Long-time readers of my reviews know that one thing can break even the best written, most engaging, highly interesting book: if it doesn’t encourage reflecting about an important topic, then it’s not worth reading. This is why I read books like Twilight; they really trigger an amazing reflection and conversation about the unhealthy concepts of love and relationships that pervade modern day culture. This is also why I read a lot of indie books; although they might not always have the sleekest cover or contain typos, most of the ones I have come across allow for some great discussions. It will come as no surprise, then, that I finished Before I Go, Colleen Oakley’s first book, in a single setting, and that the original draft of this review was four pages long.
Daisy is only 27 years old when she is told that the cancer she thought beaten three years prior has not only returned, but is at an advanced stage that only gives her an estimated mere months to live. While she understandably does not want to die, she is more concerned about what will happen to her charming, intelligent yet slightly helpless husband, Jack. Determined to tie all loose ends, Daisy sets out to find him a new wife before she passes.
I was lucky enough to get my hands on an early copy of author Oakley’s debut book, to be published in January 2015. The poignant, well-written story sucked me right in from its first page; its reflective tone spurred me on. Sometimes I felt like Oakley dipped into my own thoughts when writing out some of Daisy’s reflections. Although at times quite deep and consequential, these reflections were neither patronizing nor random, but fit perfectly into the concurrent course of events.
The reader is at Daisy’s side when she finds out about the diagnosis. We are there while she tries to figure out how to tell people — both those closest to her and those a little farther away — about it. We are there as Daisy goes through the stages of grief, including denial, anger, and depression, and her struggle to get through each one. Oakley somehow manages to inject well placed bits of wry humor that startle you a little bit; humor, for some kind of reason, seems out of place when talking about terminal illness and death, perhaps wrongly so. But in this case, it fits right in.
The questions we don’t dare think about, lest we welcome such tragedy into our own lives, are tackled head on in this book. Of course, one of the biggest ideas is that of a spouse’s responsibility in a marriage. How far does Daisy really have to go to make sure all loose strings are taken care of before she dies? How much does Jack need? How much should Jack expect? How does a couple break through the pain to sit and consult about such things happening? It becomes clear that the advice given to many young couples, to discuss these things before they happen, is given for an excellent reason. At the moment of diagnosis, there is so much to do that starting from scratch is quite overwhelming.
Some other interesting questions arise. For example, marriage is about two people coming together to create a unit on which society can be built. If one of the spouses dies, does it mean the marriage is over? In common media, we often hear that marriage is “until death do us part.” But I, for one, believe in the eternal bond of marriage. This implies that somehow, the bond remains even if one of the spouses dies a long time before the other. However, this understanding also makes me lean towards the idea that what needs to be done, at all point of a marriage and especially when one spouse is diagnosed with terminal cancer, is to strengthen that bond.
See what I mean? Before I Go is a beautiful, poignant story that will stick to you for a long time and make you think about death in a specific context: that of marriage. What does death of a spouse mean for a marriage? What does death of a newlywed, very young spouse do to a marriage? Grab a box of tissues and get comfortable. You are going to love Daisy, and root for her until the end – and beyond.