From Here to Eternity
– Travelling the world to find the good death
by Caitlin Doughty
This book’s focus is not on any metaphysical questions about dying and death but those concerning the dead physical body and how it is dealt with or cared for by diverse cultures. Starting off in the US, we are taken on quite a tour, which includes Indonesia, Mexico, Spain, Bolivia, Indonesia, Japan, India and Tibet.
One review tells us, ‘Author and mortician Caitlin Doughty explores these worldly queries with humour, openness and respect…. [She] is a delightfully cheery, witty and ever so slightly sarcastic guide on this gruesome and fascinating journey. Her unabashed confrontation of death and decay, human mortality, and the needs of the living is smart and interesting, philosophical and tender. As both a guest at so many personal and emotional moments and as a professional mortician examining various methods with a clinical eye, she successfully strikes a balance in sharing opinions and facts.
‘It’s totally satisfying…a brisk and still meaty read, with a touch of darkness, more than a little science, and a lot of wisdom about the one thing we all have in common.’
It is all that. Yet – I don’t wish to be a spoilsport; I enjoy her writing immensely, love her quirkiness and appreciate our shared interest in the subject of death – I do wonder about the book purportedly being about finding ‘the good death.’
To me a good death means what someone might experience if they reached a point of acceptance and could consciously and calmly let go of life and move onwards without anguish or regret. Given she’s a mortician, it’s understandable that Caitlin’s interest is not in how the deceased person entered their death but in how those left behind care for their remains.
…And deal with their pain, because I did come to appreciate – through reading of the many varied ways in which we choose to honour the corpses of those we have loved – that tending to the bodies (and in some cultures this may be for many years) is a way of expressing love and working through grief.
If you are looking for a well-written, intelligent and amusing read that delves into an intriguing subject, look no further. Caitlin delivers! (Available through amazon.) (Maneesha James)