Review: What if Tomorrow Never Comes? by Neil David Schwartz

what-if-tomorrow-never-comes-neil-david-schwartz-paperback-cover-artWhat if Tomorrow Never Comes? is the tragic and moving story of Neil David Schwartz, an attorney in Los Angeles whose daughter passed away from a rare form of cancer in her late twenties. In the middle of this trying time, his wife died in her sleep – literally, it would seem, of a broken heart. To say this is a sad story is putting it mildly. It would be impossible to come away from this book unmoved; both by the strength exhibited by all involved, the sheer frustration that one family could be afflicted by all of this, and as the sadness unfolds.

Tears will be shed – count on it, a no doubt cathartic experience, because the book also reads like it’s Schwartz’s attempt at catharsis. Being abruptly left by his wife and daughter, the story just about explodes off the page as he tries to detail and make sense of all of these events. The attention to detail is meticulous and impressive. It seems nearly impossible to remember a conversation with a nurse from many years before, but Schwartz gets the daily detail down with amazing precision. What makes the book both difficult and effective is you’re living every moment along with him as if it just happened. Where else could all this information end up but in a book? He seems to have been carrying around mountains of detail about this tragic experience.

To that end, the book could be enormously helpful for anyone with a family member who is suffering from cancer, or any other debilitating condition. It could also be helpful to someone who has been through a similar tragedy. Though it doesn’t necessarily make it any easier but it can certainly make one feel less alone, as Schwartz chronicles problems with health insurance and callous nurses, while shining a spotlight on the bright moments as well – especially his wife and daughter. His love for them permeates this book.

It is also a deeply spiritual book, while not necessarily religious. The questions being asked here are less about proselytizing than Job asking, “Why me?” – a question that anybody might ask, regardless of faith. There aren’t any clear answers, but the search for answers is moving and useful in itself. Schwartz is a man on a quest – to understand what happened to him and his family, but also to find answers for the big questions about life and death.

This is a difficult book to both read and review. How can one possibly criticize a book written from such pain and heartache? The writer is suffering from pain that will be with him all of his life, so why contribute any negativity to it? There are a few small issues – while much of the book is deeply powerful, it seems, in a way, written for family and friends, who may have heard from a distance that there was sickness in the family, but never fully knew what that entailed. Though the family history is interesting backstory, it will mostly be interesting to members of the Schwartz clan. At times the book seems like a family document, and less like a universal one.

When the book is powerful, it’s intensely powerful. You keep wishing for a different outcome, but marveling at everyone’s strength – especially Amy, his daughter. It is kind of a book-length eulogy to her, not merely concentrating on her death, but her life – and life itself. You’ll come away with a new sense of appreciation for what it is to be alive, and how to show resilience through suffering. What if Tomorrow Never Comes? is a devastating but touching document about life, death and family that will change you by book’s end.



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