Prisoner of Grief

Prisoner of Grief

Jan 15, 2023

Grief, if we let it, will make us a captive.  

When Noah was young,  we traumatized him in a lasting way.  

He was probably three when the offense took place, given this is when the movie Monster House was released.  

I don't recall his reaction when we took him, along with his siblings, to see it, but what happened later,  revealed the impact it had had.  

Rightfully so,  in my professional dramatist opinion.  What must the pitch meeting for this movie have been like? 

" Okay, you got this mean old man in a crumbling house.  Kids come on his lawn and he steals their toys and destroys them." 


"Wait there's more.  His house eats kids." 

"I'm listening." 

"But it's really his wife, the fat lady from the Carnival, whose soul is trapped in the concrete of the basement where she fell when some neighborhood kids came to bully her." 

"Interesting,  is this more Shyamalan, or Peele?" 

"Oh, uh,  I forgot,  it's animated,  it's a kids movie!" 


Who greenlit this? 

Seriously, as a die hard horror and thriller fan,  this is one of the most grisley film premises of all time. It never should have been marketed as a kids movie. I’m looking at you Spielberg.

So, a few months later, we took the kids to the dollar movie, where all of us could get in for less than $20, to see a perfectly innocent film (not Monster House.)  

Halfway through the previews, Noah's little blonde head disappeared from the seat in front of me.  Of course, my stomach sank, thinking I’d end up in the bathroom, missing the first ten minutes of the movie, but that’s being a dad sometimes. 

The next thing I know, his little head has zipped right past our row, and is bobbing up the aisle,  high tailing it for the exit.  That's when I realize.  The preview we were watching was for Monster House and Noah was out! 

Five minutes later I had talked him down, which even at five a debate with Noah was never simple,  and we returned.  I wish I could remember what movie we watched,  but no one in the family seems to recall.  

But the movie had impacted his young mind in an indelible way.  

Hidden among the weird plot points, though, I feel there's something being said about grief.  How it bind us to the past.  

This man,  who everyone saw as a crotchety old Monster,  was in fact, a loving, kind man, bound to grief over the loss of the love of his life.  

The need to defend the children of the neighborhood from the vengeful wrath of his wife's ghost had made him a prisoner.  It had soured him and hardened him into something other than what he wanted to be.  

In the end, her ghost was releases in a bizarre twist of plot that made little sense,  but just as her spirit was freed, she was momentarily reunited with the man who had loved her through it all, able to see what she had become and express her love.  

Here’s the thing about becoming a captive to grief, the chains that bind us to the object of our grief, are forged, as was the old man’s, in love. Our love for the ones we’ve lost can tether us to past and trap us into believing there is nothing in the future for us. 

His wife didn’t want the poor man chained to the house and her compulsive cycle of vengeance seeking, anymore than she wanted to be trapped in the house herself, and your lost loved ones would not want that for you either.  It does them no good, and over time, it will embitter you to the world, until it hardens or destroys you. 

In the story, the man needed to take extraordinary measures, essentially “killing” the house in order to stop the cycle and end his torment. We, in life, must choose hard things as well if the dragon of grief manages to drag us into their lair. Unlike the house, grief cannot be killed, but over time, with enough self work, and with the help of friends, family, and counseling professionals, we can find our way out of the trap. 

For me, I hope that being aware of this trap, and its potential, having fallen into it once before when my mother passed, I’m able to avoid the pitfalls that led me there. There is no guarantee. Making peace with the dragon, so that it consumes less and less of your mind, time and energy is the key, and it requires intentionally grieving, accepting, and looking forward. 

So, if you see me running out of the theater when grief threatens to entrap me, know that I, like Noah, have seen this movie before and have no intention of watching it again. 

Enjoy this post?

Buy Mark R Morris Jr a coffee

More from Mark R Morris Jr