The Long Goodbye By Meghan O’Rourke
April 3, 2011
Grief. Those of you who haven’t yet lost a loved one should count yourselves lucky. As Meghan O’Rourke quotes Iris Murdoch in The Long Goodbye (to be released on April 14th): “The bereaved cannot communicate with the unbereaved.” The memoir details O’Rourke’s last year with her mother, Barbara, who died of metastatic colorectal cancer in 2008.
O’Rourke, a culture critic for Slate, has also published essays and poems in The New Yorker, The Nation, The Best American Poetry, treats her readers to an intimate, honest yet never sensational, portrait of her relationship with her mother and the ensuing grief that takes hold after Barbara’s death. She puts it best:
“Grief is common, as Hamlet’s mother Gertrude brusquely reminds him. We know it exists in our midst. But experiencing it made me suddenly aware of how difficult it is to confront head-on. When we do, it’s usually in the form of self-help: we want to heal our grief. … As grief has been framed as a psychological process, it has also become a more private one. The rituals of public mourning that once helped channel a person’s experience of loss have, by and large, fallen away. Many Americans don’t wear black or beat their chests and wail in front of others. We may–I have done it–weep or despair, but we tend to do it alone, in the middle of the night. Although our culture has become more open about everything from incest to sex addiction, grief seemed to me like the last taboo. In our culture of display, the sadness of death is largely silent.”
Although grief is common and may be shared, it is unique to its owner. Luckily for us, O’Rourke shares her thoughts through the book as though speaking to a close friend over a cup of coffee. Her memories, finely wrought, depict O’Rourke’s mother through thick and thin without making the reader feel like a peeping Tom; a rarity these days. Although heartrending, — we know how it ends — there is also a sense of hope for the future. O’Rourke concludes, grief is never really healed; it’s more about accepting the changes and moving on with one’s sorrow. The Long Goodbye brings a sense of solace to its readers as it testifies to our ability to accept change, however reluctantly, and persist.
Other reviewers ( Joyce Carol Oates and Richard Ford) have described the book as: courageous, inspiring, wonderfully intelligent, emotionally acute. We agree.