It is I, Caitlin Doughty! I'm a mortician and I own a funeral home in Los Angeles, Undertaking LA. The last three years I've traveled the world looking at different death customs, and just released a new book From Here to Eternity: Traveling the World to Find the Good Death.

You may know me from my webseries on death, Ask a Mortician or my last book, Smoke Gets in Your Eyes.

I am here to take questions from my adoring crowd.... Hello? Anybody? SOMEONE ASK A QUESTION FOR THE LOVE OF GOD.


Comments: 1378 • Responses: 36  • Date: 

JaneRenee691 karma

Hi, Caitlin!

First of all, thank you so much for making the videos that you do. My best friend in the world, my 77-year-old Nan, has been ill lately, and I've found myself confronting her mortality (and mine) more and more. I'm her caretaker, so I'm the one taking her to the hospital and visiting her in rehab and taking care of her when she's back home. I try not to think about her actually not making it because I lapse into quite a depressed state.

As an atheist, it's overwhelmingly sad to think I'll never see my Nan again after she dies. I'm terrified of it actually happening.

With that, how can I become more accepting of death/be more death positive? The idea of death in general baffles me and scares me. It's as if I simply can't wrap my mind around it.

Again, thank you for your videos, and thanks for being pretty funny.

(Note - I wrote this all out last night and woke up this morning having to take her to the hospital again. They just admitted her. So I guess this AMA came at a great time.)

EDIT: I just want to sincerely thank everyone who commented and messaged me. You have all been so very kind. My Nan is stable now. She is in the ICU. It's her usual problem (due to one reason or another, her CO2 levels end up very high). I'm sure she'll love reading all of this once she's feeling better.

I try to make the absolute most of our time together. I find myself staring at her face or holding her hand and trying to internalize what I'm seeing, what I'm feeling, so that I can remember it forever. I'm so very lucky to have had her all my life, and I make sure she knows it. <3

Side note - someone below mentioned a tattoo in honor of their grandma. My Nan and I have three matching/paired tattoos. She got her first one EVER in her 60s. So yeah, she's pretty damn rad. :)

CaitlinDoughty173 karma

I'm sorry you're back in the hospital, but she's lucky to have you as a caretaker.

Someone told me once that "everyone I've ever helped as a mortician will be there to greet me when I arrived in heaven." As a pretty secular person myself I was like, "wait, all the corpses I cremated are going to be waiting for me when I die?! Noooooo!"

If you're an atheist, you're not likely to magically develop religious or afterlife beliefs. I find the idea of the lack of consciousness at death comforting. Slipping off into the white light, a reward for a life well lived. I don't believe in Hell, so I know there will be no pain or punishment.

You're already making your Nan's life and death the best you can, doing right by her. No more can be asked of a mortal. I love everyone else's answers, I'm glad you have so much support.

yeti_femme556 karma

Hello Caitlin! Do you have a go-to morbid fun fact that you like to pull out at parties?

CaitlinDoughty1114 karma

That people used to camp out in beached rotting whales for days for medicinal purposes.

CaitlinDoughty486 karma

Alright, I got my coffee and I AM READY FOR THIS. BRING ON THE DEATH.

CaitlinDoughty471 karma

I have to drive from Sacramento to San Francisco right now, but as soon as I check into my next hotel I'm going to be back to answer more of these questions. I'll be back! (from the dead).

irishlupie437 karma

Hi Caitlin, I have 3 questions:

  1. My boyfriend is really awkward about talking about death. we're only 25 but I have a life limiting condition. Every time I try to raise it, no matter how gently, he shuts down. I want to involve him in my death care plan and get it in place should the inevitable happen before it's expected. But I'm really not sure how to approach it....

  2. Do you plan to come to Ireland any time soon? We have at last one awesome natural burial ground I think you'd like :)

  3. Why ARE there so many secrets?!

Thank you for all the work you do, you have opened my eyes to the world of death care possibilities and given me knowledge and tools to allow me to live my best life and die my best death

CaitlinDoughty828 karma

I think you need to try a little more tough love with your boyfriend. Say, "you know that I have this condition that I live with everyday, and of course having this condition means I don't have the luxury not to think about death. It hurts my feelings that you won't talk to me about what might happen. I know how hard it is, but it would mean a lot if we could have an open conversation about this." If he shuts you down keep trying! You deserve to have this conversation and you're not weird for wanting it.

I would love to come back to Ireland.

If I told you where I keep the cache of corpse secrets I wouldn't have a bag of corpse secrets to enthrall and delight!

iamwednesday326 karma

I plan on going into the funeral industry after I finish my bachelor's degree. It feels like a calling for me, and it is something that I feel very passionate about. What is the best, honest advice you can give to a young woman/aspiring funeral director?

CaitlinDoughty889 karma

Just realize that most of the industry is still run by old dudes with their old dudes ideas. If you suggest "we should let that family come help us dress mom" or "maybe we should advertise the natural burial ground two towns over" they might think it's a hippie crap (real quote). Understand that you're up against an industry that doesn't want to change, and you have to be a death warrior in the trenches!

astermeridia284 karma

What is the strangest thing that a family has wanted to bury with a loved one?

CaitlinDoughty764 karma

Ashes of the guy's dog in a tiny dog urn. They wanted me to sneak the ashes into the casket, since it's not technically allowed. I won't say if I did it or not (heh heh heh wink).

trevor_from_the_bank197 karma


CaitlinDoughty502 karma

One time in college I dressed up as "normal" with sweatpants and pink nail polish and a baseball cap and no one recognized me. I don't know what I'll be this year, any suggestions?

RavingWritingDesk178 karma

In Dungeons and Dragons, would you be a cleric who lays the undead to rest, or be a necromancer who commands them?

CaitlinDoughty264 karma

Can I be both? A simple cleric with a dark side?

mrsbiblioctopus149 karma

Hi Caitlin. Thanks so much for the work that you do. I stumbled upon your first book and videos shortly after my son died, and they were incredibly comforting to me. The chapter in SGIYE where you talk about cremating babies, while it may have been off-putting to some, helped me a great deal.

I'm wondering if you would ever consider writing a book specifically for children, to help teach them about death? Your personality and style in your videos seems like it would allow you to be very real and relatable with kids. I wish so much that my kids had had someone like you to look to when their brother died.

CaitlinDoughty117 karma

I'm not revealing this is part of my evile plan, but I'm not NOT revealing that either.

At my LA book event two nights ago an adorable girl missing her front teeth asked me to define embalming– it warmed my black heart.

jamie_h722129 karma

What was the most surprising thing you learned while in school for being a mortician??

CaitlinDoughty401 karma

I didn't realize that we would be practicing embalming on the unclaimed dead of Los Angeles. I wasn't comfortable with it then, and still am not comfortable with it.

actually100octopi128 karma

I had no idea you were doing an AMA until just now!

Anyways, have you read any other popular death related books (like Stiff by Mary Roach), and what are your thoughts on them? Besides your new book, do you have any recommendations for us?

CurryPotatoes138 karma

The Order Of the Good Death has a huge list of books. Here's a link

CaitlinDoughty153 karma

Thanks for the assist, CurryPotatoes.

newspaperdress2123 karma

Hey! I got your book from preorder and am so excited to start it.

What is the hardest part of writing a book?

CaitlinDoughty375 karma

Writing a book. It's suuuuuuccckkkkksssss. Don't do it. Paint a picture. Meditate. Go outside. Meet your friends for coffee. Don't write a book if you don't have to it's hard. (This isn't very inspirational advice, sorry.)

marcik89101 karma

Hi Caitlin! I read your first book this past winter and I'm a huge fan. Literally days ago I found your YouTube and I'm binging it. I have a few questions!

I'm afraid of decomposing after I die. Can you make me feel better about it?

And, my mom passed this past May. This is super morbid, but she was buried in a plain casket, no embalming. Is she a skeleton by now?



CaitlinDoughty172 karma

I love the idea of decomposing when I die. Getting put in the cozy earth and having little microbes and fungi chomp away at me, going back into the natural world. That brings me a lot of comfort. If you can get to that place, wonderful! But remember you have so many options. Does cremation make you feel better, preserving your body, donating it to science? Choose what makes you feel comfy about dying!

Re: your mom, it depends on all kind of factors like soil, temp, etc. But with no embalming, most likely, yes.

yarnicles100 karma

Hi Caitlin! I'm a huge fan and have been watching your YouTube channel for years and picked up your book yesterday!

I wanted to thank you. My parents are getting older and you inspired me to have "the talk" with them. I'm so glad I did because I learned that what I expected them to say wasnt the case at all! I thought their religion required burial, but my mom told me they prefer cremation. I wouldn't have known that except for your work. Thank you!

My question - what's with the hair cut? All the members of the good death you have on your channel have the dark hair and blunt bangs. I can't pull it off and fear I'll never be accepted as a deathling. Is it a requirement or can you waive it for me since my face shape makes me look like He-Man if I get bangs?

Thanks for all you do. Come to Utah someday!!

CaitlinDoughty127 karma

I'm sorry to inform you yarnicles, but the bangs are, in fact, required.


I've had this hair since 2001, so I may not be the right one to ask. Proof:

Congrats on your mom's (eventual, hopefully not soon) cremation!

_Zeppo_94 karma

A crematorium would make an awesome kiln. Have you ever thought of taking up pottery?

CaitlinDoughty241 karma

Huh, I think they're about the same temperature, 1,900 degrees F plus. I WONDER if anyone has ever attempted to place pottery in a cremation machine at the same time as, say, the body of a sculptor? There's probably a crucial logistics aspect that I'm missing here, but I think that's a lovely idea.

EarballsOfMemeland93 karma

Would you watch an actual show called American Mummies where contestants compete to prepare a corpse using various mummifying techniques?

CaitlinDoughty139 karma

This is an incredible idea, and obviously I would watch it.

The flaw I see in your evil plan for TV domination is that part of the beauty of the mummy is the potential for long term preservation. Sure, your mummy looks great NOW, two weeks later, but what about two years? Two decades? Two centuries?

EarballsOfMemeland107 karma

If soap operas can last decades, so can a show about mummy making.

CaitlinDoughty113 karma

Ok, I like where you're going with this.

mrs_mojo_risin91 karma

Hi Caitlin!

i watched your most recent video on Lady Dai.

as an advocate of the Good Death as well as a historian/scholar, what are your thoughts on the ethics of removing bodies from their tombs or resting places for scientific or historical studies? do you think bodies should be left alone for eternity, as intended, or do you think there is a responsibility of scientists and historians to use these bodies to further study the human story?

thanks, i am so excited to read your book!

CaitlinDoughty172 karma

This is such a complicated question, but an important one.

I'm all for science and discovery and research. We've learned so much about humanity from the long dead.

However, it's a problem if there are still relatives who don't agree with the disinterment. There's especially a problem if the bodies are put on display in the museum setting.

This gets into some of the same issues as zoos. Why would you lock up a majestic animal? But, if conservation and learning and funding can happen to save a species, is it worth it on balance?

I could talk about this all day, I'll leave it at that for now.

TheModernMortician88 karma

Hello! What are your thoughts on pros and cons of burying bodies on private land?
Also, do you feel starting natural burial grounds in order to protect land is an easy way to introduce green burial to smaller communities? Why or why not? PS- #deathpositivepup sends his luv.

CaitlinDoughty234 karma

Hi Kermit!

A pro is the feeling like you're TRULY taking care of the dead, my land, my dead body, my process. A con would be.... ummm... what if you move when you have that third kid and whoops, grandpa is in the backyard.

That's why there should be natural burial grounds (or conservation burial grounds, like you mention) in EVERY community if possible. Where you can go and be involved and help dig the grave and place the body in and plant a shrub and feel like this is your communal place to keep your dead.

NoEyesWhiteDragon76 karma

What is your opinion on viking funerals?

CaitlinDoughty154 karma

I'm sorry to break it to you, my friend:

umontu72 karma

Hi Caitlin,

I love your videos and attitude to death. Honestly it's refreshing to see and your presentation style is brilliant.

I'm British and find our deathcare system very different to your own. Do you think ours is better or worse and do you have a country's system you prefer?

CaitlinDoughty174 karma

I don't like to rank funeral customs, though it's well known I shoot the side eye to America quite often.

Both the US and UK have some serious denial issues. In the US we chemically preserve the body and put makeup on it and display it, making the body look "lifelike." In the UK you tend to not see the body at all, watching the closed coffin go straight in for cremation. Neither of these options really get us involved in the process! Just hang out with the natural dead body, folks! I promise you'll like it.

chameleonhalo69 karma

Hey Caitlin, huge fan of your work, are you ever going to bring back death favorites of the month?

CaitlinDoughty134 karma

Sure! You want books, cultural practices, movies? Whatcha want, my dear?

wormonastring64 karma

First off, I'd like to thank you for existing! Your web series and books have helped me cope with the fear of my own mortality, and I've started to gain an interest in everything about death. Funny thing, I had a dream about meeting you last night!

Anyways, my question for you is what's the most interesting cultural funeral practice that you have researched or personally have seen for yourself?

CaitlinDoughty191 karma

You had a dream about meeting me, and here we are, meeting. Hello. We're best of friends now. Can you loan me $5?

I call the mummified bodies of South Suluwesi in Indonesia the "holy grail of corpse interaction." Seeing families take the mummies out of their graves to clean and dress them was an experience I will never forget. Especially since it was so normal! You think it would be freaky, but there were teenagers uploading pictures of their mummy grandpa to Instagram and Facebook.

Zaorish950 karma

  • How do you want to die?

  • If you could live forever, would you?

CaitlinDoughty267 karma

Yikes, ixnay on the living forever. The fact that I'm going to die is what gives my life urgency and meaning.

How would I like to die? Somewhat quickly, feeling loved and generally positive about what I've accomplished for the world. Maybe eating a brownie as it happens. "She died doing what she loved."

writenroll47 karma

Hi Caitlin! What are your thoughts on alkaline hydrolysis? I know it's legal in 15 states--do you expect the procedure to be mainstream in the near future? And if so, what's the level of investment and training needed for pros like you to start offering the option?

CaitlinDoughty37 karma

Yes! We've worked hard to legalize it in California, and the bill is on the governor's desk for signing now. I don't know why he's hesitating, we're a green state, and he promotes green technology. I would love to offer this at my own funeral home. It's a death dream.

MajesticVelcro44 karma

Hi Caitlin! When is your next book coming out? I ask because I already finished From Here to Eternity and I need more. Sorry to rush you.

PS - I listened via audiobook and it was a great decision. Your reading was delightful.

CaitlinDoughty112 karma

DON'T DO THIS TO ME MY BOOK CAME OUT TUESDAY. I'm going into one of those chambers Han Solo was in in Star Wars for the next few months and maybe I'll emerge with a clever idea.

hail-rexina44 karma

Hi Caitlin! Adore you works, Death has never been so much fun.

Real Question: Is there a grave of somebody/somebodies well know that you would like to visit but haven't? Also, what death topic would you really like to make a video on but haven't had the time or audience interest in to make it?

Goofy question: If you had the chance to be immortal, would you take it?

CaitlinDoughty83 karma

I want to visit Elvis at Graceland! I can also visit Dollywood while I'm in Tennessee. I should just do that. That sounds fun. Vacation- planned.

lucypumpkin38 karma

Hi Caitlin! I loved Smoke Gets in Your Eyes and just received your new book yesterday. What are some other books you suggest for the morbidly curious?

CaitlinDoughty91 karma

Stiff, by Mary Roach, of course. Ghostland by Colin Dickey The American Way of Death by Jessica Mitford Death to Dust by Kenneth Iserson

The list goes on!

death_by_wolves37 karma

Hi Caitlin! Longtime fan!

My father-in-law has previously expressed a desire for a simple, natural burial, though I think in this case he means it as a way not to be burdensome ("leave me in the woods to rot" as a cost-saving measure). I think it's not something he views as actually possible, and that it's said sort of cynically. His views are also what I'd call considerably more conservative than mine, and I feel like he'd be surprised to find out that I'm probably the biggest advocate he'd have, if that was really what he wanted.

Your whole movement has always felt very progressive to me, and you've talked about how the status quo of the death industry itself isn't exactly what you'd describe as forward thinking. I feel like a lot of the trappings of it might be the sort of thing that gets people rolling their eyes at our generation (what are the millennials trying to DIY NOW? an organic, all natural funeral? somehow silk lined caskets aren't good enough for the snowflakes? etc.)

Is it ever hard to reconcile the sort of millennial DIY spirit of this movement with the fact that it really advocates a return to the traditional?

CaitlinDoughty76 karma

This is a great question. I remember when I was in the New Yorker, part of the headline was "Millenial Artisanal Undertakers" and I was like NoooooOOOOOoooOOOOO!

It's not like we're making organic baby diapers or artisanal pickles or something (not that there's anything wrong with that). But we're trying to reintroduce what American's did for hundreds of years before the death industry took over.

Fortunately, this is not just a millenial thing, though I'm a millenial. I'm a millenial that serves mostly boomers, and they want these options too.

velmarg35 karma

Hi Caitlin! Never heard of you before this moment, but now that I know who you are, I'm very interested.

I was just curious, was there some moment or event you had where things clicked and you realized you wanted a career in working with dead people?

bostephens29 karma

Same. Just insta-bought this book for my daughter who's turning 21 this Saturday and graduating next year with a degree in criminal justice with hopes of becoming a homicide detective. I believe she is comfortable with death but will absolutely gain some insight and education from this read. Thanks for the AMA!

CaitlinDoughty40 karma

Thanks new death folks! Say hi to your daughter.

jr4433 karma

Hi Caitlin! What are some of the reactions you get from people when they find out what you do for a living?

CaitlinDoughty82 karma

I feel bad that so many people in the death industry get reactions like "UGH MORBID, why would you do that?"

Honestly, no one really says that to me. Maybe it's because I'm already known for doing this, or I'm so enthusiastic about it. But for the most part people say "what? cool! tell me about your favorite decomposing body!"

YourWormGuy22 karma

Hi Caitlin, it was great to meet you last night. Thanks for the great presentation! Sorry my wife called you weird :)

One thing I have been curious about after watching your channel pretty much since the beginning. You have mentioned in several videos and again at your presentation that bodies are pretty safe and can be kept in the house for a while without much relative risk of harm to the living. It would seem to me that decomposition would happen pretty quickly. Animals that die seem to decay quickly. If you leave raw meat on the counter overnight, it will start to smell.

How is is that the body is somehow fine to leave out, room temperature, for extended periods of time without starting to smell or showing obvious signs of decay? It is my understanding that most places that temporarily store bodies keep them under refrigeration to prevent this. I'm just curious. Thanks!

CaitlinDoughty11 karma

Sure! If you want to leave the body at home (and you don't live in the Arctic) it helps to have a cooling source, like some packs of dry ice or even ice packs from the freezer wrapped in towels under the body.

As you would do with meat in a fridge, we keep all our bodies under refrigeration, which radically slows down decomposition. So number one rule is keep the body cool if you plan to keep it around for an extended period.

_Blood_Fart_13 karma

When you where going to school for this, did you meet any necrophiliacs?

CaitlinDoughty48 karma

Not any that identified themselves to me, no.

Fun facts about necrophilia: A small amount of the people who engage intimately with a dead body are actually attracted to corpses. It's mostly (men) looking for an unresisting partner because they've had a difficult time being intimate with living people. But even then it's incredibly rare.

eliar915 karma

Any relation to Drew Doughty?

CaitlinDoughty18 karma

No! When I first moved to LA there were giant billboards along the freeway that said "DOUGHTY." It's such an unusual name that it was strange to see it in giant print.

He pronounces it wrong though ;)