The power of this graphic memoir is not that its story about a family dealing with Alzheimer’s is so extraordinary, but that it has become so ordinary.
In her first book, Canadian writer and cartoonist Leavitt shows her mother agreeing to have her experiences with the disease documented because “[m]aybe this will help other families!” And likely it will, letting those experiencing the dementia of someone they love know what to expect, and to reassure that the tangled emotions they feel in response—anger, frustration, devotion, humor—are inevitable. Though this is primarily an account of the author’s experiences as her mother becomes all but emotionally unrecognizable, it is also a narrative spanning two generations of complicated family dynamics. Leavitt illustrates significant differences between her mother’s closeness with her sisters and how the disease affects those relationships, and the contrasting tension between the author and her sister. It shows the strains that Alzheimer’s puts on everything—from the sufferer’s well being and sense of purpose to a loving marriage to the physical demands of caring for someone who can no longer care for herself. The narrative is human, honest, loving and occasionally even funny. “I created this book,” Leavitt writes in the introduction, “to remember her as she was before she got sick, but also to remember her as she was during her illness, the ways in which she was transformed and the ways in which parts of her endured. As my mother changed, I changed too, forced to reconsider my own identity as a daughter and as an adult and to recreate my relationship with my mother.”
Not simply the story of a disease, but of the flawed, complex, intelligent people whose lives it transformed.