Monday, February 13, 2017

How Patrick Ness, A Monster and The Truth Helped Me Forgive Myself

Recently, I bought Patrick Ness's book, A Monster Calls. I had seen the previews for the movie, and really wanted to see it, but I always like to read the book first. I bought the paperback on a sale, and sat down to read it one Friday evening.

The basic synopsis is, Conor O'Malley is visited repeatedly by a monster while his mother is dying. The monster tells him several stories, and then Conor is forced to tell his own, the only caveat, it must be the truth.

**Spoiler Alerts lie below, so do not read ahead, if you haven't read or seen the movie and don't want any more details**

Within two hours I had devoured the entire book, and my shirt, neck and face were covered in tears. So much tears that when my husband popped his head in the room to ask how the book was going, he had a surprised look on his face and said, "What the hell?" Yeah, that many tears.

Despite having read the book, watching the movie was no different.
I sobbed hard during the last 50% of it.

You see, it's not just a beautifully written book. It KNOWS grief. It understands the darkness of it. It understands the guilt, the shame, the anger, the desperation, and the total loss of control that is grief. It also knows how to explain it in a way most of us never can. The message, which is directed at children facing tragic loss, isn't just for kids. It's so completely perfectly presented, that it is helpful for adults who have faced deep losses themselves and are trying to navigate through them.

This story, A Monster Calls, actually helped me through a part of my grief process that had laid dormant, and one that I couldn't seem to figure out. And all because of the final truth Conor must tell the Monster.

He wanted her to die so it could be over already.

Even as I write that sentence, I get emotional. Not because she was dying, or because how could he think that about her?

It makes me emotional because I felt the same things about my mom.

I never wanted her to die, I wanted her to heal, but from day one, I knew she was terminal. I did the research. I went to Google despite her urges not to, and I read for hours. I dry heaved for half an hour in the bathroom afterward because I had read too much truth. The statistics were so bad. She wasn't guaranteed any health ever again. The treatment wrecked her, and she was never the same. She lived for a year, but it was miserable.

Within two months she was almost dead in a hospital bed because her body wouldn't accept food or water. She wore a feeding tube pack with the tube taped to her face for months. She went bald, turned the putrid color of cancer. Her face swelled up, and she didn't look like herself. She lost her ability to string together sentences, and mixed up names and words all day long. So much so, that she stopped talking much at all. She couldn't walk very well or at all, and she had to be with someone at all times.

She was so sick, and so low.
She was death in a living body, and I wanted it to be over.

I didn't visit her as much as I should have, or as much as I had time to, because whenever I saw her, my whole body screamed in shock. I had anxiety attacks that I kept to myself whenever I saw her. It hurt too much to watch her die like that, so I didn't watch, sometimes. More often than not, actually. We were so extremely bonded together, and I abandoned her in her cancer because the pain of it all was too much to bear.

I didn't want her to die at all, but I didn't want her to suffer anymore, and I didn't want to suffer anymore myself.

"You were merely wishing for the end of pain," the monster said. "Your own pain. An end to how it isolated you. It is the most human wish of all."

Until I read A Monster Calls, I didn't realize how common a feeling that was, and I carried the internal shame of treating the woman who gave me life, and was my best friend, in the way I did. The funny part is, although I wasn't there in person the way maybe I should have been, I was there constantly in my mind.

All day everyday my mind whirled with the chaos your thoughts become when you have no idea how to cope with someone's terminal illness who you love very much. Every day, all day, I was praying, begging, and screaming at God to heal her. I was researching to ease my stress, or spewing my thoughts out onto my old blog or journals. Sometimes I was catatonic in front of the TV just to quiet my mind.

I wasn't there for her physically, but I was there. I was angry, and I was a mess. I was such a mess that I couldn't be there. It wasn't until I read this book, and watched this movie, that I realized how much moms understand their children when they are losing her. I realized, it was ok. She was ok with my pain. She was ok that I wasn't there as much as I could've been. She loved me anyway, because she knew I was facing the hardest thing I'd ever faced in my life, and she loved me. She gave me life, she understood who I was more than I did.

"You be as angry as you need to be. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise. not your grandma, not your dad, no one. And if you need to break things, then by God, you break them good and hard."

"And if one day, you look back and you feel bad for being so angry, if you feel bad for being so angry at me that you couldn't even speak to me, then you  have to know, Conor, you have to know that it was okay. It was okay. That I knew. I know, okay? I know everything you need to tell me without you having to say it out loud."

Sometimes I think me not being there as much made it easier for her to leave, and to focus on herself. The week she died, I was there by her bed the whole time until the day I could tell she was going to go. She had grown cold to the touch, and her breathing had become so quiet and shallowed, I could tell it was time. She had held on in a similar state for a week. The nurses had told us it wouldn't be more than three days, but she lasted seven. All my other siblings had left, knowing what was going to happen, and I was there, holding on, refusing to let her go, while telling her she could.

Around 8pm, I kissed her cold forehead goodbye, told her I loved her, and left.

She didn't last through the night.

If you haven't read this book, or seen this movie, and are carrying your own burden of grief over a loss, I urge you to take the time to. It unlocked something inside me, and forced me to look at it. The truth of it. The harsh honest truth, that I wasn't the perfect daughter to a cancer-ridden mother. I was her human daughter who was blown away by anger and pain.

And the biggest realization of it all after seeing Conor face his truth?

It is all ok. My mother loved me for all of my human imperfections, and I should too.

You can learn more about the book here, and the movie here.

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++ Have you read the book? Have you faced a hard loss? Please share your thoughts below. 

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