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. But do not be mistaken, this book’s purpose is not to solve the meaning of life, but it does ask some very challenging questions.
Toolis’s writing is so visceral and profound when he is near dying bodies that the lessons of such experiences become evident — so evident, indeed, that the unfortunate framing of My Father’s Wake as a how-to for urban Westerners feels a bit clumsy and redundant ... Early in the book, Toolis implores us to face our mortality by calculating the date of our death, 'the end point for you.' In the book’s final chapter...he offers this advice: 'If you can find yourself a decent Irish wake to go to, just turn up and copy what everyone else is doing,' and 'take your kids along too if you can' ... I can’t help wishing that Toolis had kept the beautiful memoir of his life-and-death experiences and thrown the self-help curriculum over the city walls to be devoured by beasts. There really is no greater truth than a corpse.
In The Year of Magical Thinking ... [Joan] Didion’s rage was directed at a society that had left her utterly unprepared for the great unmooring that is grief, and Toolis, too, has written a broadside against that collective denial. But his book is much more than that. In its alternating shifts of focus, from the intimately personal to the more journalistically detached – if the word really applies here – it lays bare the desperate numbness that accompanies that denial. In its place, 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.