Lisey’s Story: A Cautionary Tale of Unresolved Grief
Stephen King's story offers a glimpse into the dark side of grief.
Posted June 9, 2021 | Reviewed by Chloe Williams
Stephen King has recently written an adaptation for television of his book Lisey’s Story which has been released as an eight episode series on Apple TV+. Fans of King’s horror stories will not be disappointed. However, underneath the terror is a story about love and what can happen if grief is repressed and unresolved.
An Introduction to Lisey's Story and Trauma
As the series begins, Lisey is in Scott’s office. Scott had been a famous novelist and now, two years after his death, Lisey is beginning to go through all of his papers. Going through our loved one’s belongings is a task that unfortunately will likely fall to all of us at some time in our lives. Anyone who has already experienced this knows it is a time when you can be flooded with memories. It is a time of reminiscing. The dead are alive for us again. We are continually moving back and forth from the present to the past and back again, and this is what is happening to Lisey. She begins to remember things about Scott that she had managed to block out, but now these memories are being reawakened.
Lisey brings us into Scott’s childhood world, and we soon begin to understand the severity of the emotional and physical abuse that he experienced. As a result, Scott’s life was dominated by cumulative traumatic grief. As a child, he witnessed and experienced extreme and terrifying physical and emotional abuse. He saw his brother abused and repeatedly tortured by their father. These experiences had a profound effect on Scott. He never revealed them to anyone until he shared them with Lisey.
His father and brother were self-destructive and violent towards others to deal with their demons. People who have unresolved trauma have a high probability of self-harm whether it be through cutting themselves, substance abuse or disordered eating. Scott, however, was able to channel much of his grief and trauma through his writings.
Traumatic Grief's Lingering Effects
Through Scott, we can see that just as unresolved trauma follows us into adulthood, so does unresolved grief. Irving Yalom (2008) states that it is the fear of death that determines our behavior. Perhaps it really is the unspoken and unresolved grief that is the determining factor. Grief is a painful part of life. It impacts us emotionally, physically, spiritually and cognitively, as we can see in Scott’s life.
The world does not stand still just because our loved one dies. Lisey now finds that her sister Amanda has her own mental illness relapse. On hearing the news that her boyfriend has married someone else, Amanda falls into a catatonic state to avoid the pain of her reality. When someone becomes catatonic, they withdraw from the world. The body is present but the individual is not there, emotionally or mentally. This has happened before to Amanda but she recovered. Self-mutilation was another way Amanda used to cope with her pain and grief. In coping with trauma, the truth at times is often denied or repressed as it is too painful to bring out in the open.
Lisey learns that there have been times when Scott also withdrew from life. Even as a child, he would go to another world he called Boo’ya Moon and as he shared his pain with Lisey, he began to take her with him. During the day, this was a place of beauty, peace and healing. However, at night, it became dangerous and frightening. Perhaps Boo’ya Moon can be seen as a metaphor for the differences between night and day that the bereaved experience. You will often hear the widowed say how hard and painful the nights are for them. During the day there are things to help distract them but nights can be a time of intense longing and loneliness. You come home to an empty house. You eat alone and sleep alone. While the daytime offers distraction from the pain of grief, it is only intensified at night.
Ultimately, Lisey masters how to travel to Boo’Ya Moon and back while keeping herself safe. As her story progresses, we see Lisey begin to strengthen and come into her own.
The Strength and Courage to Confront Grief
Throughout their marriage, Scott was the center of attention while Lisey often went unnoticed by those clamoring around him. Not only is Lisey dealing with her grief and memories about Scott but she is also trying to help Amanda while trying to save herself from a deranged man who is obsessed with Scott. As if the journey through grief was not harrowing enough, Lisey is confronted with a man obsessed with Scott who has turned his own grief into murderous rage against her.
There are times in our grief when we may be feeling sad, vulnerable and unsure if we can even get out of bed to carry on. At those times, it is hard to imagine that the journey that we are on can be transformative. But Lisey demonstrates for us that it can be. By facing the reality of her situation, using her courage, cunning, and resilience, she is able to meet the challenges before her and comes out stronger, more self-assured in the end and able to move forward in her life.
1) Yalom, Irvin D. (2008). Staring at the Sun: Overcoming the Terror of Death. San Francisco, California: Jossey-Bass.