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The Long Goodbye: A memoir Hardcover – April 14, 2011
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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."
"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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Top Customer Reviews
The second portion deals with her internalized response to it: we are privy to almost every thought she has as she attempts to "move" on. Again, her family is solid and the writing is crisp and moving. It did slow down a bit, as she processes her grief through the study of grief itself, through the eyes of authors and philosophers. Some of these quotations and processes were fascinating, others became dry and repetitive. I think that makes sense, as sometimes what seems profound to us personally may mean nothing to another person. I imagine if I read this in two years, I might react differently. It's all very personal, and at times I had to catch myself from getting annoyed. This is HER memoir, and she has the guts to reveal it all, even though it's not all flattering.
One really annoying thing, petty perhaps, is that she relates very long conversations with other people (namely her father). Unless she's there writing it down as he speaks, how does she remember? It seems really awkward to read a conversation where someone is talking ten or twelve sentences at a time. People don't talk like that and if we do, we generally avoid them (however her dad is a wonderful guy). This just sort of rang a bell for me as contrived somehow. What he says is very smart and wise, so it's just the delivery that doesn't seem real.
One big takeaway though, was something he and she discussed about apple pie. She was discussing how she wished she could just call her mom on the phone, just to have that phone call, and then the conversation proceeded on to who would make the apple pie for the holidays that year. Her father told her she should make it. She balks at first, then he explains that the apple pie IS her phone call. It IS her connection with her mother, and that making it will serve as a thread between the two. I loved that. I really had to put the book down and just savor that conversation.
This started out as several shorter published pieces and the author felt encouraged to write and explore more. This was helpful to learn in our bookgroup discussion, because some of us had felt that she had gone a bit overboard. One member was totally there with the author, based on the member's own experience with a devastating death. On the other hand, several of us could not totally relate to the author's depth of feeling, though we felt there were gems of insight worth encountering. Most of us gave it a 3.5.
Another thing that this book highlighted for me is how long it takes us and our loved ones to get to the point of realizing that there is nothing to be gained by continuing to fight. In fact, our dying process and time left, in some cases, might well go better if we weren't dealing with the side effects of treatment while we are dying. We, and our doctors, need to be more up front and honest about the possible consequences, and costs, of continued treatment, and of what our prognoses are. And we need to consider the value of husbanding our remaining energy and time to say goodbye and to close out our affairs.
As Meghan writes, "You mourn the person you got to be when the lost one was alive." I got to be the most amazing, smart, beautiful daughter and I miss that role - it is sad knowing I am not a daughter anymore. You never get over that, but you do learn to accept it, accept the grief, the sadness, and you learn that you are not alone in your feelings and thoughts. Meghan's words help you to do this.