REVIEW: Sorry for Your Loss by Kate Marshall
Following Kate Marshall’s first year in the mortuary at a north of England NHS hospital, with each month exploring the people she meets, in life and death, as well as her own growing awareness of life behind the veil.
Meet Mr X. Found in his apartment months after his death, Mr X has no relatives that can be traced. He is the longest-serving resident of the mortuary, having been there for almost a year while the search for his elusive family continues. The staff talk to him like an old friend, but Mr X is disintegrating and a decision has to be made soon.
Meet Mary Her baby girl has been lost in the 15th week of pregnancy, Mary’s last chance to have a child. Mary won’t allow Abigail to leave the mortuary until she has finished reading a book to her. She visits twice each day, sitting with her baby, reading to her, speaking to no one, until she finally opens up to Kate.
Meet Joe: A loving husband and father who has died suddenly of a heart attack. Joe is visited by his wife, his children – and his mistress. On the day that all his worlds collide, Kate witnesses how death can finally reveal the truth of years of lies.
Sorry for Your Loss is haunting, uplifting and informative, with many moments of laughter, and shows us that the way we approach death can make life all the more precious.
I’ll start off from the beginning with some warnings. Working in a hospital mortuary, Kate Marshall (sometimes graphically) discusses the deaths of patients from the hospital as well as deceased persons who were brought in. Many of these deaths will be disturbing and or triggering. She talks about patients with mental health issues, the deaths of babies, and neglect of the elderly among others. Covid hit the UK less than a year after she started working there which added its stresses to the job. She also briefly worked with hoarders. Readers, if you have any reason to feel you shouldn’t read this due to the subject matter, listen to your gut instinct.
What struck me the most while reading this book is that here is a woman who has found her niche. It might seem strange or bizarre for Marshall to say she enjoys her job and it makes her happy given that she works in the mortuary of a large teaching hospital in the UK that also takes care of outside deaths as well. But she is someone who has found what she is good at and takes pride in the care which she provides to not only the dead and also the living who must interact with the staff. The job that Kate does is not anything to do with pathology or forensic science nor is she a funeral home director. What she does do is start the paperwork needed to register a death, arrange to let family view the deceased before the body is taken to a funeral home, and to answer questions.
She tells stories of certain cases that have passed through the department that illustrate the vagaries of how bereavement affects people and how certain cultures deal with death. Some relatives are heartbroken and collapse. Some are devastated yet remember the good and best of a loved one’s life. A few are out for petty revenge or the deceased’s watch. Others just want a last chance to say goodbye, touch a hand, smooth hair, or read Winnie the Pooh to a preterm infant.
Kate Marshall views her job as comforting the grieving along with handling the dead with care and dignity. There are a few times she drifts into a bit of moralizing or tut-tutting but never towards the dead under her care. I do agree with her advice to tell people now that you love them and make memories when you can because life is short. B