I took some extra time off from work during the holidays to recharge. 2016 was a very tough year all around. I was looking forward to doing fun things to distract myself and see some friends I haven’t seen in months. I really planned to end the year in a better mood, but instead I got sick with a terrible cold. So I stayed home and tried to rest, something else I haven’t done in a while. I thought catching up on movies would be a fun thing to do. Among the movies was an Australian-Canadian psychological horror film I’ve been wanting to watch, The Babadook.
The Babadook is about a woman who loses her husband in a car accident as they drive to the hospital, where she delivers her baby that same day. She raises the child on her own while dealing with grief, all the time becoming more and more threatened by a monster from her child’s picture book. I interpreted the movie’s Babadook monster as a physical representation of the woman’s unresolved emotional states of grief and denial. Both emotions affected her relationships and eventually took over her home and sanity. It took the woman years to start creating some meaning and to bring back some normalcy into their lives. In the end, the woman’s Babadook wasn’t completely gone. She kept “it” in the cellar where she would visit it from time to time. She did not allow her child to be exposed to her pain anymore, but rather learned to live with it, keeping it separate.
In the movie, I saw how the woman was being treated by friends and family while she was deep in her long-term pain. Her sister, who appeared to be her only family, didn’t want to deal with the heaviness and would often avoid her or challenge her. “It has been seven years!!” she yelled at her widowed sister one afternoon. This lack of empathy bothered me because I can relate to it. It reminded me of the times I’ve been asked to move on from my grief or from cancer. I also saw myself in the grieving woman, and it made me reflect on whether or not I’ve allowed myself to sink in my own darkness, and how long I’ve been there.
I believe in allowing ourselves to go through all the emotions any given situation provokes. And when the situation is painful, we decide how long the healing takes. I don’t think someone else should be telling us that we are taking too long with our grief. It’s personal.
I’m not discounting our families’ or friends’ desire to see us move past cancer. I know they can feel scared for me and helpless to know what to do about it. Of course they want me to move past it. I wish the same.
But, in my case, cancer is my Babadook, one that I manage to keep in my “cellar.” I deal with it the best I can. I can’t completely walk away from it because I’ve considered it to be part of who I am. And yes, it has defined me in many ways. It has pushed me to make some sacrifices too. I’ve needed to distant myself from some relationships in order to allow myself to just be, while allowing others to take a break from my reality. Because yes, it can be overwhelming and painful for others who haven’t been in the same situation we have.
In the movie, I appreciated how the writer used the last scene – when the woman visits the Babadook, now locked in the dark cellar – as a metaphor. And this is the message I took with me. The scene acknowledged that it is important to recognize and deal with our oppressive emotions. And that it is even therapeutic and meaningful to keep those fears and emotions alive, to allow us to keep up our awareness and be vigilant over the problem. It is an ongoing effort to ultimately reach a level of inner peace and create that sense of balance we all crave.