The Long Goodbye/Meghan O'Rourke: Reflections

Friday, May 18, 2012

One expects from poets deeply lyrical, language-invested memoirs, especially when the topic is grief, or at least I do.  But in The Long Goodbye, this very personal but also deliberately universal story about losing her own mother to cancer at the age of fifty-five, the poet Meghan O’Rourke chooses language that is almost stark, rarely buoyed by metaphor, and frequently amplified by the words of experts, to retrace her journey through loss.  O’Rourke wasn’t prepared for her mother’s absence.  Can anyone be?  She has lost something, and she continues to look—avidly, stonily, ragingly, insistently.  She reads the literature.  She talks with friends.  She risks bad behavior simply to find the prickle of living again.   

But O'Rourke, like all of us, has to live her grief alone, and the worst thing about grief, in the end, is this: there is no cure. When someone we have loved is gone, we cannot get them back.  As one who lost her own mother a few years ago, who watched her life force peel away, I find these words, toward the book’s close, to be powerful and true—the poet working alongside the daughter here, the facts lifting toward metaphor:

The bond between a mother and child is so unlike any other that it is categorically irreplaceable.  Unmothered is not a word in my dictionary, but I often find myself thinking it should be.  The “real” word most like it—it never escapes me—is unmoored.  The irreplaceability is what becomes stronger—and stranger—as the months pass:  Am I really she who has woken up again without a mother? Yes, I am.  Some nights I still lie awake, nerves jangled, in the velvet dark, staring out the window, listening to the cars pass by like echoes of other lives lived, my breath shallow, my toes cold, my mind drifting in the shallows and currents of the past, like a child wading in a stream.                         


Jeanie Ashburn said...

I'm guessing the language of loss -- when it inevitably comes -- is stark. It has been years since my sister died, fewer years since my father died, but there are moments still when a baby's outraged wail would be the most honest thing to come out of my mouth. But of course I'm very polite.

Jeanie Ashburn said...

P.S. I think Auden nailed the shock of loss in his poem, "Funeral Blues." All imperatives, with a cadence that makes you hear the pallbearers' walk and that final shifting weight.

"The stars are not wanted now: put out every one"
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.
For nothing now can ever come to any good."

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