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By Alyce Barry

I like watching movies. I don't call myself a "film buff" because that seems to imply more knowledge than I have about foreign and independent film. I have also dabbled in a tiny way in the business of movies, writing screenplays as a hobby for about five years during the 1980s, and for three years publishing a trade newsletter about filmmaking in Chicago.

In my lifestyle today, I use movies in different ways. For entertainment when life is dull. For escape when life is hard. For company when I've got mundane chores to do. About that, I've thought for some time that I'm keeping my inner child happy so that the responsible adult part of me can get things done. Lately, though, I've wondered if it isn't unfair to my inner child to think that she is so willing to accept a bribe.


Since I got involved in Shadow Work, 16 years ago now, I also use movies to help me process shame. I don't think I've ever written about this before and hope I can explain in a way that makes sense.

If I'm feeling shame about something I've done or said, and particularly when there's either nothing else I need to do about that (like phone somebody to apologize) or I'm not yet ready to do anything about it, watching a movie slows down my processing of the shame to a bearable speed.

As I watch the movie, the story and images keep the majority of my mind engaged while the memory of the incident surfaces one manageable bit at a time for me to review and sit with and eventually transform into something less painful, like a new awareness.

I love to read, and I don't think reading ever helps me in this way. As soon as the shame comes up, I lose awareness of what I'm reading, and the book is no longer a help to me so I may as well put it down. I guess that means that if movies are a more shallow form of entertainment than books, then that shallowness is in this case an advantage.


In recent years I've noticed that I sometimes crave a particular film and go to some lengths to procure a copy, and understand why that particular movie was compelling only later on.

Eleven years ago, for example, while going through a divorce, I watched The Hunt for Red October so many times that I memorized the script word-for-word. It came to me some time later that it's a film about a person who's defecting to the other side in order to avoid all-out war. Or perhaps I should say, that's a way of describing Red October that also describes the situation I was in.

During the divorce I also watched a lot of reruns of the TV series M*A*S*H, which is about people trying to do good and help others in the middle of a war.

A few weeks ago, I suddenly had to see Ghostbusters. I wasn't able to get a copy from the library or from Netflix right away, and a part of me was straining at the leash to buy a copy so I wouldn't have to wait. When the movie finally arrived from Netflix, I watched it twice. It's a film in which some people are believers about supernatural events while others are skeptical, and the believers are able to laugh at the skeptics. That seemed to say something about what's been going on with my mother lately.


As many of you know, I'm a caregiver for my elderly mother, who is 87 and bipolar.

In late March, she sort of collapsed emotionally over a weekend. She stopped eating, stopped getting out of bed. She was put on hospice care, and we were told she most likely had only a few weeks. Family members drove or flew in from out-of-state to see her.

I had heard about a book called Final Gifts about "Nearing Death Awareness," an unusual understanding that many people gain as they approach death which often manifests itself in metaphorical language about dying. For example, some dying people start talking about finding their passport and plane tickets, as if they're about to go on a long trip. Others talk as if people long dead are in the room with them. This was Ghostbusters territory for sure.

I read the book in a few days and began to listen carefully to what my mother was saying. But Mom reacted in an unexpected way to all the people coming to see her, becoming quite angry and telling us she was going to outlive us all. She began rallying, started eating better and getting stronger. Although I would no longer describe her as angry, it seems now that she may go on this way, bedridden but stable, for quite some time.


Last week I was feeling low and wanted to watch something soothing. I had recently picked up some used movies at a thrift store, and among them was On Golden Pond. As I watched this movie, which is about a crotchety old person who's terrified of dying and fights with everybody around him, I was able to cry for the first time in several weeks.

One of the shadows I still struggle with is stoicism; it's still hard at times for me to realize what I'm feeling or express it. I think it's been hard to reach the tears because there's so much going on besides just sadness. I'm pretty sure it's an understatement to add that American culture doesn't support us being in our feelings either. Most of us are allowed only a modicum of grief after a loss before we hear from others that it's "time to move on."

Crying over On Golden Pond seems to have opened the gates in a helpful way, so that I found myself crying off and on for several days. Sometimes with my head thrown back and my mouth open wide, with a low wail that sounds tribal to my ears.

Sometimes there is an ocean of sadness. Sadness because my mother is dying, but also sadness because she isn't dying, at least not yet. She's got more suffering to do, and it seems to be my job to watch it. The only remaining question is how closely to watch.

And I suspect that means I've got more movies to watch, too.

Alyce Barry is a Certified Shadow Work® Group Facilitator and Coach in Chicago. She is the author of Practically Shameless, on's Bestseller list of books about Jungian psychology for more than a year. The book is available in paperback and on audio CD and as an e-book. Read more about Alyce.

This article originally appeared in our free email newsletter in April 2011. To subscribe, visit our subscription page.

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