I recently finished one of the most thought-provoking books I’ve read in a long time. After a few weeks of cramming in chapter after chapter, I finished Caitlin Doughty’s Smoke Gets in Your Eyes. Doughty’s debut book focuses on her experiences at her first postgrad job as a crematorium specialist in California. Her purpose for writing the book was not only to share the experience of having a job that no one usually wants to do but also to change how society thinks about and handles death. Her days at the crematorium may now be over but she dedicates her time to making death less of a taboo subject.
My reading of the book coincided with the death of my beloved cat, Dreamsicle or Dreamy as she was more lovingly known to my family and friends. It made me think about the people in my life whose deaths I fear the most.
I also thought about how greatly I fear my best friend’s death as well. I don’t have nearly as many dreams about it, but I cannot even begin to imagine the insurmountable grief I would feel upon her death and subsequent funeral. The loss of my best friend of almost a decade, my closest friend and confidant, and an all around great person is not something I enjoy thinking about.
Even though the macabre themes were upsetting at times, the book also opened my eyes to another fact of life. Doughty’s assurance that everyone will die reminded me that everyone is a person with their own story. After reading this book, I have become more aware of the lives around me. I have become better able to recognize others’ humanity. Whether it’s listening to my bus driver’s conversations or being more patient with service industry employees at the places I frequent, I actively take more time to think about how they have their own vivid stories, just like me.
At the end of her book, Doughty describes how she is working toward changing the societal view on death and how we hide it from the world. She believes that we all should accept our mortality and that hiding death from people does not help anyone deal with death in the healthiest way. She currently runs a YouTube account and website to help change the world. Her work has helped me to not only think of death in a new light but to also realize that we all have something in common — life.