It’s said there is a community of grief, made up of those lost souls who mourn for someone they love. It is in that community where Meghan O’Rourke resides, and where she invites readers of The Long Goodbye to join her as she alternately celebrates her mother’s life, and grieves her death.
When Barbara Kelly O’Rourke died in 2008 after suffering from colon cancer for two years, her daughter realized that though she was intellectually prepared for her mother’s death, emotionally she had no idea how to cope with the intensity of sorrow she was experiencing. In her memoir, she explores the depths of her grief in all it’s intricacies. She also explores the way that modern culture has set aside so many of the ancient rituals once used to commemorate death and acknowledge grief. Where once grieving children and spouses were expected to bow out of social events for months after a death, now they are encouraged to “get on with life” and “get back to the land of the living.” She wonders if it would help to be able to rend her garments, wear black for a year, sit Shiva or say the Kaddish. She wishes for the opportunity to have washed and dressed her mother’s body, instead of having it whisked away antiseptically in a zippered bag.
The Long Goodbye is about death, but it’s also about life, the ordinary but wonderful life of the O’Rourke family. From family summers spent at the lake to Christmas celebrations, it’s a life made all the more special by its impending loss. The reader comes to know Barbara O’Rourke as a woman, a wife, and an educator, as well as a mother, and so we mourn her loss too, and find ourselves asking “Why?” the days of this vital, funny, and interesting woman were cut short.
O’Rourke is a published poet (Halflife) and her prose reads like poetry, with the particular rhythm and elegant execution you’d expect of a writer with a poetic sensibility. I thought is particularly interesting that, as a writer and reader, she turned to books to help her deal with this unexpected and sorrowful territory, and she includes a bibliography of the eclectic reading she did to shed enlightenment on the grieving process.
The Long Goodbye is a heartbreaking, intelligent memoir about the journey Meghan O’Rourke took through this land of sorrow, and how she began to find her way to the other side. It is a privileged glimpse into one woman’s community of grief, and into the life of her beautiful mother whose loss was so hard to bear.
~Reviewed for TLC Book Tours