Caitlin Doughty is a mortician on a mission. The 30-year-old funeral industry expert, who released a memoir entitled “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes and Other Lessons from the Crematory” is leading a millennial-age movement in “death positivity,” encouraging individuals to take control of their lives and deaths. CBS interviewed Doughty about her thoughts on the death industry and where the trends are going in the future. Here are some surprising takeaways:
More people should witness cremation.
Doughty describes an incident that left a profound impact on her: watching a large family attend a cremation service and become involved in the process. She encourages more families to get directly involved in the cremation process:
“One day, we had a Chinese family and they did a very large ‘witness cremation.’ The whole family filed into the back and watched the body being loaded into the cremation machine and it was really, really a profound experience because they were all crying. The oldest son pushed the button that moved his father into the cremation machine, and it really showed me how much that involvement is missing in all the other cremations I was doing.”
A layperson is capable of caring for a deceased body.
Doughty claims the biggest misconception is that funeral directors are uniquely qualified to care for a deceased body. Unless an embalming is required, laypersons have the ability to care for and prepare the body for final disposition. Anyone can care for a loved one’s corpse as long as the person died at home and preparing the body simply entails washing the body, shrouding the body, holding a wake at home, and delivering the body to the cremation facility or cemetery yourself. Families who want reassurance, or those who live in states with strict burial laws, can request to be supervised by a professional.
Green options are revolutionizing the death industry.
Doughty explains that the death industry is trending toward more eco-friendly options in the future such as alkaline hydrolysis, or liquid cremation. Another new green project is the Urban Death Project, with the aim to compost bodies for a natural burial. Doughty believes as more people get comfortable with contemplating and discussing their own deaths, they will naturally become more involved in their own impact on future generations.
Letting people control their deaths is “the next Civil Rights issue.”
Doughty encourages this generation to remove the stigma surrounding death and talk openly and honestly about the subject. She believes current Western attitudes about death create a culture where individuals are disconnected from what is a natural process. Instead, she’d like to see people not only take control of their own deaths but empower others to do so as well. “Having these conversations about allowing people to die and how they want to die — and with control — is going to be incredibly important,” she argues, “I think in some ways it’s going to be the next Civil Rights issue.”