What does it mean to mourn today, in a culture that has largely set aside rituals that acknowledge grief? After her mother died of cancer at the age of fifty-five, Meghan O'Rourke found that nothing had prepared her for the intensity of her sorrow. In the first anguished days, she began to create a record of her interior life as a mourner, trying to capture the paradox of grief-its monumental agony and microscopic intimacies-an endeavor that ultimately bloomed into a profound look at how caring for her mother during her illness changed and strengthened their bond.
O'Rourke's story is one of a life gone off the rails, of how watching her mother's illness-and separating from her husband-left her fundamentally altered. But it is also one of resilience, as she observes her family persevere even in the face of immeasurable loss.
With lyricism and unswerving candor, The Long Goodbye conveys the fleeting moments of joy that make up a life, and the way memory can lead us out of the jagged darkness of loss. Effortlessly blending research and reflection, the personal and the universal, it is not only an exceptional memoir, but a necessary one.
Meghan O’Rourke is the author The Long Goodbye: A Memoir (Riverhead Books, 2011), and the poetry collections Once (W. W. Norton, 2011) and Halflife (W. W. Norton, 2007). A former literary editor of Slate and poetry editor of The Paris Review, she has published essays and poems in The New Yorker, Poetry, The Kenyon Review, The Best American Poetry, and other venues. She is the recipient of the 2008 May Sarton Award for Poetry from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. She splits her time between Brooklyn, NY, where she grew up, and Marfa, TX.
This book wrecked me. I have trouble even saying that I recommend it, because its sheer brilliant intensity will tear you apart.
I am not a crier. I didn't cry at Old Yeller, I didn't cry at Romeo and Juliet, and while I didn't see Titanic, the odds are I would have been giggling at the end. And yet. And yet I was bawling over my cooking dinner by the second chapter of "The Long Goodbye." I finished it in a few hours, and there were precious few dry-eyed moments. Meghan's grief is so raw, so writ large in every sentence, every word, that you have no choice but to feel it with her.
This is not a memoir with the benefit of years of distance, as some gentler memoirs would frame things. "The Long Goodbye" is immediate, the suffering vivid. I think Meghan O'Rourke may be the bravest writer alive, because to share this sort of grief with the public audience - to lay one's self this bare, when one has already been laid bare by sorrow - is terrifying to me. I hope against hope that this memoir gave her some catharsis, some relief from the pain of losing a beloved parent.
I have probably done "The Long Goodbye" somewhat of an injustice this far, as well. Amongst the sorrow is a stunningly precious study of mothers and daughters. Perhaps due to the nature of the memoir, there is nothing saccharine about O'Rourke's description of her relationship with her mother. Every aspect of mother-daughter relations is examined, even the ones we are less likely to want to discuss: the anger, the jealousy, the desire to always be the child and not the care-taker.
In the end, although I am wary to say "You should read this," well... you should. It is likely the most affecting book I've read in my 28 years. Halfway through I had to stop and call my mother to tell her I loved her, and I can't imagine anyone with a living mother being able to bear doing any less.
This is possibly the most honest review I'll ever write. I read O'Rouke’s book as part of the TLC Book Tour and if I hadn’t had an actual deadline to read and review the book by, I’m not sure I would have made it all the way through it.
It was incredibly hard for me to finish this book, but that’s not because it wasn’t excellent, it’s because it hit too close to home. I saw too much of myself in the circumstances of Meghan's mother's death. My own mom was diagnosed with cancer, then after months of chemo she was declared in remission. A few months after that she relapsed and the cancer killed her after a two-year battle. She was exactly ten years younger than Meghan's mom. I read The Long Goodbye sobbing through many of its pages. As most people who know me well could attest, I don’t cry easily or often. When my own mom died, most of my weeping was done in the middle of the night when no one was around, so when I say I couldn't stop crying while reading this, that's no small thing.
O'Rouke's memoir is so painfully honest. She writes of arguments with her mom, trying to escape the situation and pretend like it wasn't happening, fights with her siblings or Dad, she doesn't hold back on the all-encompassing pain that death causes. It's amazing how far away you can feel from you own family when experiencing a loss like this. Even though you are all losing the same person, you experience that loss in such different ways that it's hard to connect with them.
Then there are the dreams. After losing your mother, this person who has literally brought you into the world, you can't stop dreaming about them. Those dreams, so real that you wake and have to remember their death all over again, haven't stopped for me after 13 years. I still see her, so close to me, and then wake to have to process the loss all over again.
Of course Meghan wasn't perfect while dealing with doctors and people in her own life, but none of us are. We see death closing in and we panic. We decide we can fight it if we just know enough about the disease. Then when that doesn't work we pray, then we argue, then we hope, then, finally, we understand that we can't control it and we grieve.
O’Rouke’s memoir is intensely personal and looks at her own relationships and reactions to the death, but it also deals with broader issues. She discusses American’s lack of traditions and rituals in grieving. We don’t wear black for months anymore or wail with anguish or tear our clothes. Grieving has become the final taboo. You’re supposed to act like everything is ok, when you feel the opposite. No one wants to hear about your grief, especially if it has been a couple months.
I can’t explain quite how much her memoir meant to me. It was like reading my own grief. She put words to so many of my feelings and I completely agree with both her and Iris Murdoch, who once said, “The bereaved cannot communicate with the unbereaved.” To me, this book was one bereaved woman speaking to another.
“When we are learning the world, we know things we cannot say how we know. When we are relearning the world in the aftermath of loss, we feel things we had almost forgotten, old things, beneath the seat of reason.”
At a time when our culture is open to just about everything, there is one taboo – the grief experienced upon losing a loved one. Or, as the author herself puts it, “If the condition of grief is nearly universal, its transactions are exquisitely personal.
It is one of those exquisitely personal transactions that lead me to this courageous and empathetic memoir. As I lose my own aging mother, little by little, I have entered a pre-mourning period that is often challenging for myself to navigate and others to understand.
And so I gravitated towards this courageous memoir from a woman who has steered her way those grounds and provides a sort of blueprint of what it’s like to feel unmoored. Meghan O’Rourke’s mother Barbara died in her early fifties; as she lay dying of cancer, Meghan became “irrevocably aware that the Person Who Loved Me Most in the World was about to be dead.”
Without the rituals of long ago to guide her, with a strong fear of death that encompassed her since childhood, she “just wanted to flee the pain that lay like a fog in the house; getting away would be like turning a blank page, to a new story, a different one.” The loss is so huge that she “needed to contain it somehow, to put barriers around its chaos.” But like a child who has become separated from mommy, she is in disbelief that “a person was present your entire life, and then one day she disappeared and never came back.”
She knows logically that her mother is no longer with her and that it’s up to her and her two brothers to carry her forward in the year. Yet she remains “clueless about the rules of shelter and solace in this new world of exile.” As C.S. Lewis wrote at the beginning of A Grief Observed, “No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.”
What is astounding about this memoir – what elevates it above many other so-called “grief books” – is that Meghan O’Rourke is able to take the personal and lifts it into the universal. The pain that any grieving or soon-to-be-grieving person feels – “Am I really she who has woken up again without a mother?” – or a father, or a husband or wife can understand Meghan’s emotions, her monumental agony. It’s a sorority or fraternity that only those who have experienced it are given entry.
With both candor and lyricism and an unswerving eye to preserving her truth, the author explores the fifteen months following her mother’s death. She quotes scientific research as effortlessly as she quotes poets and writers who have confronted the grieving process. And at the end, when she resorts to a primal whisper – “Come on, Mom, say another night, stay the night—Stay the night,” she gives voice to all those who struggle with the implausibility of knowing that those they love cannot live forever. It’s a masterful work.
I read a whole lot of bereavement memoirs. This has been one of the very best. O’Rourke tells her story with absolute clarity – a robust, plain-speaking style that matches her emotional transparency. The heart of the book is her mother’s death from colorectal cancer on Christmas Day 2008, but we also get a full picture of the family life that preceded it and the first couple of years of aftermath. Theories and other writings on death and bereavement are woven through effectively. The author wanted to know what was normal for someone like her, and in the absence of modern grieving rituals, reading about other people’s experiences was a consolation. What she’s created here will also be a comfort to anyone facing loss.
Some favorite passages:
“One of the ideas I’ve clung to most of my life is that if I just try hard enough it will work out. If I work hard, I will be spared, and I will get what I desire, finding the cave opening over and over again, thieving life from the abyss. This sturdy belief system has a sidecar in which superstition rides.”
“After my mother died, I kept thinking, ‘I just want somewhere to put my grief.’ I was imagining a vessel for it: a long, shallow wooden bowl, irregularly shaped. I had the sense that if I could chant, or rend my clothes, or tear my hair, I could, in effect, create that vessel in the world.”
“I wanted my distress acknowledged, rather than beguiled away with promises that one day I’d ‘heal’ or ‘move on.’”
“I sit here in my tiny study, bills dropped on the floor, books piling by the desk—Death and Western Thought, Death’s Door, The Denial of Death, This Republic of Suffering—believing in some primitive part of my brain that if I read them all, if I learn everything there is to know, I’ll solve the problem.”
“I think about my mother every day, but not as concertedly as I used to. She crosses my mind like a spring cardinal that flies past the edge of your eye: startling, luminous, lovely, gone.”
I started reading this book about two weeks after my father died of lung cancer metastasize to bones, liver, brain.
Firstly, I will say that I bristled at some others' reviews about the worst thing being a woman losing her mother. I can tell you that losing a father is no less devastating. No less at all. My only disconnect w this book is when she talks about mothers being your entry point into life - I'm trying to come up with a similarly poignant descriptor for fathers. As a woman, your father is the first man you love, after all.
This book is... Well. I was crying 11 pages in. I related very strongly to her description of her mom's decline, the hospital visits, the home hospice... I found myself nodding and underlining things and crying all the way through.
Her writing is beautiful and poetic. I love the interjections of all the psychological facts and figures about grief and put every other book she referenced and quoted on my library queue.
I'm sure anyone would enjoy this book, but it should definitely be on anyone's list who's lost a parent to cancer. In these first few weeks after my Dad died, this book has been a great comfort and catharsis and I'm grateful to O'Rourke for having written it.
“Nothing prepared me for the loss of my mother. Even knowing that she would die did not prepare me. A mother, after all, is your entry into the world. She is the shell in which you divide and become a life. Waking up in a world without her is like waking up in a world without sky: unimaginable.”
Good grief (no pun intended), this is one of the hard ones to rate. I am going to say 4.5 stars
A book like this needs little introduction: most people who pick this up have lost a parent or someone else very close to them. First of all: my condolences to any of you who have. Whether it was a recent loss or a grief you have carried for years with you, my heart goes out to you. I myself have lost my mother when I was 14 years old. My mother was 48, she did not die of cancer, but from another chronic illness. I will not go into much detail about my personal experience; that is not why you are here, but I will say that both me and my world crumbled apart. To use Meghan O'Rourkes words, it was like waking up to a world without a sky. A world so incomplete you cannot imagine it even still exist, as it is missing one of its most vital parts. Due to the surrounding circumstances, I went into a deep depression that took me years to recover from. Only in the past year (I am 21 now), have I been able to read books on grief and I am very happy that this was one of them.
The reason I find it so hard to rate these books is that grief is such a universal and yet truly personal experience. No two people in the exact same situation will grieve the same way, and therefore your experience with these books will also be very personal. I have gotten the question "is this a good representation of grief?". I cannot answer that question for you. This book is a representation of Meghans grief. A very honest and brave representation of her grief, and I can only give her the greatest praise for having the bravery to write (let alone publish) this. I don't feel like it was a representation of my grief perse, however, I did dogear the hell out of this book to mark sentences where she captured a feeling that I remember vividly from that period.
The only reason I am giving it less then five stars was based on my personal experience reading this: it did not impact me as severely as some other books on grief I have read did. The reason for this is the phase of my life and my grief that I am in now. I feel this book may have been a life-changer, had I read it 2 years ago, but for now, it did not bring me any really new insights.
I would like to end this review by, again, praising Meghan for her bravery. She will most likely not read this review, but on the off-chance she does: thank you Meghan for writing this! These types of books make me realize that I am not alone. I will be recommending this book to anyone with an experience like this!
Meghan O'Rourke's memoir of her mother's death and her grief following her loss is beautifully written, heartbreaking, and yet also (for me) healing in its honesty around the irrevocable and ongoing pain that death brings. Love does not end with death; grieving in some sense never ends although the pain grows less overwhelming and we are able to go on with our life.
The memoir brought back many memories of my own mother's death. Although it is many years, I still miss her. The pain is less but the love and loss remain. O'Rourke's ruthless honesty also enabled me to forgive my own failures to give my mother all she needed in those last days and to better understand my crippling grief afterward.
We do not talk about death in our society nor honor grieving. We lose a lot of that: by ignoring death, we honor life and love less. O'Rourke's contribution to the literature on death and grieving is both moving and necessary.
I probably shouldn't have read this book just yet, but it caught my eye and I was interested in how this daughter dealt with the loss of her mother to cancer. She chronicled parts of their lives together, her mother's illness, and her adjustment following her passing. Poignant.
I want to preserve many of the passages from this book, thus the following:
"Nothing prepared me for the loss of my mother. Even knowing that she would die did not prepare me. A mother, after all, is your entry into the world. She is the shell in which you divide and become a life. Waking up in a world without her is like waking up in a world without sky: unimaginable." P 10
"I was counting the days until my mother would have the radiation surgery on her brain. I already missed her. I was irrevocably aware that the Person Who Loved Me Most in the World was about to be dead. Of course, I had my father, too. But fathers love in different ways than mothers do." p 69
"Grief isn't rational; it isn't linear; it is experienced in waves. 'No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear,' C.S. Lewis had written at the beginning of 'A Grief Observed', and scientists have in fact found that grief, like fear, is a stress reaction, attended by deep physiological changes. Levels of stress hormones like cortison increase. Sleep patterns are disrupted. The immune system is weakened. Mourners may experience loss of appetite, palpitations, even hallucinations. " p 151
"Erich Lindemann studied 101 people, he defined grief as 'sensations of somatic distress occurring in waves lasting from twenty minutes to an hour at a time, a feeling of tightness in the throat, choking with shortness of breath, need for sighing, and an empty feeling in the abdomen, lack of muscular power, and an intensive subjective distress described as tension or mental pain.' Intensive subjective distress. Yes, exactly: that was the objective description I was looking for. The experience is, as Lindemann notes, brutally physiological. It literally takes your breath away. Its physicality is also what makes grief so hard to communicate to anyone who hasn't experienced it." p 152
"...researchers now believe there are two kinds of grief: 'normal grief' and 'complicated grief' (also called prolonged grief). Normal grief is a term for what most bereaved people experience. It peaks within the first six months and then begins to dissipate. Complicated grief does not, and often requires medication or therapy. But even normal grief is hardly gentle. Its symptoms include insomnia, or other sleep disorders, difficulty breathing, auditory or visual hallucinations, appetite problems, and dryness of mouth." p 153
"The researcher said "My husband just died." To which her colleague responded, "It's been three months." A mourner's experience of time isn't like everyone else's. Grief that lasts longer than a few weeks may look like self-indulgence to those around you. But if you're in mourning, three months seems like nothing---three months might well find you approaching the height of sorrow." p 154
"It is impossible to think that I shall never sit with you again and hear your laugh. That every day for the rest of my life you will be away." p 181
"I thought I was prepared for my mother's death. I knew it would happen. Yet the reality of her 'being dead' was so different from her death." p 199
"I was thinking about how hard it was to say how much I missed my mother, yet how cetnral the feeling was. It is heartsickness, like the sadness you feel after a breakup, but many times stronger and more desperate. I miss her: I want to talk to her, hear her voice, have a joke with her. I am willing for us to be "broken up" if she'll just have dinner with me once. And as I was walking I thought, I will carry this wound forever. It's not a question of getting over it or healing. No, it's a question of learning to live with this transformation. For the loss is transformative, in good ways and bad, a tangle of change that cannot be threaded into the usual narrative spools. It is too central for that. It's not an emergence from the cocoon, but a tree growing around an obstruction." p 217-8
"People kept saying to me, "It gets better at a year, doesn't it?" or "I hear it gets better at a year." it did. It got 'better' in that I could go for days without thinking too much about the fact that someone I still loved as dearly as I ever did was dead But to expect grief to heal is to imagine that it is possible to stop loving, to reconcile yourself to the fact that the lost one is somewhere else. So 'heal' isn't the right work. I love C.S. Lewis's metaphor: A loss is like an amputation. If the blood doesn't stop gushing soon after the operation, then you will die. To survive means, by definition, that the blood has stopped. But the amputation is still there." p 278-9
"When memories you haven't thought of since the death first come up, they hurt. But I kept finding that it hurt less to remember things a second time. I think this is why people always say that it gets better after a year---even though after a year you're not 'done' with mourning, you hae cycled through the seasons, through holidays, family rituals, living through them for the first time without the person who's gone." p 280
"My mother is not now. But she was, and she is now, in the minds of those who remember her: her smile, her voice, her little intonations, her smell--all in us." p 280-1
I have never made margin notes or highlighted sentences since I was in college and certainly never did this to one of my "pleasure" books. I couldn't help it though, I was underlining certain sentences, making my own notes in the margin since this book was so relate able me. There were so many similarities between Meghan's memoir and my own experience that I felt she was writing the book for me. This book took me through a journey I never wanted to go through again; however, this time through the journey, I was able to understand my grief and realize what I had been (and still am) going through is "normal."
To say Meghan's memoir is heart-wrenching is an understatement. It is beautifully written and pulls you in from the very beginning. If you have experienced losing a love one, this book is a must If you haven't, but are looking for a wonderful memoir, this book is a must. I will be purchasing this book for my siblings and I think this would be an amazing gift to give someone who has lost someone close to them.
Sad to say expected better from a poet. In the first third of the book, I couldn't get past the fact that I really didn't like O'Rourke as a character in the story of her mother's illness and death. She seemed so petty and self-centered. The most thoughtful passages in the book were in the middle sections where O'Rourke was artfully weaving together many other writers' ideas about death, mourning, and grief with her own story. When the book turned more autobiographical again, I almost put it down, but slogged to the end. In the end, O'Rourke's book is best as a collection of others' quotes. Unfortunately, O'Rourke herself isn't very quotable.
First of all, you should know that Meghan O'Rourke writes like an angel.
I am a fan of the memoir, and of course I have read those two iconic journals of loss and grief, C. S. Lewis's "A Grief Observed" and Joan Didion's "The Year of Magical Thinking." Meghan O'Rourke's memoir of her mother's death is equally powerful, yet it is neither Lewis's raw howl of grief nor Didion's tearless restraint. Rather, it is a skilled surgeon's exploratory surgery on her own wounded heart. O"Rourke's eyes may be filled with tears, but her vision is crystal clear, and her craftsman's hand never wavers. This is a brilliant book.
The Long Goodbye is written in roughly chronological order - her mother's illness, her death, Meghan's long sorrow - but O'Rourke weaves dream-like memories and nightmarish dreams into the narrative with great skill, each memory/dream evoking an emotion so enormously, powerfully present that I swear I spent half of the book shaking tears from my eyes so that I could continue reading. She has a painterly way, too, of juxtaposing bright moments with dark ones in ways that heighten both the light and the darkness. I was impressed with the sheer honesty of the memoir: O'Rourke is unsparing of her own sometimes irrational behavior, recounting without shame or excuses her own ravenous efforts to continue to milk parenting from her parents, even as her mother was dying, even as her father was consumed by his own grief. If Meghan O'Rourke suffered from our culture's inability to confront grief and raw emotion, she herself has made an enormous contribution to that culture by writing this aching, naked memoir.
I suppose I should not be quoting from an ARC, but I'm afraid the temptation to offer samples of O'Rourke's lucent prose is irresistible. Here she is, speaking of a mother's symbolic significance to a daughter: "A mother, after all, is your entry into the world. She is the shell in which you divide and become a life. Waking up in a world without her is like waking up in a world without sky: unimaginable." Or this, of the year following her mother's death: " If children learn through exposure to new experiences, mourners un-learn through exposure to absence in new contexts. Grief requires reacquainting yourself with the world again and again; each "first" causes a break that must be reset....And so you always feel suspense, a queer dread - you never know what occasion will break the loss freshly open. Whole days were intensely inflected by reliving the past, re-contextualizing it, so that when those memories resurfaced a second time, they were coated with a veneer that distances them. I knew, already, that the next time I smelled the ocean, I would not be gutted like this."
Thank to LT's Early Reviewer's Program for my copy of this book!
My mother, who had cancer, sent me this memoir about a woman grieving her mother's death from cancer.
It's an intense read, particularly if you've ever lost one of your dearest loved ones or walked that frightening tightrope between "I have a mother" and "I had a mother." If you haven't experienced something similar, you might find the book tedious at times, only because in every situation after her mother's death, the author is struck anew by her mother's absence; there is a lot of "My mom isn't here to experience this" and "She'll never again be able to help me with that." But that's exactly how grief is. You can't shut it off. You can't tone it down. You can't avoid being confronted constantly with examples of how incredibly wrong your normal little life feels without that person.
And the truth is, no matter how hard it is to put yourself in the mourner's shoes if you are fortunate enough not to be/have been in mourning yourself, you will almost certainly experience grief in very similar ways one day. And when you do, you will appreciate a book like this. I say this because one goodreads reviewer likened the book to having a stranger approach you and babble on for three hours about her mother's death -- you feel bad for the person but you mostly feel impatient and can't empathize. I actually think most people will have a much more compassionate reaction to this book, whether or not they've experienced grief. The writing is honest and personal, but it doesn't feel self-indulgent or like it's desperate for pity. She's a normal person trying to come to terms with something she's lived her whole life assuming would happen -- her mother's death precedes her own. Knowing that it's inevitable doesn't actually make it any easier when it finally happens.
She mentions friends saying things like, "At least she was sick for a long time, so you were able to be with her and say your goodbyes, etc," and her reaction is, "As opposed to what? The time my mom died instantly of a heart attack?" I used to think about that question -- which would be worse: having your loved ones die instantly and shockingly or having them die slowly of a drawn-out illness? Which would be worse for you, the mourner? And O'Rourke's answer seems to be...whichever one happens will be the worst thing, the hardest thing you have to deal with; as well-meaning as her friends are, pointing out how "lucky" she is to be mourning a certain type of death is supremely unhelpful. You only get one mom; she only dies once. That death will be the worst death of a mother you ever experience.
My 6th-grade math teacher's husband died of cancer, and she told our class that witnessing his long, slow decline was undoubtedly much more difficult than grappling with instant death would have been (if he'd been hit by a bus or something). And I remember wondering about her certainty, like, would it REALLY be easier if he was just -- poof! -- gone one day, with no warning, no time to try to comprehend death's approach in advance? After reading O'Rourke's book I'm realizing that there is of course no objective answer to that question. The objective truth is that my teacher's husband died only once, and so it was the worst death. Meghan O'Rourke's mom died, and that was the worst.
And of course the other obvious point about "expected" vs "unexpected" death is that we are all expecting death, all the time, and that doesn't make it any easier. In the abstract we all know we're going to lose everyone. I guess maybe being unable to anticipate how that loss will feel is the only thing that keeps us going every day. But sometimes we need a book like this -- a brutal, emotional reminder of what's coming -- so we can take that extra minute to appreciate what we have.
"I'd always thought of Hamlet's melancholy as existential ... But now it strikes me that he is moody and irascible in no small part because he is grieving: his father has just died. He is radically dislocated, stumbling through the days while the rest of the world acts as if nothing has changed.
For the trouble is not just that Hamlet is sad; it is that everyone around him is unnerved by his grief. When Hamlet comes on stage, his uncle greets him with the worst question you can ask a grieving person: "How is it that the clouds still hang on you?" … No wonder that Hamlet is angry and cagey; he is told that how he feels is "unmanly" and "unseemly". This was a predicament familiar to me. No one was telling me that my sadness was unseemly, but I felt, all the time, that to descend to the deepest fathoms of it was somehow taboo." (pg 127)
What is it like to mourn today, in a culture that has largely set aside rituals that acknowledge grief? After her mother died of cancer at the age of 55, Meghan O’Rourke found that nothing had prepared her for the intensity of her sorrow. She began to create a record of her interior life as a mourner, trying to capture the paradox of grief—its monumental agony and microscopic intimacies—an endeavor that ultimately bloomed into a profound look at how caring for her mother during her illness changed and strengthened their bond. With both candor and lyricism the author explores the fifteen months following her mother's death.
But how does one write about something that is different for everyone? This is the question that every book about grief has grappled with. There is no paint-by-numbers, step-by-step guide to overcoming grief. What works for some will most certainly not work for others. So why, then, did O'Rourke write The Long Goodbye, and why, then, should you bother reading it?
For me, it's more than the wisdom found in the passages she quotes, than the similarities some might find in their experiences; it's the fact that this woman—who in the throes of grief divorced her husband, alienated her family, and embarked on a meandering journey to find solace in a series of empty relationships—got through it. The process might not have been pretty or poetic, but she got through it. And you will, too.
The crux of O'Rourke's narrative is how Western society fails us in times of intense grief. We are almost entirely without mourning rituals, communal experiences where we share our pain with others and lean on them for support. This has resulted in death being a discomfort for people. It's awkward. We have no idea how to handle the pain of others and so we, largely, ignore it.
Because of this, O'Rourke set about on something of a personal odyssey to find solace in ... something. She read widely from scholars to psychologists, dramas to self-help, memoirs to fictions. She traveled, threw herself into sex, and eventually, rekindled relationships she couldn't be accountable to while she was reeling. But, mostly, she learned that she needed to include her mother in her life, rather than run away from her. By making connections, by celebrating past experiences, by making her grief a central part of who she is now, O'Rourke was able to accept that her mother wasn't coming back; however, she will never be truly gone.
"I thought I was prepared for my mother's death. I knew it would happen. Yet the reality of her 'being dead' was so different from her death." (pg 199)
Coming to terms with grief, with the death of a loved one, isn't so much an emergence from a cocoon, but a tree growing around an obstruction. That pain, that loss, is never going to go away. It will always be there. What O'Rourke taught me is that the key is to learn to grow around it, to make it a part of you, and find a way to continue on at the same time.
I'm different than most readers of this book, in that I've yet to experience an intense, debilitating death of a loved one. My parents are alive and well, my brother is healthy, my friends have not yet suffered any tragedies. For this reason I was unsure of whether I would learn anything from The Long Goodbye, or at the very least, whether I would experience the same book as others no doubt would. And obviously I haven't. I can't. As Iris Murdoch once said, "The bereaved cannot communicate with the unbereaved."
And yet, there were moments when I was profoundly moved. I earmarked more pages in this book than any other I've ever read. After experiencing both O'Rourke's journey, and those of greats like C. S. Lewis, Virginia Woolf, and Lord Alfred Tennyson, I'm certainly more pensive about the concept of death than I have been in a long time. As Lewis wrote at the beginning of A Grief Observed, "No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear."
O'Rourke points out that the 5 Stages of Grief are, essentially, a crock. Grief isn't a road map. Not everyone hits the same stages, and certainly not in the same order. To whittle down a person's experience into anything approaching "textbook" is to belittle their journey, to shepherd them into a feeling of being common (i.e. something not to pay much attention to ... everyone goes through this).
I was fascinated to learn about the physiological effects people experience, how grief is as much physical as it is mental. Scientists have in fact found that grief, like fear, is a stress reaction, attended by deep physiological changes. Levels of stress hormones like cortison increase. Sleep patterns are disrupted. The immune system is weakened. Mourners may experience loss of appetite, palpitations, even hallucinations. Sensations of somatic distress occur in waves lasting from twenty minutes to an hour at a time, a feeling of tightness in the throat, choking with shortness of breath, need for sighing, an empty feeling in the abdomen, lack of muscular power, and an intensive subjective distress described as tension or mental pain.
The experience is brutally physiological. It literally takes your breath away. Its physicality is also what makes grief so hard to communicate to anyone who hasn't experienced it.
Whether you've experienced grief on this level or you haven't, you're certain to take something from The Long Goodbye. Hopefully it helps you on your journey towards acceptance, or prepares you better to aid in the acceptance of a loved one. It's helped me a great deal.
Painter Dora Carrington, in her journal after her husband passed away, wrote: "I dreamt of you again last night. And when I woke up it was as if you had died afresh … It is impossible to think that I shall never sit with you again and hear your laugh. That every day for the rest of my life you will be away." (pg 181)
For the first time I am refusing to give a book a rating. It just seems wrong to do so; trivializing, I suppose. Know that I highly recommend it, because everyone should learn more about this process, from both sides of the experience.
I came to this book somewhat accidentally, having just learned that my mother has cancer, thinking it might prepare me for the battles that are currently unfolding in her, and my, world. I was surprised to discover that, instead of chronicling the author’s mother’s fight with cancer, it deals instead with her mother’s death, and O’Rourke’s grief and, with some assurance, her surviving them. Thankfully, I don't expect to lose my own mother, indeed the odds in her instance are overwhelmingly in her favor, but I did suffer the loss of my brother and, then, of my father, five weeks apart, very recently. So, where I thought this book would help me understand the fight my mother is about to join, it turned out to be, instead, about the fight my whole family joined five months ago. Discovering this book at this time was kind of a god shot, if you believe in that sort of thing, and I mention these personal details as they can’t help but color my review of The Long Goodbye.
The book contained all of the things I’d hope for in a book about death and grief - poetic excerpts, classical literary takes, etc. - but I still didn’t expect it to be so beautiful. O’Rourke’s lyricism is, at times, almost unbearably poignant and, more importantly, trenchant. As someone struggling through the roller coaster of emotions that obtain in the wake of loss, I was struck to the core, at times, by O’Rourke’s descriptions of the simple instants that arrive with such savage abruptness during the grieving process. She cites scholarly studies and religious treatises and more, and all of these things bring some comfort to the grieving, admittedly, but where she stole my favor was in her honest depictions of her own moments getting slammed by those unexpected rushes of pain.
She recalls filming a brief segment for a web magazine where she’s to describe and prepare a recipe she learned from her mother. During the shoot, she forgot part of the recipe:
"I was supposed to turn the heat down from 425 degrees. But to what temperature? I reached for the phone. And I realized - I couldn’t."
Such near-universal, painfully ordinary, aspects of the grieving process are the stuff that gives The Long Goodbye its considerable force. Meghan O’Rourke has taken an inherently overwrought subject and imbued it with everyday examples of her own grief that help to render it a somewhat less lonely endeavor for those of us in its throes. I’m grateful I picked it up and grateful to her for this hauntingly beautiful chronicle of her own education in mourning.
This book has kept me afloat for the last two and a half months and I'll always be grateful that it exists (and to Meghan O'Rourke for exploring the nuances of grief so honestly and thoroughly).
"The moment when I flash upon my [father]’s smile and face and realize [he] is dead, I experience the same lurch, the same confusion, the same sense of impossibility. A year ago collapses into yesterday in these moments. Periodically for the rest of my life, my [father]’s death will seem like it took place yesterday.”
"It is impossible to think that I shall never sit with you again and hear your laugh. That every day for the rest of my life you will be away." p. 181
"And as I was walking I thought, I will carry this wound forever. It's not a question of getting over it or healing. No, it's a question of learning to live with this transformation. For the loss is transformative, in good ways and bad, a tangle of change that cannot be threaded into the usual narrative spools. It is too central for that. It's not an emergence from the cocoon, but a tree growing around an obstruction." p. 217-8
I'm not sure if I chose this book or this book chose me, but either way, I'm glad beyond words that we found each other. In the fifteen months since my mother's passing, I've found precious few books that do justice to the navigation of the complicated -- to be entirely too euphemistic -- new world in which the newly bereaved find themselves. Reading this made me feel less alone than I've felt in a long time -- fifteen months, to be exact -- and for that, I thank the author from the bottom of my heart. I also don't know if I've highlighted so much of a text since my college days, or cried so much while reading, since, well, ever, but I found solace and comfort in every word. I would recommend this to anyone who's ever lost anyone, anywhere. It's an indispensable book on a topic that few people are brave enough to discuss.
Thank you, Meghan O'Rourke, for writing this. Thank you for putting so many things I've been feeling into beautiful words, and for making me feel not so alone and strange about my grief. It took me a while to get through it -- I had to keep putting it down because I was crying so much -- but like this period after my own mother's death, I did keep going and did get through it. Thank you for being a guide, because I've needed one. I may now be unmothered, but thanks to your writing, I don't feel as unmoored. It helps more than you know... Or actually, you do.
This was such a hard book to read because it hits so close to my lived truth. I lost my mother to cancer on Christmas Eve 2017 and my father in Feb of this year. I could only read this book at home because the tears came too fast, either from something she wrote ringing true or from a memory that suddenly was conjured up. I'm sure I will read it again when more time passes.
If you have lost your mom as an adult to cancer you can probably relate to this book. My mom passed away 12 years ago to pancreatic cancer. She fought it for just over 2 years which is a relatively long time for the type of cancer she had. It was a rough two years for all involved. I was fortunate enough to live next door and be close to her the entire time. Many people find a book like this sad and hard to read but I find it a source of comfort as I learn that many of my feelings were also felt by someone else who when through a similar event. Sure, I shed some tears as I read and re-lived my mom's illness and death but I also find joy in remembering my mom in any way possible. People move on after soo long, as they should, but a daughter NEVER, NEVER stops missing her mom. Some of my favorite quotes:
"I was irrevocably aware that the Person Who Loved Me Most in the World was about to be dead. Of course, I had my father, too, but fathers love in different ways than mothers do."
"Other people - friends, colleagues - got used to my mother dying of cancer. But I did not. Each day, sunlight came like a knife to a wound that was not healed."
"It is a heartsickness, like the sadness you feel after a breakup, but many times stronger and more desperate. I miss her; I want to talk to her, hear her voice, have a joke with her. I am willing for us to be "broken up" if she'll just have dinner with me once. And as I was walking I thought: I WILL CARRY THIS WOUND FOREVER. It's not a question of getting over it or healing. NO; it's a question of learning to live with this transformation."
".....that while my grief has lessened, my sense of being motherless has intensified. I hadn't anticipated this. The first grips of grief were so terrible that I couldn't wait to get beyond them, to a state I hoped might be "better". But as each new day arrives I find myself, though suffering less acutely, feeling MORE unmothered." "Even at my age, I still have so many questions, about children, about cooking, about what my mother thought of her life's work."
I really enjoyed reading this book. I find it therapeutic to revisit my journey with my mom as she battled pancreatic cancer and I never want to forget it. Thank you, Meghan O'Rourke, for sharing your journey with your mom.
The Long Goodbye is one of the best books I have read this year. It was moving and at times brought me to tears.
After reading Meghan O'Rourke's book of poetry, Sun in Days, I wanted to find out more about the author and wound up on her Wikipedia page and eventually on the author's own page. I don't actively seek out books about grief and mourning...my mother died in 2013 and the moving on part for me came about 9 months down the road but I still look back at the guilt and sadness I had at the time and have wanted to try to understand it better.
Meghan O'Rourke's relationship with her mother was far different from my relationship with mine. I can't help but wonder that one's grief is shaped by the prior relationship with the deceased. I know that to a large degree, I saw my mother as a figure I was unable to say no to and who manipulated my life even into my adult years. There is too much backstory to be able to explain in depth all that I felt toward my mother in her declining years of diabetes and eventual move into an assisted living facility but suffice to say, our relationship was strained. She was prone to circular arguments, had the possible beginnings of dementia and, my sisters and I believe, had undiagnosed narcissism that made her a challenge to enjoy being around.
O'Rourke's writing has a narrative voice that is immediately appealing to me despite the subject matter. I wanted to read the book in the evening when I came home even though, at times, it left me thinking about my own mourning experience and feeling rather down.
Can it be that what O'Rourke went through was a more "normal" or healthier experience than what I went through? I just remember feeling profoundly guilty about my mother's last few years and my relationship with her whereas O'Rourke's loss is more deeply felt and reflects a more profound connection between two people.
I really want to go back now and read many of the poems in O'Rourke's Sun in Days because I realize now that many of them were about her grief or tidbits from her young life with her parents. I also will actively seek to own Meghan O'Rourke's books rather than just getting them from the library.
Well, this will probably be a long post, so beware. But there were so many things in this book that rang true to me. It was very hard to read, and at times I had to put it down to have a good cry. I wanted to write down several of the things that meant something to me so that I can look back and remember. These are things that I truly feel: "To this day, I pace the floor feeling off-kilter, thinking, I need something; What is it? And I realize: My Mother." How true this really is to me. "I am hit by a feeling of error, a sense that during my twenties, when I thought my mother never quite understood me, it was I who saw her incompletely." This is a pain I will live with for the rest of my life. I have felt so jipped since my mother passed away. I feel like I never had the chance to have that "real" adult relationship with her. I will regret this forever. "In his heart of hearts he often believes that the dead do not return yet he is committed to the task of recovering one who is dead. It is no wonder that he feels that the world has lost its purpose, and no longer makes sense." "In those weeks after my mother's death, I felt that the world expected me to absorb the loss and move forward, like some kind of emotional warrior." I still feel like this today.... "When people stop mentioning the dead persons name to you, the silence can seem worse than the pain of hearing those familiar, beloved syllables." And this is the one I think hit me the most: "THE MOMENT WHEN I FLASH UPON MY MOTHER'S SMILE AND FACE AND REALIZE SHE IS DEAD, I EXPERIENCE THE SAME LURCH, THE SAME CONFUSION, THE SAME SENSE OF IMPOSSIBILITY. A YEAR AGO COLLAPSES INTO YESTERDAY IN THESE MOMENTS. PERIODICALLY FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE, MY MOTHER'S DEATH WILL SEEM LIKE IT TOOK PLACE YESTERDAY."
ARC received through the Goodreads First Reads program.
I haven't lost either of my parents. Last spring, though, I did lose a family member I was close to. It was the first time that had happened, really--at least as a person older than 4. I had a very hard time dealing with it, and I felt isolated and doomed. During that time, I began to worry about losing my parents, fearing their loss would absolutely crush me. At that time, I found Meghan O'Rourke's series on Slate about losing her mother. It told me that yes, it will be incredibly difficult when my parents die. But I will get through it.
O'Rourke's book is an expansion of the essay series. It reassures me that I wasn't alone in what I went through, and I wasn't going crazy. It was grief. I think this would be a great thing to give to anyone who has recently lost someone close to them. She's very right in saying we have no ways to talk about grief, and because of that it can be an isolating experience. It's hard, and people don't want to hear about it. In addition to being an intensely personal look at what it's like to grieve, O'Rourke's book also illustrates the close, but sometimes complicated, relationships that mothers have with their daughters. Especially if they're a lot alike.
In many ways, O'Rourke reminds me of myself, and her mother reminds me of my mother. (Except for the cursing while driving thing. That made me giggle.) Because of that, the book felt very close to home. Reading it made me sad, but I am so glad I read it. I am definitely holding onto my copy, because someday I'll need it again. I'll need to know I'm not alone.
Another amazing, articulate, wrenching and profound and comforting book about grief. This gal lost her mother in much the same ways I did and as usual, I found reading about each moment of her experience a powerful comfort. She articulated what I felt, but couldn't find words for. And reminded me of some of the sweetest moments of my mother's dying that, when I sit with them, I feel closer to her. I love that the book ends with the single line, 'Stay the night.' So much longing, so much of my own longing, in that one line. The wishing she would just stay the night. I loved her articulation that while the paralyzing grief changes (thank god) that the feeling of being 'motherless' actually gets stronger. The more you experience - happiness, sadness, whatever - the more, ultimately she doesn't experience. It's a very sweet sadness though. Yesterday, on my way to the Double Wide where they're known for their bbq, I remembered a restaurant that's no longer around that she and I went to frequently because they created one of the best salads we'd ever had. Soft bbq chicken and corn-bread croutons (I'm sure it wasn't even healthy!) but we went there often to get our fix. When that memory arises, it's like she's back in some way so I welcome those reminders. Thank goodness there are so many. But O'Rourke, a poet like me, put into words what many people have tried to do and failed. She nailed the grief work.
I thought this book was good, but I still only gave it three stars. I'm sure that reflects my own bias more than the quality of her writing. My theory is that grief is such a personal experience, it's almost impossible to write an account that will resonate with everyone. While I could relate to a lot of what the author wrote, I mostly felt a disconnect between her grief process and my own.
First of all, I couldn't relate to her statement that losing a mother is the worst thing that can happen to someone. I've lost both parents and it was the death of my father that nearly destroyed me. I suppose I experienced what the author calls "complicated" grief, because it took me years to pull out of my depression and to stop actively grieving.
This is an honest and thoughtful account of one person's reaction to a parent's death and I don't mean to minimize its impact. I can see where it would be cathartic for someone who has lost a parent, especially relatively recently. Maybe I'm just too far past that point to be moved by her experience.
I wavered b/t 3 and 4 stars but rounded up when I thought about all the impressive and eclectic research this young writer did in trying to come to grips with her mother's death. She is both more scholarly and poetic than I was when I did my own research after the death of my older brother. I lean more toward psychology and the spiritual; I got the strong sense this writer is an atheist. Also - I was hoping to see in her bibliography/credits something by Polly Young-Eisendrath, a Jungian-Buddhist who has written wonderful books on death, resilience, and women. Not there. Most important: while mortality - in this case, that of our parents - is 'natural', the author is correct that we have no good widespread or culturally-wide ways to ritualize death and mourning. It was refreshing to read about this topic from a young person's perspective.
The way O'Rourke sees and processes the world is (at least for her readers) an absolute gift.
I picked this book up thinking of Didion's Year of Magical Thinking and found this book quite different but equally touching. It's difficult to recommend The Long Goodbye for it's content but you'll walk away feeling like the world was meant to be worshipped.
Alsof ik mijn eigen blog aan het lezen was ... Zo herkenbaar in zoveel aspecten. Het continu kapot analyseren van de rouw, alsof dat het beter zou maken. Het missen van rituelen om aan de wereld duidelijk te maken: ik rouw, handle with care. De sfeer van het afscheid nemen. Het kwam erg dichtbij. Ik heb heel veel aan dit boek gehad. Een aanrader voor dochters die hun mama moeten missen.