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From Here to Eter­nity, The Prom­ise of Pa­tri­archy, The Float­ing World, and more.

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Caitlin Doughty is no stranger to death. She’s a mor­ti­cian at Un­der­tak­ing LA, founder of the Or­der of the Good Death, and has spent al­most 10 years coach­ing us into a bet­ter re­la­tion­ship with our in­evitable doom. Her Youtube se­ries “Ask a Mor­ti­cian” is a myth-bust­ing, truthtelling take on our fu­neral-in­dus­trial com­plex, and her new book, a se­quel to 2015’s Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Cre­ma­tory, has her trav­el­ing the world to see what Amer­i­cans can learn from the death cus­toms of other cul­tures. Through­out its eight chap­ters, From Here to Eter­nity: Trav­el­ing the World to Find the Good Death looks death in the face with cu­rios­ity, an open mind, and a heap­ing ta­ble­spoon of sugar (to help the de­com­pos­ing bod­ies go down).

Alone, or with fel­low “death-pos­i­tive” roy­alty such as Sarah Chavez of the Or­der of the Good Death and au­thor Paul Koudounaris, Doughty ex­plores In­done­sia, where clean­ing your grand­mother’s corpse is not mor­bid but a way to sus­tain fa­mil­ial bonds, and Ja­pan, where mourn­ers go through cre­mains with chop­sticks af­ter stay­ing to­gether in a corpse ho­tel. Such rit­u­als are a far cry from those in the United States, where the body is whisked away as quickly as pos­si­ble and dressed up with em­balm­ing fluid and makeup. In the past, be­fore the fu­neral in­dus­try re­ally took off in this coun­try, these cus­toms might not have seemed so strange—even here, it was com­mon for peo­ple to spend time with their dead loved ones and wash and dress them. This in­ter­ac­tion is a pow­er­ful one and is nec­es­sary for our hearts and brains to be­gin pro­cess­ing the loss. Have you ever landed at home af­ter a va­ca­tion and felt miles away from your pre­vi­ous des­ti­na­tion, not just lit­er­ally but emo­tion­ally? Al­low­ing our­selves to ex­pe­ri­ence the jour­ney with our senses helps us bet­ter un­der­stand where we’re go­ing and where our loved ones have gone.

In La Paz, Bo­livia, peo­ple gather to pray to ñati­tas: flower-adorned, chain-smok­ing

skulls cel­e­brated as sources of good for­tune and pro­tec­tion. Doughty meets with women whose homes are filled with mul­ti­ple ñati­tas and watches them “[use] their com­fort with death to seize di­rect ac­cess to the di­vine from the hands of the male lead­ers of the Catholic Church.” It’s a beau­ti­ful rit­ual of re­spect for the dead and hope for the liv­ing—a re­minder that death is, among other things, a fem­i­nist is­sue. When death­care in­dus­tri­al­ized in the early 20th cen­tury, Doughty ex­plains, there was a “seis­mic shift” in who cared for our dead—the job went from “vis­ceral, primeval work” per­formed by women to a “science” per­formed by well-paid men. Women re­main tasked with death, just less lu­cra­tively; they are more likely to care for ag­ing par­ents and rel­a­tives. Ad­di­tion­ally, death is wo­ven into re­pro­duc­tive rights and the high num­ber of peo­ple who die from do­mes­tic vi­o­lence. It’s no won­der why, when Doughty vis­its a U.S. re­com­po­si­tion site that aims to turn hu­man re­mains to com­post, she no­tices that the main play­ers in the project are all women.

The same is true for the broader death­pos­i­tive move­ment, where peo­ple such as Ka­t­rina Spade of the Ur­ban Death Project (fit­ting last name, Ka­t­rina) and Michelle Ac­cia­vatti of End­ing Well are all lead­ing the charge to­ward a more au­then­tic death. Re­com­po­si­tion, the search for that elu­sive good death, and so many other el­e­ments of the move­ment to­ward death ac­cep­tance are not just a recla­ma­tion of grief and of the body but a rad­i­cal act; a “way to say, ‘I love and ac­cept my­self,’” ac­cord­ing to Spade. Doughty agrees: “There is a free­dom found in de­com­po­si­tion, a body ren­dered messy, chaotic, and wild.”

From Here to Eter­nity: Trav­el­ing the World to Find the Good Death is a tes­ta­ment to the ubiq­ui­tous yet kalei­do­scopic na­ture of loss, whose shards re­flect the light of its com­mu­nity. While the pre­vi­ously un­known tra­di­tions from around the world en­cour­age our mea­ger death rit­u­als with a kind of you-can-do-it pep, the stops in U.S. states such as Cal­i­for­nia and North Carolina show the places where it’s al­ready be­ing done, whether in in­no­va­tive re­com­pos­ing forests or us­ing the coun­try’s only open-air fu­neral pyre, which was wheeled up the drive­ways of those who wanted to go out in flames be­fore find­ing a per­ma­nent home in Cre­ston, Colorado. Like In­done­sian mourn­ers brush­ing clean the bod­ies of their dead rel­a­tives, Doughty’s book ex­poses our hu­man need for cer­e­mony as a way to as­sign mean­ing to our lives—and to the end of them.

From Here to Eter­nity is a tes­ta­ment to the ubiq­ui­tous yet kalei­do­scopic na­ture of loss, whose shards re­flect the light of its com­mu­nity.

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