Reel Grief: What the Movies Can Teach Us


BY: Diane Snyder Cowan
CATEGORY: Grief and Loss

There are many ways to support the bereaved during their grieving process. Give gentle and unconditional support. Provide a listening ear.  Help with errands and chores.  Another approach is to recommend movies that focus on recovering from loss. A film’s lesson can be helpful and supportive, as well as facilitate and/or validate the grieving process.

Movies are about the human experience, complete with love and loss. The complex, confusing and isolating feelings that are common to the bereaved are often portrayed on the screen. In addition, the movie can be fodder for eliciting these feelings or can act as a catalyst to start a conversation. Talking about a movie creates a safe way to share the difficult feelings of grief.

On some level (consciously or not), the bereaved can often relate to what the grieving characters in the film are going through. Identifying with a character can help develop confidence or remind the bereaved of his or her own inner strengths and resources. It can also be insightful when the relatable character in the movie is different or unlikable.

Watching movies often helps the viewer to step back and see the bigger picture. It can give you a more objective perspective on what’s happening.

Here are some questions to consider….

What are the main grief issues identified in the movie?

What strengths did you recognize in the characters that were grieving?

How does the main character build or maintain an enduring connection with the deceased love one?

What similarities do you see in your own life?

There are many movies that address grief and loss. Here are a few that might interest you and assist you through your grief journey.


Rabbit Hole (2010) – Rabbit Hole is a moving, dark character study of what happens to a happily married couple when they suddenly lose the love of their life, their 4-year-old son.

Forrest Gump (1994) – This film depicts several decades in the life of Forest Gump who witnesses and in some cases influences some defining events in the 20th century. Along the way, he experiences grief and loss.

Steel Magnolias (1989) – A heartwarming story of life, love and loss in a small Louisiana Parish.

Truly Madly Deeply (1991) – This film can inspire those who have suffered a significant loss to discover new interests in life.

Ordinary People (1980) – This film offers an intense examination of a family being torn apart by tension and tragedy.


Bridge to Terabithia (2007) – This is a fantasy adventure film about the power of imagination and the magic of friendship and includes the death of a friend.

The Lion King (1994) – After the death of his father, the lion cub Simba goes into exile and eventually returns to the pride.

Up (2009) – A grieving widower and a young boy go on a great adventure together.

My Girl (1991) – A coming of age story about an 11-year-old girl that experiences death and transformation.


About Diane Snyder Cowan​
Diane Snyder Cowan is the director of Western Reserve Grief Services.

She oversees the hospice and bereavement programs and expressive therapy. Diane is a Certified Hospice and Palliative Care Administrator and a Board Certified Music Therapist.

She currently serves as the Section Leader for the Bereavement Professional Section of the National Council of Hospice and Palliative Professionals and previously served on the Board of Directors of the Certification Board for Music Therapy.

Diane has presented on music therapy and grief and loss throughout the country and has written for many publications on music therapy and on grief and loss.

She strives to provide support and education to grieving individuals and those who work with them.