A professor at the University of Leicester has published a ‘fiercely honest’ memoir inspired by the tragic loss of her husband, who ended his life after being diagnosed with a progressive but undiagnosed illness.
An expert in death, Archaeology Professor Sarah Tarlow, found nothing could prepare her for the sudden and unexpected loss of her husband.
Although they had lived together for many years and had children, the pair had been married for only two weeks when Mark, a fellow academic at the University of Leicester, ended his life in what Sarah describes as an “extraordinary act of courage and love.”
Courageous, “because he ended his life alone and without being able to tell anyone; and loving because he did that extraordinary thing to protect me from the law,” says Sarah.
Now, through a touching and poignant memoir, she has written a fiercely honest and intimate account of her professional and personal experience of loss, touching on topics including assisted dying, relationships between the living and the dead, sacrifice, and rituals around death. ‘The Archaeology of Loss: life, love and the art of dying’ will be published later this month (April 20) by Picador.
“My working life has been devoted to studying death, burial practices, and the rituals of grief, but I was struck by how different my own experience was from what I expected,” said Ms Tarlow.
“I wasn’t prepared at all for the difficult and drawn-out experience of Mark’s illness and early death.
“One of my strongest emotional responses was anger. The anger I felt about how Mark had to die and why he had to do this on his own. It was his rational response to having a condition from which he would never get better but I wasn’t given an option to support him in his decision.
“The memoir was my way of bringing together reflections from my academic life and thoughts provoked by our situation. I hope it’s a thoughtful book that explores issues and ideas, though it is held together with an honest personal history.
“I’m immensely proud to have written a piece of literature and to have given Mark’s death some form of purpose.”
An “intelligent and self-sufficient man,” the pair met in the archaeological department of another university before transferring to Leicester where they were also raising three young children.
“Our research fields were different but it was always great to have each other to bounce ideas off. Mark always kept me on my toes and I loved that about him. I hope he would be proud of the book I’ve put together,” adds Sarah.
Publisher Gillian Fitzgerald-Kelly from Picador said: “It’s a rare thing to read a book that moves you in such a delicate and yet powerful way. It’s even rarer to find that feeling matched across your publishing colleagues. “Sarah is an astute, insightful, honest and deeply moving writer and the scaffolding of this book, her singular perspective on death and grief gained through a lifetime of learning, is fascinating and complex.”
An extract of The Archaeology of Loss: life, love and the art of dying, has been published in The Guardian newspaper at: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2023/apr/08/archaeologist-sarah-tarlow-the-archaeology-of-loss and is available to buy in hardback, Ebook or audio formats from Thursday, April 20.