By Tiffany Kelly
Caitlin Doughty has been cutting pacemakers out of corpses, grinding human bones by hand, and loading bodies into cremation chambers for seven years. But the 30-year-old mortician doesn’t want to keep all the fun to herself: She thinks the rest of us should get to have a little more face time with the deceased. In her new book, Smoke Gets in Your Eyes (that’s a cremation joke), Doughty argues for more acceptance of death in our culture—and tries to spark a wave of amateur undertaking.
Are you really saying that people should handle their loved ones’ bodies? Can we do that?
Most people think dead bodies are dangerous or that they’re required to hire a funeral director to prepare a body. I’m a licensed mortician, but I want to teach people that they don’t need me. If you’re keeping the body at home, you could put dry ice around it and that would last for a couple of days without any problems. You usually only need to hire a professional for a cremation or cemetery burial.
But … why would I want that?
We don’t see dead bodies anymore. You have to talk about death when you have dead people laid out in your living room on a monthly basis or if you take care of bodies yourself. But when a group of professionals comes in and takes the body away and then basically sells the body back to you a couple of days later, nobody has any proof that we’re going to die. It’s become this taboo, pathological, hidden thing.
Pristine, embalmed corpses don’t help us embrace death, do they?
A chemically preserved body looks like a wax replica of a person. Bodies are supposed to be drooping and turning very pale and sinking in while decomposing. Within a day or so after they’ve died, you should be able to see that this person has very much left the building. That’s the point. I think dead bodies should look dead. It helps with the grieving process.
What do you want to happen to your body after you die?
I want a natural burial. Just straight into the ground in a shroud. But that’s because what’s not legal yet is having your body laid above ground for animals to consume it. That’s what I really want. I would love to be eaten by animals, because I eat animals and I’m an animal, and when I die they get to eat me. That seems only fair.
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