Award winning author, Lisa J. Shultz, is of the Baby Boomer generation and lost her father, age 89 in 2015. She embraces a challenging and often avoided topic of facing the end-of-life stage of a loved one. With courage, vulnerability and love, she recounts her dad's storied life, including its difficult ending. Wrought with what she felt was unnecessary suffering in for all involved at the end, she strives to help others find a more peaceful final chapter of life.
She begins her book by providing the background of her father, a World War II veteran. Their relationship was tenuous in Lisa's youth because she was disappointed and angered by his behavior, distancing herself from him and blaming him for the sudden end to their intact comfortable family life. As a young adult and after her father's sudden heart attack, Lisa was given a second chance to heal their relationship. Over the next three decades, they became closer, enjoying time together, including travel. When her dad entered his eighties, and while still raising her own children, Lisa found herself unprepared for his steady health decline. Suddenly, she was thrust into the role of overseeing his care as he began to experience increasing disability and the beginnings of dementia.
Not having prepared for or anticipated such a role, Lisa floundered as she attempted to address his ever-changing situation. The closeness and healing they had achieved was challenged as her father resisted conversations about his failing health and his care, exacerbated by a western medical system that fell short to prepare them for the end of his life.
After her father's death, Lisa began researching and compiling information aimed at educating and supporting others who may not be equipped for the challenges and decisions that arise when those we love begin to lose their health and mental clarity. The book also reminds us of our own mortality and inspires conversation and preparation to potentially ease the suffering for ourselves and those we leave behind.
A moving tribute to a remarkable man and a daughter's experience of losing her dad, A Chance to Say Goodbye gives rise to reflections about what is important in living and dying.
Lisa Shultz’s father died at 89, having outlived his quality of life by five years. A Chance to Say Goodbye is the impressive result of Shultz’s considerable soul-searching about the experience.
A WWII veteran who lived alone in a remote area of Colorado, Shultz’s father had lost his hearing, mobility, and autonomy. Multiple heart attacks, a stroke, a fractured hip, dementia and depression forced him off his beloved ranch and into the medical system. That, in turn, forced his daughter, a former physical therapist, into the role of decision-maker, grappling with choices that left her at odds with medical professionals who dealt with death by refusing to address it.
Conversations about her father’s wishes were put off until he was incapable of having them. For Shultz, prioritizing or solving his issues became “a never-ending hopeless job.” Sadly, her dad’s death, from pneumonia and other complications following gall bladder surgery, brought her neither peace nor closure. Instead, she ruminated about his final days, “dark with unnecessary confusion and turmoil for him and for those he left behind,” and the lessons they held.
Part tribute, part memoir, part guide, A Chance to Say Goodbye succeeds on all counts, with lyrical writing and thorough research. The book is divided into sections devoted to her father’s life, reflections following his death, and resources for dealing with aging parents or preparing for one’s own death– resources she desperately needed but didn’t compile until after the fact.
In recounting her father’s story, Shultz enables readers to share in her loss. And she offers a wealth of practical advice on everything from writing an obituary to clearing out a house. Shultz also writes passionately about the high cost—human and financial—of what nurses call “the million-dollar sendoff,” the aggressive, hyper-medicalized care at life’s end that adds neither quality nor time.
Thought provoking and absorbing, A Chance to Say Goodbye has much to offer readers willing to confront the challenging subject of end-of-life.
A Chance to Say Goodbye is a heartfelt, moving reminder that loving words are never wasted.
Half a memoir, half an exploration of grief, Lisa Shultz’s A Chance to Say Goodbye is a moving exploration of how one can best prepare to lose a loved one.
The book starts off with a family history—an exercise that may be of limited interest to those outside of the Shultz clan, but highlights the author’s deep affection for her father and her sense of connection to her family’s roots. Historical facts are preserved alongside family details, including information about what was going on in the years that family members were born, what was on the radio, and even who family members share their birth years with. Such qualities give the text a homey charm, and nostalgia for years gone by adds to this sweetness.
The life and death of Shultz’s father, Robert, provides the impetus for this exploration of grief. The author recalls how he left rural life and fought in World War II aboard the U.S.S. Missouri. Notes from the period are preserved alongside Robert’s words regarding the on-board surrender of Japan, and the retrospective warrants admiration. Shultz’s pride for her father’s historic achievements shines through, and her reflectiveness when it comes to old family wounds, particularly around her parents’ relationship, is sobering.
“He seemed to grow kinder and gentler with age,” Shultz says, and as her relationship with her father improves in her adulthood, so too does her awareness of his mortality. Family stories move forward briskly to the most challenging part of their father-daughter relationship so far: preparations for final goodbyes. Ultimately, Shultz found that avoidance came more easily than acceptance, and her chapters are a reminder that a more open kind of departure might be desirable. Blunt details about the daily implications of Robert’s declining mobility are graphic but honest.
The book’s pace changes when it switches to discussions of grief, affording Shultz the space to gather key moments in her mourning: the absorption of lovely scenery; the wish to reverse key moments of last exchanges. Such meditations are sympathetic, as are declarations like “deep grief is not a weakness; rather it shows that I chose to love deeply.” Accounts of handling the minutia in the aftermath of loss, including cleaning out cluttered homes, are honestly rendered and easy to identify with.
The last portion of Shultz’s book will prove the most relevant for those making, or helping to make, final preparations. It draws from doctors, scholars, and fellow writers to contextualize death and grief, resulting in thoughtful, helpful recommendations, with the author’s own experiences drawn in as examples.
Shultz is a self-critical guide through the process of loss, but she also seems to find some peace in the idea that her insights might help others to make healthier choices. Communication stands out as an essential tool, and Shultz’s preparatory notes are full of sage advice. Prose is clear and direct, and the end result is both reflective and encouraging.
A Chance to Say Goodbye is a heartfelt, moving reminder that loving words are never wasted. In its personal nature, it makes convincing arguments against risking regret.