Art of Dying Art of Dying_Volume III_joomag | Page 31
My magical utopia is a conservation cemetery,
saving endangered land through green burials.
The opening of green cemeteries across the
United States affirms the growing demand for
natural burial. But when you have something
that is this difficult to talk about, the needle is
not going to move quickly. We’re running a
marathon, not a sprint.
I worked in a funeral home where you would buy
advanced cremation plans that insulated the spouse
and kids from the death experience. The person who
bought the plan was thinking, "I'm so generous. I've
put everything in place so my family doesn't have to
do a single thing when I die." There are families who
really want to do something, who really want a task.
It's the task of grieving. It's the task of mourning.
It's the task of being involved when someone you
love dies. Maybe these plans remove the burden
of funeral costs, but they also remove the option to
experience significant tasks and rituals.
There are people who value embalming and it's still
going to be available to them, but there are so many
people who don't realize what embalming is. They
don't realize how much it's going to cost. They don't
realize what their other options are. Embalming,
especially to younger people, doesn't have any
meaning. They don't like that the embalmed body’s
not really grandma and it creeps them out.
There's a place for death doulas. Many death
doulas consider themselves ritual experts. There
are deeply meaningful ceremonies relating to the
body that they perform with the family. But many
families are more secular and self-reliant. They
want to know all of the things they have to do but
they want to be alone with their loved one’s body.
It's physically easy to be with a dead loved one’s
body. It's closing the mouth. It's closing the eyes.
It's dressing them in their favorite sweater before
they go into rigor mortis. Honestly, it's simple stuff.
That's the fallacy of the funeral industry. You don’t
need professionals to do this. Anyone can do it. It
doesn't mean that it's emotionally easy. If it's your
mom, there’s the hard work of grief.
My funeral home, Undertaking LA, reintroduces
rituals that give people something to do around
death. We don't offer embalming and we don't
offer traditional burial, so if you're going to have
a burial it's going to be a natural or green burial.
Otherwise, it will be a cremation. If you come to
us, we start with the premise that you want to be
Part One of a conversation with John Wadsworth.
Part Two to be featured in Art of Dying Volume IV.
CAITLIN DOUGHTY Caitlin Doughty is a mortician, activist, and funeral industry rabble-
rouser. In 2011 she founded the death acceptance collective The Order of the Good Death, which
has spawned the death positive movement. Her first book, Smoke Gets in Your Eyes and From Here
To Eternity, was a New York Times best-seller. She lives in Los Angeles, where she runs her nonprofit
funeral home, Undertaking LA.
Caitlin's webseries "Ask a Mortician" and her work to change the death industry have led to features
on National Public Radio, BBC, The New Yorker, Vice, The Atlantic, the New York Times, and Forbes.
She frequently gives talks on the history of death culture, rituals, and the funeral industry, presenting
for groups as diverse as the TED, SXSW, The Upright Citizen’s Brigade, and universities and libraries all
over the world.
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