From Here to Eternity by Caitlin Doughty

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From Here to Eternity: Traveling the World to Find The Good Death by Caitlin Doughty

From Here to Eternity by Cailtin DoughtyStars: *****

W.W. Norton & Company (2017)
Death & Dying

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. This post contains affiliate links.

Summary: Fascinated by our pervasive fear of dead bodies, mortician Caitlin Doughty set out to discover how other cultures care for the dead. From Here to Eternity is an immersive global journey that introduces compelling, powerful rituals almost entirely unknown in America.

Doughty contends that the American funeral industry sells a particular—and, upon close inspection, peculiar—set of “respectful” rites: bodies are whisked to a mortuary, pumped full of chemicals, and entombed in concrete. She argues that our expensive, impersonal system fosters a corrosive fear of death that hinders our ability to cope and mourn. By comparing customs, she demonstrates that mourners everywhere respond best when they help care for the deceased, and have space to participate in the process.

Getting Close to Death

Caitlin travels to Japan, Colorado, Mexico, Bolivia, Indonesia, North Carolina, Spain, and California.  I was surprised to find that death was treated in an unusual way even in part of the U.S.

The first few chapters I was shocked at how different death was treated in certain parts of the world. I’m so used to the typical North American way (I’m in Canada) of a funeral home, metal casket, burial or cremation. However the further in the book I got, the more I opened up to new ways of doing things and realized that many of these other ways made much more sense than what is typically done where I live.

Making Decisions About Your Own Death

I already figured I’d be cremated because I didn’t see any need for my empty body to take up space in the ground and I wanted my family to be able to remember me from anywhere and not feel bad if they didn’t get a chance to come to the cemetery.

Reading this book has really helped me to think about my own death in a good way. It has helped me to consider what I want after I die and to start conversations with my family members about such matters.

Fear of Death

There was a time when the Japanese feared the corpse as unclean and impure. They have largely overcome that fear and have begun to see the body in the casket not for what it was, but for who it belonged to – not a cursed object, but a beloved grandpa. The Japanese make an effort to integrate rituals with the body, and ensure the family has enough time to spend in its presence. Meanwhile, countries like the U.S. have done the reverse. Once we cared for our corpses at home. Before the rise of the professional death class we did not have the fear the Japanese had of the dead, and we valued the presence of the corpse. But in recent years we have been taught to see the dead as unclean and impure, and fear of the physical dead body has risen, along with our cremation rate. – From Here to Eternity

North America is afraid of death and not just that but afraid of the dead. We fear germs so we inject bodies with chemicals so they will be “clean” and look alive when we look upon them. Then we bury them in metal boxes so that they take a long time to decompose so that we run out of places to put our dead.

Does any of this make sense? You’ll see in the book there are other ways to handle the dead and although I personally wouldn’t participate in some of them, there are others that make perfect sense to me.

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About Kathleen

I've been a nonfiction lover for as long as I can remember. I love children's nonfiction as well and love to share my knowledge and the books I gained them from, with the world. I wish more people would give nonfiction a chance.