The Many Faces of Grief and Mourning in Movies

Apr 6, 2015 | 2 comments

Susan Sarandon in Elizabethtown

Susan Sarandon in Elizabethtown

What does grief and mourning really look like? Movies and television shows can help us understand different reactions to loss. Recently, I presented The Many Faces of Grief: Mourning in the Movies, a new film clip presentation in a Death & Dying class at Central New Mexico Community College (a.k.a. CNM).

The presentation examined grief and mourning styles/processes as spelled out in the Association for Death Education and Counseling’s (ADEC) Handbook of Thanatology. We looked at different ways people express their grief – or don’t – and how the process of mourning can unfold toward a new reality without the deceased.

There’s a study that indicates 81% of humans are visual learners, so movies are the perfect medium for making a memorable educational impression – especially on touchy topics like death and grief. This presentation is certified for two hours of continuing education credits as “Understanding Grief and Mourning Through Films” through the Academy of Professional Funeral Service Practice (

The presentation included film clips from these movies and TV shows:

  • Elizabethtown, to illustrate an instrumental grieving style
  • A Single Man, illustrating intuitive grief (note that these styles are not specific to either gender)
  • The Jane Austen Book Club, to show an example of disenfranchised grief
  • The Big Lebowski, highlighting issues regarding the intersection of recent grief and past trauma, and bereavement trajectories
  • This Is Where I Leave You, using two scenes to illustrate the importance of allowing the bereaved to talk about their losses and the dangers of repressing grief, which can lead to complicated grief
  • Walk the Line, on regrief – when a bereaved person revisits a long-ago loss
  • Six Feet Under, which humorously illustrates how you can’t tell someone else how to grieve
  • Gravity, showing how the processes of mourning can help the bereaved find new meaning after the loss.

One student asked a question about Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’ five stages: anger, denial, bargaining, depression and acceptance. We spoke a bit about that approach. There is no set pattern – everyone moves though different stages at different times, and not everyone feels the same emotions in this framework. There is a film clip I could have included from All That Jazz, with a comedian ticking off the five stages and having a field day with the concept.

Here’s a testimonial by Dr. Kristin Roush, who teaches the Death & Dying class at CNM, about the day’s presentation.

Kristin Roush Testimonial

Please get in touch if you’d like to bring one of my engaging, entertaining and educational talks to your organization!

A Good Goodbye