The Owl at the Window by Carl Gorham

Comedy is one of the ways we humans deal with things going wrong. So, in the middle of a war zone or in the aftermath of a terrible natural disaster, you’ll find people cracking jokes.

Insensitive, some call it, but I’d day it was normal and healthy. In my experience of bereavement, there comes a point when the tears are replaced, even for just a few minutes, by laughter. An hour or two after my father had died I sat with my mother, and brother drinking his favourite whisky and swapping stories about some of the daft things he’d done. A few years later, as I sat in an undertaker’s office choosing a coffin for my mother, I smiled when I imagined her response to so much money being spent on something so ephemeral.

Sure, there are plenty of tears and sadness when a loved one dies, but if you’ve never found yourself smiling in the immediate aftermath of a death, then Carl Gorham’s book is probably not for you.

Yes, it’s a `darkly funny memoir of loss and hope’, but it’s also an extended love letter to his wife, the mother of his young child. Tales of their early years together are interspersed with memories of how he dealt with her death in her forties. It’s a commonplace story told in beautiful prose and with painful honesty.

Gorham’s comic eye hones in on the absurd situations that dealing with a death forces us to confront, such as the details of the design of a coffin, how much the deceased weighed (`for the pallbearers’) or whether you want a double-depth grave in order to leave space for a spouse when the time comes. The sort of things which have to be dealt with, but can seem so irrelevant when your loss is still raw.

Whether he’s talking about the frequently baffling bureaucracy that surrounds death (for example, what’s the difference between a `copy of a death certificate’ and a `copy of a copy’?) or trying to talk to child about where her mother has `gone’, Gorham does so in a way that will resonate with anyone who’s had deal with the death of a loved one. Which, of course is all of us eventually.

If you are dealing with bereavement, his words might help you make you feel a little less alone. If you are not, they could help when the worst happens.


The Owl at the Window (Amazon)

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