Three Grief Lessons from ‘Incredibly Loud and Extremely Close’

When I saw Stephen Daltry’s “Incredibly Loud and Extremely Close,” I cried three times. The first time, it was the mere idea of a boy losing his father who he loved so much at age 9. The second time, I temporarily morphed into the character and adopted his struggle to understand life’s cruel injustices like 9/11 and the fractured families left behind. The protagonist’s approachability embodied a question we all encounter, “What now?” The third time, the tears were happy. I was overcome by the collective selflessness on screen.

The film, adapted from the best-selling book, which was nominated for a Best Picture Oscar this past February, features a young Oskar whose father dies in the 9/11 terrorist attacks. After his father dies, he sets out on a mission to preserve the memory of their time together and to explore his new life.

His journey is relatable and serves as a perfect metaphor for coping with a loved one’s death. The film exults that while no two experiences are the same, we must tell our stories in order to gain understanding and prevent being overtaken by our own prejudice.

This movie is exactly what you’d expect from a schmaltzy melodrama. It pulls at your heartstrings. Regardless of its cinematic quality, at its core it is a very good conversation piece and dares to ask questions a lot of people who haven’t experienced a significant loss often overlook. Regardless of your watching prowess, you can join the conversation with my Cliff’s Notes for the film. Below I pulled together three great lessons the film bellows.

Remember the Living

In the movie, Oskar sets out on an exploration to find the meaning of a key his father left behind. He stumbles upon a diverse group. Each visit elicits a story of loss. When something bad happens to us, it’s easy to disregard the world around us and even discount that others can understand but truthfully every person experiences tragedy.

What is more surprising for Oskar to learn is how willing people are to help him in his mission. Many times we assume we can’t ask others because we’re not sure of what we need but his explorative spirit reminds us that’s not necessarily the case and affirms we are in control of our own self-discovery.

Give Thanks

After loss, some of us, me absolutely included, become suckers for signs. I know I crave them. So in the end, when Oskar’s clue doesn’t end up the way he envisioned it, he puts us in our place by saying, “I was disappointed but I am grateful for the disappointment.” Through him, we all get to see that a traumatic loss is not an excuse to stop giving thanks for the wonders life affords while we observe life being both cruel and full of magic.


People relations are hard. Oskar and his mother struggle to figure out how to navigate their new roles without their family patriarch. The film itself doesn’t really give any suggestions for handling family matters, only that family relationships are for life. You will struggle to understand them regardless of whether your parents are dead or alive. Maybe it’s best to put our expectations of others behind our responsibility to serve others, or at least on equal ground.

Lauren Muscarella 2012

Lauren Muscarella

More Articles Written by Lauren

Lauren started the blog Mama Quest ( in May 2010 to share stories of her journey through loss after losing her mother in 2006 at age 20. The blog also serves as an outlet to pass on wisdom she received from her mother, who died of breast cancer at 52. After an overwhelmingly positive response to the blog, she launched Trauma to Art (, a movement to support and facilitate creative expression from those who have experienced loss. Now Lauren works to build the Trauma to Art community while writing a book of creative arts therapy activities for confronting grief as well as preserving the memory of lost loved ones. In her spare time, Lauren enjoys volunteering, traveling, wine tasting, and learning to speak French.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *