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Oregon Book Awards Finalist Lisa Ohlen Harris

You can cast your vote for the 2015 Readers’ Choice Award online at www.literary-arts.org/voteOBA! The winner will be announced at the Oregon Book Awards ceremony on April 13 at the Gerding Theater at the Armory.

Between now and April 13, we will be featuring all of the 2015 Oregon Book Awards finalists.

FifthSeason2015 Oregon Book Awards Finalist

The Fifth Season by Lisa Ohlen Harris


Creative Nonfiction


Texas Tech University Press

About the book:

Lisa Ohlen Harris shared a household with her mother-in-law, Jeanne, for seven years. When Jeanne’s health deteriorated due to COPD, Harris became one of 65 million American family caregivers. The two women grew so intertwined that Harris began to feel she herself was the one fading away.

Harris helped Jeanne file an advance directive specifying that no extraordinary measures were to be taken to preserve life. As they navigated the healthcare system in Jeanne’s final months, Harris and her mother-in-law realized that an advance directive is not as clear and controlled as it seems. End of life issues involve a series of small decisions—sneaky ones, with no big drama—and life support is already established before any one big decision is made.

In The Fifth Season, Harris’s recounting of those years bestows illuminating immediacy on the difficulties of caring for an elderly parent while raising four young children in an extended family household.

Chronicling that last season of love and struggle as she grappled with ethical convictions and personality clashes, Harris finds her way through conflicted emotions to a place of compassion and peace.

About the author:

Born and raised in Southern California, Lisa grew up with a view of the Pacific Ocean out the front windows of her family home and the California foothills behind. Heritage in the Pacific Northwest eventually proved to be a stronger pull than the mild weather of Southern California, and the family moved to Oregon when Lisa was sixteen.

Lisa traveled to Damascus, Syria, on a study tour in 1989. She later married Todd Harris, one of the other students from that group in Damascus. Todd and Lisa lived in Jordan during the 1990s, and two of their four children were born in the Middle East. Lisa has an MFA from the Rainier Writing Workshop at Pacific Lutheran University. Lisa now teaches online for Creative Nonfiction Foundation from her home in Newberg, where she lives with her husband and daughters. Having waited to start writing until the year she turned forty, Lisa is grateful to have published two books before her fiftieth birthday, and honored that both books have been Oregon Book Award finalists.

Excerpt from The Fifth Season

Two years ago, when Jeanne made out an advance directive, she named me as her medical power of attorney—the one who would carry out her wish not to be placed on life support in the end. I was the logical choice, the one who knew Jeanne and her medical condition most intimately. She told me she considered me “next of kin.” In legal terms, next of kin is the person most closely related by blood. In Jeanne’s case her next of kin would actually be her brother or one of her sons. I am to her, as legal terms go, a “stranger in blood.” This makes me sound as if she should take out a restraining order, rather than leave decisions to me regarding her life and death.

She considers me her daughter, next of kin, though I’m not. I’m often mistaken as Jeanne’s daughter, whether I’m pushing her wheelchair or just sitting beside her in a doctor’s waiting room. Nurses, doctors, even Jeanne’s close friends from church see a resemblance where there is none. They see a certain strength of the chin, a similar curve of the ear. You look so much alike, they say, you and your mother.

Lisa Ohlen Harris’ website: 



The New Old Age blog: The New York Times

“Brief, potent and gutsy.” 

River Teeth Journal

“Harris’s candor is gripping, her tone, matter-of-fact rather than bitter. By acknowledging her anger, as well as her self-doubt, frustration, uncertainty, guilt, and love, Harris articulates the humanity inherent in caring for the needs of another adult.” Jennifer Ochstein

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