Book Club Guide

Oct 21, 2022 | 4 comments

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Suggestions for General Discussion

  • Stories in Two Floors Above Grief: A Memoir of Two Families in the Unique Place We Called Home beg to be read aloud. Read your favorites in your group or to a family member or friend.
  • Share which stories or chapters mean the most to you and why.
  • For the person who chose this book: What made you want to read it? What made you suggest it to the group for discussion? Did it live up to your expectations? Why or why not?
  • What do you think motivated O’Connor to share his story?
  • How did you respond to his “voice”?
  • What response is O’Connor trying to elicit from readers?
  • Discuss the book’s structure and O’Connor’s use of language and writing style. How does he draw in the reader? Discuss how O’Connor conveys his story with comedy, sympathy, connections to characters and other aspects.
  • Compare this book to other memoirs your group has read. Is it similar to any of them? What do you think will be your lasting impression of the book?
  • Discuss what you like or dislike about the book that hasn’t been discussed already? Were you glad you read this book? Would you recommend it to a friend? Would you read more works by this author?

Suggestions for Discussion Specific to Chapters and Topics


    • Discuss how your family and friends communicated via letters in the years prior to email, text and current ways of correspondence.
    • “If there wasn’t a letter delivered, we had no choice but to wait for the next delivery twenty-four hours later…Today, when I send out an email or text, I find myself checking within thirty minutes, an hour, and throughout the day to look for a reply.”
      • If you are old enough to remember, how do you compare the wait times for mail to the immediacy of text and email?
      • If you are too young to remember letters being delivered by mail, what is your expectation for the timeliness of a response to your text or email?


  • Talk about your experiences when a friend or family member is near death or has just passed

Part I Conceptions and Beginnings

When your let your mind go to thinking about your own conception, what are your thoughts?

  • Chapter 1 Courting and Marrying
    • How was your family involved in the decisions you and your fiancé were making when you planned your life after marriage?
  • Chapter 2 Early Years of Marriage
    • What information do you have about the lives of your ancestors during the 1930s?
    • What were their first jobs?
  • Chapter 3 Division Street House: A Main Character
    • What was your family’s experience with intergenerational living of grandparents living with parents and children?
    • Discuss your experience visiting or living in houses built 100+ years ago.
  • Chapter 4 Dad and Mom: Their First Business
    • What is your impression of the letter Marion wrote to her parents when she arrived at her honeymoon hotel?
    • What similarities to Marion and Bill do you recall in your first year of marriage?
  • Chapter 5 Transforming Victorian Parlors to Chambers for the Dead and Living
    • What is one take-away you have from the detail offered in this chapter?
    • What memories do you have of the living spaces in your childhood home?

Part II Two Families, Two Apartments, Two Cultures

  • Chapter 6 Second-Floor Family Culture: Intersecting our Pathways
    • Lawrence wrote to Kevin: “I heeded your poignant plea about being overdrawn…nobody looks good in stripes.” What does this convey about Lawrence’s character?
    • Talk about ways privacy is maintained in your living environment.
  • Chapter 7 Third-Floor Culture: Dancing Through Life
    • What were your experiences as a child with the roles played by your parents? What are the parental roles in the family you have created?
    • What impressions of Bill and Marion’s characters do you foster based on the content of the letters they wrote?
  • Chapter 8 Support and Encouragement in Our Family Life
    • Talk about your first driving experiences
    • What are your impressions of the family life experienced by Marion, Bill, Barrett, Kevin and Kerry?
  • Chapter 9 Cousins Living as Brothers and Sisters
    • Talk about relationships you have with your cousins. Are there times you feel more like a sibling than a cousin?
    • “Keep on appreciating your brother and sister relationships.” What works for you to maintain your relationships with siblings and cousins?

Part III Cultivating a Culture of One Family

  • Chapter 10 Impact on Families During World War II
    • What have you learned from your family about their experiences during WW II?
  • Chapter 11 Miscarriages: Personal Griefs Shared
    • Talk about discussions you had with your parents about sexual health.
    • How have you handled sexual health topics with your own children and grandchildren?
  • Chapter 12 Passages and Pipelines Invigorate Interactions
    • How were the bathroom facilities in your childhood home different from what you have in your current home?
    • What makes your laundry chores different from you parents and grandparents?
  • Chapter 13 Confronting Childhood Viruses and Diseases
    • How did your parents and grandparents approach to childhood viruses differ from our current situations with Covid-19?
  • Chapter 14 Catholic Influence in Our Families’ Lives
    • Share your memories about your childhood church experiences.
    • “I want you to go see Jesus Christ Superstar. Wow-what an experience!” Talk about a movie, book or play that has influenced your religious thinking
  • Chapter 15 Our Families Grow
    • How do you and your family let others know about a pregnancy in the family?
    • “I wished I had probed this remark further with Dad.” Talk about how you engage your parents in discussions about remarks they make.
  • Chapter 16 Harmonizing
    • Share your ideas about the role music played in your family history.
  • Chapter 17 Gimme a Head with Hair
    • Talk about how the topic of hair brings your family together “in stories, in laughter, and practicality.”
  • Chapter 18 Smoke Got in Our Eyes
    • What place does smoking and its effects have in your family history?
  • Chapter 19 Parents as Entrepreneurs
    • What have been the experiences of you and those in your family who have been entrepreneurs?
  • Chapter 20 Tensions Exposed
    • Describe the dynamics and interplay you experience with your siblings and in-laws. How is or was it similar to Lawrence, Mildred, Bill and Marion?
  • Chapter 21 Student Unrest Becomes Personal
    • What are your personal stories about involvement and reactions to political change, events and protests in which you have participated or observed in your younger years and currently?
    • “ I continue to seek to understand.” Talk about the concerns your parents had for you when your thinking was not aligned with theirs. How do you handle similar situations with your own children and grandchildren?
  • Chapter 22 Togetherness: Reflections from Maureen, Kathleen, and Sharon
    • What has been your experiences of “two families as one?” Talk of experiences in which your immediate family is or has been aligned with the families of your aunts, uncles, brothers and sisters.

Part IV The Calling, Craft, and Servitude of the Mortuary Business

  • Chapter 23 Casket Experiences: Lifting, Rolling, Pushing
    • Talk about your experiences viewing a deceased person laid out in a casket.
  • Chapter 24 Always Ready for the Next Funeral
    • Talk about the number of visitors you have in your home during a year. Did you ever reach 12,500 visitors?
    • Talk about your experiences with the evolvement of telephone technology from party lines to cell phones.
  • Chapter 25 Youthful Tasks in Requiem Environments
  • Chapter 26 It Was Just Not Funerals That Kept Us Employed
    • Recall the jobs you did for your family as a young person. How are they similar to Kevin and Kerry’s jobs? How did those assignments prepare you for your adult life?
  • Chapter 27 Pigeons, Cars, and a Broken Leg
    • Share your experiences in creating a ‘visible presence’ for your home, business and profession.
  • Chapter 28 We Were Observers, Participants, and Ambassadors
    • How have aspects of life and death intersected in your life? Comment
  • Chapter 29 Death of Young Friend
    • Talk about your experience with the unexpected, sudden death of a friend or family member. What were your feelings? What happens now when you recall that experience and those feelings?

Part V Joy of Family, Friends, and Community

  • Chapter 30 Celebrations
    • Discuss how the celebrations you have with your family and friends are different or similar to those experienced by the O’Connor family.
  • Chapter 31 Feathered Friends, Canines and Hares Bestow Expressions of Life
    • Share memorable experiences about pets in your life.

Part VI Letting Go: Celebrating Transitions in Our Family

  • Chapter 32 Mildred Kruzan O’Connor
    • Based on her letters and stories about her, talk about what you perceive about Mildred’s personality and character
      “I believe that death can unfold new possibilities and opportunities in the lives of survivors.” Comment on similar experiences you have had.
  • Chapter 33 William Virgil O’Connor
    • From Bill’s eulogy: “Bill was an optimist, a pleasure to be around. He knew deep down that there must be a cross if there is to be a crown. His professional life taught him that lesson countless of times over, too.” In what you know or have learned about Bill from your reading, what are some stories that support the eulogist’s summation.”
  • Chapter 34 Lawrence Stephen O’Connor
    • Comment on lessons of life you learned from an uncle, aunt or other ancestor.
  • Chapter 35 Eileen Sharon O’Connor Safar
    • Talk about ways you celebrate the life of someone who has passed away. How are your practices similar or different to those experienced by the O’Connors?
  • Chapter 36 Kathleen Margaret O’Connor Martino
    • “Emblematic of funerals in our family, there was no rush into goodbyes.” Comment on experiences saying good-bye to friends/family at funeral events.
  • Chapter 37 Marion Ciraulo O’Connor
    • Talk about your experiences with humor during the last days and hours of a person’s life.
    • How has serendipity played a part in your own life experiences?
  • Chapter 38 Maureen Frances O’Connor Osborne
    • Share your experiences of what you do in the days following a funeral. What have you found to be helpful?

Part VII Stories and Celebrations Continue

“I encourage individuals to take our stories and use them as an inspiration to research and tell your own stories.” How have the stories in this book motivated you to engage in your own telling of stories from your family?

  • Chapter 39 Record Your Own Family History
    • “It is better to know us and not need us, than to need us and not know us.” How does this motto relate to the funeral home profession? To what other professions do the words relate?
    • “Continue. Let your stories flourish and be shared.” Talk about your plans to record family stories.
Kevin O'Connor

Kevin O’Connor

Kevin O’Connor enjoys chronicling the stories of families and friends through tracing genealogical histories, writing and picture collections. His prior writing includes personal letters, articles in professional publications, dissertation, anthologies and presentations delivered at conferences, seminars and webinars.


  1. June

    This book guide is super helpful!

    • Kevin OConnor

      Thanks, June. What did you like best?

  2. Nancy

    Book discussion template is excellent. I selected this memoir for our virtual book club for several reasons. One Kevin shares his story with such ease and elegance the reader is encouraged to share his/her story.

    • Kevin OConnor

      Thanks, Nancy. I enjoyed being a part of your book club with you and the members. The dialogue flowed so readily with rich conversation.


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