ALL THE LIVING AND THE DEAD
By: Hayley Campbell
Published: August 16, 2022
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
I have to admit that I feel a bit weird giving a book all about the details of death five stars. But, I have to. Hayley Campbell has written so carefully and honestly about a topic that most of us fear and made it understandable and eye-opening. I was riveted even though I had to step away from it frequently and read something a bit happier. This is not a book for everyone. I do NOT recommend this to someone suffering from a grave illness, to someone who has just recently lost a loved one, or to someone that has a weak stomach. This book is graphically detailed and it needs to be. What Campbell went through to give us the behind-the-scenes of death is literally life-changing. I won’t ever look at death the same way and I have even come to some conclusions about what I want my own final journey to look like.
“…the first dead body you see should not be someone you love…You need to be able to separate the shock of seeing death from the shock of grief.”Poppy Mardall, Funeral Director in ALL THE LIVING AND THE DEAD by Haley Campbell
Campbell’s chapters give us information on all parts of death including those who donate their body to science and the process offered by the Mayo Clinic in Rochester. She shares something I knew nothing about, a death mask. There are artists that create masks of people after they die that allow their images to last forever. Some of this book is set in London, where the author lives. So, some of the death and dying rituals she shares are different. In fact, I was shocked that funeral directors in the UK do not need a license as they do here in the US.
One whole chapter is devoted to Kenyon Internation and their work in recovering bodies after disasters. I previously shared about this company in the book, PERSONAL EFFECTS. I found the chapter devoted to the person who “flips the switch” at prison executions quite fascinating. I had never considered the difficulties that prison staff face caring for a prisoner for years only to then be the same person to cause their death.
She interviewed crime scene cleaners and those who come after the horrific events and make them disappear. I was shocked that these companies share pictures on social media for others to view the macabre scenes the staff find upon entering the gruesome scenes.
The heartbreaking chapter of a nurse who works only in a separate maternity ward for mothers who greet and say goodbye to their babies in the space set aside only for them. If only all hospitals had a completely different ward where mothers that came to the hospital knowing they would not be taking their babies home to the beautifully decorated nurseries, where they didn’t have to hear the cries of other babies, and hear joyful families celebrating new siblings or grandbabies. This chapter gutted me and made me grateful to the women who choose to work in this space.
In 2018, I read Caitlin Doughty’s book, SMOKE GETS IN YOUR EYES in which she shares her experiences as a crematory worker and subsequently how she has changed the idea of death for many people through her website and services. Both Doughty’s book and now Campbell’s description of the embalming process have made me wonder if cremation isn’t the right choice for me. I was surprised that organ donation wasn’t a part of this book. Even if you don’t donate your body to science, you can still choose to donate specific or any and all organs to those living that need them. I am passionate about organ donation and would have been curious about this process.
Many of the people interviewed in the book were doing the good and right thing, even though no one will ever notice or know. There is tender care in death and for all the people who work in this field, there is no question of your heart for others. Campbell’s book is a no-secrets, behind-the-scenes look at all aspects of death and dying. Campbell writes honestly and will leave you questioning how you want your final journey to look.
Hayley Campbell is an author, broadcaster, and journalist. Her work has appeared in WIRED, The Guardian, and more. She lives in London with her cat, Ned.
Leave a Comment