ALL THE LIVING AND THE DEAD: From Embalmers to Executioners, an Exploration of the People Who Have Made Death Their Life’s Work

Hayley Campbell

Death is tragic. But for many, it is the true beginning of an endless life. Death of a loved one comes with pain that many of us cannot simply fathom. Even science has not been able to help us deal with the emotions that accompany such a loss. When someone passes away, the family is left with a tremendous burden. They have to arrange the funeral processions, find a grave yard, fill documents, hire professionals and ship possessions to the heirs. These mundane details of death are hardly talked about. Even in Pakistan, no one really talks about their wills, heritance and other things that follow their death.

Hayley Campbell, the author of the book said she wanted unromantic, unpoetic and unsanitized versions of death. “I wanted the naked banal reality of this thing that will come to all of us.”

The 12 chapters of the book highlight the different professionals that power the death industry. Hayley asks in the book:


 “By living in this manufactured state of denial, in the borderlands between innocence and ignorance, are we nurturing a fear that reality doesn’t warrant.

In each of the chapters she describes the mechanics of the job comprehensively. She also poses a core question to each of her subjects, how are they able to deal psychologically with facing the reality of death every day. Many of the characters in her book do not have any answer to her question. For them, dealing with the dead is a job, nothing more. And with time those professionals have grown used to it.


The book is both a reminder of how death has a different meaning for everyone. It is also a stark representation of capitalism, and how everything has a cost in this life. Even dying is not free, instead, one man’s death offers jobs to dozens of people, if not hundreds. The funeral cost, rituals, and traditions across the world vary. Campbell mentions the Indonesian tradition of redressing the dead every year, and the celebrations surrounding that event. For every one of us, death comes with pain, burdens and a blank future. Campbell has mainly highlighted the western death industry. Obviously, for Pakistanis death is a whole other story, but the pain, and the activities that follow death is universal.

“Nobody ever sees all of death, so what I was doing — attempting to see all of it — was quite unusual. I don’t think anyone is supposed to see all of it.”




by Amna Sheikh


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