NPR

Mortician Answers 'Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs?' And Other FAQs About Death In New Book

Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson speaks with mortician Caitlin Doughty about her new book, “Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs: Big Questions from Tiny Mortals About Death.”

Book Excerpt: ‘Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs: Big Questions From Tiny Mortals About Death’

By Caitlin Doughty

Before We Begin

Oh, hey. It’s me, Caitlin. You know, the mortician from the internet. Or that death expert from NPR. Or the weird aunt who gave you a box of Froot Loops and a framed photo of Prince for your birthday. I’m many things to many people.

What is this book?

It’s pretty simple. I collected some of the most distinctive, delightful questions I’ve been asked about death, and then I answered them. It’s not rocket science, my friends!

(Note: some of it is, in fact, rocket science. See “What would happen to an astronaut body in space?”)

Why are people asking you all these death questions?

Well, again, I’m a mortician, and I’m willing to answer strange questions. I’ve worked at a crematory, gone to school for embalming, traveled the world to research death customs, and opened a funeral home. Plus, I’m obsessed with corpses. Not in a weird way or anything

Support comes from

(nervous laughter).

I’ve also given talks all over the United States, Canada, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand on the wonders of death. My favorite part of these events is the Q & A. That’s when I get to hear people’s deep fascination with decaying bodies, head wounds, bones, embalming, funeral pyres—the works.

All death questions are good death questions, but the most direct and most provocative questions come from kids. (Parents: take note.) Before I started holding death Q & As, I imagined kids would have innocent questions, saintly and pure.

Ha! Nope.

Young people were braver and often more perceptive than the adults. And they weren’t shy about guts and gore. They wondered about their dead parakeet’s everlasting soul, but really they wanted to know how fast the parakeet was putrefying in the shoebox under the maple

tree.

That’s why all the questions in this book come from 100 percent ethically sourced, free-range, organic children.

Isn’t all this a little morbid?

Here’s the deal: It’s normal to be curious about death. But as people grow up, they internalize this idea that wondering about death is “morbid” or “weird.” They grow scared, and criticize other people’s interest in the topic to keep from having to confront death themselves.

This is a problem. Most people in our culture are death illiterate, which makes them even more afraid. If you know what’s in a bottle of embalming fluid, or what a coroner does, or the definition of a catacomb, you’re already more knowledgeable than the majority of your fellow mortals.

To be fair, death is hard! We love someone and then they die. It feels unfair. Sometimes death can be violent, sudden, and unbearably sad. But it’s also reality, and reality doesn’t change just because you don’t like it.

We can’t make death fun, but we can make learning about death fun. Death is science and history, art and literature. It bridges every culture and unites the whole of humanity!

Many people, including me, believe that we can control some of our fears by embracing death, learning about it, and asking as many questions as possible.

In that case, when I die, will my cat eat my eyeballs?

Great question. Let’s get started.


Reprinted from WILL MY CAT EAT MY EYEBALLS? Big Questions from Tiny Mortals about Death. Copyright (c) 2019 by copyright holder. Used with permission of the publisher, W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. All rights reserved.


 

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

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