Lessons on Grief from Cinema

The Oscars (Academy Awards) are swiftly approaching and, with other awards shows under our nation’s belt this year, we have movies on our minds! While we didn’t find notable depictions of grief in the 2023 nominations, we decided to reach back to a few of our favorite films that center around death and grieving.

Sometimes a film comforts us, letting us know we’re not alone, and sometimes it challenges us, helping us to grow even in grief. We selected three films we think do both, with notable lessons on grief and how to apply those lessons to your work as a funeral professional. Let us know what other films you would include on this list!

Good Grief (2023)




Good Grief follows Marc, whose husband, Oliver, recently died unexpectedly. As Marc attends to Oliver’s after-death duties, he discovers a secret life his husband led. Throughout the story, Marc grieves not only the death of his beloved husband but also the idea that he didn’t know his husband as fully as he imagined. Marc’s two friends come alongside him in his journey of grief, bringing their own pains and grief. When the trio travels to Paris one year after Oliver’s death, they must overcome obstacles to strengthen their friendship and love. 

Quotes From the Film

[Imelda on not dealing with the source of your pain and living a life of distractions]: “Because, as it turns out, to avoid sadness is to avoid love.”

"I've been reading that the brain is like a muscle, that's why getting over a death is so hard. Because your brain has been trained to feel things for a person. When they go away, your head is still operating under the impression that it should feel those things for that person – like muscle memory." - Marc

Lessons on Grief

This film highlights how someone’s life can change drastically in a moment and how each moment in life is precious. In this story, Marc spends many of those moments after the death of his husband with his friends. We learn the importance of community, as his friends help carry him along in many areas of his grief. They aren’t just there for him at the beginning, but they listen and encourage and create a space for him to heal for the first year after the death (which is as far as we see in the film).

As a funeral professional, you can use this lesson to ask about the deceased’s community, friendships or those they were close to when planning a funeral. You can discover a person’s character through stories from and about the people who loved them. You can also check in on the loved ones to make sure they have their own community to help them in their grief and point them to resources should they need it. Additionally, you can host a grief group at your funeral home or try one of these other grief care ideas.

Up (2009)




The beloved Pixar story, Up, follows a stubborn and grouchy older man, Carl, following the death of his wife, Ellie, who was his entire world. The first several minutes hold little dialogue, but playful music and scenes of their love forming and growing tug on your heartstrings. The film continues in that emotional vein as Carl goes through one change after another. After his wife’s death, he learns that his house needs to be moved or destroyed so builders can construct a skyscraper in its place. So, he makes the most logical choice and, with an accidental buddy (peppy and talkative boy scout, Russell), ties thousands of balloons to his house and floats away to Paradise Falls, where he and Ellie had dreamed of traveling their entire lives. And that is only where the adventure begins…

Quotes From the Film

[When Carl makes it to Paradise Falls after Ellie has passed] “Ellie, it’s so beautiful; we made it…we made it.”

“That might sound boring, but I think the boring stuff is the stuff I remember the most.” – Russell

“Russell, for assisting the elderly and for performing above and beyond the call of duty, I would like to award you the highest honor I can bestow. The Ellie badge.” [Carl shares a memento from his late wife, bringing her memory into the present]

Lessons on Grief

Although the adventure is full of fun and silly moments, it also centers around Carl and his grief – and he’s grieving more than one thing. He’s known Ellie since they were both children; he’s grieving the loss of his best friend and wife, and who he was with her. We see he has grown grumpy and jaded, but with Ellie, he was sweet and happy. This story is about Carl discovering who he is apart from her and learning to fill his life with love again. Additionally, he is grieving the dream they had together, and didn’t accomplish, of traveling to South America, and he grieves that the city and home he once knew is now changing.

Throughout his many facets of grief, Carl holds onto a special keepsake Ellie made – a photo album of their lives called “Our Adventure Book.” He frequently looks at this album to feel connected to Ellie as he reminisces on their beautiful life together. As a funeral professional, you can suggest meaningful keepsake options for a client family. Sometimes, being able to hold an object that reminds us of a loved one can bring great comfort.

Steel Magnolias (1989)





Steel Magnolias depicts a group of friends in the South and how this group of varied personalities consistently show up for one another through life’s ups and downs, including deep grief. M’Lynn and her adult daughter, Shelby, have a strong bond that is not without its misunderstandings, but when Shelby dies, M’Lynn must rely on her strong will and her friendships to process the loss of her daughter.

Quotes from the Film

[M’Lynn on her daughter’s death] “I realize as a woman how lucky I am. I was there when that wonderful creature drifted into my life, and I was there when she drifted out. It was the most precious moment of my life.”

[Annelle on Shelby's death] “And I personally feel much safer knowing she’s up there on my side. I know some people might think that sounds real simple and stupid…and maybe I am. But that’s how I get through things like this.” 

Lessons on Grief

Similar to Good Grief, this film recognizes the importance of a community and friends who walk with you and even share your grief. In Steel Magnolias, we are reminded that not everyone grieves the same way. The women in M’Lynn’s community all loved Shelby too, but they have different ways of expressing their sadness. However, we find that as the characters talk about Shelby and share stories about her, they grow closer and carry their grief with them.

As a funeral professional, you can encourage your client families to share stories about their loved one that they can include in the obituary or memorial service. It’s important for the family to know that their loved one will not be forgotten.

Grief takes many forms and changes as we carry it throughout our lives. You serve client families every day who are experiencing grief, and we hope some of the above resources can help comfort them as they grieve. Let us know in the comments below what other films you find comfort in or lessons on grief.

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