contributing to research, medical advancements, etc. As for the cons: you have no control over what happens to your body when you sign it over to a for-profit scientific donation company. They can do any kind of research they want with it, even if it's research (like advances in plastic surgery or military technology) that you would have totally disagreed with during your life.
What are you going to do with your own body when you die?
Right now, with what's currently legal, the answer is that I want a natural burial. What I affectionately call "corpse, ground, hole, dump." My body will be buried in a shallow grave, in only a shroud, to decompose naturally. I want my body to go back into the nitrogen cycle, no need to seal me up in a casket and underground vault. In the future, I hope that it becomes legal to leave my body above ground to be consumed by animals. That's my real ideal.
Who have you discovered lately?
E.O.Wilson is a two time Pulitzer winning Harvard biologist (and the world's best known ant expert!) that has taken, in his later years, to writing about human nature and the future of humanity. He writes about big, huge, overarching topics that no one else would touch. I read his last book, The Social Conquest of Earth, two years ago. And just last week I snagged an advanced copy of his upcoming book, The Meaning of Human Existence, and re-discovered how much we need him. His books are filled with ideas that make your head spin. We need hundreds of more thinkers and writers like him.