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“From Here to Eternity”: a review of Caitlin Doughty’s latest book on death


From Here to Eternity: Traveling the world to find the good death is Caitlin Doughty’s latest book. Part anthropological study, part travel memoir Doughty travels to far and wide places around the world to learn about how different cultures deal with and treat death. This book feels like the natural flow-on from her previous book When Smoke Gets in Your Eyes which looks at how the treatment of death and the business of death is treated in the U.S. Both of Doughty’s books bring social taboos around death to the forefront.

To bring matters a little closer to my home country, Australia, I saw a recent article in the news that talked about a woman in Western Australia who lived with her dead husband for five weeks because she was not able to accept his death. Comments made about the article ranged from people feeling sad and sorry for the woman to other commenters being completely freaked out and disgusted by the woman. Knowing what I know thanks to Doughty’s explanations about death, dying, dead bodies, and death practices around the world, I did not feel sorry for the woman or disgusted by her behaviour. In From Here to Eternity Doughty talks about a community in Indonesia that exhumes its dead every few years to wash, dust, re-clothe, and chat with their lost loved ones. They even live with the dead inside their homes for many years. In Doughty’s book When Smoke Gets In Your Eyes she speaks on the struggles that grieving families face in the U.S. with modern American funeral homes. The dead a whisked away and hidden, brought out for maybe an hour or two in a casket and then buried or burned because dead bodies are ‘dangerous’.

Doughty’s most poignant question that is echoed throughout all of her work on death is:

“How can we have a better relationship with death and the dead?”

What if we lived in a world that meant a woman who was struggling to grieve and comprehend the loss of her husband was supported and allowed to care for him in death until she was ready to let him go?

From Here to Eternity asks us to challenge our cultural understanding and relationships with death by looking at death through the lens of different cultures from around the world. What you can get is a beautiful macabre kaleidoscope.

Have you read any of Caitlin Doughty’s books? How do you feel about death and dying? Are you up for open discussions or does it make you uncomfortable? As always, share the reading love.

P.S. I um-ed and ah-ed about adding this note to my review, but I thought I would put it out their in the hopes to educate. Doughty mentions the didgeridoo in her book, From Here to Eternity, and its actual traditional name is yidaki. Didgeridoo is a non-indigenous word that came from British colonisers describing the sound the instrument made. The instrument came from Arnhem land, Northern Australia. Words matter. Cultures matter. I do not except everyone to know, but now that you have read this, educate others. Learn. And love.