Here’s a funny thing: if someone had told me they’d read a book called Death and the After Parties and recommended that I read it I would have said, not a chance! There’re so many things I want to read about and death is not one of them. Not now.
Shall I tell you why? Because frankly, I’m a little nervous of the subject myself. It’s an unknown, mostly unchartered territory for me though as we all know, we all walk in the shadow of death. Wo, hectic thought that huh?
But I wanted to tell you about this book because it is a story that will touch your heart and make you realise that while in the thick of great tragedy – death being one which none of us are spared- there is hope and love and redemption and growth.
Joanne Hichen’s just released memoir Death and the After Parties is an example of raw writing. She manages to tell her story with such a intensely personal and honest touch that it’s impossible not to be drawn to her – and her story of course. With self-deprecating humour (but never for the sake of pure entertainment) she writes in such an entertaining, engaging way about the extraordinary trauma she had to endure due to the series of four deaths- her mother, husband, father and then mother-in law all dying within a fairly short space of time – and how she came to terms with them that you almost forget you’re reading a ‘trauma’ memoir. It’s quite lovely in a light hearted way and yet it deals with such emotional stuff. The book is sectioned into five parts: loss, grief, survival, legacy, recovery and in dealing with each, Joanne fills in the background of her family and the relationships between her three siblings and their upbringing as children of a diplomat father and seemingly sometimes ‘distracted’ mother. At the recent launch, Joanne wondered whether she hadn’t been a little ‘hard’ on her mother in the story since she really loved her and it’s this absolute ‘wearing- your- heart on your sleeve’ sharing that comes out in the book.
I have circled and underlined many passages and phrases in the story as Joanne deals with these deaths, the most distressing and unravelling being that of her husband which was so sudden and unexpected. Her preoccupation with graveyards and her detailed reading and enquiry around the issue of death that ensues brings valuable and intelligent answers to the questions we all ask, but where are they now? How do we carry on?
I have tons of questions and comments on this story. Tons. About family and partnerships and sibling rivalries and coping with loss and the process of her writing and am thus delighted to be able to share the opportunity of a discussion with her. I hope I have enough time.
The interview will take place online as part of the Madibaland World Online Literary Festival on Wednesday 25th at 10am. These talks are all free of charge! Please follow these links to join the discussion about this wonderful book. (And many others too of course!)
But before I go, I want to include a wonderful review that was posted earlier which gives a detailed dissection of the book. Here it is, written by Ronelle Hart, a registered psychologist which is reproduced with her permission:
Launched just the other day, Joanne Hichens’ memoir, Death and the Afterparties, 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, writing, starting therapy, mothering her pre-teen son and her older daughters through it all, somehow keeping the family home functioning; somehow making sense of the impossible and at the same time the 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.