Lisa died today.
Readers who have been following Tom Batiuk's Funky Winkerbean know that Les Moore's wife Lisa has faced a recurrence of the cancer that first came to light several years ago in one of the strip's more memorable arcs.
In recent days, Les and Lisa have prepared for her death; the storylines involving hospice care certainly reminded me of Dad's last day and a half in hospice care before he died on August 14th. I suspect that many readers will find the same evocative quality in these installments. (Oddly enough, Batiuk negated some of the poignancy of the strip by personifying death as an unspeaking masked tuxedo-clad figure, adding an unnecessary distraction to a strip that was otherwise positively riveting in its portrayal of life's ephemerality.)
A lot of people have complained about the heaviness of this storyline; Batiuk even poked fun at it himself recently, having Les comment on the irony of the nickname "the funnies." Had he done this poorly, it would have been a major setback, leading others to question the ability of serialized comic strips to effectively look at the death of a major character. However, Batiuk managed to create a great deal of empathy for both Les and Lisa, and even with the aforementioned distractions, the strip still conveyed a genuine sense of loss in an understated, moving manner.
When Lisa could no longer see, I was reminded of the inner turmoil and unspoken fear that Dad must have felt when his own vision was diminished (if not wholly destroyed) by his first stroke. Just as Les, Lisa, and the readers knew that this was the beginning of her final moments, so did I remember Dad's emotional instruction to let him die.
And when the hospice nurse tells Les that Lisa's gone, I remembered the hospice nurse at Floyd Hospital telling us the same thing as she explained what was happening to Dad's failing body. And I also remembered speaking those same words to Kim and Susan and Dad and Cole and Jessica back on December 15th, 2000, when Mom had drawn her final breath.
When Les asks, "Did she say something?" I remember that Dad spoke a final phrase as he drew that last breath, a phrase that he said deliberately... but a phrase that neither Kim nor I were able to discern. Were his words spoken to us as he was forced to leave us behind, or were they spoken to those who awaited to guide him on to the next step of his journey? We'll never know, any more than will Les...
It was a doubly somber day in comic strip land: Jim, the stroke-victim grandfather in For Better or For Worse, suffered a second major stroke in today's installment, leading another character to wonder whether it's better to wish for his survival or for his demise, should it turn out the stroke has done too much damage. Again, I knew what these characters were undergoing, and all-too-fresh memories of the same experiences came to the surface.
It's a tough day for comic strip families... just as it is every day for one very real family or another who go through these same devastating experiences. It's that commonality that makes these strips so moving... there, in spite of the grace of God, goes each of us...
(Funky Winkerbean copyright Batom, Inc. Distributed by King Features. If you're not reading it, you should.)