Daniel Shapiro: “I think that the whole experience of being a caregiver for a loved one has not been given sufficient attention in our society”

I think that the whole experience of being a caregiver for a loved one has not been given sufficient attention in our society. It is an incredibly common experience and will become even more so as the baby boomers continue to age, but it is handled anecdotally by each person, one at a time, each […]

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I think that the whole experience of being a caregiver for a loved one has not been given sufficient attention in our society. It is an incredibly common experience and will become even more so as the baby boomers continue to age, but it is handled anecdotally by each person, one at a time, each person pretty much left to figure out for himself or herself how to deal with it. It is actually a very challenging and important responsibility, and there is some learning that we can do from each other. I am hopeful that my book, “The Thin Ledge”, will put some of the hard questions and issues on the table and start a conversation, and be a resource.


As part of my series about “authors who are making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Daniel P. Shapiro.

In his profoundly honest memoir, The Thin Ledge, A Husband’s Memoir of Love, Trauma and Unexpected Circumstances, Shapiro shares the reality of living through his wife’s mental and physical decline caused by a devastating illness.

Shapiro was a successful attorney in his early forties when his wife Susan suffered a brain bleed and a diagnosis that her future was uncertain. Stunned, and with three young children, the couple made the most of the few years that followed, before a massive second hemorrhage changed everything. Physically, Susan was badly compromised in her ability to speak, see, and walk. Mentally, she spiraled into depression and experienced a drastic personality change.

The Thin Ledge is about coping with the wreckage left in the wake of an illness that destroys a loved one. Shapiro addresses the questions that people living through unspeakable tragedy may never mention, but almost always ask.

Daniel Shapiro is a graduate of the University of Chicago Law School. A lifelong Chicagoan, he has practiced trial law nationally for many years. He is a Trustee for the Brain Research Foundation (BRF) and, along with his three grown children, has raised over a quarter of a million dollars in the last 5 years for the BRF. The Thin Ledge is his debut book.


Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

Sure. I grew up in a suburb of Chicago. Nothing out of the ordinary and certainly nothing that prepared me specifically for the experiences later in my life that I write about. I went to the University of Illinois, which is where Susan and I met, and then to The University of Chicago Law School. We got married when I was in law school and we stayed in Chicago after that.

When you were younger, was there a book that you read that inspired you to take action or changed your life? Can you share a story about that?

I love books and several come to mind. I suppose the one that made the greatest impression on me was “Crime and Punishment” by Dostoyevsky. I read it when I was about 15 and it really had a deep impact. I think that it was the first time that I read something that brought me into the human experience of a personal struggle. I remember really feeling the stress, the fear, all of the dramatic emotions that the characters were experiencing. It was very powerful. I would say that “Death Be Not Proud”, by John Gunther, was similar in that way. That book really made me feel grief for the first time. Both books shared very human experiences and made me feel them directly.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?

I was just thinking about this the other day. Years ago, I attended a small meeting at my law firm where we had a local politician stop in for a brown bag lunch in a conference room. There were probably ten of us there for lunch and we were being visited by someone who I was told was a long-shot candidate for US Senate, but he was supposed to be an up and comer so we had him in. I listened to him speak and was very impressed. There were a few questions and answers and when the meeting ended I wound up chatting with him. He suggested that I might want to get on board and help in his campaign, and maybe take a real role. Nobody really knew who he was yet and he didn’t have much of an organization. Plus he had a funny name, Barack Obama. I did think about it, but decided that I was too busy.

Can you describe how you aim to make a significant social impact with your book?

I think that the whole experience of being a caregiver for a loved one has not been given sufficient attention in our society. It is an incredibly common experience and will become even more so as the baby boomers continue to age, but it is handled anecdotally by each person, one at a time, each person pretty much left to figure out for himself or herself how to deal with it. It is actually a very challenging and important responsibility, and there is some learning that we can do from each other. I am hopeful that my book, “The Thin Ledge”, will put some of the hard questions and issues on the table and start a conversation, and be a resource.

Can you share with us the most interesting story that you shared in your book?

I would say that my book is more the telling of a journey that I made than any particular story, but I think that finding out, through my own behavior, that I was emotionally exhausted and had gone beyond my limits was interesting to me. I had always been trained to push through the difficulty and that most obstacles would yield to increased effort and exertion. This was a time, though, where I was humbled by events that, at least for a time, overwhelmed me. That was an interesting lesson.

What was the “aha moment” or series of events that made you decide to bring your message to the greater world? Can you share a story about that?

I found that there were very few if any, resources available that helped me think through the very difficult personal and moral choices that are presented when a loved one is so injured that they are fundamentally and forever changed. I needed to have an honest conversation about that, and it was very difficult to find that conversation. I decided to write about my experience as a way to perhaps fill in a small part of that void.

Without sharing specific names, can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

After my book came out, I received quite a few emails that related very personal feelings and thoughts, especially, I found, from men, who I think are generally less practiced at sharing such things. I think that, among other things, my book speaks very honestly about the emotional experience that I had, and I think that seems to have given others some sort of permission to share their own stories.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

I think that what happened to me, with a young wife getting so sick for such a long time, is unusual. But being a caregiver is not unusual at all. Putting resources into that space seems to me to be a good idea.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

I have always found that the most effective leaders lead by doing more than talking. Action seems more inspirational than words, at least to me.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

I don’t think that I was doing much listening back then.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Never flinch, never weary, never despair”, Winston Churchill. This is an impossible standard to meet, but a good one to aspire to.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Richard Powers. He is one of the great living writers, I think, and I would like to know more about how he thinks and writes.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Please go to Amazon and buy The Thin Ledge: Go to Amazon and buy my book. The Thin Ledge. https://www.amazon.com/Thin-Ledge-Husbands-Unexpected-Circumstances/dp/1632992973/

You can also go to my website or follow me on social media: https://danielpshapiro.com/

https://www.instagram.com/dpshapiro/
https://www.linkedin.com/in/dan-shapiro-51609411/
https://www.facebook.com/daniel.p.shapiro.75

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

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