Skip to main content

The Long Goodbye

picture of book cover

Horror. That’s the dominant feeling I had reading Meghan O’Rourke’s The Long Goodbye: A memoir .

In a way, that’s a testament to how good a writer she is, since you feel like you’re viscerally experiencing her intense pain over her mother’s death. O’Rourke, faced with being motherless at age 31, wrote the memoir as a way to come to terms with her grief.

But the horror lies in how awful every part of her journey seems, from her divorce when her mother was in chemo, to seeing how confused her mother becomes in her last days, to her poor father trying to help his three children. Since the author and I are roughly the same age, both close to our mothers, with similar occupations, there was an intensely disquieting feeling that I was reading an alternative version of my life. I read a lot of books about death and loss, but the dominant feeling I had reading The Long Goodbye is “well, this sounds so abysmal and it seems like she will never recover. Clearly I will just have to make my parents immortal.”

I thought O’Rourke’s essays on her mother and grief on Slate were immensely compelling and moving. Yet it’s far easier for the reader to read The Long Goodbye: A memoir   in short bursts, rather than from start to finish. So the question is not whether you should read this book if you still have both your parents—probably not, especially if you’re prone to anxiety about death—but if it would bring you comfort if faced with such a loss. Maybe. I know several people my age who have lost a parent, but I believe it’s nothing you truly understand until you have been there. I have to imagine that there are people who will have an intense relief of reading this book and imaging they aren’t alone. By the end, O’Rourke does prove more resilient than she thinks she is; that by itself may offer hope to someone reeling in grief.