Launched just the other day, Joanne Hichens’ memoir, Death and the After Parties, must be one of the very best memoirs about loss, love, grieving and recovery I have ever read.
She tells of the death of her mother and some years later, her father, both expected: In-Time events, as we say in developmental psychology: we all expect to bury our parents some time, even though we habitually avoid thinking about that. But in between their deaths, her husband dies unexpectedly, and not very long after, her husband’s mother kills herself: both out-of-time events. These are deaths and the how of which we do not expect, are never prepared for, not even intellectually.
The chronology of the deaths and their aftermath are written up accurately: mother, husband, father, mother-in-law; but oh, what richness is contained in this obvious structure! Rich in imagery, memories from childhood, growing up with two brothers and a sister as a child of a diplomat, are interweaved with present day dynamics as siblings deal each parent’s death, and ultimately squabble and scatter over their father’s estate.
But it’s the death of her husband which undoes her. Unmoors her, rendering her helpless and furious and stumbling through days, dazed with medication, self medicating with alcohol, eventually turning to researching death and dying, starting therapy, writing, mothering her pre-teen son and her older daughters through it all, somehow keeping the family home functioning; somehow making sense of the impossible, yet absolute certainty, that we will experience death and loss, that we each will die our own deaths.