Through a series of flashbacks and writer-as-narrator reflections, as well as occasional scenes from present day, Lisa Romeo explores her relationship with her doting yet distant father after his death in Starting with Goodbye: A Daughter’s Memoir of Love after Loss (University of Nevada Press, 2018).
Starting with Goodbye opens with an Elegy poem by Brian Henry that proclaims, “How thin is the human voice, /it cannot even keep the dead /distant.” Lisa Romeo’s writing repeatedly revisits the “dead but not gone” concept, just as a vision of her father revisits her after his death.
We ‘talked’ more after he died than we ever had before. He (his spirit? my conjuring? my grief-mind? something else altogether?) dropped by for chats: when I was sitting at my dining room table, in the doctor’s waiting room, at my kitchen counter dawdling over a cup of coffee…
Ultimately, she arrives at the hedged conclusion, “Maybe the eulogy is never finished. Because the relationship is never finished.”
Early in the memoir, I found myself struggling to connect to what seemed like a very specific experience. Romeo puts significant emphasis on growing up newly wealthy as the youngest child in an Italian-American family in the 1970s. Romeo’s father bought her multiple expensive horses to compete on the equestrian circuit but was never emotionally available for her (so she thought at the time) and these equestrian exploits coupled with frequent airline travel to Europe as a child seemed too singularly focused. However, after the other-worldly visits from her deceased father began, Romeo opened the narrative to become one of grief and love accessible to all readers of all backgrounds. Romeo’s reflections on death and complicated parental relationships gesture towards a larger understanding with which any human can empathize.
Romeo attempts to reconcile what she knew about her father during his life and what she has come to realize about him only after his death. When she begins to see her father’s mannerisms in her own children, Romeo comes to believe the hard-working father she never knew well in life lives on in death through his children and his grandchildren.
Starting with Goodbye is a memoir that involves itself in the nature of love and death, parents and children.