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Ask a Mortician – not your typical YouTube channel

the second diamond

Ask a Mortician is not your typical YouTube channel. I’m not actually sure what a typical YouTube channel is, but I know that this channel is the opposite of that. The host is Caitlin Doughty, mortician/funeral director and best selling author. As such, you would think her channel would be more widely known, but you would be wrong. This made me sad, so I decided to write about it.

The philosophy of Ask a Mortician could be summarized with this one sentence:

“I believe that the culture of silence around death should be broken through discussion, gatherings, art, innovation,
and scholarship.”

The Order of the Good Death

In a classic Ask a Mortician episode Caitlin takes questions from the comment section and—using her expertise as a funeral director—answers them. “What does it take to become a mortician? How do you dress a corpse? Do I really get my mother’s ashes in the urn, or is it just cement dust?” Do you have questions about cryogenics, mummies, or anything death related? You have come to the right place! This small corner of the internet is dedicated to discussion about death. 
A large number of Caitlin’s videos comment on the current state of the western funeral industry, our burial traditions and why innovation is necessary to combat our unsustainable practices. How long can we continue to waste resources trying to stop the inevitable decay of our dead bodies? What other alternatives are there?

Death and taxes

Most people are not ready to face death. Most people don’t even want to talk about it. It is a horrible thing to lose someone, and being unprepared for it makes it so much worse. If you had to call a funeral home right now, what would say? Do you know the right questions to ask? Are there any red flags you should pay attention to? Remember, you would be at the most vulnerable time of your life, relying on the help of a complete stranger, who could be the sweetest most honest person you have ever met, or he could be someone who would try to take advantage of your grief. If the questions above made you feel unprepared, consider watching this video, it will make you feel better. 

The second-half of Caitlin’s videos focus on culture and history. There are segments such as “Iconic Corpse”, which takes a look at dead bodies that became famous due to their extraordinarily well preserved state, or some sort of horrible mismanagement. “Morbid Minute” is… well… morbid. but these episodes are usually around 3 minutes long and focus on a single, strange tidbit in history, such as the consumption of lovely, green, arsenic candy, or the act of chilling inside a decomposing whale. You know, normal things. On that note, I would argue that all of her videos are morbid minutes, with such classic titles as:

Skulls, Willows, Cherubs & Other Gravestone Emojis!
The Trial of the Corpse Pope!
A Short History of Human Skulls and Drinking Cups!

You know. Normal things :’D <3

How did all this information change me?

I haven’t realized there were so many things about this subject I never knew before. I never wanted to be embalmed, even before I saw an actual embalmed body I thought it was strange. Now, I’m 100% sure that I don’t want to be embalmed, and I feel like most people wouldn’t if they would know what does it actually entail. The world “embalm”, is a nice word. It implies something nice and desirable, like putting lotion on your skin. It doesn’t invoke the image of a big ass needle stabbing you in the abdomen.
For the longest time I wanted to be cremated. It seemed cheaper, but most importantly it skipped the “maggots feasting on my eyes” phase of decomposition, which made me uneasy. I’ve never considered how much energy is wasted by cremating a single person, nor did I know that the end result is infertile dust that can’t nourish anything; a blow to everybody who thought they would become part of a tree after their ashes are scattered. Listening to Caitlin describe her own death plan with confidence made made me more comfortable with my own mortality.

“Looking mortality straight in the eye is no easy feat. To avoid the exercise, we choose to stay blindfolded, in the dark as to the realities of death and dying. But ignorance is not bliss, only a deeper kind of terror.” 

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory, by Caitlin Doughty

Books? Books!

Caitlin Doughty has written two books so far. Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory is a memoir that describes her first job as a crematory operator with the help of gallows humor and corpses. From Here to Eternity: Traveling the World to Find the Good Death explores death rituals around the world, comparing our lack of interaction with the dead against the rich traditions of other cultures. The book introduces the reader to alternative forms of burial, some of which are not currently legal in the US, but one day could become the norm.
When I recommend people to see a movie or read a book, I’m usually specific. I never say “Yes, I recommend this to everybody.” There are not many things you could recommend to everybody, since people have a wide range of tastes and interests, however this is one of the rare cases when I can honestly say, I do recommend these books to everybody, because no matter how different we are, we will all experience death at some point in our lives. I will die. You will die. Everybody will die at some point. 

Greatest book trailer ever?

          

Death positive?

Death positive is a movement and a way of thinking. It promotes the ideas you have been reading about so far. If you would like to know more here is a better description of what it really means, 

…and because this is equally important, here is a description of what it is NOT.

If you decide that you want to do more, you can find a list of resources here.

If you are like “meh, I’m not really into all that reading”, there is this 30 minute documentary for you to enjoy.

I hope you enjoyed reading this, but more than that, I hope you learned something new. 

Seriously though, check out her videos, that channel needs more love.

 

best, Alice
alice@cozyloft.us

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Caitlin Doughty

Mortician, Author