Memoirs We Love
Photo: Philip Friedman/Studio D
"After a loss, you have to learn to believe the dead one is dead. It doesn't come naturally." That seemingly simple observation is just one of the many profound thoughts in Meghan O'Rourke's The Long Goodbye (Riverhead), an achingly moving memoir about her mother's death in 2008 at age 55. Despite her brainy pedigree—Yale graduate, prizewinning poet, one of the youngest editors ever at The New Yorker—O'Rourke manages to make her erudition accessible: Maybe Hamlet wasn't a natural depressive, she suggests; after all, he'd just lost his father! Weaving together memories of her mother (a teacher and school administrator who often encouraged her very serious daughter to "lighten up") with lines of literature and discussions of cultural attitudes toward mourning, O'Rourke both questions the common wisdom that grieving occurs in linear stages and offers up a very personal portrait of pain. "I don't just miss my mother's soul," she writes. "I miss her laugh, her sarcasm, and the sound of her voice saying my name." Barbara Kelly O'Rourke used to bid her daughter goodnight with the line, "I love you to death." With this unusually intelligent and emotional book, her daughter makes clear that we can, in fact, love beyond it.