Author: Judith Cohen Margolis
Pages: 96 pgs.
Publish Date: Summer, 2019
Publisher: Penn State University Press
Catalog ID: ISBN: 978-0-271-08373-5
Author website: http://judithmargolis.com
guest review by Lois Perelson-Gross, firstname.lastname@example.org
Life Support: Invitation to Prayer by the artist Judith Cohen Margolis is a beautifully presented compendium of vignettes, drawings, and prayers that bears witness to her mother’s final illness and death, as well as to her own experience of mourning. Inspired by a series of large paintings she produced in the year following her mother’s death, Margolis documents the challenges of end-of-life hospital care, the joys and pain of family relationships, and her own search for a language for grief.
Framed within what Margolis calls “prayers of petition” that line the book’s endpapers, Life Support is a personal meditation on aging, suffering, and mourning set in a Jewish context. Margolis admits that while she was not drawn to say Kaddish, the daily prayer traditionally recited in remembrance of a deceased parent, she nevertheless sought to channel her faith in her own creative expression of grief. The inclusion of a silver hamsa on the ribbon bookmark not only evokes the concept of divine protection in Judaism and Islam but also suggests the kinds of aesthetic possibilities within the genre of graphic medicine itself.
Margolis’s paintings and drawings became a form of prayer, and their inclusion here helps to convey the process of remembrance that unfolds during mourning. She describes how, as she worked on them, “as time elapses, my mother becomes, in my mind, more the essence of herself.” The artwork itself is unflinchingly honest in its representation of end-of-life care. Keen to capture the jarring emotions she felt at her mother’s bedside, she sketches heart-rate monitors and the folds of bedsheets. Yet despite the alienating impersonality of the hospital environment and medical staff, Margolis also reflects on the human tenderness that can emerge during the worst of times.
This poignant depiction of her mother’s final days and weeks also shows how art became Margolis’s own form of life support as a daughter and as a mourner. In her introduction Margolis says that “we all need to find a way to proceed, and making art is, for me, like ‘applying pressure to the wound.’” Her lesson in Life Support is that life’s most emotionally and spiritually demanding challenges require us to attend to our wounds, to find — or create — our own forms of prayer.
I read Margolis’s jewel of a book as I experienced my own grief after the death of my father earlier this year. While I continue to recite Kaddish, Life Support inspired me to think in a new light about the ways I remember and honor my father, and about the possibilities for healing graphic medicine offers. In charting her “trajectory from brokenness to wholeness” through drawing and writing, Margolis offers a uniquely consoling but also affirmative narrative of love and loss.
Lois Perelson-Gross’ work focuses on Narrative Medicine, Advance Care Planning and compassionate, patient-centered care in the face of serious illness and end of life. She is the author of Never the Right Time and Let’s Talk About The Stupid Elephant. Both publications use cartoons and humor to bridge people to Advance Care Planning and End-of-Life conversations. Lois is a founding Board member of Reimagine End of Life. She completed her a Doctorate of Ministry (D.Min ) at Hebrew Union College and holds a Master of Science in Narrative Medicine from Columbia University.