“Society is like a stew. If you don’t stir it up every once in a while then a layer of scum floats to the top.”
The year was 2010. A young mortuary school graduate named Caitlin Doughty was driving a van that carried eleven corpses at once. Her job was to pick up these bodies at various funeral homes and deliver them to a massive, centralized crematory. She got to meet new people every day– it just happened that all of them were dead. The job also gave her time to think.
As she drove down endless Southern California highways, the bodies stacked behind her, Caitlin dreamed of living in a culture with a more open, honest engagement with death. She believed that change would only happen with a better funeral industry, where the family could be involved with the process, and the dead weren’t hidden behind closed doors (or closed vans).
Even though she had no online presence and no funeral home of her own, she began to reach out to people, including funeral industry professionals, academics, and artists who were exploring ways to prepare a death phobic culture for their inevitable mortality. She found kindred spirits and a community, and wanted everyone to know the incredible people that were working to remedy our crippling fear of death.
And so, in January of 2011, Caitlin founded the Order of the Good Death.
The Order is about making death a part of your life. That means committing to staring down your death fears- whether it be your own death, the death of those you love, the pain of dying, the afterlife (or lack thereof), grief, corpses, bodily decomposition, or all of the above. Accepting that death itself is natural, but the death anxiety and terror of modern culture are not.
The members of the Order believe there is a revolution afoot in the way our society handles death. Throughout human history there have always been specific religious, cultural, and regional rules for what has to be done to our dead and for our dead: the ancient Egyptians embalmed and mummified, the Romans cremated, the Wari’ of Brazil consumed.
In the last 20-30 years, the world has become a global community where we do not have to live and die in the towns we were born, nor do we have to believe what our parents believed. All of a sudden we are able to choose the rituals we perform with our dead and how we dispose of dead bodies. We can think much bigger about the future of death. How we die is, after all, how we live.
Through the years the Order has showcased individuals at the forefront of this change, from a designer who creates clothing and shrouds that decompose at the same rate as your corpse, to a professor who studies how to capture energy and heat from crematoriums to heat pools and homes, to the funeral director opening a funeral home that combines an art and culture space with a place for the dead.
In the last nine years Order membership has opened to everyone that supports our tenets, and grown into a worldwide death positive movement. Our founding members and contributors have been featured in The New Yorker, Wired, Buzzfeed, The Atlantic, BBC, The New York Times, and NPR. We are speaking out, and the public is listening. We invite you to join the Order and make the changes that will allow you, your family, and your culture die better. Read more about our founding tenets here.