the long goodbye: a memoir, by meghan o’rourke

I grew to love her in ways I never had. Some of the new intimacy came from finding myself in a caretaking role where, before, I had been the one taken care of.

One day I understood I had stopped believing that knowledge could save her or help me. I just wanted her to be comfortable.

I am still looking for the alternative outcome to this part of the story—as if had I pushed harder at one of these moments, had I been more aware, all would have changed.

Perhaps my mother’s death would be not unlike a divorce, I found myself thinking, wishfully: I would see her less, but now and then be granted a reprieve like this. It would be a reunion like those in The Aeneid or The Odyssey, when the heroes go down to the Underworld to see their dead parents and embrace them three times, waking to their disappearance.

As she sits on the couch, I bring her yogurt and rub her feet with lavender lotion. She sighs. It is the only thing I can do that brings her pleasure.

Sometimes I just sit on the couch with a quilt and a book and read beside her. I want to be next to her as much as I can.

I kept touching the skin on her face, which was rubbery but still hers, feeling morbid as I did it, but feeling, too, that it was strange that I should think so. This was my mother. In the old days, didn’t the bereaved wash the body as they said their goodbyes?

In the past, I had been good at keeping track of details, but now I couldn’t. Often it took all my energy simply to get to the office, and at meetings I found it hard to concentrate. Instead, my brain ran through my mother’s last days over and over.

I miss her laugh, her sarcasm, and the sound of her voice saying my name.

I miss her hands, which I shall never see again, for we have burned her body into fine, charcoal ash and small white bones, and that is what is now left of her voice and her eyes and her fingernails.

I am becoming someone whose mother is dead.

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