The Undertaker’s Wife by Dee Oliver
Title: The Undertaker’s Wife: A True Story of Love, Loss, and Laughter in the Unlikeliest Places
Author: Dee Oliver
Publish Date: March 24, 2015
Publisher’s Description: On Dee Branch’s first date with Johnnie Oliver, a fourth-generation funeral director, she knew she was in for a unique relationship when he had to leave “for just a minute”—and he came back to the car with a corpse.
Over twenty years later, Dee was still in love with her charming southern gentleman when he passed away suddenly in 2007. Determined to carry on Johnnie’s work, Dee earned her mortuary science degree, only to find herself barred from reentering the family business. And so Dee crossed the racial divide in the most segregated industry in America and joined the staff of an African-American funeral home as a single white woman.
In The Undertaker’s Wife, Oliver draws from her wealth of experience to provide candid and often hysterically funny advice on dying well and surviving the loss of those who have gone before. Her insights on the common ground of grief, survival, and the ever-present faithfulness of God (to all of us, regardless of our race, religious upbringing, or socio-economic background) will help readers prepare for one of life’s only certainties—and do it with wisdom, grace, and a healthy dose of joy.
I have been pondering awhile on how to start this review. Ideas have been rattling around in my brain on how to create the perfect opening line to draw the right people to this review.
Will it make a reader laugh?
Well, if it doesn’t, they might want to see their doctor to make sure their funny bone is still intact.
Will it make a reader cry?
Well, if it doesn’t, they might want to see their minister to make sure their soul is still intact.
Will it make them think?
It will squeeze your brain with thoughts that have never occurred to you before and will leave with a call to action unlike any I have felt from a book.
Will it change them?
Yes, it will.
Death is a subject that most people skitter around. They touch the edges but never really have that conversation they need to have with a spouse, a parent, a loved one, or themselves. The Undertaker’s Wife makes you have that conversation with yourself but it doesn’t do it in a sit-down-and- eat- your- vegetables sort of way.
Dee Oliver starts the process simply, quietly and beautifully through hilarious stories about her life and experiences as the wife of a funeral director. I wish she would have shared more of them. Sometimes I laughed so hard the tears rolled down my face and more than once I thought about how much fun it would be to listen to Dee Oliver talk over a pitcher of margaritas. By the time you get to the death of her husband, you already view her as a friend and feel her loss. The stories are heartbreaking but hopeful as she struggles to move on with her life.
Then she turns the spotlight onto us, the readers, by giving us advice on how to deal with bereavement whether it is yours or someone you love. They include very helpful things to do and say when we don’t know what to do and say. Finally, she addresses the ten-ton elephant in the room and talks about our own death. There was one passage that hit me hard…
“We mark our birthdays on the calendar every single year,” Johnnie used to say, “Our death day goes by every year too – we just don’t recognize it.”
In order to live well, we also need to plan for the end of that life. If we truly love the people we will leave behind, we will plan for our death as carefully as we plan for anything else that is important to us, and she outlines how to do this in her book.
Because of this book, I know I will have a will by the end of the summer. I will write my obituary and store it where my loved ones can find it when it is needed. And I think you should read this book. It is a beautifully written, hilariously moving tale of how to live every moment of life and how to be ready when the moments run out.
If you like this book…
- The Undertaker’s Daughter by Kate Mayfield