A Book A Week Challenge – Week 25

“What happens when you die?” might probably be the most investigated or most debated question. It might as well be the source of driving force for many religious philosophers across the world. Depending on which side of theism your ideology stands, you might have heard multiple versions of answers for this question. The common thread though, instead, is that none of these philosophies talk about your physical body – the skin, muscle and blood of it.


Book #: 25

Title: “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes and Other Lessons from the Crematorium”

Pages: 246

Caitlin Doughty’s twitter bio reads “Mortician” and “Mega-Curmudgeon” but doesn’t end without adding a hashtag called “#DeathPositive”. Well, you might want to believe all of that would be a perfect description of her, especially, if you haven’t heard her “reading” book or reading the book for yourself.

I happened to listen to her reading session and further ended up reading the book, which makes me believe that the “Curmudgeon” part, however tempting it is to associate for a mortician, seems a false claim. She is unusually joyful for someone who almost more than “eight” dead bodies on a daily basis. As she describes her routine, she explains how different parts of your body reacts to the temperatures of 800-plus degree Celsius.

“Smoke in your eyes” in the terms of description is “a detailed account of a routine followed by a mortician and the nuances associated with dead bodies”, but it might be the most gross or understating the value of this book. The objective of Caitlin as she describes to make “death as beautiful and hygienic as you can”

In terms of her routine at privately owned “West Wind Crematorium”, the expectation of her is to eat berries in the break while the bodies burn but as the dust spreads and settles in “unexpected” places, well, you could not even dare to attempting thinking of food, let alone eating berries.

Talking about death, decomposition and charring of body to dust sound gross at the outset, but the process associated with the final destination after your death had improved rather significantly from since “Medicalization” of death. Living no longer avoided the dead. They both survived in the clean sheets, sanitized before the body of dead is no longer anyone’s responsibility.

Caitlin as she describes eloquently how different parts of human body transform from being alive to being dead and then pre-cremation, which later transforms to raw dust. It is your final destination as we fight through our daily challenges, conflicts, emotions, race, creed, sex and any barriers the world currently fights for.

It’s a 246 pages read but even before you realize or reflect on what transpired in the book, you would have already been halfway through the book. You would understand why someone would take up such unconventional profession. The process of house picking, the preparing the body and charring it, and then now “customization” of death – where thumb prints now printed onto necklaces. The body would have passed it’s our journey even before you think what happens to the soul.

Overall, Caitlin’s “Smoke gets in your eyes” is a joyful and interesting ride into the crematorium which you might never be willing to visit.


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