Matremoir Tweet Summary #2: Tangles: A Story about Alzheimer’s, My Mother and Me by Sarah Leavitt

My mother died of Alzheimer’s, and I well know the strength and heroism required to cope with the pain and confusions of the disease. For the most part mom was heroic. So too were dad, my siblings and I. And so too were Midge Leavitt, her husband, and her daughters.

Tangles is equal parts celebration and lament, as much an anatomy of Alzheimer’s as it is an intensely moving matremoir. Reading Tangles had me reliving many of the details of my mom’s last years, and remembering the frustrations, the moments of fierce anger, the depressions, the sparks of humour, the exhaustion, and the closeness and caring which her slow regression and death brought to our family.

Alzheimer’s is a disease of diminishment and indignity, and part of Sarah Leavitt’s triumph is that she doesn’t shy away from showing the darker parts of the process. Nor does she hide the dark snakes of depression, fear, and pettiness which attack her and other family members. She also shows how the disease often makes small children of patient and caregivers. Appropriately, the immediacy and cartoon quality of her graphic narrative medium work wonderfully to reach the child in us all. Her telling has a vulnerability and a visceral impact which written text alone could not achieve.

Tangles is rich in garden imagery, and Leavitt has consciously made her book a rich bouquet to her mother’s memory. As a graphic memoir, and one in which recognition and acceptance of the author’s lesbian identity play a part, Sarah Leavitt’s book will inevitably be compared to Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home. Midge Leavitt, though, was much more nurturing, much less conflicted, than Bruce Bechdel; and consequently Tangles is much less tangled and dark than Fun Home. Both books pay tribute, but where Bechdel remembers her father to map herself Leavitt remembers her mother to start new growth.

Tangles is more fruitfully compared to such books as John Bayley’s Elegy for Iris, Lisa Genova’s Still Alice, and Michael Ignatieff’s Scar Tissue. Like these books, it is a good story well told, and it belongs in every library, not just in those of Alzheimer’s afflicted families.

Tangles: A Story about Alzheimers, my Mother and Me tweets:

Mom forgot more and more of herself.

Mar 4

My mother had very firm principles, and she didn’t mind telling you what they were.

Mar 3

I remembered when we were kids and Mom would lick her nose when it dripped in the cold.

Mar 2

It helped to think about saying Kaddish for 11 months and to realize that some day I would say the prayer for my mother for the last time.

Mar 1

Hannah and I decided that it would be easier to keep Mom clean if we trimmed her pubic hair.

Feb 29

By this time my mother did not know what a daughter was, or a mother.

Feb 28

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.

Feb 27

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