Rosalie Lightning: A Graphic Memoir
by Tom Hart
St. Martin's Press, 2016
Tom Hart's daughter Rosalie died suddenly of Sudden Unexplained Death In Childhood (SUDC) just before her second birthday. This memoir is his attempt to honestly chronicle the shock and grief he and his wife Leela went through. It's a harrowing emotional story, full of raw feelings of deep loss that I can only imagine as a parent myself. It might be unbearable if that was all the story was about, but it is lightened by Hart's fond memories of Rosalie, which counterbalance the grieving all the way through the book.
It's very much a family story. The family had just moved to Gainesville, Florida from New York City. Leela was finishing a book, and the couple was having trouble selling their NYC condominium, which they needed to do to get out of debt. As the story develops, the real estate problem especially continues to vex them, grieving or not. I have seen commentary calling this aspect of the story a distraction. But I feel that Hart needed to talk about this to fully establish the stress he and his wife were going through. It is also something most couples can relate to, even if they have not had children.
I can't say it's a perfect book. It reminds me of Alison Bechdel's two family memoirs (Fun Home and Are You My Mother?) in that way. The emotions are almost too raw to completely organize into a coherent narrative; sometimes they just fly off in different directions. There's no pat closure here, either, just some movement in the direction of acceptance. But it's still a powerful statement, a serious attempt to grapple artistically with a loss almost too large to bear.