We’d like to share an interview from NPR’s Fresh Air where mortician and author Caitlin Doughty talks about how she’s trying to change how Americans think about End-of-Life so we can better prepare for our own.
“My philosophy is honesty,” Doughty tells Fresh Air’s Terry Gross. “We’ve been so hidden from death in this culture for such a long time that it’s refreshing and liberating to talk about death in an open, honest manner.”
Doughty said one of her life passions is to educate people on this unspoken (yet inevitable) part of existence that we will all face one day.
Doughty is founder of The Order of the Good Death, a group of funeral industry professionals and academics who focus on the rituals families perform during End-of-Life. She spoke eloquently about cremation ceremonies she witnessed when the family of a deceased loved one actively participates. “A ‘witness cremation’ is something you can ask for at your local crematory or funeral home.” Doughty said as she described the ceremony.
“The family was there and they sat with the body, and took the time. When they pushed the button to send the body into the flames, it was an incredibly powerful experience because they took responsibility for that body. And they took responsibility for that death and for that loss to the community, and that to me is the thing that we’ve lost and it’s most crucial that we get it back.”
In addition to her work as a mortician, Doughty recently wrote a book about her experiences called “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes and Other Lessons from the Crematory.” “I write a lot because it can take a lot out of you, especially if you consider the job as more than just a trade,” Doughty says. “Not only are you dealing with the dead bodies; you’re dealing with the incredible sorrow of the families and the fact that they can get very mad at you. They’re angry that somebody has died and they’re looking for somebody to take it out on.”
Doughty has a YouTube video series called “Ask a Mortician,” where she answers questions on a range of topics including dying at home, the death of pets and what happens to titanium hip replacements after a body is cremated.
“I think humor gets people to watch them; I think cultural references get people to watch them; I think me being young and friendly gets people to watch them,” Doughty said. “I’m passionate about presenting it in a way that makes people consider it, and it makes people not afraid of it.”
When it comes to changing the way people think about death, Doughty said, “Death is going to happen to you, whether you want it to or not, and you’re never going to be completely comfortable with it,” Doughty said. “But it’s an important process, and I hope you will consider facing it.”
Listen to the story here.