Last time you, me, and the other Caitlin who spells her name correctly met up, I was asking about what you wanted to happen to your body when you died. Remember?
A good time was had by all. This time I am not going to ask what you want to happen, because while Smoke Gets in Your Eyes does talk about what one can choose for their post-mortem adventures, it also gives a breakdown (cymbal crash) of what happens to a human body when it stops being a person and starts being a corpse. This time we’re peeling back the skin (literally! figuratively! morbidly!)
I’d like to say that the descriptions within this book are not for the faint of heart, but that’s not true. Even though we get delightful and terrifying descriptions like the one below:
“No matter how many heavy-metal album covers you’ve seen, how many Hieronymus Bosch prints of the tortures of Hell, or even the scene in Indiana Jones where the Nazi’s face melts off, you cannot be prepared to view a body being cremated. Seeing a flaming human skull is intense beyond your wildest flights of imagination.”
Doughty still packs her prose with heart; she truly cares so much about her work and about people in general that it’s impossible to be grossed out when she is guiding you, by the hand, into eternal nothingness. She’s curious, funny, morbid, and honest- as most people named Caitlin (hmmm that might be my name) are. Take, for example, her outburst of joy during a witnessed cremation ceremony:
“Along with the incense, the family had placed a Haagen-Dazs coffee-and-almond ice-cream bar between her hands like a Viking Warrior’s weapon. Those are my favorite. So I yelled, involuntarily, ‘those are my favorite!’
Her desire to share her story is palpable. Her joy carries through the page, and you find yourself also caring about things that you’d never really considered before. Her desire to share in the process and ritual of death is admirable; she is holding a door open to the rituals of the past while charging forward towards a new future away from the Western funeral industry of unnecessary embalming, manicured tombs, and dreadfully expensive coffins and services. She went to mortuary school just to learn the enemy from the inside out; she had to know how the machine worked in order to eventually dismantle it from the inside. While toiling away at mortuary school she was racked with physical ailments, stating:
“The longer you spend doing something you don’t believe in, the more the systems of your body rebel.”
Do you hear that vibrating in your bones?! That statement resonated deep within me. I have worked in many a field, battling through many a task, that sucked my soul out and left me frail and miserable. Doughty strives for something better and allows us to follow her up and down California while she works her way through funeral homes, schools, cemeteries, forests, and crummy apartments that share walls with night clubs.
She chases down death and stares it in the milky, unblinking, and in need of plastic assistance to be presentable to the family, eye and invites us all along for the ride.