Book Review: The Undertaker’s Wife: A True Story of Love, Loss, and Laughter in the Unlikeliest of Places By Dee Oliver, with Jodie Berndt



Hello again, savvy savers! Tonight finds us with a new book review, and this time the The Undertaker’s Wife: A True Story of Love, Loss, and Laughter in the Unlikeliest of Places, by Dee Oliver and Jodie Berndt.

This book centers on, Dee Oliver, a women who grows up in a rarefied atmosphere in Virginia Beach, where her parents own an oceanfront home. After completing her degree from a private college, she enjoys life and a series of part-time jobs that entail no serious commitment or career potential, supported by her parents. Eventually she is given a very Southern, Caucasian type of ultimatum: find a real job in which you can support yourself, or find someone to marry. It is understood, in this world in which debutante season actually exists, that the spouse in question will be a man, and that he will be a person of substance. A doctor is preferable, but instead, Dee marries a doctor to the dead, the co-owner of a funeral home.

Life is definitely different now. Dee and Johnnie, her newly betrothed, cannot travel for any length of time, since people don’t make appointments before dying and he could be needed any time. Their honeymoon is a three-way party: just the two newlyweds and the corpse in the rear of the car, being transported, by happy coincidence, to their honeymoon destination.

Their daughters grow up playing tag among tombstones and jumping rope with the velvet rope that keeps the mourners in line.

The one thing that surely does not change is her standard of living. Most of her friends, she tells us, would have to call the painters themselves. How fortunate that Johnnie understood that she needed the advice of a decorator, who would then call the painters personally!

This is a quick, almost flirty read as it begins, but because I make it a point (almost) never to read books by or about affluent people, I almost tossed the book down unfinished. But I knew that something about it had made me request this ARC, and so before throwing my hands up and abandoning ship, I went back to reread the synopsis. It was a good thing I did, because it gave me hope (as Christians like to say) of better things to come.

As half owner of a funeral home, Dee realized that she should go back to school and get the credential necessary to do Johnnie’s job. However, once it was time for her internship, she whacked her well-coiffed head smack on the glass ceiling. No way, no how would her brother-in-law allow her to do such a thing.

It was at this point that Dee received one of life’s more valuable gifts: a new perspective. Riddick’s funeral home is in the African-American section of town, and its owner is not just a man of business, he is a man of the community. It is there that she was able to intern, and the results are really funny, because the area where she lives is exclusively pale, and Riddick’s funeral parlor is in an entirely Black area.

Along with her own unique story, Oliver provides us with a good deal of sound advice to follow now, while we are alive. Did you realize that if you die without a will, up to seventy percent of what you own may be taken as taxes? I don’t know whether this applies to those of us in humbler tax brackets than those in her milieu; Oliver did not specify. Either way, though, the point is made that those of us who are married and have divided the responsibilities of married life still need to be aware of a lot of nuts-and-bolts issues that it’s easy to ignore until someone has died.

Here, nobody knows better than Oliver. She has taken care of the dead, advised the bereaved, and she has been widowed. She really does know.

Everyone who writes a memoir is entitled to tell her own story with her own voice. Nevertheless, the class and religious biases here grated and could be toned down. She tells us that we need a “team” to be on to get us through the good times and the bad ones, and here are the teams she recognizes: Baptists, Catholics, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, and nondenominational …it isn’t going to get any more diverse in her world. Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and especially Atheists like me are going to “the other place”, as she describes it earlier in the text, since we have not asked Jesus into our hearts. There’s not a lot of wiggle-room in Oliver’s somewhat limited sphere. Your team may not even exist in her universe.

This book is a must read!

To find out more about this book, click here!




I received this book as a review copy from Blogging For Books. All opinion expressed are that of my own.



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