Title: A Short History of Falling: Everything I Observed about Love whilst Dying (review copy)
Author: Joe Hammond
Genre/Themes: Memoir, Non Fiction, Death, Terminal Illness, Motor Neurone Disease/ALS, Love, Family, Identity
Blurb from Goodreads
A Short History of Falling is a searingly beautiful, profound and unforgettable memoir that finds light and even humour in the darkest of places.
As I get weaker, less a part of this world, or less a part of what I love, less a part of my family’s life, I can perceive its edges with fantastic clarity. I can lie against it, lolling my arm over the edge, running my fingers around the rim. And this is where I am.
In 2018, Joe Hammond, wrote a piece for the Guardian about the 33 birthday cards he was writing for his two sons. It was shared by thousands. In A Short History of Falling he tells the story behind that piece, about the experience of living with – and dying of – motor neurone disease (ALS).
A Short History of Falling is not a lament. It is a deeply imaginative meditation on what it feels like to confront the fact that your family will persist through time without you. It’s a book about love and about fatherhood. But it’s also an extraordinary kind of travel writing: an unblinking account of a journey into unlighted territory and of what it means to lose your body and your connections to the world one by one.
This astonishing, luminous book will truly change the way you see the world.
In these modern times death has become such a taboo subject in many ways. We all know that one day we each will die and be no more but yet talking about death makes many uncomfortable and brings about accusations of being overly morbid.
But what if you know that last day is coming sooner than expected.
In this memoir writer Joe Hammond describes his feelings about dying. About coming to a place where death is just the natural end and not something to inherently fear. About accepting the experience of feeling his body due to motor neurone disease slow down and reach its endpoint.
And what’s so wonderful about this book is it’s not some overly saccharine piece that descends into inspirational terminal disability porn…
It’s a lot richer than that. A lot more nuanced.
It’s honest about all facets of Joe’s life and illness be they positive or negative.
And it’s this honesty and self reflection on Joe’s part that really spoke to me.
Being Irish I come from a culture whereby traditionally death is very much accepted. We wake our dead, sit with them all night, touch them…
The events after the death of my grandmother is a memory that is dear to me. I greatly appreciated being able to sit with her body in my uncle’s sitting room… Resting my hand on her resting hands clasped across her chest didn’t feel cold or unnatural to me, it just felt right.
My grandmother was in her late 90s when she died and hadn’t been compos mentis for some years so I didn’t get to talk to her about her feelings about the hastening endpoint of her life. But I have often thought about my own mortality and there are times when I’m comfortable with it… and others when I’m not so.
So for me reading Joe’s memoir was deeply refreshing. It wasn’t a piece on what comes after death in a spiritual sense but instead looked back on how his life had formed its path, how different relationships had moulded him into the person he is…
But more than anything it was a piece about making death feel natural.
Yes Joe talked about crying and sadness. However he also talked about not necessarily finding a joy or a happiness but learning to live in his ever declining body and being okay with it. Being okay with knowing that his wife and his two children will go from being a unit of four with him to not being that again. Being okay with becoming an observer of life rather than an active participant.
This novel is wonderfully understated. It doesn’t look to seek your sympathy, Joe doesn’t profess to knowing everything or to be someone whose attitude on his path to death is one we should all aspire to…
He’s just wonderfully himself.
A thoughtful man who wrote a book primarily for his two little boys so that when they are old enough they will understand the type of man he was.
It was announced at the beginning of December that Joe had died as a result of his motor neurone disease. He leaves behind his dear wife Gill and his two young sons.
But he also leaves us with this wonderful book.
A book that is quiet in its majesty.
A book that is at times harsh, and at times soft.
A book that is an honest exploration of a man that never proclaimed to be brave or inspiring, but instead tells us the story of a man who both loved and was loved, and lived his life as best as he knew how.
May you rest in peace Joe.
*An e-copy of this book was kindly provided to me by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review*