source: free copy via Amazon Prime membership
title: Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory
author: Caitlin Doughty / Twitter
published: September 15, 2014
first line: A girl always remembers the first corpse she shaves.
rated: 4 out of 5
Most people want to avoid thinking about death, but Caitlin Doughty—a twenty-something with a degree in medieval history and a flair for the macabre—took a job at a crematory, turning morbid curiosity into her life’s work. Thrown into a profession of gallows humor and vivid characters (both living and very dead), Caitlin learned to navigate the secretive culture of those who care for the deceased.
Smoke Gets in Your Eyes tells an unusual coming-of-age story full of bizarre encounters and unforgettable scenes. Caring for dead bodies of every color, shape, and affliction, Caitlin soon becomes an intrepid explorer in the world of the dead. She describes how she swept ashes from the machines (and sometimes onto her clothes) and reveals the strange history of cremation and undertaking, marveling at bizarre and wonderful funeral practices from different cultures.
Her eye-opening, candid, and often hilarious story is like going on a journey with your bravest friend to the cemetery at midnight…..
*trigger warning for delicate subject matter for some readers*
Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory by Caitlin Doughty was equal parts interesting and uncomfortable. This is a delicate subject but I found the author infuses humor making her memoir an engaging read overall. Having said that, while I found myself captivated at times by Caitlin Doughty’s memoir I did have to skim some parts of it, specifically the entire chapter titled Demon Babies. Some things you can’t unsee, some things you can’t unread.
“My relationship with death had always been complicated.” -p.5, Smoke Gets in Your Eyes by Caitlin Doughty
As a young child, Doughty witnessed an accidental death at a mall and she shares the impact this had on her. She eventually came to work at a crematory as a trainee and learned as she went along, just like with any other on site job training. I actually found it fascinating reading about her job at the crematory and what she did on a day to day basis. I don’t think cremation and what undertakers do is something most people think about. Most of us, myself included, happily turn a blind eye to certain details or to what’s behind the curtain so to speak when it comes to topics like postmortem care and practices. That, and we are wrought with grief by the time we need to make these kinds of arrangements for our loved ones.
I found Doughty’s take on postmortem care and her views on death to be insightful. She wonders who she would want to care for her own loved ones remains and how she’d feel about certain practices like embalming being performed on them. The author aims to cast a light on the fear of death and on the options available postmortem. She also takes us to her days at mortuary school and what she learned and witnessed while there. I found it eye-opening that most mortuary schools seem to favor embalming and burial over cremation.
“Embalmers may claim their trade descended from the ancient Egyptians, but that neglects the quantum gap between the era of Tutankhamen and the time Americans began to perform embalmings in the early 1860’s. The embalming practiced by the ancient Egyptians was a very different animal from what is practiced down the street in your local funeral home.” -p.72
She discusses the history of cremation and funeral practices in the U.S. and of different countries and cultures as well. The author’s fun personality shines through and as I read she made me laugh out loud while cringing at times.
This was a well written and well researched memoir about death, postmortem care and practices and about what it is like working in the industry. I caught a few of the author’s videos on YouTube and they were entertaining also.
“It is safe to say that 1963 was cremation’s year. The American Way of Death came out in 1963, as did Pope Paul VI’s overturning of the Catholic Church’s ban on cremation. These two factors turned the death trends of the entire country towards cremation.”- p.107
If you are so inclined, this one was free to borrow with Amazon Prime membership. I am curious to read other’s thoughts on it. Now I know in detail what happens to a human body during cremation. I don’t know if that is a good or a bad thing.
“Medieval death was my first true (academic) love. I was captivated by the dancing skeletons, the maggot tomb decor, the charnel houses, the putrefying bodies in the church walls. The brazen acceptance of human decomposition in the late Middle Ages was so different from what I grew up with.”- p.161
About the author:
Mortician Caitlin Doughty―host and creator of Ask a Mortician and the New York Times best-selling author of Smoke Gets in Your Eyes―founded The Order of the Good Death. She lives in Los Angeles, where she runs her nonprofit funeral home, Undertaking LA.-quoted from Amazon
Disclaimer: This review is my honest opinion. I did not receive any kind of compensation for reading and reviewing this book. I am under no obligation to write a positive review. I borrowed my copy of Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory by Caitlin Doughty via Amazon Prime.
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