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It's time to start planning for a 'good death'

Mortician Caitlin Doughty, with some tools of the trade.
Photo by Jeff Minton.
Mortician Caitlin Doughty, with some tools of the trade.

Let’s talk about death.

No, seriously. It’s time we all had a conversation with our loved ones about dying.

Bill Radke talked to Caitlin Doughty, a mortician and the author of the new book “From Here to Eternity: Traveling the World to Find the Good Death,” about how we can have a "good death." She said many of us might benefit from death rituals from the past, including sitting with a loved one’s body after death or being involved in the burial or cremation.

“People are starting to wake up, especially in the Seattle area, to this idea that we can reclaim this,” she said. “We can once again be a part of this.”

Doughty was joined by Jeff Jorgensen, the founder of Elemental Cremation and Burial in Seattle. He said many people don’t realize that in Washington state, they have 24 hours before something has to be done with the body. But he knows from experience that people don’t often take the time they need.

“When [my mother] died, it was very surreal, because I actually succumbed to that, 'Oh my gosh, we’ve got to do something right now,'” Jorgensen said.

“I watched her take her last breath, and after about five minutes I said,  'Alright, I’ve got to get her dressed. And I filed her permits and met her at the crematory a couple days later.”

Jorgensen said he wishes he’d talked to his mother sooner about her end-of-life wishes.

“It doesn’t all have to be negative,” he said. “It’s also a discussion of what you want to do with your time left.”

Doughty said death can play a positive role in our lives if we’re self-aware and don’t shy away from acknowledging it.

“I’m someone who believes the Grim Reaper has his hand up all our butts,” she said. “That he’s really controlling everything that we do. That so much about about why we want to achieve and why we want to have children and have our names on buildings and build companies and host radio shows is because we know we have a finite amount of time.”

She added: “That’s what death provides us — those deadlines. Emphasis on dead.”

Produced for the Web by Amy Rolph.

This story originally aired October 9, 2017.

Year started with KUOW: 1985 – 1986, 1991 – 2004, 2012
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