the long goodbye.

If stress reveals who we are, then I am a completely awkward middle school student. Difficult news renders me unable to move, words frozen on my tongue. After my dad died, I thought I had learned which things were helpful to say; in my head, I am a paragon of grace and kindness when called upon to support others in the face of adversity. In reality I fear I act more like the Tin Man before he got his oil.

I was not prepared for how I would feel when my dad died. Is that the most obvious sentence ever written? Of course none of us are ever ready for the horrors of illness and the permanence of death. I like road maps and lists and I wanted someone to tell me what to do, where to go, how I should be feeling. I didn’t want to have to make any decisions. I was overwhelmed and I failed to say and do many things, some of which I regret very deeply. Part of grieving is accepting these things as they are. Part of my continuing grief is that I don’t seem to be able to overcome these inadequacies.


Over the weekend I read a gorgeous, haunting book about grief by Meghan O’Rourke called The Long Goodbye. In it, she tells the story of her mother’s death and weaves in different resources on grief and grieving from poets and playwrights and experts in the field. She puts words to many things I thought and felt. Perhaps it would have helped me to have such a beautiful balance of research and experience in my hands, something to guide me. This is a book that should be tucked in a basket for a friend along with other comforts: a warm blanket, a bottle of wine, a box of chocolate. It made me feel less alone.

I emailed Meghan and thanked her for her words. I told her about my dad, and that I wished I had had her book to read a few years ago. She graciously emailed me back, saying that she was sorry about my dad and thanking me for writing her. I realized upon reading her response that I hadn’t offered my own condolences to her, and my insides seized up. Awkward again, of course.

Meghan O’Rourke also has two books of poetry. Here is one of her poems as part of my poem-a-day National Poetry Month extravaganza. I highly recommend her book The Long Goodbye (which I purchased with my own money upon fortuitously finding it at the local used bookstore).

“Once” by Meghan O’Rourke

A girl ate ices
in the red summer. Bees
buzzed among the hydrangea,

heavy as plums.
Summer widened
its lens.

You would not believe
how happy she was;
her mother pulled her

through the pool till her hair
went soft. Below,
cracks spread in the vinyl

where her mother’s long legs
scissored; above, wet faces
in the sun smiled.

At dusk, lamps were lit,
Vs of geese swept past,
fresh sheets shivered

on the laundry line,
and as the nights grew crisp
our souls unfolded.

Then winter arrived.
The parents bent over the daughter
tucked in her bed….

Creaking from the cold,
the black walnut’s roots
swelled beneath the snow.

When spring came, the home
had tilted into the tree’s
long, crooked shadow. Nothing

was the same again.

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