Caitlin Doughty is an American mortician, author, blogger, and YouTube personality known for advocating death acceptance and the reform of Western funeral industry practices.
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It is I, Caitlin Doughty! I'm a mortician and I own a funeral home in Los Angeles, Undertaking LA. The last three years I've traveled the world looking at different death customs, and just released a new book From Here to Eternity: Traveling the World to Find the Good Death.
You may know me from my webseries on death, Ask a Mortician or my last book, Smoke Gets in Your Eyes.
I am here to take questions from my adoring crowd.... Hello? Anybody? SOMEONE ASK A QUESTION FOR THE LOVE OF GOD.
Alright, I got my coffee and I AM READY FOR THIS. BRING ON THE DEATH.
I plan on going into the funeral industry after I finish my bachelor's degree. It feels like a calling for me, and it is something that I feel very passionate about. What is the best, honest advice you can give to a young woman/aspiring funeral director?
Just realize that most of the industry is still run by old dudes with their old dudes ideas. If you suggest "we should let that family come help us dress mom" or "maybe we should advertise the natural burial ground two towns over" they might think it's a hippie crap (real quote). Understand that you're up against an industry that doesn't want to change, and you have to be a death warrior in the trenches!
Hello Caitlin! Do you have a go-to morbid fun fact that you like to pull out at parties?
That people used to camp out in beached rotting whales for days for medicinal purposes.
Hi Caitlin, I have 3 questions:
My boyfriend is really awkward about talking about death. we're only 25 but I have a life limiting condition. Every time I try to raise it, no matter how gently, he shuts down. I want to involve him in my death care plan and get it in place should the inevitable happen before it's expected. But I'm really not sure how to approach it....
Do you plan to come to Ireland any time soon? We have at last one awesome natural burial ground I think you'd like :)
Why ARE there so many secrets?!
Thank you for all the work you do, you have opened my eyes to the world of death care possibilities and given me knowledge and tools to allow me to live my best life and die my best death
I think you need to try a little more tough love with your boyfriend. Say, "you know that I have this condition that I live with everyday, and of course having this condition means I don't have the luxury not to think about death. It hurts my feelings that you won't talk to me about what might happen. I know how hard it is, but it would mean a lot if we could have an open conversation about this." If he shuts you down keep trying! You deserve to have this conversation and you're not weird for wanting it.
I would love to come back to Ireland.
If I told you where I keep the cache of corpse secrets I wouldn't have a bag of corpse secrets to enthrall and delight!
Are you dressing up for Halloween? What's your favorite band?
One time in college I dressed up as "normal" with sweatpants and pink nail polish and a baseball cap and no one recognized me. I don't know what I'll be this year, any suggestions?
The Order Of the Good Death has a huge list of books. Here's a link http://www.orderofthegooddeath.com/resources/books
Thanks for the assist, CurryPotatoes.
Hi Caitlin! I read your first book this past winter and I'm a huge fan. Literally days ago I found your YouTube and I'm binging it. I have a few questions!
I'm afraid of decomposing after I die. Can you make me feel better about it?
And, my mom passed this past May. This is super morbid, but she was buried in a plain casket, no embalming. Is she a skeleton by now?
I love the idea of decomposing when I die. Getting put in the cozy earth and having little microbes and fungi chomp away at me, going back into the natural world. That brings me a lot of comfort. If you can get to that place, wonderful! But remember you have so many options. Does cremation make you feel better, preserving your body, donating it to science? Choose what makes you feel comfy about dying!
Re: your mom, it depends on all kind of factors like soil, temp, etc. But with no embalming, most likely, yes.
Would you watch an actual show called American Mummies where contestants compete to prepare a corpse using various mummifying techniques?
This is an incredible idea, and obviously I would watch it.
The flaw I see in your evil plan for TV domination is that part of the beauty of the mummy is the potential for long term preservation. Sure, your mummy looks great NOW, two weeks later, but what about two years? Two decades? Two centuries?
What is the strangest thing that a family has wanted to bury with a loved one?
Ashes of the guy's dog in a tiny dog urn. They wanted me to sneak the ashes into the casket, since it's not technically allowed. I won't say if I did it or not (heh heh heh wink).
First off, I'd like to thank you for existing! Your web series and books have helped me cope with the fear of my own mortality, and I've started to gain an interest in everything about death. Funny thing, I had a dream about meeting you last night!
Anyways, my question for you is what's the most interesting cultural funeral practice that you have researched or personally have seen for yourself?
You had a dream about meeting me, and here we are, meeting. Hello. We're best of friends now. Can you loan me $5?
I call the mummified bodies of South Suluwesi in Indonesia the "holy grail of corpse interaction." Seeing families take the mummies out of their graves to clean and dress them was an experience I will never forget. Especially since it was so normal! You think it would be freaky, but there were teenagers uploading pictures of their mummy grandpa to Instagram and Facebook.
Hi Caitlin! I'm a huge fan and have been watching your YouTube channel for years and picked up your book yesterday!
I wanted to thank you. My parents are getting older and you inspired me to have "the talk" with them. I'm so glad I did because I learned that what I expected them to say wasnt the case at all! I thought their religion required burial, but my mom told me they prefer cremation. I wouldn't have known that except for your work. Thank you!
My question - what's with the hair cut? All the members of the good death you have on your channel have the dark hair and blunt bangs. I can't pull it off and fear I'll never be accepted as a deathling. Is it a requirement or can you waive it for me since my face shape makes me look like He-Man if I get bangs?
Thanks for all you do. Come to Utah someday!!
I'm sorry to inform you yarnicles, but the bangs are, in fact, required.
I've had this hair since 2001, so I may not be the right one to ask. Proof: https://www.instagram.com/p/BVJP95bDUO-/
Congrats on your mom's (eventual, hopefully not soon) cremation!
I love your videos and attitude to death. Honestly it's refreshing to see and your presentation style is brilliant.
I'm British and find our deathcare system very different to your own. Do you think ours is better or worse and do you have a country's system you prefer?
I don't like to rank funeral customs, though it's well known I shoot the side eye to America quite often.
Both the US and UK have some serious denial issues. In the US we chemically preserve the body and put makeup on it and display it, making the body look "lifelike." In the UK you tend to not see the body at all, watching the closed coffin go straight in for cremation. Neither of these options really get us involved in the process! Just hang out with the natural dead body, folks! I promise you'll like it.
If soap operas can last decades, so can a show about mummy making.
Ok, I like where you're going with this.
Hey! I got your book from preorder and am so excited to start it.
What is the hardest part of writing a book?
Writing a book. It's suuuuuuccckkkkksssss. Don't do it. Paint a picture. Meditate. Go outside. Meet your friends for coffee. Don't write a book if you don't have to it's hard. (This isn't very inspirational advice, sorry.)
What is your opinion on viking funerals?
I'm sorry to break it to you, my friend: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FQJOs8rm6xM
Hi Caitlin from a fellow Caitlin!
i watched your most recent video on Lady Dai.
as an advocate of the Good Death as well as a historian/scholar, what are your thoughts on the ethics of removing bodies from their tombs or resting places for scientific or historical studies? do you think bodies should be left alone for eternity, as intended, or do you think there is a responsibility of scientists and historians to use these bodies to further study the human story?
thanks, i am so excited to read your book!
This is such a complicated question, but an important one.
I'm all for science and discovery and research. We've learned so much about humanity from the long dead.
However, it's a problem if there are still relatives who don't agree with the disinterment. There's especially a problem if the bodies are put on display in the museum setting.
This gets into some of the same issues as zoos. Why would you lock up a majestic animal? But, if conservation and learning and funding can happen to save a species, is it worth it on balance?
I could talk about this all day, I'll leave it at that for now.
What was the most surprising thing you learned while in school for being a mortician??
I didn't realize that we would be practicing embalming on the unclaimed dead of Los Angeles. I wasn't comfortable with it then, and still am not comfortable with it.
Hi Caitlin! When is your next book coming out? I ask because I already finished From Here to Eternity and I need more. Sorry to rush you.
PS - I listened via audiobook and it was a great decision. Your reading was delightful.
DON'T DO THIS TO ME MY BOOK CAME OUT TUESDAY. I'm going into one of those chambers Han Solo was in in Star Wars for the next few months and maybe I'll emerge with a clever idea.
Hi Caitlin! What are some of the reactions you get from people when they find out what you do for a living?
I feel bad that so many people in the death industry get reactions like "UGH MORBID, why would you do that?"
Honestly, no one really says that to me. Maybe it's because I'm already known for doing this, or I'm so enthusiastic about it. But for the most part people say "what? cool! tell me about your favorite decomposing body!"
A crematorium would make an awesome kiln. Have you ever thought of taking up pottery?
Huh, I think they're about the same temperature, 1,900 degrees F plus. I WONDER if anyone has ever attempted to place pottery in a cremation machine at the same time as, say, the body of a sculptor? There's probably a crucial logistics aspect that I'm missing here, but I think that's a lovely idea.
Hey Caitlin, huge fan of your work, are you ever going to bring back death favorites of the month?
Sure! You want books, cultural practices, movies? Whatcha want, my dear?
In Dungeons and Dragons, would you be a cleric who lays the undead to rest, or be a necromancer who commands them?
Can I be both? A simple cleric with a dark side?
Hi Caitlin! Adore you works, Death has never been so much fun.
Real Question: Is there a grave of somebody/somebodies well know that you would like to visit but haven't? Also, what death topic would you really like to make a video on but haven't had the time or audience interest in to make it?
Goofy question: If you had the chance to be immortal, would you take it?
I want to visit Elvis at Graceland! I can also visit Dollywood while I'm in Tennessee. I should just do that. That sounds fun. Vacation- planned.
How do you want to die?
If you could live forever, would you?
Yikes, ixnay on the living forever. The fact that I'm going to die is what gives my life urgency and meaning.
How would I like to die? Somewhat quickly, feeling loved and generally positive about what I've accomplished for the world. Maybe eating a brownie as it happens. "She died doing what she loved."
When you where going to school for this, did you meet any necrophiliacs?
Not any that identified themselves to me, no.
Fun facts about necrophilia: A small amount of the people who engage intimately with a dead body are actually attracted to corpses. It's mostly (men) looking for an unresisting partner because they've had a difficult time being intimate with living people. But even then it's incredibly rare.
Hello! What are your thoughts on pros and cons of burying bodies on private land?
Also, do you feel starting natural burial grounds in order to protect land is an easy way to introduce green burial to smaller communities? Why or why not?
PS- #deathpositivepup sends his luv.
A pro is the feeling like you're TRULY taking care of the dead, my land, my dead body, my process. A con would be.... ummm... what if you move when you have that third kid and whoops, grandpa is in the backyard.
That's why there should be natural burial grounds (or conservation burial grounds, like you mention) in EVERY community if possible. Where you can go and be involved and help dig the grave and place the body in and plant a shrub and feel like this is your communal place to keep your dead.
Hi Caitlin! I loved Smoke Gets in Your Eyes and just received your new book yesterday. What are some other books you suggest for the morbidly curious?
Stiff, by Mary Roach, of course.
Ghostland by Colin Dickey
The American Way of Death by Jessica Mitford
Death to Dust by Kenneth Iserson
The list goes on!
Ha! Good answer.
Any relation to Drew Doughty?
No! When I first moved to LA there were giant billboards along the freeway that said "DOUGHTY." It's such an unusual name that it was strange to see it in giant print.
He pronounces it wrong though ;)