For a long while during the middle years of the 20th century, my great Aunt Edith (see Timeline series about her here) worked as the executive secretary of the Oregon Funeral Directors Association. Undoubtedly, this accounts for my ease with discussions of death and especially with the particulars of the immediate aftermath. I asked Aunt Edith questions and she answered.
American culture generally isn’t as comfortable with death unless you count the many CSI-style shows on television. But I’m sure you have noticed how intellectually stunted those programs are, limiting their involvement with death to their buckets of blood gory visuals.
Gore is really for kids who delight in its Halloween house of horrors aspects that keep the reality of death at bay. Much more interesting, I think, and important is to confront the idea of our demise head on and one path to such contemplation are the details of what happens to our bodies when they have been carted off for disposal by the various means from which we can choose.
And now there is a website and an associated YouTube channel devoted to these mysteries of the American way of death.
The proprietor is Caitlin Doughty, a young, real-life, licensed mortician who bears a striking resemblance in both appearance and ‘tude to the NCIS forensic specialist, Abby Sciuto with whom she also shares an enthusiastic dedication to her chosen field. Take a look at one of her Ask a Mortician videos:
Isn’t she terrific?
In keeping with her cheerfully morbid interest in death, she holds a degree in medieval history in addition the more practical one in mortuary science. At her website, Order of the Good Death, Caitlin expands on why she wants to “bring mortality back into the culture”:
”The Order is about making death a part of your life. That means committing to staring down your death fears whether it be your own death, the death of those you love, the pain of dying, the afterlife (or lack thereof), grief, corpses, bodily decomposition, or all of the above.
“Accepting that death itself is natural, but the death anxiety and terror of modern culture are not.”
As fun, macabre and informative as Caitlin’s videos are, more importantly she giving a much-needed boot to the taboo against speaking out loud about death.
I’m pretty sure no one else online – or anywhere else in the popular media – is answering questions about corpses and burials and if I’m wrong, it is certainly not with the elan of Caitlin.
Fear of death is pretty much universal. It’s what keeps us alive through the years with its natural abhorrence of sharp instruments, unfenced cliffs and speeding trains. But at the age most of us who read this blog have reached, it is time to become more philosophical and thoughtful about mortality.
Familiarity is always a big help in facing any fear and that is what Caitlin is doing – making talk of death ordinary. Great Aunt Edith would have approved.
There is wider exploration of death at her website including a blog with a delightful recent post containing a list of pulp fiction novels with corpse themes. And of course, her continuing YouTube series, Ask a Mortician. Here’s another to entertain you.
[A big shoutout to Nikki of From Where I Sit for introducing me to Caitlin’s videos.]
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Michael Goretzky: Lab Partners