The Archaeology of Loss

Sarah Tarlow

20 April 2023
288 pages


When you find your husband lying dead, you think you will not forget a single detail of that moment. As an archaeologist, I like to get my facts right, and I will try my best to do so, but five years have passed since that day in 2016 and I am excavating my own unreliable memory. I cannot go back and check.

'Extraordinary, unflinching, wonderful, moving' - Nina Stibbe, author of Love, Nina

'This memoir has been compared to The Salt Path by Raynor Winn, and I can see why . . . In the end, there is so much love in this book. In writing such a meticulously honest book, she memorialises her cant-hating husband in the best way possible. I think he would be proud of her too.' The Times

Sarah Tarlow's husband Mark began to suffer from an undiagnosed illness, leaving him incapable of caring for himself. One day, about six years after he first started showing symptoms, Mark waited for Sarah and their children to leave their home before ending his own life.

Although Sarah had devoted her professional life to the study of death and how we grieve, she found that nothing could have prepared her for the reality of illness and the devastation of loss.

Fiercely vulnerable, deeply intimate and yet authoritative, The Archaeology of Loss describes a universal experience with an unflinching and singular gaze. With humour, intelligence and urgency, it is in its very honesty that it offers profound consolation.

'This book is a companion for anyone navigating the hardships of loss and uncertainty' - Octavia Bright, author of This Ragged Grace
'A tender and big-hearted embrace of a book . . . A poetic excavation of loss, grief and ritual.' - Graham Caveney, author of The Boy with the Perpetual Nervousness

Extraordinary, unflinching, wonderful, moving
'Bracingly candid . . . Digs away at our collective fantasy that in dying or caring for the dying we are at our best. In reality, in either role we are often withdrawn, in pain, resentful, bad-tempered: our worst . . . addictively unsentimental'
In Archaeology of Loss Sarah Tarlow has harnessed the consoling power of unvarnished truth. Direct, honest and deeply compassionate, this book is a companion for anyone navigating the hardships of loss and uncertainty, but it's also a celebration of all that love can stretch to hold. Informed by both Tarlow's lived experience and perspective as an archaeologist, it asks vital questions about what it means to live and die well. I found it both thought-provoking and moving.