This week’s New Yorker features an essay by Meghan O’Rourke. You might remember, way back in the beginnings of this blog—you know, years ago, back in February and March 2009—that I wrote about O’Rourke’s Slate series on grieving, “The Long Goodbye.”
In nine well-written, touching entries, O’Rourke wrote about losing her mother, who had suffered from cancer. When I read them, I felt both comforted and sad. In certain ways, I couldn’t believe it: Someone actually got it. Someone else out there felt all these crazy feelings I’d been dealing with since my mother died from an extended illness in 2002. I couldn’t get enough. I read the entries over and over. I emailed Meghan to tell her how much it meant to me. I blogged about it. I talked about it with my brother.
And I was pissed.
This was what I wanted to do with my grief over losing my mother: I wanted to write it. I wanted to share it with others, in the hopes that other young women whose moms had died long before their time would benefit from my story, and it would help them heal. Everything was going to be kumbaya and feelings and butterflies. I would finally think and feel, this is it! This is why I’ve gone through all this. I’m going to share my story with the world! We’re all going to grieve and cry together! Hooray for feelings!
Something like that, anyway. But seriously, this was my new life ambition, to write this book. I even wrote, way back in March 2009, “I’ll continue to love this series unless she steals my book idea.”
I’ve had my book about my mother planned, plotted, and outlined since 2008. I’ve had the title ready since 2007. It’s my secret goal and plan that I will only tell you about if (a) I really, really like you, or (b) I’m drunk. So, not so secret, I suppose. You know, because I really like everyone. I never drink.
Have I written this book yet? No. Well, yes and no. I outline it, write various essays and blogs that I’d like to include in it at some point, then I decide it’s all crap, and start a new outline. This process could go on for years. It already has gone on for years. Yet even so, when Jay sent me the Amazon link to—surprise, Meghan O’Rourke’s memoir, The Long Goodbye—I was furious. I felt like a failure. (Have we met? I’m dramatic.)
No matter that I thought her writing was great. No matter that I was comforted from reading about her mother, and her personal loss. She had done it! My plan. My goal. She had done it, and I hadn’t. What did I think, that no other young female writer had ever had a mother they loved suffer from a terminal illness? Did I actually think no one else had, or would ever, touch on this topic?
What a completely and utterly ridiculous thought. I sat on the train this evening, completely consumed in O’Rourke’s touching piece about her mother. I was teary eyed on the train at rush hour. That’s powerful stuff, even for this crybaby. And while O’Rourke’s story is, of course, well-written and powerful (it’s published in The New Yorker for a reason), the thing is, it’s not mine. My story—mine and my mother’s, that is—is still here, waiting. To think that I can no longer write it is childish and silly, and a defeatist attitude of the sort that my mother, Rexanna, would have absolutely no patience for. (Of course, she’d also have no patience with her daughter ending a sentence with a preposition, either. Sorry, Mom.)
I’ve been thinking a lot about mothers, and motherhood in general, a lot lately. I’d like, as always, to talk with my mother about so many things: my job, my love life, my friends, what I’m reading, politics, everything. Almost every day I am newly infuriated by yet another article about politicians attacking Planned Parenthood and women’s reproductive rights. I want to talk about this with my mother, who would share my fury. We could be outraged together. We’d talk about abortions and motherhood and choices and women’s rights. We’d talk about everything.
As another birthday approaches, I miss my mom as much as ever. The last birthday I celebrated with her was my 18th, as I was nearing the end of my senior year of high school. We were growing closer than ever, and she was also steadily growing sicker. Now I’m almost 27, and I know that the pang I feel each birthday I celebrate without her won’t ever go away, not completely. But thanks to talented writers such as Meghan O’Rourke, I know that I am not alone. I know how sacred our relationships with our mothers are. I also know how personal, how significant, and how very different, all of our losses are when our mothers die.
I hope, that through her writing, Meghan has found some comfort. And I won’t be jealous of her any longer. I’ll just keep writing. I’ll keep loving and missing my mother, knowing that even if my book—our book—never gets published and sold on Amazon, even if I never publish a beautiful essay about her in The New Yorker, that our story is here with me.
In O’Rourke’s essay, she writes, “A mother is a story with no beginning. That is what defines her.” But there, I disagree. Instead, I think of my mother as a story with no end. She is the book I continue to read, over and over again, learning something new from it each time.