In Graphic Memoir, Childrens Author Aims to Show Adults What They Dont See about Death

By Zauzmer, Julie | Sunday Gazette-Mail, June 4, 2017 | Go to article overview

In Graphic Memoir, Childrens Author Aims to Show Adults What They Dont See about Death


Zauzmer, Julie, Sunday Gazette-Mail


Jews measure mourning in time, and it was seven months from the day Marissa Moss husband Harvey was diagnosed with ALS to the day he died. Then seven days of sitting shiva in his memory, 30 days of memorial prayer, one year of grieving before unveiling his gravestone. And it was 15 years before Moss published a memoir, documenting the anguish of that time. Now, shes telling others what those rituals of Jewish mourning meant to her.

I think Judaism is really good about giving you a place to put your grief, Moss said last week during a visit to Adas Israel in Washington. Americans are not like that. They want you to buck up Youre okay now.

Part of the problem, Moss said, is that American culture isolates death from everyday life, cordoning off the messy experiences of illness and grief in hospital rooms and nursing homes. Most people dont see the ill or bereaved until they become the mourner themselves.

With her memoir Last Things, published last month, Moss becomes one of a growing group of writers attempting to expose these hidden yet universal processes. From tell-all bloggers posting about every stage of sickness and death, to Facebook executive Sheryl Sandbergs Option B published after her husbands untimely death, Moss joins in to illustrate grief in her case, quite literally.

A prolific childrens book writer best known for her popular Amelias Notebook series, Moss has been telling stories through a mix of words and pictures for decades. But when she first sat down to create a memoir of Harveys illness, she only wrote prose.

Publishers balked.

People said the writing is beautiful. Its very powerful. But its so sad. Can you make it less sad? Moss said to the audience at Adas Israel. (One person in the room called out, Hell, no!)

She could not make it less sad. Eventually she realized something she could do, though: She could draw it.

Painstakingly, panel by panel, she drew hospital rooms, Harveys ventilator, her own frazzled motions as she tried to care for her rapidly deteriorating husband and her three young sons, her boys troubled faces as they watched their father die.

Its a way of telling a tough story in an accessible format, she said about the graphic memoir. The finished product resembles Alison Bechdels Fun Home, or Roz Chasts Cant We Talk About Something More Pleasant, among a few other noted attempts to bring the graphic novels format to a memoirs weighty material.

Moss hopes her book will introduce older women, who have most often had the experience of being caregivers, to reading graphic novels. And she hopes to provide teenagers, who already pick up graphic novels, with a true-to-life story about the emotions young people deal with when someone they love is ill.

One of the reasons this book has a lot of vivid details is because Im telling you all the things I wish someone had told me, she said at Adas Israel. The narrative were given as Americans is that illness ennobles you. We have the Tuesdays with Morrie narrative. ... You feel guilty about it. Youre not having these ennobling thoughts.

Instead, Moss book confronts the ugliest consequences of ALS, both physical and emotional. To her listeners at the synagogue, that wasnt a surprise. The group she spoke with has the most intimate knowledge of death and grieving the bereavement committee, a volunteer team that handles everything from funeral arrangements to the ritual washing of the body to sitting with the body round-the-clock until burial. …

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