Through her book, Caitlin Doughty raises a valid point which I’d never before considered – humans have vastly different views on death and death practices, spanning across cultures, geographies and time. From here to Eternity seeks not only to illuminate a few of the differing practices surrounding death, but to understand why the topic of death elicits such a variety of responses, when we all must succumb to it regardless of beliefs.
A mortician by trade, Doughty travelled the world to understand what death means to others. In her homeland of America, where funerals are among the most expensive in the world, traditional funeral pyres and not so traditional attempts at human composting are discussed. Doughty visits Indonesia, where corpses are mummified over time and treated as one of the family despite no pulse. Mexico’s Dias de los Muertos festivals honouring death are visited. Spain’s attempts at making death ‘green’ feature along with Japan’s culture of suicide and highest cremation rate in the world. Finally, we’re taken to Bolivia, where skulls are venerated without their bodies. In short, From Here to Eternity chases death, in a hope to understand it, and what a journey it is.
Caitlin Doughty has an easy yet respectful humour, which together with her informative yet conversational tone make the book not only easy to read, but highly enjoyable. In addition, there are beautiful illustrations which serve to emphasise certain points, which give the book an entirely relaxed, artistic feel. Far from a macabre fascination with death and dying, this is an intelligent look at how funeral practices, mourning and death itself differ radically across the globe, and an explanation of some of the reasons behind this.
From Here to Eternity is intriguing, directly asking the questions many find taboo, yet all must face when their time comes. A phenomenon as natural and unavoidable as birth, death is just another part of the great adventure of life, and Doughty emphasizes that we do not need to fear or shy away from it.
From Here to Eternity by Caitlin Doughty is published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson, an imprint of Orion Books, and is available in South Africa from Jonathan Ball Publishers.