From Here to Eternity: Traveling the World to Find the Good Death

A mortician and owner of a nonprofit funeral home, Caitlin Doughty (Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory) acknowledges that her personal comfort with death isn't widely shared in the Western world, as evidenced by many Americans' reluctance to initiate conversations with loved ones about their end-of-life preferences. Curious to learn more about other cultures' approaches to death, Doughty traveled to remote corners of the globe (and several United States locales) to observe and participate in rituals that may initially seem bizarre and macabre, but are rich in tradition, dignity and deep meaning.
Doughty observes Mexico's Días de los Muertos parade and travels to Indonesia for the ma'nene', an elaborate annual ceremony where the mummified dead are exhumed after several years, outfitted with new clothes and marched around the village in house-like structures. In Spain, families rent rooms in oratorios (chapels) and "spend the entire day with their dead, showing up first thing in the morning and staying until the doors close at 10 p.m.," while the deceased is visible under glass. Green burials are explored in North Carolina; an outdoor cremation on a natural pyre is held in Colorado. A swipe of a coded key card at Japan's high-tech Ruriden columbarium allows mourners to instantly identify their loved one's resting place among 600 other souls represented by an illuminated wall of Buddhas.

Accompanied by Edward Gorey-like illustrations by Landis Blair, From Here to Eternity is part travelogue and part commentary on America's corporatized, sterile death industry. Doughty's sharp wit and wry humor make for an amusing journey that provides an enlightening glimpse into the nuances of customs and cultural practices related to death and imbued with honor, respect and love. --Melissa Firman, writer, editor and blogger at

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