"The windswept Irish island of My Father's Wake is one of the final remote outposts of true death engagement in the Western world. Toolis's book is both memoir and anthropology, and serves as a refreshing counterpoint to the industrialized, for-profit death industry we've come to wrongly believe is our only option."Caitlin Doughty, author of the New York Times bestsellers Smoke Gets in Your Eyes and From Here to Eternity
"As a boy, he learned to kiss the corpse at a traditional island wake. As a filmmaker and witness to death in many conflict zones around the world, Kevin Toolis has written a profound book on the culture of grief and death, placing the personal alongside the political in a vivid exploration of our ancient ways of coming together around the dead. This is a moving family story, a memoir of loss and exile, a deep understanding of what makes us alive, casting a cold eye on what is precious and so often denied."Hugo Hamilton
"The 'Western Death Machine' has hidden the dead and dying, but in a remote island off the west coast of Ireland, an almost Homeric society clings to the old ways. The dying are treasured and tenderly watched over, the dead are honored with the ancient rites and rituals. Contemporary western ideas about death are dominated by individualism; My Father's Wake is a lyrical description of how community and tradition help us deal with our mortality."Seamus O'Mahony, author of The Way We Die Now
"A heartwarming and very personal account of a life well-lived."Irish Times
"A long meditation on death, dying, and our attitudes to mortalityour own and others'.... Toolis posits an acceptance of the inevitable which, while it does not banish the pain of grief, invests it with a resignation and a grace that is, in essence, healing and somehow life-affirming."The Guardian
"A gut-wrenching exploration of death from an Irish perspective...A fascinating view of what most of us try not to consider: the end of life...This book is not for the faint of heart, as the experiences [Toolis] shares will leave readers emotionally raw. It is unquestionably rewarding, however, a thought-provoking argument against a sterile and industrial view of death...Intimate, eye-opening."—Kirkus (starred review)
"[A] poetically written and heartfelt memoir."
"An exceptionally personal and moving story."—BookPage
"In this stimulating and poignant narrative, Kevin Toolis armed with his Irish heritage gives a heart wrenching description of the death and wake of his father as he delves into the broader history, rituals, and meaning of the Irish wake...With an inspiring and refreshing message at its core, My Father's Wake rejoices in the spiritual depth of the Irish views on mortality."—New York Journal of Books
"A book especially for St. Patrick's Day, to be sure, but filled with powerful advice for every day."
"Visceral and profound."—New York Times Book Review
"Read Kevin's book for a peek into the rites and rituals of an ancient past. My Father's Wake teaches us that death does not need to be reinvented, we don't need to find new ways...we need to uncover and rediscover the old ways."—The Order of the Good Death
A New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice
"Syntax and word, rhythm and rite roll and surge in this tribute to a wordsmith's dying father, Sonny-and to the neglected Irish practice of 'waking the dead'...A worthy read."—Englewood Review of Books
"At once heartwarming and horrifying."—Norfolk Virginian-Pilot
"A former war correspondent, Toolis has seen more than his fair share of death and is here to shake us out of our complacency."—Times Literary Supplement
"[Toolis] blends the realities of his real-world journalistic experiences of war, famine, natural disaster and death with an elegant overlay of the humanities and culture...His depiction of the ancient ritual of the wake and other customs is not sentimental, but an unflinching description of death, grief, and mourning...His description of the collective experience of his father's death, wake and funeral are poetic and unforgettable...My Father's Wake is a beautifully written work which deserves our attention. There are portions of this book which should be required reading for medical and nursing students."—Pallimed
"A powerful exploration of mortality, loss, and Western death denial."—Talk Death
A gut-wrenching exploration of death from an Irish perspective.Journalist and award-winning filmmaker Toolis (Rebel Hearts: Journeys Within the IRA's Soul, 1996) centers this work in his ancestral homeland, a small village on an island off the west coast of Ireland, where his father died of cancer at home. The author has spent a lifetime exploring death, beginning with his own brushes with it—first as a patient in a tuberculosis ward and, later, through his brother's excruciating and untimely death from cancer. The author went on to use journalism to explore violence, especially from a religious or political perspective; he has covered the Arab-Israeli conflict, North African fighting, and the Troubles of Northern Ireland. His experiences have left him with a fascinating view of what most of us try not to consider: the end of life. His own father's death, and the wake that ensued, ground his thoughts on the subject. Throughout, Toolis rails against "the Western Death Machine." In Europe and North America, he writes, we remove death from the private sphere and place it in the hands of "experts," ranging from coroners to funeral directors. "We need to find our way again with death," he writes, noting that for thousands of years, humanity dealt with death in healthier, more fulfilling ways. He sees in the Irish wake a pattern to emulate, a remnant of ancient methods of handling the mourning process that brought dignity to the dying and closure to the living. This book is not for the faint of heart, as the experiences he shares will leave readers emotionally raw. It is unquestionably rewarding, however, a thought-provoking argument against a sterile and industrial view of death.From the graveside of an Irish Republican Army execution victim, whose young son cries inconsolably at his loss, to that of the author's own father, Toolis provides a series of intimate, eye-opening visits with the end-of-life process.