The Trauma Cleaner: One Woman’s Extraordinary Life in the Business of Death, Decay, and Disaster by Sarah Krasnostein


Of course, Sandra’s skill at making others feel secure also eliminates a whole host of threats to herself and optimizes her ability to move forward with her work and with her life, because Sandra is a virtuoso at survival.

This is the sort of true life story that makes me ashamed of all the things I get depressed thinking of or complain about in my life, that seem so much bigger than me at the moment. Sandra is a virtuoso at survival, without a doubt. Reading about her early years as a little boy was one of the most disturbing cruelties I have ever read, and it doesn’t really get easier as she navigates the rest of her life. This book gave me pause, I chewed over so many misconceptions so many of us have about the transgender community. Imagine the struggle in someone Sandra’s age, when it was far more brutal to be anything that deviated from the ‘norm’, when it was criminal. Sure, we’ve come further… sort of.

How does the human spirit survive so many cruelties? Is it any wonder she put up a protective shield? Yet, Sandra in her career is the most compassionate person in dealing with the hoarding, the filth so many of us would be shocked by. She has a delicacy few can master, and while this book certainly touches on trauma cleaning, death and decay the true trauma is what Sandra has endured and continues to endure. None of the mountains of trash or excrement nor human blood disturbed me half as much as the inhumanity Sandra has been victim to or witnessed.

She has been many people, lived many lives and maybe her memories are distorted because she’s had to abandon her old selves to stay afloat. A son first, starved for food and affection, a loyal brother despite any reason he should be, a hopeful father just trying to be ‘normal’, trying to escape the true self dying to be freed, a drag queen, a prostitute, a victim, a trophy wife and a businesswoman! Yes, Sandra Pankhurst brings order to chaos, but it’s her humanity that makes her so highly regarded in her field. How is it she isn’t poisoned by all the rot she’s been exposed to, that’s been forced on and in her? Or maybe she is, maybe her inability to get deeply close to any one person is the poison’s lasting effect. Still, she is an amazing woman who rather than turning her horrifying experiences into hatred for others, found a way to lift those so many others turn their backs on, and rises to the challenge that defeats so many of us.

I thought about her children and first wife, as we readers have the leisure to do when it’s a stranger’s life we can pass judgement on, and I wondered what the options were. What if Sandra stayed and pretended her entire life? What if times were different and she could have remained a presence? How can we know what is the right choice? Certainly she had her wild times, many can see it as escaping the responsibility her ex was left to shoulder alone, but then… but then… the horrors of trying to embrace the female inside of her, who would call any of what she endured easy? Escape? She was a caged thing for such a long time, blame the times if you will, or the brutal abuses by her parents (and can you really call them parents), call her selfish or an abomination(because some will) but never imagine being Sandra was ‘easy’.  What does it say about us as human beings when we force those who are different to crawl for a living, that when they need help, they are viewed as less than human?

My heart was bleeding for Sandra, but also for those who tried to love her. She tried to be normal, create a family and hurt others in the process, but she is a wound herself. It’s a strange thing, to be so strong for others, for strangers and so distant to those who you’ve brought into this world, distant from a husband you love, if not desire… This is the only way she can live in her skin, this is how Sandra found her true self and it cost her far more than a pound of flesh.

I felt compassion for her clients, seen through Sandra’s eyes how can the reader not see that really, take away the garbage and it’s all about fears, which we all have. Take into account mental health, who of us can truly say our minds are without their own pitfalls? It’s easy to look at people who are all alone, look down on the “crazy person” living with rats, sleeping on garbage, and dehumanize them, not imagine there has been some trauma that altered the trajectory of their life. To have compassion means you aren’t as removed from the state they are in as you tell yourself and that’s a scary thought. The same could be said for the horror of living inside a body that is a prison, I cannot even fathom the pain of it, reading this book is just a taste. I can step away and move along with my life, so I’ll never fully comprehend what such a life encompasses. We think we’re so far from tragedy, ruin, but life is nothing if not a lottery. It could always be you.

Publication Date: April 10, 2018

St. Martin’s Press



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