Caitlin Doughty’s “Ask a Mortician” Videos Bring the Darkest Corners of Death to Light
L.A.-based mortician Caitlin Doughty has always been fascinated with death. Right out of college, she explored this interest by nabbing gigs as a funeral arranger, a crematory operator, and a body transport driver, before returning to school to get her degree in mortuary science. Now 27 and a licensed funeral director, Doughty is also making a name for herself outside mortuary walls as the plucky mastermind behind the website orderofthegooddeath.com, a place where she aims to “prepare a death-phobic culture for their inevitable mortality.”
The highlight of the site that has visitors returning again and again is Doughty’s hilarious video series, “Ask a Mortician,” in which she tackles viewer questions with the cheerful aplomb of a super well-educated, goth Bettie Page. Thanks to one curious querent, Doughty’s fans now know that you don’t have to be alive to get a tattoo, although she wouldn’t recommend it. (Skin slip is part of putrefaction and dead bodies have no capacity for healing). When another viewers wonders if cremains can successfully be baked into a chocolate cake, Doughty gamely gives it a whirl with faux remains, decorating her confection with funfetti before choking down a grainy morsel. And she warns those dying to follow her into her chosen profession that mortuary science college is hard, with mandatory courses of study ranging from microbiology to legal statutes.
Though lighthearted, these videos make it clear that Doughty’s fascination with mortality is a healthy one, and her compassion for grieving loved ones comes through loud and clear. In fact, on of Doughty’s long term goals is to help families care for their own dead. Though not everyone will share her enthusiasm for Tibetan sky burials, in which minced remains are seasoned and spread out as a sort of vulture buffet, her commitment to the broader concepts of green, chemical-free funerals is a philosophy that is gaining traction. “Embalming has always seemed like a bit of a farce to me. It can trick people into thinking Mom is safe and untouched underground forever, when in reality she’s still slowly decomposing,” says Doughty. “I believe that accepting that you’re supposed to decompose- and fast- is an important part of accepting death. Dead bodies should look like dead bodies because that’s what they are.”
- Ayun Halliday for the Mar/Apr 2012 issue of Bust Magazine