A Mortician Challenges Our Obsession With Looking Young
January 25, 2016 11:23 AM   Subscribe

I pulled the zipper down, revealing a body like I had never seen. She appeared as if emerging from the primordial goo at the beginning of time. It was Mother Earth, severely decomposed and glorious.
posted by katie (29 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
"Crazed patches of thick mold hardened like protective carapaces all down her neck and torso, while her hands and feet were mummified, brown, and shriveled like a transplant from ancient Egypt. Her eyes shrank back into her head and her mouth twisted into a soundless scream, as if begging to be let out of her death-bag and back into nature."

WOWOWOWOW. I just...
posted by Annika Cicada at 11:35 AM on January 25, 2016 [2 favorites]

I love Caitlin Doughty so much. Thanks for posting this!
posted by mittens at 11:39 AM on January 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

I adore Caitlin Doughty. She is a very rare voice in an industry, indeed an entire society, that is mad with denial of death.
posted by Sophie1 at 11:44 AM on January 25, 2016 [2 favorites]

Oh god now I have that creepy crawling feeling like I have bugs all over me aughhhhh
posted by a strong female character at 11:59 AM on January 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

You pay five bucks for this account, but that price doesn't include the shower you'll occasionally need.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 12:09 PM on January 25, 2016 [8 favorites]

hey dudes are there perhaps photos attached to this article that i might not want to see due to potentially forever being unable to unsee, pls advise
posted by poffin boffin at 12:18 PM on January 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

No, you have to use your imagination.
posted by mittens at 12:21 PM on January 25, 2016

I mean there is a picture at the top, but the picture is sort of like if Malory Ortberg did a bit on women enjoying fungus rather than ocean waves.
posted by mittens at 12:26 PM on January 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

And now I miss Hannibal.
posted by erinfern at 12:29 PM on January 25, 2016 [2 favorites]

I quite dig Ms. Doughty, and found out about her through the great Lindsey Fitzharris. Good post!
posted by rhizome at 12:32 PM on January 25, 2016

It nearly cancels my fear of death, my dearest said,

When I think of cremation. To rot in the earth

Is a loathsome end, but to roar up in flame—besides, I am used to it,

I have flamed with love or fury so often in my life,

No wonder my body is tired, no wonder it is dying.

We had a great joy of my body. Scatter the ashes.

Cremation by Robinson Jeffers
posted by Splunge at 12:47 PM on January 25, 2016 [26 favorites]

I love the description of her. So wonderful, sad she was disturbed in her earthly return, yet I toast to her beauty!
posted by Oyéah at 12:59 PM on January 25, 2016

This is beautiful in the abstract, but I can't personally imagine arriving at that kind of equanimity about death to be able to look on it and find it beautiful in real life. I'm grateful that there are people out there -- doctors, hospice workers, morticians, etc -- who somehow are grown up enough to do this difficult work.
posted by xris at 2:12 PM on January 25, 2016

I can't personally imagine arriving at that kind of equanimity about death to be able to look on it and find it beautiful in real life.

Have you watched, "Six Feet Under?" In addition to being a pretty great show plotwise, the subject matter was very therapeutic for me and my relationship with death, speaking directly to equanimity.
posted by rhizome at 3:09 PM on January 25, 2016

Whaaaat...we're supposed to feel better about the decay of our bodies through the description of a rotting corpse covered with fungus, rot, maggots, and god knows what else? I thought I was just dealing with sagging, grey hair, and some moles...thanks for introducing that horror show nightmare!
posted by zipadee at 3:34 PM on January 25, 2016

zipadee, I think there is some comfort to be taken in the remembrance of our mortal nature, as well as our immortal makeup. Just as we're made of star stuff, we return to the earth eventually. You can think of fungus and worms and bacteria as nature's little helpers if the thought is as a balm to your mind. Being a half-wax dummy buried in a box is not respect to the dead, it is the effigy that the living use to ward off their fear of death.

Memento mori, sic gloria transit mundi, this too shall pass.

I find the idea of a natural burial soothing. Let me be buried with an apple sapling. I always did make a good apple pie.
posted by the uncomplicated soups of my childhood at 4:04 PM on January 25, 2016 [11 favorites]

Her eyes shrank back into her head and her mouth twisted into a soundless scream, as if begging to be let out of her death-bag and back into nature.

I do not think she was screaming about what you think she was screaming about. I think it was more like, For the love of God, cremate meeee...
posted by Ursula Hitler at 6:28 PM on January 25, 2016

A guy in Durham dedicated the last part of his young life to advocating for green burial. Someone made a movie about it.

I knew Clark, a little. He was awesome. I regret not singing "The Sun Whose Rays" with his cello that evening we crossed paths at the local senior center.

Cremation is fine, I guess. I wonder about how much fuel is used/wasted/saved...
posted by amtho at 7:55 PM on January 25, 2016

I just want a damn viking funeral. I've always been more into boats and water than I have cookouts, ceramics, gardening and statuary. I've made my friends promise that if I end up on some kind of tragic death bed (and not dying, as currently planned, by being hit in the head by a falling coconut while drinking an impossibly stupid cocktail) they'll tell me I'm getting a Viking funeral even if I'm not. I can die imagining the awesomeness of my Viking funeral. And the great news is that I'll be dead whenever my corpse gets dealt with, which means I will neither know nor care where I end up.* Win/win!

*I'm an organ donor, so, you know, whatever/wherever needed.
posted by thivaia at 8:42 PM on January 25, 2016 [2 favorites]

I feel like a troll here, but...what's not to like about a human creature going through the changes that any other human body would go through after dying? After all, most of our DNA is bacterial, not "human." Isn't it natural that those cells would flourish? Colorfully?

And arresting this development by pumping the body full of poison to preserve its physical beauty is a wonderful thing?

Personally, I am offended that when you Google "aesthetics," half of your results are about plastic surgery. You don't have to be a hippie to celebrate nature and how it figures into the development and entropy of the human body. You can be a realist or a God-worshiper. Isn't reality worth a little more than turning a dead body into a wax museum specimen?
posted by kozad at 9:56 PM on January 25, 2016 [3 favorites]

I've never understood embalming... I mean if you can't relax about your looks once you're DEAD... Give me a break.
If anyone is interested in learning more about Edward Hussey's castle, it's here- very beautiful and well worth a visit.
posted by KateViolet at 10:11 PM on January 25, 2016

Caitlin Doughty is a treasure.
posted by That's Numberwang! at 10:26 PM on January 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

My late mother knew Jessica Mitford. She was a fairly regular guest in our home. We had a signed copy of her book. My parents were adamant about cremation. Personally I think burial without all the Pharonic rites of a typical American funeral is fine.
Funny Jeffer's poem makes an appearance. She knew him as well.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 11:39 PM on January 25, 2016 [4 favorites]

I just want a damn viking funeral.

I'm more into the idea of a tibetan sky burial personally (or the zoroastrian version I suppose). mix my bones with sugar and starch and let the birds and other scavengers have me. of course, there's not many places that's uh. encouraged.
posted by suddenly, and without warning, at 6:11 AM on January 26, 2016 [2 favorites]

You can think of fungus and worms and bacteria as nature's little helpers

If you really want to go all out, you can think of them as parts of you. We're living in a little fantasy bubble, a lacuna in time, where humans are somehow separate from the rest of Life just because we're human. You know you've been alive since the beginning of time, right? We're direct descendants of the first cells, and we've been alive all this time even if our memories are vague. Or maybe that's the bronchitis talking? I'm loving the idea that we're swarming with bacteria and you can't tell where the bacteria ends or the human begins or vice versa. Embrace the rot! We're already compost.
posted by sneebler at 7:00 AM on January 26, 2016 [10 favorites]

No pics in the article, but I believe there's a vid.
posted by FatherDagon at 9:22 AM on January 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

When my father died it was decided that there would be a closed casket ceremony and then cremation. I wasn't taking it very well and so had excessive amounts of vodka prior to the "viewing". The casket was open when we got to the funeral home. I completely lost it and had to be taken home, hysterical.

I guess what I'm saying is fuck embalming.
posted by Splunge at 2:49 PM on January 26, 2016 [3 favorites]

My mum died from cancer at home, per her wish, and in my arms until we laid her head on the pillow, where she slowly breathed her last, widely-spaced breaths . She was only in her late fifties, but in her last months her body had become skeletal and her face looked like she was over 80. ("How can you look at me?" she said one time. What could I say? I just said "I love you.") When she was dead, months of suffering left her face and she lay there in her bed looking like a woman in her late fifties, sleeping. It was beautiful to see her like that again, the one good moment in a terrible day.

I don't think we're big on embalming in Oz, certainly when I arranged her funeral and cremation it wasn't offered. Or maybe I'm forgetting, it was a long time ago. Hers was a closed casket. I asked for her ashes so I could scatter them in her garden that she loved so much. The funeral guy made a big deal about it not being easy to arrange (no idea why, I assumed it would be a common request) but he'd fix it for me. They came in a sealed plastic box. Couldn't figure out how to open it, finally got a pointy knife and ground a hole in the plastic and put those ashes into the dirt under a big ironbark tree at dawn. No way was I going to bury a box in the back yard for a dog to come by some day and dig it up.

When my dad died many years before, in his forties from a swift, lethal heart attack, I didn't see him dead until the funeral. His was an open casket. The mortician had rouged his cheeks and it looked very weird on his olive Mediterranean skin. Looked like an effigy, some stranger's idea of him, not himself.
posted by valetta at 2:32 AM on January 29, 2016 [2 favorites]

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