By the Book @ Rogers Memorial Library

Rosalie Lightning, by Tom Hart

rosalie lightning

Until you experience the loss of a child, there is no way to conceptualize what this might feel like. I think that’s because grief is the one emotion that is truly the most personal and thus, subjective. The way people experience and express loss strikes me as something as unique to the individual as a fingerprint.

Tom Hart, the author of this lovely, bleak graphic memoir, lost his beloved daughter, Rosalie, just before she turned two-years-old. One day he was reveling in the bright chaos only a toddler can create, and the next day, she was gone.

Hart and his wife spend the majority of the book in a gloom-shrouded quest for answers. Why was Rosalie taken? How long will they feel the pain of her passing? What do they do now? The fact that they know they will never find any answers makes their story all the more gut-wrenching for the reader. The couple travels to a grief retreat and spends weeks staying with friends around the country, but they do this all in a haze, like zombies going through the motions of a half-remembered life. Everything becomes a reminder of what they’ve lost, or a portent they should have recognized that might have saved her.

A great deal of the story’s impact derives from Hart’s focus on the little things. The frustration of trying to sell their apartment becomes a major arc in the narrative, and ends up being a powerful symbol of the helplessness and loss of control that they’re already experiencing. Hart notes what would otherwise be inconsequential moments: the first time he touches a child after Rosalie’s dies, the first night he doesn’t sleep with her picture under his pillow, the first book he brings himself to read. He writes about the dreams that he and his wife — and even their friends — have about Rosalie.

Hart’s art work is as bleak as the story he’s sharing; his grief is black and white and full of people with empty eyes standing in perpetual, inky shadows. Hart and his wife seem to almost disappear at times into dark, scratched-out portraits so distorted that it’s occasionally hard to discern their features. Rosalie is the only character ever depicted in a joyful way. Hart renders her as a plump, lively sprite, surrounded by light the way she will doubtless remain in the memories of her parents. There’s an unfinished feel to many of the scenes, like they’re being recalled from a dream, or as if they’re meant to convey the fading of memories over time.

This is not one of those books that you review and say “it made me want to hold my children and never let them go.” It almost feels like it would be insulting to say that when writing about such a raw and uncensored portrait of pain. Yet, the reader isn’t left with any sense of fear of losing a child, because the book isn’t about Rosalie’s death — it’s about surviving the pain left from her passing. Hart says himself that the worst thing that could possibly happen to him has already happened. It doesn’t get any worse for him or the reader, because it can’t.

This is probably one of the most profound books I’ve read in a long time. Hart has taken grief and turned it into poetry and goofy cartoons of a bubbly child with bright smiles who loved “My Neighbor Totoro,” watching turtles, and doing watercolors.

Can there be a stronger testament to how much this man loved his child, than sharing the pain her loss caused? Because that’s what this book is really about. This book represents the indescribable love of a parent for his child, seen through the sorrow of her death’s aftermath. The beautiful and brave Rosalie Lighting might just be the saddest love story I’ve ever read.


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