Caitlin Doughty takes her travels to Barcelona, Spain, which she calls a land of “almost.” The Altima funeral home puts all of the bodies that they deal with into wooden coffins, and they don’t embalm in most cases, but wakes are behind glass and coffins are kept in granite vaults. More than half of families witness a cremation, but there’s no way to see their loved one once they enter the cremation machine. It may not be the ideal death that Doughty pictures, but perhaps it’s a step in the right direction.
Doughty does touch on those urns that claim that the ashes will become nutrients for a tree. She says that since cremated ashes don’t have the right chemical composition to serve as fertilizer. No $100 urn is going to change that.
Honestly, I’ve been vaguely aware of the tactics that corporate funeral homes often use for years. I remember a sitcom even making jokes about it. That’s really sad if you really think about it. It’s never right to take advantage of people or manipulate them for profit, but grieving families? It’s just kind of sick.
Doughty notes that Spain’s norms for handling their dead have clear cultural and environmental roots. People in Spain tend to either bury or cremate very quickly. Even with a day-long wake, which is apparently really common in Barcelona, the whole process goes by in a matter of a couple days. Since embalming isn’t common, Spain’s hot, humid weather would lead to faster decomposition and purification. Additionally, Spain wasn’t always the mainly Catholic nation that it is today. There was a time that Spain was largely a Muslim country and in that faith people bury their dead within a day or two.
Overall, this chapter shows some of the growing pains that the funeral industry is going through. Slowly, step by step some of the reforms that people like Doughty are advocating for are coming into play. As fascinating as Doughty’s accounts of brand new alternative death handling methods or traditional funeral rituals are, this glimpse into the changing mainstream funeral industry gives me a perspective that I never thought of before. Whether or not these methods are objectively good is up for debate, if it’s even possible to measure a funeral with any level of objectivity. Still, this chapter is an example of how change happens in the real world. Step by step, with difficulty and frustration, but ultimately every changing, and never static. Ironic, as death is the one thing that everyone has in common, and is the most permanent, unchanging state that one can be in.