Tom Dombrock spent eight years working as an aide in a locked psychiatric ward, with patients whose damaging mental illnesses kept them from leading normal lives. After that, he went on to a job with a rather quieter clientele, as a technician and inspector dealing with the corpses of people whose deaths, accidental or criminal, required investigation. In this book, he relates stories, insights, and wisdom gained from his work.
LUNACY & DEATH is, at its heart, a book about human vulnerability, and about the combination of detachment and kindness required to properly care for those who are made vulnerable by uncontrollable mental illness, the sudden death of a loved one, or their own mortality. There are stories in here that are not for the faint of heart or weak of stomach – part of Dombrock’s recurring theme is the need for a particular set of skills, including the ability to deal with situations that are both physically repulsive and emotionally draining, for either of the two jobs he has held. He does not hold back on his descriptions, in places, and there are bits that the squeamish will want to skip over. There’s humor in this book, too, sometimes rather dark humor.
However, none of the stories, not even the ones about people who die due to truly excessive stupidity, are told without sympathy and some level of affection. Dombrock never forgets, to his credit, that the people he is dealing with, whether furiously trying to escape the voices in their head or lying cold and motionless on a slab, are human people with feelings and struggles of their own, and never lets his readers forget that either. The book meanders a bit, as reminiscences tend to, and drifts occasionally into politics, but the author takes a common-sense, evenhanded approach and while opinionated, is not dogmatic. In the end, while no one hopes to develop an unmanageable mental illness or die suddenly of accident or homicide, it is at least a bit comforting to know that there are people like Dombrock out there willing and able to do the difficult work of caring for those faced with sudden loss, whether it be of one’s mental capacity, one’s life, or the life of someone dearly loved.
LUNACY & DEATH is full of straightforward common sense, wry humor, intelligence and wisdom, and is worth a read for anyone who might be confronted, some day, with their own unexpected human vulnerability.
~Catherine Langrehr for IndieReader