“I decide that from now on we should listen to him. His lip may be deflated and his left side paralyzed, but he knows. And he has made terrible mistakes. But he knows. He knows. We are lucky that way.”
Lucky That Way, a nuanced, richly engaging memoir, chronicles the joys and tribulations of a daughter who rediscovers her father as he nears the end of his life. Ernie Gerhardt, an artist and teacher, is largely estranged from his five children, but when he suffers a debilitating stroke, his daughter Pamela must fly to Arizona to tend to him. When she arrives to find Ernie newly and shockingly fragile, she is hit by an unexpected wave of tenderness.
As she watches over him in intensive care, she recalls turning points in her family history–the death of her mother and her father’s turn to heavy drinking–and reflects on the idiosyncratic quirks that make an imperfect and unique family, on what it means to become old, on what happens when parents are no longer the caregivers but the cared-for, and on how a family copes with their responsibility to the elderly.
Written in a crisp, engaging style, the story is less about the drudgery of finding the right mix of medicines, at-home caregivers, and rehabilitation centers and more about the emotional ramifications of caring for the sick under the weight of sometimes flawed attachments.
People make mistakes, grow old, get sick, and pass on from this world. Lucky That Way examines the irritations and comforts of contemporary family bonds. Gerhardt sifts through the complicated, multi-layered relationships for both wry comedy and high drama and records a string of triumphs and mishaps as Ernie and his five adult children struggle to manage his life and find meaning before their time runs out.
The emerging theme of imperfect humans struggling with life’s great mysteries will strike a chord of recognition with the tens of thousands of Baby-Boomers and Gen-Xers who are currently facing similar circumstances with their elderly loved ones. Pamela Gerhardt’s heartfelt story about a family coming to terms with their aging father’s illness and imminent death takes readers on an emotional roller coaster that highlights love, loss, humor, and sadness.
I’m reading your book just a little bit at a time. I do that for two reasons, like when I like a book so much that I parcel it out to make it last longer, and when it’s so poignant and painful that I quite often just have to get some air…my own parents are 82 and 86…Just wanted you to know how much your book likely resonates with so many readers. – Sent by a reader on 30/10/2013
Just finished reading “Lucky That Way”: it’s a really good read, full of details that so beautifully capture the feeling of the moment. There’s a trope for that — when the part stands in for the whole — but I can’t remember the name just now. It’s also, of course, very affecting. So much of what you write about resonated for me, and I presume will do so for any boomer dealing with aging parents. –Sent by a reader on 17/10/2013
I read your book tonight….for the last 30 or so years, I’ve tucked away all the memories of my Dad’s last days and now they’re all flooding back… your book helped me to put it in some perspective. Thank you. –Sent by a reader on 31/10/2013
This was a great read. So well written with a perfect mixture of humor and pathos. It is easy to relate to the characters and the situations. The author really gets to the heart of family dynamics as we age, drift apart, and back together. Many laugh out loud moments in the very real interactions. I wish more memoirs had this much emotional honesty and wonderment. – Amazon review 7/10/2013
An engaging memoir about family, aging and death that reads like a novel. Pam has an amazing eye for details the rest of us miss. If you don’ get a tear at some point in reading this book, you are stronger than I am. Highly recommended. – Amazon review 11/10/2013
I love-love-loved your book. Everything about it. It was so easy for me to see and feel it all– I read the whole book this past weekend, and it was something that l was delighted to pick up when I had a bit of time…I enjoyed it immensely and was wistful when it was done…what a blessing it seems that you had this time with [your father] to reestablish your unique bond with him. He was a larger than life character who made a lot of lives richer, even those who only had fleeting encounters with him. —Sent by a reader on 10/10/2013
Started your book last night. Finished it a few minutes ago. It did not disappoint…Thank you for sharing your family’s story. – Sent by reader on 27/10/2013
Thank you! I needed your book. I truly laughed through it (between the tears). –Sent by reader on 10/17/2013
I knew if I opened your book and it was good, two things would happen. One, I would read it in one sitting and – two- I would cry at some point. Both happened. – Sent by a reader on 10/7/2013
The story that you share is so powerful…I want you to know that I will be recommending this book to every person I know, every person I meet, and any person who will listen because there is no one who would not be better off for having read your story…On behalf of everyone who reads this book, thank you so much for sharing your experiences with us. – Sent on 6/11/2013 by a young intern at University of Missouri Press who was proofreading the manuscript and was so moved by it that he sent this note to me.
The story is at once very personal—we come to understand [the family’s] quirks and needs—and nearly universal, as many of us in the Baby Boom generation have been forced to deal with elderly, dying parents. The manuscript thoughtfully (though not ponderously) addresses a number of extremely important philosophical and ethical questions: What responsibilities do adult children bear for their elderly parents? What is a good death? What happens to sibling and other familial relationships in times of crisis? Beyond these questions, it also raises significant social and political issues about the paucity of adequate services for ill and elderly citizens…Above all, however, this is a story about love: not only [the author’s] undeniable and quite touching love for her sometimes difficult, sometimes charming father, but also his love for his family members. It will speak very strongly a wide range of readers. The author vividly renders the events with many well-chosen details, and the manuscript displays a terrific eye and a nice ear for dialogue. These techniques, along with a good deal of lively humor, help to brighten what could be a depressing story… Written in a crisp, engaging style the story welcomes the reader and sustains an honest, intimate voice almost without fail. – Review from a reader at University of Missouri Press. This was his recommendation that the book be published.
About the Author
Pamela Gerhardt is an instructor of Narrative Nonfiction in the Professional Writing Program at the University of Maryland and has also done freelance writing for the Washington Post, Dallas Morning News, Houston Chronicle, and other publications. She currently lives in Washington D.C. with her husband and two children.