The XX Factor

Book of the Week: “The Long Goodbye”

Even if you are not currently grieving a loved one, reading Meghan O’Rourke’s wonderfully affecting memoir about her mother’s death, The Long Goodbye , will so thoroughly envelop you in a bereaved person’s headspace that you will almost feel as if you too are recovering from a great loss. Her mother, Barbara, died from cancer on Christmas Day, 2008. O’Rourke, a founding editor of DoubleX who wrote about grieving in Slate and The New Yorker , poetically illustrates the way that grief alters your world. “Other people-friends, colleagues-got used to my mother dying of cancer,” O’Rourke writes. “But I did not. Each day, sunlight came like a knife to a wound that was not healed.”

O’Rourke does not merely write about the way in which grief disrupted her life in the aftermath of her mother’s death. She also discusses the place of grief in our culture, and the disappearance of rituals that help us process our overwhelming emotional responses. Her discussion of these various rituals, as well as the psychology of grief, help to deepen the already compelling narrative of O’Rourke’s own story.

The parts I found particularly lovely were the recollections of Barbara’s inimitable personality and her particular way of speaking. Barbara was a lifelong educator, and the way O’Rourke writes about her, you can sense her nurturing, firm presence: “There was a calm vibrancy to her. She was essentially impossible to knock off her balance. But she wasn’t stagnant. She was always moving. She had found the equilibrium.” When O’Rourke tells her mother that she has left her husband, Barbara says, “All I can say is, Hasten slowly, Meg.”

The Long Goodbye is both a dazzling tribute to a remarkable person, and a thoughtful exploration of the feelings that too many of us try to tamp down.

Listen to the Slate Culture Gabfest interview with Meghan here .