From Here to Eternity: Part 9

After Caitlin Doughty’s around-the-world death exploration, she returns to her home in California to cover one final death. A woman was to receive a natural burial in Joshua Tree, California, facilitated by her funeral home. She was simply wrapped in a cotton shroud and placed in a three-foot-deep hole in the ground. Her family said that it was the best funeral to honor her values as an activist and environmentalist.

Doughty discusses what she would eventually like done with her body. Unfortunately, as an American, she will likely be unable to have the sky burial that she said is her ideal scenario. It’s really ironic how in our freedom-obsessed society, we have pretty limited freedom as to what to do with our dead. despite the enormous amount of land that the United States has, regulations force us to struggle to find a place to bury our dead. In Tibet and among the Farsi people, bodies are laid out for vultures to eat. within minutes, the body is no more than a skeleton, with everything else carried to the sky. However, such a practice is pretty much impossible in the United States, and especially California.

That’s really what Doughty seems to be wanting to say in this book. In the United States, there’s such a push to go with one of two options: burial or cremation. Even with alternatives that are available, for the most part they stem from cremation or burial. Sure, body donation to medical or forensic science is an option, but ultimately one that leads back to burial or cremation. Medical cadavers are cremated and returned to families, while bodies used for forensic study are kind-of-sort-of buried, but their exact fate is unknown until the person isn’t alive to find out. Looking at other rituals surrounding death may be morbid and uncomfortable, but it’s a valuable look at other people’s values and how they face death and accept it. It reminds me of something one of my professors said when she found out that I’m reading this book and I explained what it’s about. She said that Americans like to pretend that death doesn’t exist. That Americans cover their ears for as long as possible until death slaps them across the face. I felt like she hit the nail on the head. And having that perspective on death is hardly healthy.

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