Synopses & Reviews
Rachael Hanel’s name was inscribed on a gravestone when she was eleven years old. Yet this wasn’t at all unusual in her world: her father was a gravedigger in the small Minnesota town of Waseca, and death was her family’s business. Her parents were forty-two years old and in good health when they erected their gravestone—Rachael’s name was simply a branch on the sprawling family tree etched on the back of the stone. As she puts it: I grew up in cemeteries.
And you don’t grow up in cemeteries—surrounded by headstones and stories, questions, curiosity—without becoming an adept and sensitive observer of death and loss as experienced by the people in this small town. For Rachael Hanel, wandering among tombstones, reading the names, and wondering about the townsfolk and their lives, death was, in many ways, beautiful and mysterious. Death and mourning: these she understood. But when Rachael’s father—Digger O’Dell—passes away suddenly when she is fifteen, she and her family are abruptly and harshly transformed from bystanders to participants. And for the first time, Rachael realizes that death and grief are very different.
At times heartbreaking and at others gently humorous and uplifting, We’ll Be the Last Ones to Let You Down presents the unique, moving perspective of a gravedigger’s daughter and her lifelong relationship with death and grief. But it is also a masterful meditation on the living elements of our cemeteries: our neighbors, friends, and families—the very histories of our towns and cities—and how these things come together in the eyes of a young girl whose childhood is suffused with both death and the wonder of the living.
"We’ll Be the Last Ones to Let You Down gently untucks dying, death, and mourning from the dark recesses of the drawer we Midwesterners, descendants of the stoic and neat, have kept it. Choice passages of Hanel’s story so affected me that my throat went sore swallowing grief. All the while, I had the sense of watching a determined child fall down, scrape her knee, and stand up, lip quivering, eyes glistening but resolute." —Nicole Helget, author of The Turtle Catcher
"Mesmerizing!" —Alison Bechdel, author of Fun Home
This book presents the unique, moving perspective of a gravedigger’s daughter and her lifelong relationship with death. It is also a masterful meditation on the living elements of our cemeteries: our neighbors, friends, and families and how these things come together in the eyes of a young girl whose childhood is suffused with death and the wonder of the living.
About the Author
Rachael Hanel is a writer, university instructor, and former journalist. She is the author of more than twenty nonfiction books for children, and her honors include two Junior Library Guild premier selections and two Minnesota Book Award nominations. Her essays have been published in the Bellingham Review, and two of her essays were selected as cowinners of the New Delta Review creative nonfiction contest in 2011; one of those was named a notable essay in the 2012 edition of The Best American Essays.
Table of Contents
1. We’ll Be the Last Ones to Let You Down
2. Digger O’Dell
3. In the Midst of Life We Are in Death
4. Stormy Weather
5. Precious in the Sight of the Lord Is the Death of His Saints
6. Break the Plow
7. As You Think, You Travel
8. When Beauty Dies
9. A Gossamer World
10. Helter Skelter
11. Opening Night
12. The Lord Giveth and the Lord Taketh Away
13. What Was Left Behind