“In Death and the After Parties I write about the passing of my mother, husband, father and mother-in-law, and examine everything that happened after their deaths – the emotional frenzy, the funerals, the family strife, the fighting, the loving. I describe first-hand the shock, the grief, the mourning, the betrayals, ultimately focusing on recovering from loss.”


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.
Her writing is deeply honest, directly personal, yet somehow she manages to tap straight into the motherlode of universal grief, how it can unhinge us, but also how we can put ourselves together, that there is always an after, when we can begin anew to allow ourselves to be fully alive, albeit forever altered.
Her writing perfectly shows an important writerly principle: the more precisely personally one writes, surprisingly and astoundingly, the more universal the impact.
This is an important book, one I will recommend even for therapy clients who struggle with these kinds of losses. Read it. Even if memoir isn’t your thing. Read it. You will cry. But you will also laugh, and grimace, and cringe, and cry again. And smile.
And an extra bonus: a gorgeous cover, referencing the art of kintsugi she learns to do, after.
– Ronelle Hart Jaspan , The Good Book Appreciation Society
“If you have loved, lost or grieved this memoir will resonate deeply. As Joanne searches for a new place in her changed world, she reminds us that especially in our darkest moments we need to embrace our vulnerability in order to find strength and courage.”
– Tracy Going, best-selling author of Brutal Legacy
“This compelling, gritty, surprisingly funny memoir, is exactly what we need to read in these grim times.” 
– Helen Moffett, best-selling author of Charlotte
“Hichens catalogues it all: the bitterness, the bickering, the banality of blood ties. The loss of the objects is an extension of the loss of the person. It is never over. There are ripples of continued loss over time, and money and status offer no protection. Even the white middle class – the apex predators of the apartheid food chain – must suffer their terrible, ordinary losses. We are equal in the face of it.” 
Read the full review by Diane Awerbuck, Sunday Times
“When we read a book, it is the reader who breathes life into the words. Each of us takes away from a book that which most has meaning for us. When I put my ear to the page of Death and the After Parties, I hear not just a story of inexplicable sadness, but one of hope. A story about the beauty in living, even as we are all in the process of dying.” 
Read the full review by Joy Watson, Daily Maverick

As I wandered through graveyards, I felt more at home there than I did with the living, as if being with the dead I could be at peace in the silence.

Memorial is everywhere

The beautiful day we sprinkled my husband’s ashes