Paisley Lamm seems like a perfect suburban wife—pretty, young, mother of 2 girls, flirtatious and fun. She’s an instigator, inviting the neighbourhood women to join her in a hot tub for a party, always stepping in with a suggestion that ends up being life-changing and life-saving at the same time. Her joie de vivre is contagious. She is known for drinking slightly too much, for rocking out to oldies, for wearing a slightly-outrageous feather boa, and for having a depth to her that belies her party-girl outer persona.
And so, when she is diagnosed with pancreatic cancer that’s already metastasized into her liver, her illness has a shattering effect on the neighbourhood. We get a glimpse into the lives of 4 of her friends, women who are not particularly close to each other but who have all been impacted in one way or another by Paisley. As her neighbours and friends tie white ribbons around their trees so that she’ll see them as she drives by, they are paying homage to her influence on their lives.
Ginger’s life was changed and her marriage cemented by Paisley’s advice that she take over her husband’s spa and pool shop and let him follow his passion to develop software. Julianne was saved from the deep depression she’s spiraling into by a well-timed shopping trip with an unexpected twist. Iona, nearly a generation older than most of the others, was invited into the circle of confidences. A crotchety and no-nonsense woman, she finds herself opening up to accept the birth of a step-grandchild. And Andrea, Paisley’s closest friend, finds herself reliving the days when Paisley’s confidence and support got her through the dark days of her daughter’s cancer.
The dance of marriages and divorces, children growing up, careers changing, time passing, leaves falling, is skillfully portrayed. The story moves between present day, the rapid advance of Paisley’s illness and the past events in the lives of the various women and of Paisley herself. Also included are the children, toddlers when the women first became friends and now teenagers or young adults, dealing with the entrance of death into their lives in various ways.
Although Paisley’s death is inevitable, and indeed any book titled The Art of Saying Goodbye is pretty much guaranteed to be somewhat of a tear-jerker, I found the story to be warm and hopeful. As Paisley’s four friends come to grips with her illness and death, it changes them. They grow. They look for ways to return to her a portion of what she has given to them over the years, and the ways they find to do so are as unique as the women themselves.
The Art of Saying Goodbye by Ellen Bache is a lovely book, recognizing that in suffering can come growth and refinement. It is a story of friendships and the effects they can have on lives, a warm, gentle and ultimately life-affirming story.
Elizabeth has also been changed through powerful friendships with other women. Read more of her thoughts at her blog Planet Nomad.