2019: Year of the Book(S)





As I approach my 30th birthday - April 2019 - I have found myself, in recent months, fixated on and often overcome by thoughts of death and dying, of the death of myself and of my loved ones. I've felt a mounting anxiety over my inexperience in dealing with grief on this level. How do people survive death?

It seemed to me like there were no tools readily available amongst an unceasing bevy of conveniences in our modern American lives that would help me cope with the looming certainty that I would, eventually, have to face this thing that I dread.

Enter Caitlin Doughty.

The glinting cover art of "From Here to Eternity: Traveling the World to Find the Good Death" immediately caught my eye when exploring the shelves of the largest bookstore in the world - Powell's, in Portland, Oregon. I surprised myself by not losing interest immediately upon picking up the book to take a closer look at its contents. I have always been the squeamish sort, haunted by sleepless nights, which were the results of even the most brief recounting of the details surrounding a person's death, but in reading Doughty's introduction to this book while safely ensconced in the middle of an aisle within the bowels of Powell's labyrinth, I felt seen, and I saw my anxiety around an inexperience with death so blatantly named and understood.

Caitlin Doughty promised me I was not alone in my anxiety, and led me on a journey of surprising interest, respect, and even humor through the death practices of various cultures around the world. Famous for her YouTube channel, "Ask a Mortician," Doughty has been engaging people in conversations about the morbid, and realizing her vision to change our Western viewpoints about death and dying. A frank and gifted writer, her exploration of the way in which cultures treat a body post-life, revisit and re-experience the life and death of their loved ones, and uphold a connection to those loved ones is a testament to the power of openness and curiosity. Since the inception of life, people have been dying! How meaningful and important it is for us to learn about rituals and viewpoints surrounding death throughout history and around the world, for what is more profound and universal than our questions about and contemplation of death?

Doughty beautifully articulates her own feelings of respect for the death practices she encounters on her travels, and encourages the reader to asses his or her own prejudices and misgivings about the way other cultures think about death. She is passionate about critically examining the "corporatization and commercialization of deathcare" in our American culture, and insistent upon the importance of recognizing that perhaps we have in some ways "fallen behind the rest of the world when it comes to proximity, intimacy, and ritual around death."

I devoured this book in one five-hour flight. I loved it and I have referenced and recommended it ad nauseam since finishing it. It encouraged me to run towards my fear of death, and not away from it.

Death is inevitable for us all, and even if we live in a culture that has swallowed its rituals up in the maws of capitalism and clinical rationalism, and relegated its emotional effects on our fellow members of humankind to impersonal funeral homes and the privacy of one's own home for the sake of "civility," it is a worthy pursuit to work to make sense of it, and to bring our anxieties and fears out into the open to breathe life into our understanding, respect for, and acceptance of death.

In Doughty's words, "The good news: we are not beholden to our distance from and shame around death. The first step to fixing the problem is to show up, to be present and engaged."