By Irina Jordan
With Caitlin's permission, I am sharing my favorite questions and answers that transpired during Reddit Ask Me Anything (AMA) with her. Caitlin Doughty is Founder of the Order of the Good Death and New York Times bestselling author of “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory”.
You, the reader, deserve to know what the good death is all about and how you can get ready for it.
Q: How do you deal with death-deniers that question your work? Do you have a phrase or sentence that you say that puts them at ease and makes you feel successful in the interaction?
A: People don't realize that a big part of the job is eating crow for things that aren't their fault. Sure, there are logistical things I slip up on and am happy to admit when I'm at fault. But you never know when a family is going to freak out because of a small thing, like a death certificate being delivered a day late or a flower out of place. I try to remember that that anger is coming from a place of extreme hurt or guilt about the death. It's not about me. It's about their own relationship to death or the person who has died. It took me a long time to learn that.
Q: What is your suggestion for how to stay strong in these views in times when a close loved one dies (assuming they didn't have opposing views) and you have pressure from family/funeral directors/healthcare workers/etc. to go the "socially traditional" route?
A: The best thing is to remember is that DEATH IS NOT AN EMERGENCY. The biggest threat to alternative options and ceremonies is that people feel pressured to do something with the dead now now now. You have time to make a decision, time to weigh your options. The person is dead now and they'll be dead 2 days from now. Take your time and don't give in to pressure.
Q: Why do you think Americans are so fixated with the "looks" of things, while other countries do just a little more than planting people naked under a turnip crop?
A: I think that Americans have a cult of optimism that fits well with the body preservation and makeup. The idea that we shouldn't see decomposition or death because it poses a threat to our sense of self.
Q: Are there any old/obsolete burial customs/general death rituals you wish were still a thing?
A: The Roman custom of putting sweet smelling herbs on the pyre and washing the bones in milk. And just open air pyres in general (they are a thing, just not in the West).
Q: Have you ever had someone wake up on you?
A: Nope. When you work with the dead for awhile you see that time after time, the DEAD ARE SO DEAD. They are beautiful shells of former people, but they're checked out. Things that happen: weird noises, movements, etc., can be explained by biology.
Q: Did you watch Six Feet Under and see the bits about natural burial within? (And love it?)
A: Totally watched Six Feet Under. People expect me to be an elitist about it but I think it was really well done. A colleague of mine was one of the mortician consultants on the show so they took getting the death stuff right pretty seriously.
Q: Is there a database that you're aware of that's cataloged natural burial grounds and eco-friendly or alternative funeral homes?
A: There is an amazing database for natural burial grounds/providers called the Green Burial Council. Disclaimer: This is for the US and they have some pretty high standards to be included.