Sad events and occasions for grief happen to everyone, and no two people react in identical fashion. Poet and Slate culture critic Meghan O’Rourke, a gifted writer, responded to the death of her mother by putting the full extent of her emotions on paper, using vivid language and evocative prose to describe her experiences in The Long Goodbye.
O’Rourke thought she was preparing herself for her mother’s death during the final stages of her bout with cancer. Seeing the damage the disease was doing, O’Rourke admits she thought her mother’s death would be a relief. Instead, she discovered the loss completely rocked her, triggering a grief-fueled depression and complete withdrawal from everything she had previously loved.
Eventually it’s her prowess with and passion for words that helps O’Rourke dig out of the emotional abyss. She begins a chronicle of her life in the days after her mother’s burial, sparing no detail about her deepest feelings. Sometimes her descriptions are so graphic, some readers may find them uncomfortable, even excessive. But it’s also clear this process is not only providing a catharsis, but giving the writer insight into areas of her psyche she’d never touched. Eventually she comes to terms with the situation, acknowledging her life won’t ever be the same, but feeling strengthened by undergoing the ordeal and being able to write about it.
The Long Goodbye is far from an easy read. Anyone who’s lost a loved one will empathize with O’Rourke’s isolation from others and her intense misery. Indeed, they may opt to speed through or turn away from certain sections of the book, especially those that lay bare unflattering incidents, thoughts and actions. But this memoir is also a testimony to the human spirit, to resilience, faith and determination. O’Rourke finally decides not to be defeated by her emotions, and she emerges a stronger, better person. Readers who understand and appreciate the lessons detailed in The Long Goodbye will feel renewed after reading it.