The Best Books, Movies, and TV Shows to Watch When You’re Grieving
A Little Better is a column about showing up for yourself and your people. Read past installments Here.
When my beloved dog Chuck died suddenly in late 2022, I was overcome with a feeling of pure, undivided sadness that I had not felt in a long time. Though I knew intellectually that the loss of a pet can be devastating, I still wasn’t prepared for how awful I would feel in the days, weeks, and months after its death. The good news was that it wasn’t my first grief rodeo — in fact, the end of my marriage gave me something of a textbook on coping with loss, even though this loss looked and felt very different this time.
A big part of this playbook for me is consuming artworks—essays, poems, novels, films—that allow me to sit in my sadness. When I’m feeling really bad, I find that accepting that reality makes me feel less terrible; It helps me to remember that the only way out is to go through with it and there is no way to rush this process. And facing my feelings head-on by engaging with a beautifully observed work of art helps alleviate the loneliness that comes with loss. Grief can be very isolating, but art that articulates your pain and reminds you of the existence of other sad people who understand your sadness on a cellular level can be a soothing balm during a dark time.
Because grief has been on my heart lately – and because the losses of the last three years are truly heartbreaking – I thought I’d round up some of my favorite media here. Incidentally, the following texts and artworks are not specifically about the loss of a pet; They deal with different types of losses. (On that note: Just a warning that this list mentions miscarriages, the death of a child, and the death of a parent.) I hope that my book, or parts of it, will help you, or someone you love while you are moved by your sadness
Articles, essays and poems
“When things get lost“ The New Yorker. This essay is undoubtedly the most moving and beautiful text I have ever read on the subject of loss and grief. It begins with writer Kathryn Schulz’s reflection on misplacing small objects and then slowly evolves into a story about the death of her beloved father. It is impossible to select a single line to quote; It’s just a perfect piece of writing that just has to be read in its entirety. (Schulz made this essay the basis of a treatise Found lostso you might want to check that out too.)
“Children are not always alive“ The New York Times. This essay by Pitchfork editor Jayson Greene addresses a pain most of us can’t understand: the sudden death of a child. (Greene also wrote a book on the subject.) He writes about this tragic loss in a way that is equal parts direct and absolutely devastating. “When I realized Greta wouldn’t live, I wanted to die so pure and so easy,” he writes. “I could feel my heart looking up at me questioningly, asking me between beats, ‘Are you sure you want me to keep doing this?’ But I found I couldn’t give the order.” It’s one I’ve read several times over the years, and it tears me up every time.
“I didn’t know what to wear to my brother’s funeral“, Tortured. This is a beautiful and sad essay about the loss of a sibling in your twenties. “Preparing for my brother’s church felt like preparing for the worst high school reunion where I was expected to be on stage and show everyone what Sad looked like,” writes Katie Cunningham. “Nobody should be 25 when their brother dies. I should have considered whether a dress was too slutty for his wedding or not too slutty for his wake.”
“DEAR SUGAR #44: How to break free“, The noise. In this installment of Cheryl Strayed’s beloved advice column, the Wild The author is responding to a letter writer who is struggling to feel comfortable after a miscarriage. I often think of the line “You live on planet Earth. You live on Planet My Baby Died” — because even if you’re not dealing with that specific type of loss, I think that feeling like you just don’t relate to the people around you is pretty universal when you mourn
“For many widows, the hardest part is mealtime“ The New York Times. It can be surprisingly hard to feed yourself when you’re going through a difficult time. Although loss of appetite due to stress and grief is fairly common, I don’t hear it discussed very often. This article gives the topic the attention it deserves and touches on the groups that have sprung up to help people feed themselves and connect socially with others. (Also, if this appeals to you, here’s an article I wrote a few years ago about easy meals to make when you’re sad.)
“A Holiday Survival Guide for Sad People‘ Pinch Yum. I’ve referred to this super handy guide many times over the years; While it’s specifically about tackling “the best time of year,” I think it’s helpful for any occasion or time when you’re expected to have fun and feel cheerful.
“On this 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, we reconsider the buoyancy of the human heart‘ by Laura Lamb Brown-Lavolie. I discovered this poem for the first time in The Paris Review and just love it. The narrator asks them titanic for advice (“I was hoping you’d teach me how to sink, I said. You who’ve spent a century underwater with 1500 skeletons in your chest”), and the ship really delivers. It’s a very lovely read, especially if you’ve recently had your heart broken.
Books, TV shows and movies
When it comes to art for sad times, everyone’s taste is slightly different. Some people opt for laugh-out-loud comedy to help cheer them up and block out the bad stuff; others turn to beloved favorites who bring comfort through familiarity (e.g., repeats of Friends or Buffy the vampire slayer). Personally, I’m drawn to soft science fiction that explores themes of loss, alternate universes, repetition, and the ability to erase certain memories. (Bonus points if it takes place in winter!)
“Story of Your Life” by Ted Chiang. This short story is the basis for the 2016 film Arrivaland i think there is one much better than the film. It’s a slowly unfolding story about loss and appreciating the time you have with people; As soon as I finished it, I immediately read it again. You can find it in Chiang’s book Stories from your life and others or read here.
station eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. Switching between the onset of a pandemic and its aftermath 20 years later, this 2015 novel is a compelling read that also perfectly captures the loneliness and isolation of a great loss. Although the HBO show is a respected adaptation, I would still recommend reading the book as the prose is really beautiful. (“As Jeevan walked on alone, he felt himself disappearing into the landscape. He was a small, insignificant thing floating down the shore. He had never felt so alive or so sad.”)
The Memorial Police by Yoko Ogawa. This book is set on an unnamed island where entire categories of objects begin to disappear without warning or explanation, and the work of the memory police is to ensure that these items are forgotten and never spoken of again. While that description makes it sound like an intense dystopian thriller, it’s actually quite gentle and sad.
Severance pay. This superbly recorded Apple+ series manages to be both a thoroughly engaging (and extremely well thought out) puzzle box and a really great meditation on work, grief and the way we try to separate losses and move on. After I finished the first season I immediately wanted to watch it again – it’s so good.
black mirror Every episode of black mirror is a story in its own right, and some of them are about loss and heartbreak. I would recommend season one, episode three: “The Full Story of You” (breakup/divorce); Season two, episode one: “Be Right Back” (death/loss); and Season Three, Episode Four: “San Junipero” (Death/Loss/Love).
Everything everywhere at once. The only thing I knew going into this movie was that it involved multiverse and was supposed to make me cry. But because it’s so absurd and laughable, I was wondering when to start crying about 30 minutes before the end of the movie. Not long after that, my girlfriend and I both found each other fully Sob– like tears streaming down our faces. If you’re inclined towards fun/distracting things in grief, but also want some emotional relaxation, I can’t recommend it highly enough.
beginning. Maybe you saw this movie when it came out in 2010 and don’t remember that it was very sad; If that is the case I would definitely encourage you to visit again. Watching it again makes the complex plot easier to follow, allowing you to focus on the story, which involves corporate espionage, sure, but also dealing with losses. If your grief is making your life feel completely surreal or like a nightmare you can’t wake up from, be sure to add this to your queue.
Eternal sunshine of the immaculate mind. This has been my favorite I’m Really Sad movie for years, and while other, more recent offerings have slowly taken the top spot, I will always hold a special place in my heart for it. It checks all my boxes (heartbreak, reruns, erased memories, snow) and gets extra points for starring Kate Winslet.
You are not alone in this and you will not feel this way forever. Until then, I’m thinking of you.