NOVEL APPROACH: Six feet under

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First Posted: 4/8/2013

Most people, let alone children, fear death. But, for Rachael Hanel, this concept was a bit more complicated. Since birth, Hanel was raised surrounded by death and sorrow. In her latest work, “We’ll Be the Last Ones to Let You Down: Memoir of a Gravedigger’s Daughter,” Hanel discovers that the heavy themes once ingrained to be a matter of business, became uncomfortably personal.

Looking back on our own childhood, we might remember some of our most prized possessions. At 11-years-old, Hanel was given one she would certainly never forget: a gravestone inscribed and ready for her eventual departure from the world.

In the small town of Waseca, Minn., Hanel’s life unfolds as something ordinary. While the family business of grave digging may be anything but, her family life operates like a dream, loving and dedicated. Hanel takes readers on a swift ride down memory lane, divulging not only the quirks of her fascinating life, but also the immense sadness that accompanies her past.

Hanel was only 15-years-old when death taught her the biggest lesson of all: her father, the great gravedigger, abruptly passed.

“I knew death, and I thought that Dad’s job would prepare me for the inevitable fact that one day he would die. […] I didn’t know, couldn’t know, how his death would change us. Without him, we collapsed as a family unit. […] In a family that was once eager to tell the story of others, to speak their secrets, silence ruled. After Dad died, we barely spoke his name.”

Though Hanel was raised believing death as merely a business, it had now become personal. In her journey to find solace after the loss of her father, she comes to find a greater strength in empathy. Hanel’s understanding of death and grief following the event brings her closer to the community, family, and friends who have also experienced loss.

This memoir is just right for anyone whose curiosity favors more morbid elements. The work embodies 13 chapters of personal progression, and showcases the strength behind familial bonds. Hanel’s memoir is evidence of her extraordinarily reflective life and ability to possess a modesty empowered by wit and optimism, even in the worst of times.

The brilliant pun that is the title of the work demonstrates Hanel’s obvious humor as well as her literal business etiquette. Throughout the work, she emphasizes comfort in knowing her final resting place. In turn Hanel, even after facing personal anguish, breathes life into death, giving readers a glimpse of its unlikely beauty.

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