Top positive review
... a writer who is able to get a book like this published while in her twenties
Reviewed in the United States on March 15, 2016
Plaudits always go to a writer who is able to get a book like this published while in her twenties. It seems that most writers with that youth are either publishing with obscure printers, self-publishing or waiting to finish their memoir. Memoirs written by someone so youthful are suspect simply by the currency of their experiences.
However Ms Doughty has acquitted herself quite nicely in this venture, one this reviewer is very interested in-about how do we want to leave this world and what it means to our loved ones. She describes the death care ritual and industry well and alludes to many alternatives. A review digression is appropriate at this point.
As an aging blogger who has spent his life as if there were no future, I happened to read Mary Roach’s book Stiffs and was inspired to make all of my end of life plans. They included what I imagined best for the environment and cheapest for my daughters who would have to bear the brunt of their old man’s demise. I won’t have much to leave them financially and so want to minimize costs at getting rid of what I leave. So I elected to donate my body to science and if Doughty is correct, there will be no cost to my kids for getting rid of my remains. That’s good. If my daughters want to have a memorial for me they can do that as long as the background music is Thelonious Monk.
I came prepared to read Doughty’s book knowing that my post-mortem life was assured, at least as far as I could plan. In the extraordinary event that I should be selected for the rapture then all bets are off. While I have always tried to be a reasonable man, it is my suspicion that the rapture requires other necessities. What do I know?
Back to the book at hand. Doughty’s is more a memoir of her experiences and philosophy, while Roach’s was of various ways a body can decompose. The former is very personalized and provided this reader with much inspiration about her history (short as it has been) to continue to think about how we view death in our culture. It is a discussion I have had with my equally aging peers many times.
There is something of a cult of longevity in this country. Futurists write about living for 150 years for example. We have a profound fear of death here as well. The commercial world is proffering their anti-aging solutions and slogans abound such as “50 is the new 70”.
It is true that later middle age is viewed differently than it was even when I was in my 20s. Older people are more vigorous as a rule, than they were 40 years ago. As the author points out, this anti-aging game is really for those that can afford it. I would suspect that if asked, Donald Trump would state a preference to live to be 150.
But all of the glory of youth and anti-aging is really a fool’s game. What are the costs of living beyond a reasonable lifetime? Resources go into letting some live longer and the population expands. My own 90 year old father has lost most all of his longtime friends to natural deaths. Simultaneously, people in poverty on an international scale get to suffer penury and starvation in order to live much shorter lives.
It is my own opinion that we ought to live lives with vim and when that wanes and nursing staff have to take care of us rather than a malnourished child living in poverty a few miles away, it is time to cash in the chips. It seems that we ought to fend for ourselves while we individually are able to but then let go when staff have to care for us. The costs of keeping an aging population (who can afford it) are misspent when there is so much need elsewhere.
My own mother only recently died and she shared my thinking. She had an option of having life extending surgery in her early 80s. She investigated the potential good of that exercise and discovered that there was a reasonable chance that the surgery could diminish her mental capacity. She opted out of that arrangement and lived several more years with her physical capacity dwindling but her mind sharp.
These are amongst the things that Doughty described in her book. She also made suggestions about the disposal of human remains when the time comes. This also a very emotional topic, one laced with cultural mores. It is her desire to have a green burial. Cremation has its good points but it is at a serious cost to our sketchy environmental resources. She likened the procedure to be akin to driving a car 500 miles. She describes other cultures and historical times who did a better job. The one I liked the best is one that if I had the wherewithal to do would be to go to a desolate place as death loomed, die and then let nature take its course like it does when a deer dies for instance. Flies, beetles, vultures and coyotes will prolong their own lives with the sustenance that my body could provide. I do not find that repulsive at all. Were I able to succinctly end my life that way I would. Doughty prefers to have plant life profit from her remains and there is nothing wrong with that.
As she often pointed out, her subject matter makes people uncomfortable as does her job. It was clearly her goal to make people uncomfortable so that they could re-think their views on death and the disposal of loved ones. She discusses the cultural aspects of our beliefs about the process and how they are influenced by religious dogma amongst other things. The repugnance that is often felt when discussing the end of life process has also been heavily influenced by the death industry. Like all other commercial endeavors there must be something to sell. In this case it is to people who currently have a unique vulnerability. We want to honor the dead. We are also filled with emotion. Funeral orations do not remind us of when Joe went to prison for usurping the retirement funds of thousands. They do not expound on how Mary only married Brad for his sizeable portfolio. Rather they remind us of how funny the person in the casket was or how they loved the local football team. Certainly they also remind the audience of really good things the deceased did when they have done those things.
Ultimately the dead do not care what happens to their remains. It is likely that many or most state preferences and loved ones abide by those in most cases. Doughty’s goal is to have society rethink preferences and to expand them far beyond ornate sepulchers and embalming. She wants us to think beyond cremation and scattering ashes in the sea or other romantic notions about how we cycle from ashes to ashes.
Her goal is to have us rethink the potential of disposing of remains that considers the physical environment that we live in. It is also to reconsider the social and cultural environment. We may want to ask ourselves well in advance of our assumed demise (yeah we all may be hit by a bus tomorrow) and plan our exit in a way that costs all of humanity less than the dying industry would hope.
Doughty hit on many things that have been pondered (and actually acted upon) in these quarters. She provides insight that is profound and often in a mirthful way. She discusses many things that were pretty much spot on for this reviewer and that is my disclaimer.