Caitlin Doughty: Meeting my favorite mortician

If you follow our Facebook page, then you’ve probably seen me share some of the wonderful videos from the popular webseries “Ask a Mortician,” created by the Order of the Good Death and featuring a lovely young mortician named Caitlin Doughty. If you haven’t, you should go watch a few right now. Seriously. I’ll wait.

I can’t promote these enough. We all have questions about this industry, which has been shrouded in mystery to most of us – even if we don’t want to think about it or admit it to ourselves. These videos are funny and honest and sometimes irreverent, making it easier to approach what is a difficult subject for many.

Last night I was able to attend a lecture by Caitlin at the Cleveland Sculpture Center as part of an installation, “Made in Mourning,” and lecture series they are offering called “The Dirt on Death.” Caitlin herself explained the videos as a “gateway drug,” a way to get people talking about death in a culture which is dealing with some serious death denial.

The statistics she shared certainly support the need for this conversation to begin taking place. The New York Times reports that only 22% of Americans would want extreme life saving measures to be taken for them, while the rest would not. However, of those who do not wish to be resuscitated, only 17% have actually completed a living will communicating those directives. And by the year 2030, 8.5 million Americans will be over the age of 85 and half of them will be suffering from Alzheimer’s or some form of dementia. Not talking about it is an epidemic, and one that we desperately need to change.

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A large portion of Caitlin’s presentation was dedicated to educating us about the role and services provided by a funeral home, and our options for burial. She advocates for natural burial because of the increased opportunities for family involvement and the obvious ecological benefits. I went over the moon when she mentioned Foxfield specifically. Meeting someone you admire is one thing. Having her call you “an American hero” – yup, that vaulted me right to the level of ‘blushing, stuttering fan-girl.’

The take-away moment for me was when a young hospice worker asked, “How do we get those closest to us to talk about death, when they may not want to address it.” Caitlin’s response was to keep trying. Do not give up. Try showing them a somewhat silly internet video to break the ice. Eventually, we’ll reach them.