“If an unexamined life isn’t worth living, I come to believe an unexamined grief is a bigger loss.”—Lisa Romeo, author of Starting with Goodbye: A Daughter’s Memoir of Love after Loss
How many of us can honestly say we have no regrets about our relationships with family members and/or friends we have lost? Not calling or visiting them more often? Arguments unresolved? Hurts unspoken? Love unacknowledged or unappreciated? How many of us continue relationships with those who have died?
In her thoughtful, funny and tender new memoir, Starting with Goodbye: A Daughter’s Memoir of Love after Loss, Lisa Romeo describes how talking with her deceased father helped transform her grief into a relationship that felt closer than when he was alive.
Romeo’s wealthy, self-made father, Anthony Chipolone—“Tony Chip” to his friends and colleagues in the textile industry—begins visiting her shortly after he dies at age 79, four days short of his 80th birthday. When he appears in dreams and at times of quiet reflection, Romeo uses their meetings to revisit her privileged childhood in New Jersey “filled with horses, lavish vacations, and bulging closets” and explores with fierce honesty how their relationship changed over the years. How, despite his generous, affable personality, and pride in her, he remained distant and unknowable. How the adoration she felt for him as a child turned to disregard as an adolescent and impatience as an adult.
Romeo recalls how she and her father “butted their stubborn heads” but in the months after his death, she cannot remember one important issue they once saw differently. During the course of their conversations, she realizes how alike they were and that the ambition and entrepreneurial spirit they shared might have driven them closer in life, had she slowed down to notice sooner.
The memoir moves fluidly from past to present as Romeo negotiates her life as a wife, mother, daughter to her mother, sibling, and writer. While she admits that she deals with confrontation better in prose with time to reflect than on her feet in real time, she is unequivocal in communicating the need for honest discussions with those who are important to us in life and in death.
In Starting with Goodbye, Romeo shows us that it is never too late to find understanding and love—whether you are grieving the loss of a loved one or looking for closer relationships in the here and now.
Lisa Romeo teaches in a graduate MFA program and works as a manuscript editor and consultant. Her work has been published in literary journals and popular media, including The New York Times, O The Oprah Magazine, and Brevity.