Saturday, 11 May 2019

Last Things

Finished April 20
Last Things: a graphic memoir of loss and love by Marissa Moss

This heart-wrenching memoir tracks Marissa's family life from shortly before her husband was diagnosed with ALS to the time after his death. Marissa and her husband Harvey are on a sabbatical year in Rome when his symptoms begin. Harvey was a medieval art historian, a curator at the Metropolitan Museum in New York City, and a full-time university professor in California. He was working on a long term book project about Louis IX's personal prayer book. The couple celebrated their Jewish heritage and once they return home are immersed in planning for their oldest son's bar mitzvah. The day after the event, Harvey collapses and is rushed to the hospital. They stabilize him and determine that it is some sort of neurological problem. The following month his diagnosis arrives. It's another month before their first visit to the ALS clinic in San Francisco, near their home. Harvey has a particular type of ALS called Bulbar ALS that starts with the tongue and throat muscles. Breathing often weakens before the arms and legs, which explains Harvey's symptoms in the summer. It also advances more quickly than other forms of the disease.
As Marissa is open about the reactions of various family members from anger to distancing to denial, she shows the devastating effects the situation has on her entire family. One of Harvey's legacies to his children is his book, and Marissa works with the assistance of other scholars and finished the book four years after his death. She deals with each of their sons individual reaction to the loss, and on her own life as one of the still living.
The diagnosis and quick pace of Harvey's decline didn't allow for the time she would have wished for to come to terms with it. All they did at the time was react. Writing the memoir helped her to sort it out for herself so she understood it better, deal with her guilt at not doing better in the moment.
In the preface, Marissa is clear about her reasons for writing this book. She shares her story to show that what seems at times impossible pain can be lived through and make you stronger. She wants readers to feel her family's pain, bear witness to it, and gain some of that strength for themselves.
The drawings are simple, but evocative, expressing the emotions of the situations. A moving read.

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