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  1. Book ImageFrom Here to Eternity: Traveling the World to Find the Good Death

    Caitlin Doughty

    A New York Times and Los Angeles Times Bestseller

    The best-selling author of Smoke Gets in Your Eyes expands our sense of what it means to treat the dead with "dignity."

A message from Caitlin Doughty

Dear Reader,

Congratulations! You have completed a remarkable journey, traversing the globe and traveling along the world’s oldest and most convoluted border: the one between the living and the dead. Along the way, you’ve experienced the rituals and beliefs of diverse communities, from the moving to the grotesque, from the surreal to the profound. What unites all these customs is the way they provide their cultures with a meaningful understanding of life, death, grief, and comfort. You’ve also considered our own American funereal customs and the ways our sanitized, corporatized death practices both support and fail us.

But the journey is not over! Reading the book should be a jumping-off point to larger discussions with your friends, family, partners, and reading groups. One of the imaginative failures of our modern American death rituals is the refusal to consider our needs as survivors and how these needs can be truly met. With discussion and consideration, you can start to reverse this trend and take back what the end of life means to you and your loved ones.

Discussion Questions

  1. In From Here to Eternity, Caitlin Doughty claims that American “culture is so squeamish around death” that “we refuse to have … conversations, asking our family and friends what they want done with their body when they die?” Does this reflect your own experience? Do you discuss end-of-life wishes with family and friends? If you are not an American reader, how do you feel your cultural experience of death, funerals, and mourning differs from what Doughty describes?
  2. Early in the book, Doughty retells a famous anecdote from the classical Greek historian Herodotus that shows how entrenched funerary traditions have become in our way of thinking: the Greeks are horrified at the traditions of the Callatians and the Callatians think Greek traditions are barbaric. What traditions or rituals did you encounter in From Here to Eternity that instinctively repelled you? What was it about those traditions that evoked such a strong reaction?
  3. While reading From Here to Eternity, what ritual, tradition, or funerary custom most appealed to you? Why did you find this particular tradition appealing? Would you consider adopting it as part of your own end-of-life plans? Why or why not?
  4. Central to From Here to Eternity is the idea that exposure to new ways of thinking can expand or refine our notions of what is right and possible. How did hearing from the practitioners of different traditions and rituals alter your views about funerary traditions and mourning? What practices were you initially dismissive of that, on hearing from the practitioners, you changed your mind about?
  5. Money changes everything! A repeated trope of From Here to Eternity is how financial and economic concerns shape our sense of how death should be understood: from the development of the American death industry to the development of the Dias de los Muertos parade as a profitable concession to filmmakers and tourists. How do economic concerns shape your own thinking about death? How does the American death industry reflect our values as a free- market society? Is a “nontraditional” funeral an act of political and economic resistance?
  6. Did you find some material in From Here to Eternity challenging to read? Why was this material challenging? How have those passages contributed to your thinking about death?
  7. From Here to Eternity is illustrated throughout by award-winning artist Landis Blair. Blair works regularly with the Order of Good Death and says his style is strongly influenced by famed artist and illustrator Edward Gorey. How did the illustrations contribute to your reading experience? How do you feel the tone and style of Blair’s images interacted with Doughty’s prose?
  8. What resources and individuals do you turn to in order to help guide your thinking about death and end-of-life choices? Think about your own expectations for the end of your life: where did these ideas and expectations come from? How did you learn about what is expected or needed at the end of a person’s life? (See below for a list of resources recommended by Doughty.)
  9. Doughty says that creating space “where safe, open interaction with death and dead bodies is possible” is crucial to a meaningful funerary rite. In your experience with end-of-life rituals, did you experience this “holding the space”? How might you ensure the space is held at your own end-of-life ritual?
  10. If you could ask Caitlin Doughty one question after reading the book, what would it be?

Further Online Resources

  • Order of the Good Death
    orderofthegooddeath.com
  • Death Positive Reading List
    https://www.orderofthegooddeath.com/last-death-book-reading-list
  • Want to search for natural burial options in your area?
    Green Burial Council
    https://greenburialcouncil.org/
  • Need to understand your rights as a funeral consumer?
    Funeral Consumers Alliance
    https://www.funerals.org/
  • Looking for a handy checklist for end-of-life documents?
    Get Your Shit Together Checklist
    https://getyourshittogether.org/checklist/
  • Interested in laws and information surrounding taking care of your own dead?
    National Home Funeral Alliance
    https://homefuneralalliance.org/resources/home-funeral-information/

About Caitlin Doughty

Mortician Caitlin Doughty—host and creator of Ask a Mortician and the New York Times best-selling author of Smoke Gets in Your Eyes—founded The Order of the Good Death. She lives in Los Angeles, where she runs her nonprofit funeral home, Undertaking LA.

Books by Caitlin Doughty

  1. Book CoverFrom Here to Eternity: Traveling the World to Find the Good Death

    A New York Times and Los Angeles Times Bestseller

    “Doughty chronicles [death] practices with tenderheartedness, a technician’s fascination, and an unsentimental respect for grief.” —Jill Lepore, The New YorkerMore

  2. Book CoverSmoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory

    "Morbid and illuminating" (Entertainment Weekly)—a young mortician goes behind the scenes of her curious profession.More