The Long Goodbye

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Long Goodbye
by Meghan O’Rourke

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.”

**Book courtesy of TLC Book Tours


Sandy Nawrot said...

Beautiful review. I remember thinking when reading Jenners' review of this book that it would mean the most to those who have been through this. Did you read her review? She lost both of her parents tragically a short time apart, so she was lost in this read too. She mentioned that she wished she could put a sign on her shirt that said "Beware, grieving person. Treat with care." Because nobody know and they just go about their lives like nothing is wrong. I appreciate your honesty. It must have been hard.

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

This sounds like a tough one, but yet a worthy read. Thanks for sharing with us.

Mumsy said...

I have not lost my mother, but when I read this memoir, I cried for all the daughters who have suffered this enormous loss. You're not a mother yet, but I promise you, the hardest thing about being a mother is the feeling that, NO MATTER WHAT, you are not allowed to die, because those children need you. It's a terrible thought, because, of course, you don't control whether you live or die. I saw my own daughters in Meghan O'Rourke.

On a less emotional note: what a wonderful writer she is. I was mesmerized by her beautiful prose, as well as her stark honesty.

(Also? I reviewed this on LibraryThing and checked out the other reviews. You wouldn't BELIEVE how many people were all, "I hated this book because Meghan O'Rourke does not know the Lord Jesus.")

B said...

Wow this sounds like a truly touching book. Sorry to hear about your mother. I lost my father 6 years ago and you're right - the dreams don't stop. Although for me they have become less frequent.

You gave fantastic review. Thanks for sharing something so personal.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Sandy - I did read Jenner's review. As I was reading the book I actually thought about her because I knew what she had just gone through with her mom and dad. I honestly don't think I could have read it that soon after my mom's death. I love her idea for a shirt. You do feel like people should somehow know and treat you with care.

Diane - Very worth reading.

Mumsy - I never even thought of it from the mom's point of view, that adds a whole different layer. I completely agree about the writing. O'Rourke's honesty was so powerful and relatable. About the LT reviews, how awful. I am a Christian and there wasn't a single moment while reading that I thought that at all! Why would it make you hate the book if someone doesn't share your beliefs. People are ridiculous.

Brenna - I'm so sorry for your loss. The dreams have definitely become less frequent, but I think that makes them all the more disturbing when I have them.

She said...

Fantastic review!

I just don't think I'd be able to read this book. Having been through a similar situation as you both, I found myself nodding at many of the things you were saying. The lack of American grieving traditions and no one wanting to hear about it -- amen! Having a parent die, especially at such a young age, is rather unique I've found. Having friends who've never truly gone through such a grieving process, it just doesn't feel right to cry on their shoulders, if you will, as the sympathy/empathy just isn't right. Or at least that's been my experience.

Anonymous said...

I love you Lissa! What a courageous review you've shared with us. (lots of hugs)

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

She - I definitely agree. It's really hard for me to talk about it with someone who has never experienced a loss of that kind. Sometimes I sturggled with that in high school, because at that age so few people have had to deal with death.

Care - Love you.

BookQuoter said...

Thanks for sharing such personal feelings.
You cited such a thoughtful quote.

Jenners said...

Like you, I felt this book was beautifully written and hit very close to home. It does bring up a lot of emotions...and I think she reflects so much of the difficulties of losing someone and having it be so messy and complicated and imperfect. You did an amazing job in your review...and I'm sure it was difficult to write but hopefully cathartic. Hugs to you.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Jenners - It was cathartic in some ways, as was reading the book. I love your point about loss being messy, she showed that wonderfully. It's not this easy thing, you still have to go to work and try to maintain your relationships with your spouse or friends, it's complicated. She didn't shy away from those things.

Unruly Reader said...

Avid -- What you (and Ms. Murdoch) have written is true: "The bereaved cannot communicate with the unbereaved." I am one of the former, and I'm sorry that you've also had the terrible experience of losing your mother to cancer. On this Mother's Day, I hope the good memories help you through...

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Unruly - Thank you so much for your kind words. Mother's Day is hard, but I'm grateful for the time I had with her.

Jillian said...

I want to read this based off your review and I have never heard of this one before.I'm sorry about your mother, and I admire your honesty and willingness to share this!

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Thanks Jillian. I hope you get a chance to read it!