Bibliotherapy means using the reading of books (or the watching of movies) as a way to heal yourself, gain insight, or solve a problem. ~ from The Sibling Connection
Suppose you were struggling with grief after losing a loved one, and so you sought out a grief counselor for guidance. Because it is often less threatening to deal with painful emotions indirectly, your counselor might use a treatment modality called bibliotherapy, suggesting a book for you to read or a movie to watch with themes that relate to your issues. I first learned about bibliotherapy when my book, “The Jim and Dan Stories” was reviewed by Pleasant Gill White, Ph.D. and listed in the bibliotherapy section of her sibling loss website, The Sibling Connection. Some of the ways bibliotherapy can help facilitate healing, listed on the website, include: It can give you a vocabulary, reduce your feeling of isolation as you recognize characters who remind you of yourself, and help you work through your grief experience by giving you an opportunity to compare and contrast your experience with others.
But you don’t need a therapist to practice bibliotherapy. Some who are coping with loss will find themselves instinctively reaching for books and movies about death and grief. After losing my brothers 4 years ago, I did. I browsed through so many books on death that I can’t remember one from the other now. “Tuesdays with Morrie” was one I do remember that was so good I bought an extra copy to have for lending to others.
Over the last few years only a couple of movies with death and grief themes continue to stand out in my mind. One is “Moonlight Mile” with Susan Sarandon and Dustin Hoffman, and the other is “In America” about an Irish immigrant family who lost their young child. I saw both too long ago to comment on in detail, other than to say that they were deeply moving and dealt with the subject intelligently and sensitively and in a way that I could relate to.
I recently saw another movie to add to this list of favorites. It’s an independent Canadian film made in 2003 called “My Life Without Me.” The plot line described on the video box that drew me in was something like: Young woman conceals the fact of her terminal cancer to live her life with a passion she never had before.
In the movie, the main character, played by Sarah Polley, decides to face death on her own terms. She rationalizes that by keeping her pending death a secret she will spare her family months spent crying in hospital corridors and eating bad cafeteria food. She sets about to make her children audio tapes for each birthday, reunites with her incarcerated father, looks for a new wife for her husband and mother for children, and explores doing things she’s never done before. It’s sad but not sappy with balance of tragedy and resolution, and the fact that the lead role was a strong female character wasn’t lost on me. One reviewer summed the movie up like this…it makes you think twice about what’s really important and a movie that can do that is a movie worth seeing. Ultimately, that’s probably the underlying reason that I’m involved in the study of death.
My Life Without Me and the other movies I mentioned will probably make you cry, but you won’t feel manipulated to do so, as with some Hollywood fare; at least I didn’t. But why watch movies that you know will make you cry? How can that be therapy? I think watching movies about death when you’re grieving can act like a homeopathic remedy, aligning with feelings you’re already having and bringing them to the surface for you to plainly see. Another reason not to avoid what you know will make you cry refers back to a line in the The Jim and Dan Stories, the book I wrote after losing my brothers: “The sadness is already there… the crying just lets it out.”
~ Originally posted on looseleafnotes.com January 27, 2006.