Review: Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory
Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory by Caitlin Doughty
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Smoke Gets In Your Eyes
By Caitlin Doughty

Reviewed by Jay Gilbertson

I would imagine that some of you are humming the song, right? Well, this is not a review about the Platters or their song or even about eyes. It is about smoke. More to the point, cremation. And, I should mention before I lose most all of you, is that this memoir is really funny.
Author Doughty describes herself as “functionally morbid.” After reading her book, I certainly would concur. A should-read if you think you or someone you know, may end up dead one day.
I’ve got you now!
This is the first sentence, talk about a hook; “A girl always remembers the first corpse she shaves.”
So begins author Doughty’s first day on the job. Though it took her nearly 6 months to land her first gig in the, shall we say, death-trade, land she did. You would think that this type of occupation is desperate for (pun intended) new blood, but the real kicker is that no one wants to hire you unless you have prior experience. Let that settle in.
Though the actual act/job of cremation is well documented by Doughty, the bulk of the tale is woven around our really peculiar way of dealing with death. Or not. Not only are we in total denial, but we have this creepy ritual of dressing up our dead to look as though they are only in eternal sleep. And the embalming? Well, did you know the real reason why you have to now place your embalmed body in a cement case? One word—Kaboom!
An aspect of this memoir that I found refreshing was Doughty’s constant dipping into the role of philosopher—death-philosopher. Though she may have a rather macabre sense of humor and at times pushes it over the edge, she does have a point about our culture. We are in denial. But something new is emerging.
“Historically, death rituals have, without question, been tied to religious beliefs. But our world is becoming increasingly secular. The fastest-growing religion in America is “no religion”—a group that comprises almost 20 percent of the population in the United States. Even those who identify as having strong religious beliefs often feel their once-strong death rituals have been commoditized and hold less meaning for them.”
What began as a career in the cremation world unfolded into what the author calls, “cultural death denial.” A cause she has embraced and is now a very vocal spokesperson for. Not the death part, but bringing the very fact that, surprise-surprise, we all are going to die. There is also a slew of interesting, as well as, disturbing factoids to consider.
“The fastest-growing segment of the US population is over eighty-five, what I would call the aggressively elderly. If you reach eighty-five, not only is there a strong chance you are living with some form of dementia or terminal disease, but statistics show that you have a 50-50 chance of ending up in a nursing home, raising the question of whether a good life is measured in quality or quantity.”
This is an important book for anyone who questions their mortality, who wonders what really happens at the funeral home. This is not a trick or a treat. Consider this; we all begin to die the day we’re born.

• Happy Halloween!
• Everyone does it…

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