Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory

by Caitlin Doughty


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"Morbid and illuminating" (Entertainment Weekly)—a young mortician goes behind the scenes of her curious profession.

Armed with a degree in medieval history and a flair for the macabre, Caitlin Doughty took a job at a crematory and turned morbid curiosity into her life’s work. She cared for bodies of every color, shape, and affliction, and became an intrepid explorer in the world of the dead. In this best-selling memoir, brimming with gallows humor and vivid characters, she marvels at the gruesome history of undertaking and relates her unique coming-of-age story with bold curiosity and mordant wit. By turns hilarious, dark, and uplifting, Smoke Gets in Your Eyes reveals how the fear of dying warps our society and "will make you reconsider how our culture treats the dead" (San Francisco Chronicle).

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780393351903
Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date: 09/28/2015
Pages: 272
Sales rank: 24,191
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Caitlin Doughty is a mortician and the author of Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs? as well as the New York Times best-selling books Smoke Gets in Your Eyes and From Here to Eternity. She is the creator of the “Ask a Mortician” web series and founder of The Order of the Good Death. She lives in Los Angeles, where she owns and runs a funeral home, Undertaking LA.

Table of Contents

Author's Note 9

Shaving Byron 15

Puppy Surprise 28

The Thud 48

Toothpicks in Jell-O 64

Push the Button 84

Pink Cocktail 105

Demon Babies 129

Direct Disposal 147

Unnatural Natural 169

Alas, Poor Yorick 185

Eros and Thanatos 205

Bubblating 222

Ghusl 242

Solo Witness 257

The Redwoods 273

Deth Skool 284

Body Van 300

The Art of Dying 315

Prodigal Daughter 335

Acknowledgments 345

Notes on Sources 349


A conversation with Caitlin Doughty, author of Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons From the Crematory

You're a mortician? Really? Aren't morticians all creepy old guys in suits?

Yes, I'm really a mortician. No, we're not all creepy white men in suits (although, don't worry, if you're looking for one of those there are no shortage of them in the industry). Young women are entering death-related fields in very high numbers. Soon ladies will rule mortality with an iron fist, mark my words.

At the crematory I worked in, there were no suits at all. The men I worked with (ok, so it was all men) wore California casual, button ups and khakis. Except for Bruce the embalmer, who wore personal protective equipment so as not to get covered in blood splatters. Hazards of the job and whatnot.

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes is the story of your initiation into the funeral industry. What was the strangest thing you saw?

I'm asked this all the time, and it's hard to say "strangest." Things that looked totally strange to me when I started working with dead bodies, severally bloated and decomposed corpses for example, are part of a totally natural process. Our bodies are supposed to do that when we die! We just don't look at them as natural because we're so used to seeing chemically preserved bodies in the United States.

Aren't you freaked out by dead bodies?

I'm not, although I'll be honest and say that you never really get absolutely comfortable around them. Even after years of doing this work I still get grossed out sometimes. But grossed out is different than freaked out. Gross is fluids. Or snot. Or decay. But freaked out implies I'm worried about spirits or bodies that are out to get me, which they definitely are not.Did you leave anything out of the book because it was too scary or weird?

Absolutely not! I made a very conscious decision that I wanted to be completely honest about everything I saw and all the things that go on behind the scenes in mortuaries and funeral homes. Even if that makes it harder to read for some. Not everyone wants to hear the logistics of grinding bones after a cremation, or how deceased babies are handled, but the only way we are going to break through our cultural death denial is through brutal honesty.

What's the worst thing about how we handle death in our culture?

It's the denial. It's the idea that, "death is going to happen to everyone eventually...oh, except me, of course." When we took the dead human body out of "polite" society and handed it over to professionals, we gave away the reality of death as well. If you've never seen a real dead human, it's very hard to believe death is real. Of course you don't think it will happen to you, you've never seen any proof! A society where the general populace has no physical or ritual interaction with the dead is an unhealthy one. I stand by that.

Should I give my body to science?

Depends. On the pro side: it's free death care. And you and your family get to have the feeling that you may be contributing to research, medical advancements, etc. As for the cons: you have no control over what happens to your body when you sign it over to a for-profit scientific donation company. They can do any kind of research they want with it, even if it's research (like advances in plastic surgery or military technology) that you would have totally disagreed with during your life.

What are you going to do with your own body when you die?

Right now, with what's currently legal, the answer is that I want a natural burial. What I affectionately call "corpse, ground, hole, dump." My body will be buried in a shallow grave, in only a shroud, to decompose naturally. I want my body to go back into the nitrogen cycle, no need to seal me up in a casket and underground vault. In the future, I hope that it becomes legal to leave my body above ground to be consumed by animals. That's my real ideal.

Who have you discovered lately?

E.O.Wilson is a two time Pulitzer winning Harvard biologist (and the world's best known ant expert!) that has taken, in his later years, to writing about human nature and the future of humanity. He writes about big, huge, overarching topics that no one else would touch. I read his last book, The Social Conquest of Earth, two years ago. And just last week I snagged an advanced copy of his upcoming book, The Meaning of Human Existence, and re-discovered how much we need him. His books are filled with ideas that make your head spin. We need hundreds of more thinkers and writers like him.

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Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 51 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Rarely have I read something that is as consistently entertaining, insightful, and well written as this book. The author seamlessly weaves her knowledge of death history and theory into the narrative of her personal experiences, leaving the reader confronting mortality in an informed but emotionally poignant manner. This book is genuine, thought provoking, and important. I will definitely be re-reading this one.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A great book. Dark humor, sadness, eye opening, educational. Reading Caitlin's younger years reminded me of my own to a point. Attending my first funeral at around the age of 9, sitting a few rows back from the casket that contained my Grandmother I watched and waited to see if her chest would rise and take in a breath of air. I knew she was dead. My mother told me the day before that Grandma had died but I'd seen plenty of Mummy and Frankenstein movies to know that the dead didn't always remain so. Two years ago my girlfriend died of cancer and I was with her til the end though I didn't push the button. I'm of an age that I fear brake failure more than I do death. Caitlin's writings took me back to a place I had been before. Was a good story.
Old_Dog More than 1 year ago
I'm a recent admittee to the ranks of septuagenarians. This book caught me at the "right time" of my life when issues such as "pre-planning" are no longer avoidable. The author provides a useful perspective on America's death industry and options for making a deal with it. I found the book to be informative and thought provoking. Ms. Doughty remains light and good humored in her approach to a serious topic which could otherwise be scary, heavy and dark. I will be recommending this book to my book club; the discussion should be fascinating!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I couldn't put this book down. I found it entertaining and thought provoking. As another revier remarked, "This book is genuine, thought provoking, and important," I couldn't agree more. This book challenged my misconceptions about the death industry and forced me to think about my death and how to make it a good death. It's inevitable folks, so do it right.
JDwax More than 1 year ago
Smoke Gets in Your Eyes is a crazy look inside the world of a young mortician. I’ve read inside stories about a lot of careers, but this was my first time reading about a mortician. The story is well told and has its fair share of humor and memorable characters. Five Stars.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Very engaging read. I liked the spirit of this book and author. It is refreshing to read about new and thoughtful ideas from a young career and business minded person. This book is funny, but also informative and well researched. It really impressed me on her reflections of communist Jessica Mitford. After reading a lot about the Mitford sisters, this part fascinated me. Again, this book is well worth your time and money. This is a hats off to young unique business owners. This book deserves A+++++++
alexapproach More than 1 year ago
Awesome book! Ms. Doughty offers great insight in a manner that is both well-written and well thought out.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I've been a fan of the "Ask a Mortician" web series on Youtube since it began. Caitlin delivers an insider's perspective to the business side of death and how it conflicts with the more spiritual side. The "death denial" culture is something that really struck me. I wish it had been longer!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Smoke Gets in Your Eyes is a very different kind of book. It’s a look inside the life of a young mortician. Sometimes gruesome and almost always fascinating, this is a great book about a world many of us would otherwise not know. Author Caitlin Douhty even manages to find the humor in her story.
efm More than 1 year ago
Well written, easy read, factual, humorous, makes you think about were we came from and how we need to leave this world, is the funeral industry offering enough natural options as to how we are buried.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I had a hard time putting this book down.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved this book. I was afraid to read it as I have recent deaths in my family, but she is interesting and truthful, and learns a lot about life and herself. This was a very cool book, and worth the read.
jacobsgranny More than 1 year ago
This book was very intelligently written, and it kept me very engrossed the entire length of it. Was a very interesting look at the Funeral Industry and it's employees, and pro's and con's. Something to give us thought to when planning a memorial service for a loved one, and pre planning for ourselves if you do that. I was very interested in the different cultures greiving process and burial, and body disposal culture. A very interesting, read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Very good read. Her wit and writing style made for an enjoyable quick read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have been watching her videos for quite a while. I love the dark humor along with learning what awaits in death. At least on a physical level.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I always questioned the 'death industry' and their rules. Thank for your openiness and honesty. Very enlightening, thank you so much.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A well written first hand look at death and the funeral business. It was a great read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
As a regular viewer of Doughty’s “Ask A Mortician” YouTube channel and a student pursuing a career in mortuary science, I was thoroughly impressed. As a layman, I, still, was thoroughly impressed. Doughty’s writing style keeps you entertained throughout, and exposes topics which are not often exposed in everyday society. I would definitely recommend this to any reader, who of course could handle a bit of occasional descriptive medical gore.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Poignant, poetic, informative, humorous, down to earth, and thoroughly fascinating. You go, Glen Coco.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
To see such a guarded and seemingly taboo subject so effectively demystified was just outstanding. Fantastic read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Wow, great book, makes us think of what is really going to happen to all of us, as we will all dance with the grim reaper.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Captivating. Couldn't put it down. I cant wait to find out more about the author and her works.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Loved this book. I'm going to reread it now. It was that good. M
AndrewReadsBooks More than 1 year ago
A Smart, Empathetic Examination of Death Books like this don't come around often. In Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, Caitlin Doughty provides an examination of the American way of dying that is simultaneously personal, clinical, empathetic, and pragmatic. Part an autobiographical recounting of her experiences working for a crematory and pursuing a career in the funeral industry, and part an examination of how we interact with death on a sociocultural level, Doughty pulls back the curtains on aspects of death and dying that we might not even be aware of. I appreciated how Doughty's use of an autobiographical approach allows the reader to engage with material gradually; rather than jumping in with the full complexities of suicide and cultural issues, we start with simple exposure to death and bodies, and slowly explore more emotionally challenging elements - family responses to loss, the death of infants and young children, suicides, the homeless, and much more. We are offered an opportunity to see Doughty wrestle with her own ideas about death and funerals, which in turn invites the reader to interrogate their own values. If you, as a reader, don't find yourself asking questions like "What would I like my funeral to be like?" and "How will my death be experienced by my loved ones?", then you aren't paying attention. There were some moments where Doughty's biographical pieces were a little distracting. Her asides about her romantic life and her suicidal thoughts in the woods felt important but insufficient. I can respect the author's decision to be guarded and vague about these, but I feel that the book would be stronger if they were more present. I also wish we saw more of the author's experience in the embalming school; while the main message came through well (cremation > embalming), greater attention to those processes would probably help readers connect there, and would tie into the larger conversation about people's fears of fragmentation of their bodies in death. As someone who recently had a death in the family, and who regularly works with families experiencing death and dying, I found this book to do a good job attending to the emotional vulnerabilities that the context of loss entails. This book is important, and likely to be very helpful to those contemplating their own mortality.
Kaite1189 More than 1 year ago
Such an amazing book, I found it through the writer's youtube channel ("Ask a Mortician"). It has truly changed the way I view death. Before reading this book I thought that I was comfortable with the idea of death, and that if I died tomorrow I'd be okay with that. However, this has really ripped away the unconscious feeling that I'll always be here. I'll die one day, and be forgotten just like everyone else, which is oddly comforting.