I don't recall when I first ran across The Order of the Good Death blog, but I liked it immediately. I've had an interest in funeral practices, the death industry and the physical aspects of what happens after death for as long as I can remember.
I read "The American Way of Death" by Jessica Mitford as a teen after discovering it in my parents' bookcase. I was equally fascinated when I later ran across "Vampires, Burial, and Death: Folklore and Reality" by Paul Barber in a box of books my neighbors passed along before they moved. When "Stiff" by Mary Roach came along, I found it even more enlightening, which had me fully primed when The Order of the Good Death's founder, mortician Caitlin Doughty, came out with her book, "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory."
Last night Doughty was in Kansas City speaking to a good-sized crowd at the Kansas City Public Library about her book and her thoughts on how death customs in the United States are changing and how she thinks they should change more.
A couple of weeks ago I went to a local reading group discussion of the book and as I listened in, I thought about what draws me to the subject.
One of Doughty's major points in the book is that death has become largely hidden from the American public to the point that we don't even know that we have options when someone dies other than having them whisked off for embalming or cremation.
I thought back through my own experiences of people around me dying and it occurred to me that until very recently, I had never seen a relative of mine after they died. I'd been to a lot of funerals of friends, but only memorial services for relatives.
That's not to say that I necessarily wanted to see any of my deceased relatives' bodies before cremation, but I think it's important to look at the fears behind the urge to turn away and see if there's peace to be made with them.
Of course, that brings me around to what I might like for myself when my own death inevitably comes. As someone who just this morning washed an aluminum pizza pan so it could go in the recycling bin, I'm definitely in favor of an environmentally friendly option. Caitlin Doughty says in her book (and repeated on stage last night) that she'd like to have her body exposed to nature so that animals, microbes and weather can return her to the ecosystem. I like that idea as well, although the "cat in the back yard" method of just burying someone in a hole works for me, too.
I'm certainly in no hurry to die, but I can't help but be curious about the whole subject. It's good to know that the ways things surrounding death are generally done in our culture are not set in stone (I swear that wasn't meant as a gravestone pun. Or was it?).
The book is on bestseller lists, so clearly I'm not the only one interested in this topic. Have you read her book? How did it affect your thoughts and opinions?