“We’re fine with cadavers,” was what I was heard saying on a recent college tour with my daughter. “Did you notice that the rest of the group moved away from us just then?” she asked, not really caring. When you grow up in a family involved in the funeral industry, you tend to lose some filters. For example, surrounded by lilies on a recent trip to Whole Foods, I said nostalgically, “Smells like the funeral home.” Meaning, Grandpa’s. Fresh baked cookies may do that for you. So I may have embraced Caitlin Doughty’s book, Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: and Other Lessons from a Crematory, a little more readily than your average Jane, but I hope to convince the less inclined to give it a read. First of all, Doughty’s voice is smart and very lol funny. With a master’s degree in Medieval History under her belt, she intersperses her narrative about her first job in the funeral industry with fun and disgusting facts about practices in the middle ages. She’s also an advocate for more eco-friendly and humane funerals. She posits that our industrial death practices alienate us from a very natural part of life and cause us to fear it. You can visit her website and fascinating blog here. Causes aside, this is a very entertaining book, even more so than Mary Roach’s excellent Stiff: the Curious Life of Human Cadavers, also recommended.
As for a taste of growing up in a funeral family, check out Fun Home: a Family Tragicomic by MacArthur Genius award winner, Alison Bechdel and for your viewing pleasure, screen the series, Six Feet Under.