Sandra Pankhurst is a trauma cleaner. It’s work that she’s been doing for twenty years: at crime scenes, after floods, for real estate agents, for charitable organizations and for executors of deceased estates. Sandra also cleans for individuals, in cases of long-term neglect where health issues or hoarding have rendered homes barely habitable or worse.
Sarah Krasnostein writes about trauma and its impacts on two levels. In between chapters about some of the client work Sarah has accompanied Sandra on, there are elements of Sandra Pankhurst’s own extraordinary life. Reading this book, I was filled with admiration for what Sandra has achieved in her life given the challenges she has faced. These challenges include adoption and then rejection. While trying to find a place in the world, Sandra married as a man, fathered children, and then left partner and sons behind. Transitioning from male to female has its own challenges, and Sandra has learned a lot about belonging, loss and rejection. No summary I can attempt here will do justice to Sandra’s life and achievements or to the difficulties she has faced.
And yet, perhaps because of these challenges Sandra is able to assist people who’ve lost order in their lives to find new beginnings. She does this by listening to those she cleans for, by treating them with dignity and respect, by helping them create order. For some clients, she’s done this more than once.
‘This could be no one else’s office: it radiates the charisma of Pankhurst. Her corporate motto— Excellence is no accident— ‘hits your face as soon as you walk in’; is painted in white curling script directly onto a cherry-red feature wall and decoratively framed in white.’
I picked up this book because I wanted to know more about what trauma cleaners do. I was not expecting to read such an incredible, fascinating and (in large part sad) true story about the person who spends her life cleaning up after traumas. Because of trauma, Sandra Pankhurst cannot remember aspects of her own life. Because of trauma, she finds it difficult to let others care for her. And yet, this resilient woman cares for others, affording them compassion, giving them dignity.
This is Ms Krasnostein’s first book, and is well worth reading.