Tag Archives: Death

Book Review: From Here to Eternity: Traveling the World to Find the Good Death, by Caitlin Doughty

The Husband says that I have a morbid fascination with death.

And he’s absolutely correct.

For the longest time, I thought that it was perfectly normal to read the obituaries every day — at 15 years old. (What, didn’t every teenager do that?)

I have a Spotify playlist titled Funeral Songs that I’ve selected as my personal soundtrack for that occasion. There’s a file folder on my laptop with the exact photos I would like displayed.

Maybe it’s the former special events planner in me. Most likely, it’s something embedded deep in my psyche as a result of my father dying suddenly and unexpectedly at age 44, when I was 15. (Hence, the reason for the daily obit readings.) I should probably bring all this up to my therapist at some point, not like we’re lacking for agenda items. Regardless, these are important details that can’t be left to chance. Besides, The Husband says he’s grateful for this vital information because should he wind up being the one in charge of these logistics, he expects to be in no shape to do so.

As well he should be.

Needless to say, I was pretty certain that I was going to love reading From Here to Eternity: Traveling the World to Find the Good Death by Caitlin Doughty and it did not disappoint. Curious to learn more about other cultures’ approaches to death, Doughty traveled to remote corners of the globe (and several United States locales) to observe and participate in rituals that may initially seem bizarre and macabre, but are rich in tradition, dignity and deep meaning.

Let me tell you, this sounds like my kind of trip. I found myself feeling slightly envious of Doughty, getting to experience such Mexico’s Días de los Muertos parade (today is All Soul’s Day, hence the reason for telling you about this book today). She travels to Indonesia for the ma’nene‘, an elaborate annual ceremony where the mummified dead are exhumed after several years, outfitted with new clothes and marched around the village in house-like structures. Who wouldn’t want to see that?!

*adds seeing the ma’nene’ to Bucket List*

In Spain, families rent rooms in oratorios (chapels) and “spend the entire day with their dead, showing up first thing in the morning and staying until the doors close at 10 p.m.,” while the deceased is visible under glass. (Note to The Husband: plan on that for my funeral, please. An all day party sounds perfect.) Green burials are explored in North Carolina; an outdoor cremation on a natural pyre is held in Colorado. A swipe of a coded key card at Japan’s high-tech Ruriden columbarium allows mourners to instantly identify their loved one’s resting place among 600 other souls represented by an illuminated wall of Buddhas.

As I write in my Shelf Awareness book review, From Here to Eternity is my kind of book. Part travelogue, part memoir, and part commentary on America’s corporatized, sterile death industry, Doughty writes with a keenly sharp wit and wry humor.

This one has earned a spot on my Best Books of 2017 List, absolutely. For more, read my full review here.

From Here to Eternity: Traveling the World to Find the Good Death
by Caitlin Doughty 
W.W. Norton
272 pgs.
2017 

 

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podcasts of the last few weeks. (and months. and years.) Ep. 11

NaBloPoMo November 2015

Something has gone a little quirky with my PocketCasts app; for whatever reason, a lot of old episodes recently downloaded onto my phone when my phone’s WiFi was left on. (This snafu nearly blew our monthly home Internet/data/Wifi/whatever usage allowance slightly over the edge.) And when I say a lot, I’m talking 1,300 back episodes — some of which are over three years old and some that I know I’ve listened to and deleted.

(I’m a little frustrated with PocketCasts, actually; it seems a bit unreliable lately, quirky, and more than a little buggy.  Anyone else having these sort of issues or is it just me?)  I’m sure there’s some explanation that more technical minds than mine could figure out.

While I’m pondering that, here’s something else I can’t figure out: why the hell was The Longest Shortest Time cancelled by WNYC?

I listen to a bunch of podcasts — as of this writing, I subscribe to 88 of ’em, which could be contributing to my downloading issues, but I can’t be the only person who subscribes to this many podcasts, can I?  — and The Longest Shortest Time is one of my top five. Hillary Frank has a knack for telling compelling stories about the struggles of parenthood. It’s honest, real, well-written and never fails to draw me in, regardless of the interview.

From the Facebook page, it seems as if Hillary Frank is considering next steps, which will hopefully involve taking LST to another home.  We can all keep our fingers crossed that this does happen — and sooner rather than later.  In the meantime, I’ll be catching up on a few LST episodes I’ve missed.

Here’s what I’ve been listening to lately — in chronological order, including the first episode of an infamous podcast that’s a year old:

Fresh Air with Terry Gross: Pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber On ‘Finding God In All The Wrong People (9/17/2015)
A recovering alcoholic and former stand-up comic, Nadia Bolz-Weber started The House For All Sinners and Saints, a church in Denver, Colorado that is rooted in the Lutheran tradition. (Bolz-Weber is an ordained minister in the ELCA).  She’s a down-to-earth combination of realism and traditional theology and I loved listening to her. Her new book, Accidental Saints: Finding God in the Wrong People, came out this month and I immediately checked it out from the library after listening to this interview.

Strangers: The Teacher Who Couldn’t Read (7/10/2015)
How does someone graduate from high school and college — and then spend 17 years as a high school teacher — without knowing how to read? John Corcoran did. His story is fascinating and sad at the same time.

New Yorker: Fiction: Michael Cunningham Reads Harold Brodkey’s “Dumbness Is Everything,” (6/1/2015)
I love Michael Cunningham and would happily listen to him reciting the alphabet. Even better is listening to his melodious voice read this Harold Brodkey story from a 1996 issue of The New Yorker. I’d never read — nor heard of — the late Harold Brodkey before this episode, which was certainly quite the way to start my morning commute to work.  (And yes, I now need to read much more of his stuff.) Love the New Yorker: Fiction podcasts for that very reason.

Death, Sex, and Money: “In Sickness and In Mental Health (4/8/2015)
One in five people has a mental illness. We have a stereotype about who “these people” are, but the reality is that people with mental illness are our family members, our friends and loved ones, and our co-workers.  They’re people like Guilia who was a happily married newlywed before experiencing a psychological break and being hospitalized for what would be diagnosed as bipolar disorder.

Serial: Episode 1, “The Alibi”  (10/3/2014)
In what is probably the cruelest part of having some episodes downloaded and others not, the first episode of “Serial” turned up in my queue, followed by … none of the others.  Of course I listened to the first episode anyway. Of course I did. And of course I’m now hooked.

As I said, it’s so odd that all these old episodes would suddenly just download. I can’t figure it out, but regardless of the reason, I’m glad it allowed me to catch some great episodes of some of my favorite podcasts.

 

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