Monday, December 15, 2014

(102)Smoke Gets in Your Eyes & Other Lessons from the Crematory by Caitlin Doughty


Caitlin Doughty is a twenty-something with a degree in Midievil History who has always had a morbid curiosity for death. She decides to channel that curiosity into a career and went to work at the Westwind Mortuary and Crematory. From her first day on the job Caitlin knows that she will be encounter the strange and odd.  She also suspects that she will be challenged to do things completely out of her comfort zone.   On her first day she is handed a razor and shaving cream and asked to shave a deceased man before the family viewing.   She is asked to do "pick-ups"and sees families at the very worst moments in their lives.   She is asked to facilitate "witnesses" - when the family actually wants to see their loved one through the entire process of cremation.  Caitlin gives us the day to day routines of those in her business in a way that captures the readers attention. In careful detail the author describes processes, events, and even smells in a way that almost takes your breath away.

Smoke Gets In Your Eyes is not the first book I have ever read about the death industry, but it was just as good as any other I have read.  Caitlin Doughty is careful to be respectful in her storytelling, but there were several times where I thought "OMG" - and she handled each weird situation with much more aplomb than I ever thought possible. I also liked how the author gave a lot of historical detail about death and the death industry.  For example, back in the day only indigent people died at a hospital. As late as the early twentieth century, more than 85% of Americans died at home.   Think about it - if you live in an older home, the odds of someone having died there are pretty high.  It was during the 1930's that the mentality shifted and more people went to the hospital to die.  I have often thought about my final wishes and going the cremation route and now I feel it is a little easier to make that decision.



Bottom line, Smoke Gets In Your Eyes was a morbidly fascinating book.  I will say that my recommendation comes with a warning label.  It is not for those with weak stomachs or those sensitive to death, particularly childhood death.  While that is not a huge part of the book, it is there and may be particularly rough to read.

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