Death is one of the least popular topics to talk about. It's tough to think that we're not going to exist one day and keep a positive attitude about life. However, it's true and it happens to us all, and our cultural attitudes towards our mortality hasn't helped at all. Dealing with the death of a loved one used to be an intimate experience, where family would help clean and prepare the body for burial, but our squickiness around mortality means that we've handed the job to a whole funerary industry. While there are a lot of compassionate morticians and funeral directors out there, the industry has become both very expensive and a huge burden on the environment. Burial spaces take up a lot of natural space, toxic chemicals used in embalming seep into the ground, cremation emits incredible amounts of carbon emissions in the atmosphere.
Meet Caitlin Doughty, everyone's favorite mortician. This scrappy Hawaiian-born gothling first encountered death when she was eight years old, after watching another child fall to their death from a balcony in a shopping mall. Shocked by the incident, she became fixated with death and dying over the years. She became a crematory operator in San Francisco and later earned her morticians license.
She started The Order of the Good Death, an advocacy organization that argues for mortuary techniques that cause less harm to the environment, getting people comfortable with their mortality, and making sure the family is involved with the loving care of their family member's passing.
Doughty advocates natural burial in her own funeral home, Clarity Funerals & Cremation in Southern California. The practice involves helping the family prepare the body, which is then wrapped in linen and taken to a burial site. No caskets and no chemicals pollute the site and the body returns to the earth naturally.
Doughty has become most well known for her "Ask a Mortician" YouTube channel, where she answers any questions about death and dying, no matter how bizarre. She's bright and funny, charming and engaging. She also wrote three books on death, Smoke Gets in Your Eyes & Other Lessons from the Crematory, From Here to Eternity: Traveling the World to Find the Good Death, and Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs?: Big Questions from Tiny Mortals About Death. I've read the first two and look forward to the third.