A Monster Calls

A Monster Calls, A Personal Reflection on Grief and Loss

By Lisa Laughnan and Mike Priesing

If you could take all of your fears and pull them together to a physical form, what would they look like? “A Monster Calls” hits theaters today revealing the pain associated with the loss of a loved one. The film certainly focuses on the experience of a child losing the most important relationship in his life, but the healing received is one that even adults have a difficult time facing.

We will all be faced with losing a loved one at some point or another in our life, and sadly to say this will occur more than once throughout our lifetime. As humans, we are faced with the inevitable and that is situations that are unavoidable such as the death of a loved one. 1 in 5 children will experience the death of someone close to them by age 18. (Kenneth Doka, Journal of Death and Dying)

Resolving childhood grief and trauma can be difficult. Unresolved grief can become the root of many problems.  “It’s like having a splinter in your finger. If unattended, it will in time fester, become painful enough that we will eventually do something about it. And then we wonder why we waited so long.” Marie Brunger

Can you imagine the impact that the loss of a loved one has on an adolescent between the ages of 10 and 22 years of age?

The grieving process is not going to be the same for everyone. Losing a loved one is a very painful and personal experience. Elizabeth  Kübler-Ross and her 5 stages of grief and loss is the most widely recognized approach to addressing the grieving process.

Mum (Felicity Jones) is an artist, she presents as an eternal optimist always trying to shield Conor (Lewis MacDougall) from the reality that her time is limited. I know for me personally, I had a hard time grasping the reality of my stepfather’s death at the age of 14 when I found him deceased under his car.

When the reality set in that he was no longer alive my whole world was turned upside down. I felt a sense of impending doom and let out a scream. Questions began filtering my mind; God, why did this happen to me? Is this my fault? How am I going to live without seeing him every day, talking to him, and giving him a hug goodnight?

It took a long time before I could honestly accept the fact that he was gone. I didn’t want to believe it, and I thought one day he would return back home. I felt angry at myself and with God. I blamed myself and thought, “had I went over there the night before would he still be alive”? I had so many unanswered questions and feelings of emotion running through my mind, but I did not want to accept it.

“I went from having a loving father to feelings of loneliness and what seemed to be an unfillable hole in my soul.”

I became isolated and depressed for quite some time. My grades declined, the wound remained open, unhealed and painful. Drugs and alcohol only numbed the pain temporarily. I was unable to accept and process what the film focuses on, my truth.

Facing the truth that someone we love has passed away and accepting that we will live out the rest of our life without them can feel like a betrayal. Understanding our truth shifts focus from our relationships of the past to being present in the relationships of today.

Let’s take a look at the therapeutic value of art and creative expression to heal wounds and prevent the development of unhealthy coping mechanisms like addiction.


Due to a child’s limited verbal development, the arts are a natural bridge to expression and understanding. The immediacy and accessibility of drawing permits the child to access inner issues in a way that can easily be shared with another. As children draw before they can write, it is easy to observe that drawing tends to be a natural communication tool to express what can’t be said in words (Bertoia 1993).

Expressive arts allow children the opportunity to grow and develop self-awareness through self-expression. This has been shown to reduce stress and accelerate psychological and physical healing. They offer children “a way to express their feelings, perceptions, thoughts, and memories in ways that words cannot”. Studies have shown that the use of expressive arts can offer healing support to the affected individual who has suffered trauma from the loss and help them cope. It offers them the opportunity to express themselves in an environment where they can share their experience through expressing emotions in a symbolical way. (Don Phelps, Social Work Today)

The creative process causes specific areas of the brain to release endorphins and other neurotransmitters that affect brain cells and the cells of the immune system. Thus, relieving pain and triggering the immune system to function more efficiently. Endorphins are like opiates, creating an experience of expansion, connection, and relaxation. In conjunction with these physiologic changes, art can regularly change people’s attitudes, emotional states, and perception of pain.

When I stopped drinking and using drugs I became engaged in other activities that allowed me to express myself. Through these activities, I have healed wounds that I never imagined possible. Not only have I benefited from it, but other people around me have too.

CREATIVE WRITING – (Blogging, Journaling, Poetry)

I personally find journaling and blogging to be very therapeutic. I started writing in early recovery and to this day I still use it to help me express my emotions. Through journaling and blogging, I am able to express my feelings and emotions and share my story. My story was one that hindered me for so long, but now I am using it to help others. More specifically, I write poetry, articles, and motivational pieces that inspire others to come out from hiding behind their mask. My goal is to break the silence and bring awareness to drug addiction through not just my story, but other people’s personal stories as well. I want others to see that recovery is possible, but I also want them to see the benefit in writing their feelings and using this form of expressive therapy. I have had a number of people thank me on a daily basis for encouraging them to write, and how helpful it has been for them not only in terms of healing but for their recovery.

The Monster (Liam Neeson) manifests in Conor’s life to heal Conor. He helps him face his fears, understand his truth, and accept the death of his mother. Writing through your grief, by keeping a journal of your feelings or writing about the loss of a loved one can be very helpful in working through a bereavement. The task of reconstructing your personal self-narrative is critical in the healing process. A grief journal will provide you with a venue for expression without fear of being judged, as well as a record of your experience that will reveal recurring patterns and dramatic growth.

All that you need is; a pen and paper, cell phone (on Android the Memo app works well), a computer (desktop/laptop), and a quiet place to collect and gather your thoughts.

As human beings we can heal all emotional wounds, we can shorten the process by using healthy methods to deal with the painful events in our life.

If you need or a loved one need help processing grief and trauma, please feel free to contact us. We have resources for children and adults.

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