Life Changing and Death Changing – A Review (And A Poem) On Caitlin Doughty’s ‘From Here to Eternity’

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It’s been a while since I read a book that I really wanted to write about, I been reading a lot for my course and aside from that just a few ‘easy reads’ to relax. A couple of weekends ago though I brought a book, and  then I sat down and read the book all within 24 hours, I simply could not put it down. This book was called ‘From Here to Eternity: Travelling the World to Find the Good Death’ by Caitlin Doughty. I reviewed Doughty’s debut book here which was an exploration of her time in the ‘death industry’ and included a lot of reflection on how her home country, America, has a major issue with facing mortality and death.

Her second book is split into chapters each of which explore a different country’s treatment of their dead. Doughty traveled around the world, literally staring mortality in the face. She traveled to many places including America’s only open air pyre (a type of cremation that is more natural and involves the mourners in the process of placing juniper boughs on the flames), a futuristic columbarium in Japan and Mexico’s Day of the Dead festival. Doughty writes about death with a refreshing frankness, a morbid sense of humour, an engaging sense of curiosity, and a beautiful sensitivity.

There is little more I can say about this book than emphasize that I literally finished all 250 pages in two sittings, and if I didn’t have a friend coming over for tea on Sunday night I probably would have finished it in one sitting. I feel like this book could change your life and change your death.


One chapter in which Doughty wrote about her travels to Bolivia inspired me to write a poem about the festival she described the ‘Fiesta De Las Natitas’, in which human skulls are celebrated as miracle bringers to the family that care for them. Many of these skulls are from medical schools, archaeological sites, and graves in which the lease has run out – meaning that the family that cares for them give them a new name, a new life after life. To read more about the festival see this article on Doughty’s website.

 

Fiesta de las Ñatita

A skull saved from medical waste,

Renamed, becomes a friend,

a watcher, a dream-maker, a wish-granter.

 

At the dental school he was specimen,

Unnamed cranium, jawbone and teeth;

Now Miguel is kin, cared for, esteemed.

 

He became ñatita, a pug-nosed one,

Stained skull haloed with a flower crown,

Fresh blooms brighten darkened bone.

 

There are thousands of his kind,

A sightless, voiceless festival crowd,

Passed from arm to arm, heart to heart.

 

A cigarette perched in his non-existent lips,

Velvet cushion home covered in candy,

In the wooden shrine-come-carry case.

 

Miguel blesses. Miguel is blessed.

 

A defiant friendship across the line

Of time and space and death itself.

An endless bond does not take sides.

 

 

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