"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."The Long Goodbye by Meghan O'Rourke is a memoir about grief, about what comes after you have lost somebody you loved. O'Rourke's mother died of cancer at only fifty-five years old, and although her death was not a surprise O'Rourke was still left wondering where in society there was room for her grief and sadness. It is the story of how caring for her mother changed their relationship, and what her life was like afterwards. Intertwined with the personal reflections and memories, O'Rourke pulls from literature and scientific studies in her examination of what exactly it means to mourn in today's world.
The Long Goodbye reminded me of another memoir I had read recently, written by another poet who had also dealt with a death of a close family member. In History of a Suicide, Jill Bialosky tells the story of the time following her sister's suicide and what it did her, writing poetically in a way which allows the reader to draw connections to their own lives as well as drawing from literature for examples of suicide in other books. In The Long Goodbye, O'Rourke does the same thing for grief, in a book that is lyrical and heartbreaking, she finds examples of mourning in fiction and poetry and connects them to her own story. Both Bialosky and O'Rourke are poets first and I think that is what helped reinforce the connection between the two books for me, both are written extremely beautifully in a way that will settle into you as a reader, making it impossible to forget.
In another memoir I have read recently, Lonely, Emily White discusses the stigma that comes along with saying that you are lonely. I was reminded of this when O'Rourke wrote about mourning:
"Although our culture that 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."Like White does for loneliness, O'Rourke uses scientific studies and examples to show the physical impact grief can have on a person. Where I found The Long Goodbye succeeded even further was the ability to explain these facts in a way that was truly personal, to show without shame her own grief and the toll it took on her. Unlike Lonely which verged on the non-fiction The Long Goodbye is truly a memoir, it is just one in which O'Rourke shares information which helps to explain what she has experienced from a scientific perspective.
O'Rourke's experience is of course unique, but she shares it in such a way as to make it completely understandable even to a reader who has not experienced such a profound loss. She lets the reader into her mind, and it is a raw and vivid place. The two major themes of The Long Goodbye are the mother-daughter relationship, "A mother is a story with no beginning. That is what defines her." and what grief is like:
"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."It is the way that O'Rourke shares her grief, the beauty that she manages to share even when discussing such a painful topic, that makes her memoir such a memorable book. She doesn't sugar-coat things or pretend that her mother was perfect, but she is raw and honest about her memories in a way which helps remind the reader that love isn't perfect. Ultimately, The Long Goodbye is an incredibly written, incredibly beautiful, and incredibly heart-breaking memoir that deals with the universal experience of grief in an incredibly personal and powerful way.
Release Date: April 14th 2011
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This review was a part of TLC Book Tours. Click here to read what other tour hosts thought. For the purpose of this review I was provided with a copy of the book which did not require a positive review. The opinions expressed in this post are completely my own.