Soulless Book Club: Smoke Gets In Your Eyes
For the very first Soulless Book Club review, I felt it was only appropriate to tackle a book that tackles a subject relatively close to what Soulless is all about (death, obviously!) and so "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes" by the lovely Caitlin Doughty. Doughty is a licensed mortician out in Los Angeles, as well as the founder of the Order of the Good Death, which we covered here at Soulless back in April. But Doughty is well known online for her YouTube presence on her "Ask A Mortician" web series - which is exactly where I found out about Doughty, her collective, and a ton of death industry information from somebody inside the industry who isn't afraid to talk about it! So when I found out she had a book out, it was a no-brainer: I needed to read this, and I'm so glad I did.
Smoke Gets In Your Eyes is a lot of things. It's a little bit of a look into how Doughty got into her line of work, the people she met along the way, as well as what her day-to-day was like in a busy crematorium in Los Angeles. It's also a little bit of a look into the history of death, with little tidbits of information about how humanity has handled death throughout the years (for example, how families used to tend to the body after death in the home for days before burial, as opposed to modern times where we feel we need to get the body out of the house within minutes of death, which simply isn't so). But whether or not she meant to, Doughty also challenges the reader to question their own mortality, how the reader will both view and handle death in their own live, as well as introducing the idea of becoming death positive. Put all of this together and you have Smoke Gets In Your Eyes, and after finishing reading it, it became clear just how important this book is.
Doughty shares how she was introduced to death at a very young age; after witnessing a young girl fall to her death at a mall as a child. In the years that followed, she shares how the incident left her angry, scared, but yet intrigued. But in the wake of this incident, and through her education and experiences working in the crematorium and being around death, Doughty was able to see the reality that is death, and she makes it very clear in her book that she these experiences have helped her appreciate her own life and mortality. And because of that, she has an outlook on life that I'm sure most people out there in the "real world" could only dream of.
One of the topics she covers in the book that really got me was not just the death, but the living. Towards the end of her book, she talks about how science is working so hard to prolong life and to help people avoid their death. But what she follows up with is something that most people would act shocked and surprised at, but deep down known is oh-so-true. To quote the book, "We do not (and will not) have the resources to properly care for our increasingly elderly population, yet we insist on medical intervention to keep them alive. To allow them to die would signal the failure of our supposedly infallible modern medical system." When I got to that line of the chapter, I honestly had to put the book down because it felt good to finally have someone else say it out loud (or written, whatever!). Walk into a nursing home (for people with dementia, for example, not just assisted-living facilities) and you'll quickly be surrounded by elderly men and women who are seemingly brain-dead, laying on stretchers with empty eyes, lifeless bodies, and not a single clue as to where they are... but they are alive. Through the study of science, we have been able to prolong these peoples lives, some to even triple digit lifespans, but once the physical bodies actually get up there, many families and people just kinda... give up on them. These elderly get no visitors, they don't see the outside world, they don't even understand what is going on around them. But science insists... they must stay alive! While it may be an unpopular opinion, it is times like these that things like doctor assisted suicide or death with dignity should absolutely be an option: we should be able to talk about how we would like our own bodies to be handled when we get to an age where we are essentially empty brains in zombie bodies waiting for those same bodies to finally fail on us. And it is people like Doughty who are not afraid to say things like this, for she understands exactly why it is important to have these discussions. And the fact that she decided to include it in her book earned her a lot of respect from this end.
Doughty has a view on death that is to be admired, and should honestly be taught to younger generations. She is death; she's surround by it day in and day out (she even runs her own progressive funeral home, Undertaking LA). She understands the important roles that death has played in the making of our own society. To quote her exactly, she says, "The greatest achievements of humanity were born out of the deadlines imposed by death." It's simple lines like this in the book that makes me quickly resonate with Doughty so many times throughout and made me appreciate it just that much more.
It feels like I'm making Smoke Gets In Your Eyes sound dreadfully depressing, scary, and haunting - but I assure you, it's anything but. If you are familiar with Doughty's "Ask A Mortician" series, then you're already aware of her bubbly, humorous personality, and how she's able to take such a serious topics and discuss them in such a light-weight way. Well, she does exactly the same in the way that she writes, and the final product is a very easy to read, not-so-serious but still pretty serious series of chapters that will make you not want to put this book down. From the history lessons to the personal stories, to the just straight up truth that Doughty spits at you, Smoke Gets In Your Eyes is an essential read for anybody who's ever thought about or even had the slightest interest in death. Doughty did an absolute incredible job with her thought-provoking, well thought out and expertly-executed debut book.
Get a copy of Smoke Gets In Your Eyes from Amazon here! I'd love to hear what your thoughts are on the book if you've read it, so feel free to share your thoughts about the book through our contact page.
Check out Caitlin Doughty's new book, "From Here to Eternity: Traveling the World to Find the Good Death," which will be in stores and online October 3rd, 2017! Pre-order your copy here!