Colleen Kolba’s conceptions of death died on December 27th, 2015 in Chicago, IL after fatal contact with Caitlin Doughty’s Smoke Gets in Your Eyes. Kolba shared a longtime relationship with her cultural assumptions surrounding death.
Born in 1989, Kolba’s conceptions of death focused primarily on ignoring the fact that death is inevitable and something not to be confronted until much, much later in life. Thoughts and feeling on death stewed in silent repression, and only surfaced at funerals, wakes, and during morgue scenes in CSI or Law & Order.
Kolba encountered Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, the memoir of mortician and death scholar Caitlin Doughty, late last year. Through this text, Kolba’s conceptions of death slowly unraveled and evolved as Doughty’s daily encounters with corpses in various stages of decomposition, mail-order cremation, and body transportation gripped Kolba’s fascination. Doughty casts an honest (and often humorous) unblinking eye at the realities of pushing bodies into furnaces and the emotions of (or sometimes abandonment by) the families of the deceased. Through Doughty’s narrative, Kolba realized the way her culture viewed death wasn’t anything like the natural reality that death is.
Kolba’s conceptions of death met their final demise as she joined Doughty’s mission to break down the death-phobic meta-narrative. However, we shouldn’t mourn the death of Kolba’s previous conceptions of death. It’s survived by a new, “death-positive” outlook that reminds us that: “Death isn’t happening to you. Death is happening to us all.” Thanks to Doughty’s story, Kolba’s conceptions of death now join Doughty’s other readers in wondering how it’s taken us this long for us to questions our cultural anxieties surrounding death and to prepare ourselves and loved ones for a “good death.” In her new afterlife, Kolba’s conceptions of death have gained new agency through the acceptance of death.
Caitlin Doughty’s memoir, Smoke Gets In Your Eyes & Other Lessons from the Crematory is available for purchase through her website. She also has a youtube channel, Ask a Mortician.
Colleen Kolba is a writer and cartoonist from Chicago, IL. Her work has appeared in Hobart, The Rumpus, & [PANK]. You can find her tweeting here:@colleenkolba, tumbling here: colleenkolba.tumblr.com, and living with three dead plants here: [please. like she’d put her address on the internet].