Two Floors Above Grief

A Memoir of Two Families in the Unique Place We Called Home

Non-Fiction - Memoir
342 Pages
Reviewed on 01/10/2023
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    Book Review

Reviewed by Vincent Dublado for Readers' Favorite

Two Floors Above Grief: A Memoir of Two Families in the Unique Place We called Home by Kevin O’Connor is the best self-published memoir I’ve read this year. This concerns a family of undertakers and provides an examination of the day-to-day concerns of family life while running a business that deals with profound loss. The author lives in a well-kept three-story, nineteenth-century Victorian house. His uncle and aunt live on the floor below with their three daughters. As the sons and nephews of undertakers, the author and his brother are called upon to assist in the work of the family funeral home and are tasked with being assistants at a death call, to help the deceased start their journey. Death has become a daily part of the family’s routine. Yet the collection of letters of family members who lived and work in the funeral home teems with life and strong family bonds.

Reading Two Floors Above Grief reminds me of one of the greatest TV shows I’ve ever seen: Six Feet Under. Except that Kevin O’Connor’s memoir has less of the domestic darkness and dysfunctionality of the characters. The best part is that this work is true to life. In a way, O’Connor has given readers a look at an unusual family exposed to a rarely talked about business dealing with death. In a masterstroke, O’Connor opens his memoir with a strong impact--a memoir that is guaranteed to feel different, because the author doesn’t take center stage and credits his whole family in the narrative. The family has seen death too many times and they have become accustomed to handling their way around the politics of grief and last respects. There is something that rings true about this book on a profound level. It drives home the message that everyone will die and that we must make the most out of life one day at a time with no pressure. Life and death are indeed related, and whether or not you need convincing, this book is something that you definitely must read.

K.C. Finn

Two Floors Above Grief: A Memoir of Two Families in the Unique Place We Called Home is a work of non-fiction in the memoir subgenre. It is best suited to the general adult reading audience and was penned by author Kevin O'Connor. Based on his personal and family history, the work explores some six decades in the history of O’Connor Funeral Home in Elgin, Illinois where Kevin grew up during the 1950s. Tracing the history back through the 20s and forward into the 80s, O’Connor presents his personal account of living alongside death and grief, juxtaposed beautifully against the treasure of vibrant family life and the pursuit of happiness whilst we’re lucky enough to be alive.

Having recently suffered a lot of loss myself, it was refreshing to find a read on funerals and death that still strives for happiness and joy. Uniquely placed to recount the history of his family home, author Kevin O’Connor delivers a superbly well-researched and highly engaging history lesson about mortician life whilst also letting us in on the personality, character, dignity, and warmth of the O’Connor family through the generations. It was fascinating to me how the house itself even assumes a character, from its eclectic Victorian furnishings to the emotion that fills every room, and it was heart-warming to see how a house that deals in death twenty-four hours a day could be full to the brim with life. Overall, readers seeking totally unique memoirs will not be disappointed by the accomplished writing and engaging storytelling found within Two Floors Above Grief. A recommended read indeed.

Bernadette Longu

Two Floors Above Grief: A Memoir of Two Families in the Unique Place we call Home by Kevin M. O’Connor explores his family’s history and lives through letters and stories told at family gatherings. This is a memoir of two families living in a large home that housed an unusual business, as well as two families in their own apartments. The book starts in 1930 and finishes in 2020 during the Covid19 epidemic. The main characters are Lawrence and Mildred O’Connor, and Bill (William) and Marion O’Connor, the author’s parents. The family was comprised of 93 children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and great-great-grandchildren, all descendants of the original parents of the unique place they called home, as well as cousins to the main characters. The book catches the reader’s attention from the first page due to the way it starts, through to the last chapter, which is a twist in the tale and a most unusual way to end a book.

In Two Floors above Grief, Kevin M O’Connor ends the book on a wry note, tongue in cheek, as he feels that a lot of readers will jump through the book and not read it page by page. It is a book that you will read for an hour or two, then walk away to think and remember what you read and how the people reacted, which will make you go back to read some more. It has been written with grace, respect, love, frustration, joy, sorrow, laughter, and a gentle reverence for the lives of the people who made up the large O’Connor family, and those fortunate enough to marry into the family or be related to the family in one way or another. I found myself reading well into the night, as I enjoyed finding out about the family and how they lived through their ups and downs, and discoveries. This is a most interesting book for fans of memoirs. I loved the photos, drawings, and handwritten notes that really bring the people to life for the reader. Thank you for an intriguing read and for providing many things to think about.

Jamie Michele

Two Floors Above Grief: A Memoir of Two Families in the Unique Place We Called Home by Kevin O'Connor is an interesting autobiographical account. The choice of title is immediately clear the moment one starts reading. O'Connor was raised in a historic home where the family had a mortuary and funeral business in the basement and on the first floor. The family lived above, along with his aunt, uncle, and cousins who were on another floor. O'Connor begins with the history of the home and how his family came to own it, as well as a backstory on the family business. O'Connor details the layout of the home and the memories he has of it. The operation of the funeral home was sustained through relationships with the local Catholic parishes, and he remembers enduring political turmoil, family health and illness issues, religious education, and learning the business.

Kevin O'Connor writes his account in the first person with a style that comes across as conversational. This format allows the timeline of Two Floors Above Grief the benefit of fluidity so that the memories run the length of several decades. Some of the accounts are amusing, particularly as O'Connor talks of his childhood. He recalls limited bathroom space for the large blended family and how he would run down to the basement if need be, which had a unique attraction: a urinal. “Oh, the benefits of being a funeral home kid.” Some moments are less happy, such as learning of his mother's multiple miscarriages and Mildred's sickness. Of course, there is a lot of death and a lot of grieving. O'Connor recounts the upkeep of the renowned home that due to the nature of the business had over 12,000 visitors per year. It's an unusual story with highs, lows, and a casket elevator that is an interesting read as it is one of a kind. Highly recommended.