The Long Goodbye

I just finished listening to a book called The Long Goodbye by Meghan O’Rourke. I found it while browsing through the audio books at my library. I had not heard of the book or the author, but since I enjoy memoirs, I thought I’d give it a try.

Ms. O’Rourke writes about the too early loss of her mother from cancer. Her mother was 55 at the time of her death. She writes not only about the illness that leads up to the death, but also about learning to live without her mother in the world. She describes the physical sense of loss and her pain is palpable.

In the past couple of years, two people I know have lost their husbands unexpectedly and far too early. Another friend shared that her father’s cancer has spread. He’s my age. I’m only a year younger than Ms. O’Rourke’s mother at the time of her death. I’ve recently had to start taking a med that helps lower risks of heart attack and stroke. I had a followup mammogram this week – always wondering if I will hear “negative” or have the direction of my life change suddenly. My parents are aging and will not be in my life forever. (Not leaving anytime soon, I hope!) These are among the reasons that I find myself contemplating this idea of loss – or of me “leaving” – more often than when I was in my 20s or 30s.

There were some things that especially struck me while listening to the author read her work: the anticipatory grief that happens when a loss becomes obviously closer, that anticipating loss does not make it easier to bear, and that I hope I am here for many more years because my family might actually miss having me around.

With aging parents who are in relatively good health, there is still a form of anticipatory grief – realizing that the years are passing and that your (my) life will not always have them present. That will be very strange but it is expected eventually. These eventual losses do not make me think they will be easier because they’re expected.

As a worrier, I tend to mostly think of loss from my own perspective – how devastated I would be with the loss of spouse, child, or other close family member. After reading Ms. O’Rourke’s book, I thought about my family’s perspective if I should be first to die. The author obviously had a close relationship to her mother, and my heart hurt a bit thinking about how my family would (will) miss chatting with me and getting my perspective on things. (I may be presuming but I think they enjoy my input into their lives. :-))

Barring suicide, we do not choose whether we die suddenly or after fighting a terminal illness. I’ve joked about hoping for a little warning in order to tidy up around the house – boxes to the Goodwill to save work for the family. But it’s not very real yet – the reality of me dying or me losing a close family member.

Ms. O’Rourke quoted from other authors she’d read in her journey through the first couple of years without her mother. C.S. Lewis’s book “A Grief Observed” may be my next read on the subject of grief and loss. I don’t think reading books on this subject will necessarily prepare me. As the author states, there are few rituals in our culture to help with processing grief. She admits that she may not even want to process it – but that loss and grief are in themselves a form of her mother’s presence remaining.

Although the author does not have a defined religious faith, she has a semblance of spiritual contemplation over death and “where” her mother might be. I may not agree with her concept of afterlife but I appreciated her thoughts as she gave consideration to it.

I would definitely recommend the book for those grieving as the author’s view from “the inside” may be comforting and feel very familiar. From this reader’s perspective, it was a thoughtful, touching memoir. It made me realize (once again) how much I appreciate my time with people I love since it passes so quickly.

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