Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Long Goodbye

Death is something with which baby boomers are becoming more and more familiar. Older boomers, now well into their sixties, are dealing not only with the loss of parents, but with the loss of age group peers and siblings. For most, it is the first time they have had to deal with death so often, or so intimately. Consequently, books like Meghan O’Rourke’s The Long Goodbye, a frank account of the author’s reaction to the loss of her 55-year-old mother, are becoming both more common and more popular.

O’Rourke wrote The Long Goodbye because she believes that Americans have lost the “rituals of public mourning.” She says that, these days, our real grieving is done in private because our culture no longer allows for the kind of public grieving that once “shaped and supported” our loss. Each of us has to define “grief” for himself. Numbed to learn that her mother was dying of colorectal cancer, O’Rourke reacted in a way that seemed illogical even to her. Rather than clinging to the other things she still had in her life, she ended her marriage, quit her job, and started an affair with a man who lived across the country. Her grief was on the verge of destroying her.

As O’Rourke waited for the disease to take her mother’s life, she found it more and more difficult to deal with personal relationships, often having little patience with her father as he struggled to cope with the pending loss of his wife. Then, when it was all over, she wondered if her own life was worth continuing. Now she was divorced, the new man in her life was already gone, and, for the first time, she had to face life without her mother’s love and support. O’Rourke desperately wanted someone to come along and save her from herself because she was unsure how long she wanted to live in a world that, for her, had lost its purpose.

The Long Goodbye chronicles Meghan O’Rourke’s grieving process from the moment she learned of her mother’s imminent death through the year following that loss. O’Rourke, herself a writer and journalist, in an attempt to find out what was happening to her, and what she might expect to happen next, naturally turned to other writers for insight into the grieving process. She offers a lengthy bibliography of books she studied, divided into the sections: “Critical Studies and Nonfiction,” “On the Psychology of Grief,” “Fiction and Poetry,” and “Memoir.”

Despite all of her reading, and the advice offered by friends and family, Meghan O’Rourke learned just how personal an experience grieving the loss of a parent really is. While she did experience some of what her reading, and her friends, led her to expect, much of what she learned from the literature did not reflect what she was feeling. The Long Goodbye is a worthy addition to the literature on the grieving process, and readers will be grateful for O’Rourke’s insights and frankness.

Rated at: 4.0

(Review Copy provided by Publisher)


  1. I read this one recently and enjoyed it as well. The way she looked for answers in books and studied grieving really resonated with me since that is exactly the sort of thing I would do in her situation.

  2. As book people, Kathleen, I suspect most of us would turn in that direction first...even, perhaps, before turning to religion.