You haven’t printed out your tickets yet.
No worries, though; the trip you’re taking doesn’t require them. You’re going somewhere where there are no storm delays, no souvenirs, no fancy restaurants, and where accommodations will be a surprise. An unknown that could be scary, but read the new book Death: An Oral History by Casey Jarman, and you may get a preview of the itinerary.
Like many people, Casey Jarman never knew his grandparents; they’d died long before he could make memories of them, although his parents were both still alive. At age 35, though, Jarman knew “the game is rigged” and that sooner or later, he was going to lose someone he loved, which scared him. Writing a book about death “seemed like a pretty solid way to combat [his] own fear of it.”
He set out to interview people who dealt with dying. Perhaps they had some insight on the trip nobody looks forward to taking.
No two people grieve the same, as Jarman learned from a grief counselor, and it’s wrong to tell someone how to do it. Also, once was the time when death wasn’t discussed with
kids but today, truth-telling has its strong advocates. Though it may be controversial, Jarman interviewed the “frontwoman” for the Urban Death Project, the cause of which is that human bodies make great gardening. Burial takes up real estate, she pointed out. Compost a body, and it becomes “part of the ecosystem.”
From an identical twin who lost his brother, Jarman learned that it might be shaky, but healing happens. From the former editor of a magazine, he learned that when it comes to death and what we want to hear about it, everybody has a line drawn in the sand. He talked with his mother, who lost her mother years ago, and with a motherless friend whose grief is fresher. He spoke with a consumer-rights advocate, a philosopher, and a hospice worker. And through it all — rituals, conversations, and even laughs over coffee — there was this:
“Death always wins.”
Oh my, that sounds a little dark, doesn’t it? It can be — but it’s also quite eye-opening, considering the range of interviews that author Casey Jarman collected and the insights each person offers. Yes, there’s a touch of the disturbing in Death: An Oral History, but it’s not sensational so much as it is incidental.
It’s also beautifully touching. You’ll read about grief-stricken people and those who toil helpfully in the quiet spaces between death and understanding, and Jarman gives them room to explain what they do. That’s what struck me as I finished this book: In his introduction, Jarman indicates that you’ll find community within the inevitable if you need it — all you have to do is ask.
This is not really a book for the newly bereft or the ailing, but open-minded readers may benefit from what’s inside. You’ll be taking that one last trip someday and to satisfy your curiosity, Death: An Oral History may be just the ticket.