As told to Abbe Wright
By Caitlin Doughtry, creator of the YouTube series "Ask a Mortician"
When I was 8 years old, I saw a young girl fall from a balcony in Hawaii, where I grew up. The shock and horror -- and the sickening thud -- stuck with me. Later, in college, I was drawn to learning about the death and burial rituals of other cultures, how people around the globe have approached death for centuries. Maybe I was still trying to reconcile what I'd seen in my childhood. But I knew I wanted a more positive relationship with death.
I started working at a crematory when I was 23. Facing corpses every day taught me that death isn't just some scary specter. If we didn't have a deadline -- dead is right there, in the word! -- we'd be less driven to succeed, to create. We'd live in a kind of immortal stasis. What makes humans different from other animals is that we know we're going to die. That knowledge can give us the incentive to make the most of the time we have.
Of course, in our culture, many of us are in denial about mortality. We use anti-aging creams and hire funeral homes to bury family members; we don't actively engage with death, even if it's always nagging at our subconscious. As a mortician, I'm working hard to change that. I've already decided that when I die, I'd like my loved ones to practice something similar to the ancient art of Tibetan sky burial and lay my body outside in the desert to be eaten by scavenging animals. My body, which I believe is just a vessel, will be made useful as a part of the food chain. To me, that's the universe coming full circle.
Though I'm still in my 20s, I've accepted that I don't have a lot of control over my life, or how long it lasts. When you make peace with death, you can just exist in the world, making your mark on it while you can.