THE LIFE OF DEATH by Ralph  R. Rossell


The Bare Bones of Undertaking
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A debut memoir that meticulously documents every aspect of growing up and working in a Flushing, Michigan, funeral parlor.

With both his father and his uncle working as funeral directors, it’s safe to say that Rossell was born into the trade. He was involved in the day-to-day workings of the parlor from an early age; he speaks of his father always on call and how the family would “rush through dinners so we could finish before the phone would ring and my father would have to leave the table.” On winter mornings, the author and his brother would clear the snow from the funeral parlor driveway. As Rossell grew older, he helped his father in his work and, in time, became a funeral director himself. The memoir opens with an examination of embalming, autopsies, and showing and restoring bodies. The author’s delivery is both laconic and frank: “A man died with his nose eaten away by cancer. There were just two holes where his nose had been, so I created a new nose for him.” This tone makes for an unflinchingly honest memoir that deals with such things as mortuary school, caskets, memorial services gone bad, lawsuits, thieves, and even seemingly paranormal happenings. What’s most striking is the funeral director’s proximity to everyday, small-town life. For instance, he reminisces about sitting in a bar with his brother and getting asked by a local man named Elwood about the difference between a regular funeral and a cremation. His brother’s wry response: “Elwood, about two thousand degrees.” However, the author is never glib about his profession. He uses humor at the right moments to make death bearable, but he always shows the utmost respect and support to those families that employ him. Rossell’s generosity and dedication make him a knowledgeable and likable narrator. This, in turn, transforms a potentially dark memoir into an approachable, enjoyable, and revealing read.

A candid, sensitive, and occasionally humorous account of life as a funeral director.

Pub Date: Nov. 21st, 2017
ISBN: 978-1-4575-5701-9
Page count: 179pp
Publisher: Dog Ear Publishing
Program: Kirkus Indie
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1st, 2018


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