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The Long Goodbye: A memoir Hardcover – April 14, 2011

4.2 out of 5 stars 92 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. In this eloquent, somber memoir about the death of her mother and grieving aftermath, poet and journalist O'Rourke (Halflife) ponders the eternal human question: how do we live with the knowledge that we will one day die? O'Rourke's mother died of metastatic colorectal cancer on Christmas day 2008; the headmaster of a Westport, Conn., private school, she was only 55 years old, and left a stricken husband, two sons, and daughter O'Rourke, the eldest sibling. O'Rourke had shuttled back and forth from her life in Brooklyn and then job at Slate over the preceding year to care for her increasingly debilitated mother. The two were extremely close, and the shock of her mother's illness devastated the whole family (the author married her longtime boyfriend shortly after the Stage 4 diagnosis, then separated just as quickly). Over the last months, O'Rourke was bracing herself, "preparing" for her mother's death, by reading everything she could during the dizzying rounds of doctors' and hospital visits, until the family could take their mother home to die in a heavily medicated peace. Anxious by nature, secretive, often emotionally brittle, O'Rourke grew acutely sensitive to her mother's changing states over the last months, desperate for a sign of her mother's love to carry her through the months of bereavement. O'Rourke heals herself in this pensive, cerebral work, moving from intense anguish and nostalgia to finding solace in dreams, sex, and the comforting words of other authors. (Apr.)
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"Meghan O'Rourke, a celebrated poet and critic, writes prose as if she was born to it first. Her memoir The Long Goodbye is emotionally acute, strikingly empathetic, thorough and unstinting intellectually, and of course elegantly wrought. But it's above all a useful book, for life-the good bits and the sad ones, too."
-Richard Ford

"Meghan O'Rourke has written a beautiful memoir about her loss of a truly irreplaceable mother-yes, it is sad, it is in fact heartrending, but it is many things more: courageous, inspiring, wonderfully intelligent and informed, and an intimate portrait of an American family as well."
-Joyce Carol Oates

"Meghan O'Rourke is an extraordinary writer, and she offers precious gifts to readers in this powerful memoir. There is the gift of entering her family, with its vibrant characters and culture. There is the gift of her profound insights into the experience of grief, its grip and the diverse ways we struggle to reenter a world where joy is felt. But most of all, there is her gift of showing us how love prevails after even the most devastating loss."
-Jerome Groopman, M.D., Recanati Professor, Harvard Medical School, and author of The Anatomy of Hope and How Doctors Think

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Riverhead Books (April 14, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594487987
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594487989
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 6 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (92 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #479,871 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Jill I. Shtulman TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on April 14, 2011
Format: Hardcover
At a time when our culture is open to just about everything, there is one last taboo that still remains - grief 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.
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Format: Hardcover
I was pulled into Meghan O'Rourke's The Long Goodbye, a memoir on the loss of her mother, because I myself had recently endured the loss of my own baby daughter. You cannot compare one loss to another, but the grief that ensues is universal and relatable. Frankly, I had a hard time reading any books on grief because it made my loss all the more real.

But the plunge into O'Rourke's memoir was effortless. Following her voice, intelligent and real, while hopeful and optimistic, I became enveloped not only in her story, but into her poetic world, where events, emotions and yearnings are transferred into stunning prose. Though O'Rourke is a poet, and her poetic voice gleams through every page, she is also down-to-earth and approachable. In fact, she speaks so intimately, and with such sincerity, that after reading her memoir, I felt I had met every single one of her family members and become a trusted friend.

Her story begins with the death of her mother to colorectal cancer and her immediate reaction to this shocking reality. She is processing the event, flashbacking to her mother's healthier days and when she learns of the cancer for the first time. The narrative then climaxes to the moment when her mother is admitted to the hospital, where it is discovered that her cancer has returned after a brief remission. O'Rourke's portrayal of her mother is pitch perfect and so tangible, that I could feel how her mother moved, almost predicting her expressions and reactions. Barbara O'Rourke was a gifted woman, the headmaster of a private school, a mother of three children, a devoted wife, caretaker, lover of pets, with a passion for books, which she passed on to her children.
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Format: Hardcover
First off, my mother died a few months ago, and I was definitely looking for some sort of touchstone to figure out how to begin to parse through the feelings I had. I read Motherless Daughters, and it was helpful, but I felt that it wasn't quite what I needed. What I wanted was something that wouldn't explain things, but would just be there. And O'Rourke's memoir does that. It's deeply, viscerally personal, and I think that's what makes it work. Because in hearing O'Rourke's grief, I could begin to find the words and feelings I'd been too afraid to verbalize. O'Rourke underscores the point that grief is unique--and everyone experiences it differently.

Sure, that's an elementary point, but it's one many books about grief grapple with--how do you write about something that's different for everyone? By writing a no-holds barred memoir about the period surrounding her mother's death and dying, O'Rourke portrays the grief as she felt it--and, for me, gave me a sense that if she got through it, it may not be pretty or elegant or poetic, but I'll GET THROUGH IT too.

The writing was lovely and honest, and I've found it's been a great conversation starter with friends to discuss the depths of grief.
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Format: Hardcover
I think I have read every book on losing a parent and none of them helped. I have been feeling like I was going crazy because I certainly felt none of the emotions the other books talked about. As soon as I began reading The Long Goodbye I felt a wave of relief because someone else went through all the same things and talked about them.
I am 40 and my mom died from Ovarian cancer at 65 after a 6 1/2 year battle. My mom was my best friend. I was with her when she died; I held her hand and crawled into bed with her as she left. After 6 1/2 years I thought I had prepared myself. I had not. Not even close to the loss I currently feel. It has been three months and I just feel so lost every single moment. No other book I read talked about all the raw painful and searing emotions you go through when you lose your mom. This book does. Megan O'Rourke holds nothing back.
She challenges old thoughts on grief (finally someone who looks past the so-called "5 Stages of Grief"!) and looks at how other cultures grieve and deal with loss.
Anyway, I know this is somewhat muddled. I am still having great difficulty concentrating (another way she made me feel like I was normal).
I absolutely recommend this book. In fact, I am going to be purchasing copies for our local Hospice library.
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