Book Review: From Here to Eternity: Traveling the World to Find a Good Death by Caitlin Doughty (5/5)
What does it mean to die with dignity?
This is the question that I found myself pondering constantly throughout Doughty’s second book (230 pages), but the answer seems to change based on where you are and who you ask — and I came away from the book thinking that the answer definitely isn’t found in the traditional funeral homes of the United States. In fact, Eternity shows that the US funeral industry and American cultural norms around death & dying are everything but dignified.
This book was surprising in the way that it made me think about the intersections of death with lots of different topics. Throughout her travels, throughout the United States, Mexico, Japan, Belize, and others, each country brought a different intersection to the forefront. Issues like abortion, body anatomy, feminism, technology, and misogyny in religion were tied into each essay.
Doughty definitely has a focus on more ecological and natural kinds of burial practices and spends a lot of time explaining why the Americanized embalming and cremations in modern funeral homes are so problematic. But mostly, Doughty’s focus is the discussion of allowing families to let their grief and mourning take up space. The removal of the family from the process of death — separating loved ones from the corpse and removing the dying process from the home — is the problem at the center of the American inability to grapple with loss & death. This is the revelation that is sown into Doughty’s journey around the globe — purposeful interaction with death can heal. We as a society must make space for that.
Overall, this book is just an interesting and entertaining read. Not only is it deeply informative and interesting on every page, but the author is incredibly funny and easy to spend time with. As a young woman who wants to pursue her masters in Bioethics and public policy, with a focus on end of life care, this book was exactly what I needed to read this summer. I would also totally want to get a drink with Doughty and those are absolutely the best kind of non-fiction books. I totally intend to read her first book too — The Smoke Gets in Your Eyes — and anything else she decides to write in the future (Her new book is up for pre-order now, btw).
*This book discusses suicide in a way that may be disturbing to some readers (Japan)
Kathryn Poe is a student in Columbus, OH