This was interesting, although I enjoyed her follow up (Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs? Big Questions from Tiny Mortals About Death) a bit more. In From Here to Eternity, Doughty travels to different areas of the United States and then the world to see how different cultures mourn their dead. There’s a wide variety of locales — a funeral pyre in Colorado, a sky burial in Nepal, a massive collection of urns in Japan. Throughout her travels, she discusses how very messed up the American funeral industry is — the cost of it as well as how much it divides us from the grieving process.
“Insist on going to the cremation, insist on going to the burial. Insist on being involved, even if it is just brushing your mother’s hair as she lies in her casket. Insist on applying her favorite shade of lipstick, the one she wouldn’t dream of going to the grave without. Insist on cutting a small lock of her hair to place in a locket or a ring. Do not be afraid. These are human acts, acts of bravery and love in the face of death and loss.”
I found the science behind a lot of the customs really interesting — particularly those in the United States that are looking for alternatives to a traditional funeral home. She visits a body farm that’s testing ways to turn dead bodies into compost, and a couple who have created a portable funeral pyre. When she visited more primitive groups, she admits that it’s a little voyeuristic to sit in on and observe these rites. She fawns over some of their customs, in a way that seems just a little icky. The tone of the book is excited, even gleeful at times. At one point, she compares how other ocean creatures pick apart every bit of a deceased whale carcass to the “Be Our Guest” scene in Beauty and the Beast.
“Look at young people today in the presence of death…the first thing they do is call a funeral company. They act like helpless children. Such an embarrassing situation never arose in the past. The truly shocking part…is that young people today don’t seem to be embarrassed about it either. So not only do the young have zero death literacy, they don’t seem to mind.”
I do think she brings up some good points, and she definitely has me thinking about what I would want for my own body after death. She urges readers to have that conversation with their loved ones NOW, before it’s too late. Approach it like you would any other important life event, instead of using euphemisms to shy away from the truth.