I’ve read Caitlin Doughty’s previous books Smoke Gets in Your Eyes and From Here to Eternity and enjoyed them both immensely. I find Doughty’s manner of discussing death and dying and all that comes after reassuring, practical, and informative with just the right amount of humor and levity. When Ale brought to my attention that she had a new book out I knew I’d be reading it no matter what.
When I put it on my to read list I had no idea what Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs? Big Questions from Tiny Mortals About Death had to offer outside its catchy title – I figured it would be a catch-all of the types of questions that Doughty fields in her day job as a mortician and funeral home owner as well as at Ask A Mortician and The Order of the Good Death. I was mostly correct. The conceit of Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs? Is that the questions are coming from Doughty’s younger fans – children who are just as interested and concerned in the what happens next as their adult counterparts but aren’t afraid/ashamed to ask yet, since our dominant culture has yet to make them believe they shouldn’t be asking those questions.
I know not everyone believes the questions come from actual kids, but having spent time with more than my fair share of 11-14 year olds I think they did, I just think the “tiny” in Doughty’s title is more metaphorical, in the we are all just tiny bits of space stuff sort of meaning. While my library system shelves this in adult non-fiction I would happily hand it to the inquisitive pre-teens and teens in my life in order to help assuage their questions, quandaries, and fears. Each short chapter (3-5 pages on average) answers one question – ranging from the titular concern about our house pets, to can I be preserved in amber, to will I poop when I die, to what happens to soldiers who die far away from home? Doughty answers the questions head on (and provides her sources) but also talks about the area of concern a little more generally, helping to build towards greater understanding.
This book was a quick read, I zipped through it in an afternoon, but I’m not really its target audience. I’ve read her other books, I’ve learned some of these things from other sources (Mary Roach’s Stiff), and I’ve generally made my peace with my eventual death (do not embalm me, donate me to science and/or organ donation – whichever makes the most sense at the time). This is meant to be more of a primer, and if you’re interested in finding out if Doughty’s authorial voice is for you, this is great place to start. Then go read her other books, because they are great.