Cancer, Monsters, and Catharsis

Have you ever found yourself emotionally unprepared for a book or movie?

You know, when you finish it and feel like the wind was just knocked out of you—and not in a good way. There’s a number of ways this can happen:

Scenario 1: You’re already feeling miserable and you want a distraction, so you pick up a book or watch a movie you know nothing about… and somehow the experience and the storyline pours salt into the wound, leaving you worse off than before.

Scenario 2: You’re kind of coasting along, feeling “ready for anything,” so you start a book or movie that you know has some heavy stuff… only to find out you’re not as invincible as you thought.

Scenario 3: You know the story has the capacity to depress you, and so you wait until you think you are emotionally stable enough to handle it… but it ends up tugging on heartstrings you didn’t know you had and sending you reeling.

My recent experience of J. A. Bayona’s A Monster Calls somehow did more than all of these combined.

As the story of a little boy struggling to cope with his mother’s impending death from cancer, A Monster Calls resonated painfully with my own life.

Lewis MacDougall in A Monster Calls, 2016

It depicted, more accurately than I have ever seen before, the critical pieces of slowly losing a parent.

The attempt to persuade yourself the treatments will work.

The attempt to keep functioning.

The underlying anger.

But most poignantly, the secret wish that it would all just end.

 I think I went through about eleven tissues.

The story broke me. But it also healed me.

How does this happen?

It’s a strange tonic.

This is not to say that a story itself can single-handedly provide healing from any major loss. Of course it can’t. But inasmuch as it can emotionally re-break you, it can also re-heal you, if it is told a certain way and if you are ready for it.

A year ago, I could never have watched this movie, because everything was still too fresh. I would have been more sad, more depressed, and more angry than I was before. But now, for some reason, now—I was ready.

How do you know when you’re ready?

How do you know when a sad story will be cathartic instead of more traumatic?

There is a lot of research out there about the grieving process, and the different stages of grief (if you want depressing content, just look there!), but it all varies depending our different personalities, circumstances, beliefs, and other factors. The thing is, we just can’t break it into a formula. So what one person finds therapeutic (though tear-jerking) at one year, another person may need seven years before they can derive anything beneficial. Or maybe never.

At the end of the day, you simply have to know your own emotional state.

Some people are more naturally resilient to moving stories that would break other people’s hearts. Or some people can appreciate sadness in a story without feeling prodded toward depression. But for some of us, there’s a wound that needs to be kept in mind. I’m certainly not suggesting that we avoid anything that might make us cry—sometimes we need to cry. But there’s a difference between tears of release when something resonates with us, and tears of fresh pain when something digs deeper into an existent wound.

So for anyone familiar with the loss of a parent, the hell called cancer, or the battle of denial, first of all, I’m sorry. I’ve been there, and it’s awful beyond words.

But if you are the kind of person who finds any comfort in stories, I highly, highly recommend this film. At some point during your journey of healing, when you are ready. It is much more than a realistic portrayal of terminal illness. It is a beautiful allegory of a much higher Truth, a much higher Being, that anyone experiencing grief is invited to call upon and, in doing so, receive healing.

One Comment on “Cancer, Monsters, and Catharsis

  1. Thanks for sharing.

    On Sat, Feb 1, 2020, 12:32 PM The Inquisitive Inkpot wrote:

    > Shiloh Carozza posted: ” Have you ever found yourself emotionally > unprepared for a book or movie? You know, when you finish it and feel like > the wind was just knocked out of you—and not in a good way. There’s a > number of ways this can happen: Scenario 1: You’re already fee” >

    Liked by 1 person

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