Susan K Perry Ph.D.

Creating in Flow

The Truth About Cremation

Burning makes more sense than burying, says funny author.

Posted Jul 02, 2015

Caitlin Doughty, used with permission.
Source: Caitlin Doughty, used with permission.

Most of us aren't anxious to look death in the eye. We know it's coming for each of us, and for each of those we love or for whom we have responsibility, but the harsh facts can be hard to think about. Personally, I think desensitizing ourselves to what will come --what must come--may make it easier what that time does come.

If you agree, you are the right audience for Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: & Other Lessons from the Crematory by Caitlin Doughty. You're also the right audience if you delight in a one-of-a-kind writer's voice. For instance, I doubt that you have ever read a first sentence like this one:

A girl always remembers the first corpse she shaves.

Consider this paragraph from her author's note to decide whether you can handle knowing what really happens when a person is cremated:

This book is about my first six years working in the American funeral industry. For those who do not wish to read realistic depictions of death and dead bodies, you have stumbled onto the wrong book. Here is where you check the metaphorical blindfolds at the door. The stories are true and the people are real. Names and some details (but not the salacious ones, promise) have been changed.

Did you know:

1. The body being cremated isn't "done" until it's reduced to red glowing embers. Black means “uncooked.” After that the machine is turned off, the temperature drops down to 500 degrees, and the chamber is swept out. Writes Doughty:

The rake at the end of the metal pole removes the larger chunks of bones, but a good cremationist uses a fine-toothed metal broom for hard-to-reach ashes. If you’re in the right frame of mind, the bone sweeping can reach a rhythmic Zen, much like the Buddhist monks who rake sand gardens. Sweep and glide, sweep and glide.

2. Number of people who die annually in the United States: 2.5 million. Writes Doughty:

We’d probably pay more attention if no one died all year, and then on December 31 the entire population of Chicago suddenly dropped dead.

3.  Modern embalming methods are horrible and unnecessary. The pointed tip of a piece of metal called the trocar is used to stab the body in numerous places, including stomach, intestines, bladder, and lungs. "The trocar’s job in the embalming process is to suck out any fluids, gases, and waste in the body cavity," Doughty writes. It sucks up brown liquid, splashes it down the drain and into the sewers, then reverses directions, longer sucking but dumping more salmon-pink cocktail, of an even stronger chemical concentration this time, into the chest cavity and abdomen.

4. It's all about profit for the funeral industry, as Doughty writes:

Though there is no law that requires it, embalming is the primary procedure in North America’s billion-dollar funeral industry. It is the process around which the entire profession has revolved over the last 150 years.

I highly recommend Smoke Gets in Your Eyes.

Also check out these informative videos about Caitlin's work and ideas.

Copyright (c) 2015 by Susan K. Perry, author of Kylie's Heel.