Podcast: Play in new window
In this episode, Dr. Tsunami discusses the movie Shang-Chi and the Legend of the 10 Rings. In this movie grief and loss have torn apart a family. This week we learn how to support each other through grief and the loss of a loved one. Through reviewing the plot of the Legend of the 10 Rings, Dr. Tsunami works through the journey of the grieving process and teaches you how to talk to your children about grief, loss, and death.
1:47 Grief and Loss in times of COVID
4:00 Summary of the movie
6:27 What is grief?
8:02 The 5 stages of grief
11:26 How to talk to kids about death
SAMHSA’s National Helpline: 1-800-662-HELP (4357)
Hello everyone and welcome back. I just got back from watching the latest movie in the Marvelverse Shang-Chi and the legend of the 10 rings. There were so many things about this movie that I wanted to touch on today. To start I just wanted to say that I think it’s great that Marvel finally has a leading superhero of Asian descent. Although there is still a long way to go, I feel that Marvel’s recognition of showcasing people of color in their films is Hollywood finally taking a step in the right direction, especially after all of the hatred and prejudice that has been happening in America. I think it is so important for children to see people who look like them in positions of power, and movies are often one of the first times children are exposed to messages about how to treat other people.
That said, what I really want to get into today is the story of the 10 rings and what it can teach us about grief and loss. This is another area that is really prominent in today’s society. COVID has impacted everyone around the globe. Families have lost loved ones and friends to COVID. Even now that things are opening back up again there is so much loss, anxiety, and anger in the world. Schools have only been open for a month here in California and I’ve already had to support some of my clients through a stabbing that happened at their school, debilitating fear of returning to school, and exposure to racial slurs and bullying. We have all lost a lot and the story depicted in the 10 rings showcases ways that families often turn to, especially in Western culture when it comes to dealing with grief and loss of a loved one. Today I want to talk more about the grieving process and how to heal as a family.
There will be spoilers, so please grab some popcorn and go and watch the movie first.
Okay, you back? There is a lot to unpack in this episode, but first what I wanted to say is that if you have lost someone, please, please do not hesitate to seek help. There are several hotlines you can call and at the end of this episode I’ll be talking about more resources. The one I want to give you right now is SAMHSA’s National Helpline, 1-800-662-HELP (4357). This hotline helps to connect you to resources in your area and you can call 24/7.
Okay, now early on in the movie we find out that Shawn aka Shang’s mother died when he was a child. We later learn that his mother was killed by gangsters and Shawn watched it happen. Shawn’s father Xu Wenwu is overcome with grief. Though he had given up a life of seeking power no matter the cost, he quickly picked up the 10 rings again, trained his son to be an assassin who he then tasked with killing the man responsible for his mother’s death, and ignored his daughter like she was nothing. He then starts hallucinating several years later about hearing his wife’s voice, which it turns out was a demon dragon thing with tentacles. He then destroys a village, blames his son for not trying to intervene when his mother was attacked, and at the last minute recognizes his mistake and sacrifices himself for his son, and also possibly because he doesn’t want to live anymore, and sees death as a way to join his wife in the afterlife.
Let’s unpack this. Wenwu spent his adult life as an immortal whose only goal was to conquer the world. His thirst for power no matter the cost was how he coped with life. Now we don’t get much more than that for his backstory, so he’s immediately set up as a villain, but people are more complex than that. There had to have been something in his past that led him to believe that conquering the world and being a figurehead was the right thing to do. I have found that when people aim for control and power it is because they have felt helpless and powerless at some point in their lives. So it would make sense that once Wenwu felt helpless again he would fall back into old patterns. He had never developed better coping skills to deal with feeling like he didn’t have power over his life.
Imagine how different this story would have been if he asked for help, reached out to family members and friends and got support to aid him in his grief. He probably would not have been so triggered and made casual assumptions that his wife’s village would have punished her for being with him. He would have had an opportunity to grieve without ignoring his family and he’d have better support in place to trust other people.
Now grief is often cast as an enemy. We don’t want to feel it. We don’t know how to deal with it. We are told to move on, keep living our lives, act as though it never happened. But it did. Everyone knows how gut-wrenchingly painful it is to lose someone you love. The loss could be as tragic as homicide or suicide, but it could also be losing a dream or goal, losing your home or financial security, losing an object, event, or tradition that helped you feel connected to others. These losses must all be given time to heal. And here’s the key thing. Grief and loss, it never actually goes away. It’s not supposed to. It’s a feeling and like all feelings it is important. You can never know how important love is without loss. Grief lets us know that we felt loved. It’s important to hold on to both and let grief and love flow in and out of our lives like all other emotions.
So what does this look like? There is no right way to grieve. I mean subjecting your children to additional trauma by making them a witness to a violent crime and turning them into assassins is definitely a wrong way to deal with your grief. There is no cookie cutter perfect way to grieve. It does get messy, and it does require the support of other people at times.
There are 5 stages of grief. But the thing to remember is that these stages are not linear. You will go back and forth through the stages for the rest of your life. But at each stage the pain is lessened and you start to spend more time in acceptance than any of the other stages. Like I said before, it’s not about you never feeling the pain again. It’s important to feel our feelings, recognize them, process them, and then let them go when they are ready.
The first stage is denial and isolation. In this stage we want to pretend that the bad thing did not happen. We may avoid things that remind us of the death or loss. We may try to hide from our feelings and avoid other people so that we don’t have to talk about it. We may shove all of our feelings under the rug and go about our lives without ever looking back. But the thing about unprocessed and unexpressed emotions is that all that time under the rug doesn’t make that feeling go away. Instead it grows in a twisted dark way getting bigger and more unbearable until it explodes out of us.
This is when we may move to the next stage: Anger. When we feel anger we may lash out and blame others like Wenwu blamed Shang for not trying to protect his mother. He was 7! He would have ended up killed too! Wenwu’s anger was displaced. He was also angry with himself for not being there to protect his family and for imagining a different life for himself.
The next stage is bargaining. In this stage we may call upon a higher authority or power and pray for the return of our loved one. Bargaining can help us feel like we are doing something, like we are taking back our control and power and working towards a solution to right the wrong that has been done to us.
And finally, we have the stage of depression. This is when we really start to sit in our feelings of bereavement. You may feel sad and cry. Some people experience a debilitating depression when they can’t seem to manage to do anything. Many people will get stuck in the depressive stage and it can quickly turn from experiencing the sadness that comes with the loss to major depression that requires a different type of intervention.
I did mention the last stage acceptance a bit earlier. To touch on this again, acceptance is when we come to terms with the loss. We aren’t “over it” and never feel sad again. Rather we begin to recognize that we can feel the loss, but not be overwhelmed by it. Eventually we feel acceptance for longer and longer periods. That does not mean that we have forgotten. That does not mean that we will never feel sad again. It just means we are at peace with our feelings.
Now if Wenwu had taken his family to therapy he would have learn how to talk to the children about their mother’s death, how to help them work through their grief while supporting his own healing, and developing coping skills connected with community resources to continue to support their family.
How do you talk to children about grief and loss? I’m glad you asked. It’s important that children be included in the ceremonies that family perform to say goodbye. This might be the wake and funeral as well as attending the burial. It could be a life celebration. Or releasing candles like at the end of the 10 rings. It can be important for children to see the body of a loved one who died. It’s also okay for them to see the sadness of others. These experiences should be accompanied by many conversations that are open and honest and use developmentally appropriate language about the loss.
For example, you want to use the words death and dead. Saying we lost grandpa or grandpa passed away can be confusing for children. Kids lose their shoes, but then they find them again. Saying we lost grandpa puts in their heads the kid logic of what was lost can be found. These “gentle terms” don't demonstrate the permanence of death.
It’s important to let the child lead conversations around death. This doesn’t mean wait until they say something before you talk about it. You want to ask them what their questions are, what they think the answers to their questions are, and correct any misconceptions.
There are several books for kids that deal with grief and loss. My favorites are the goodbye book by Todd Parr and The invisible string by Patrice Karst. And the use of these books can be a helpful tool to keep conversations flowing and give a child a sense of groundedness as they grieve. Another book is called the Memory box by Joanna Rowland. And this book includes an activity of collecting things that are reminders of the person who was lost.
There are several grief camps for children which can be really amazing places to build connections with peers who understand the loss and develop coping skills for managing losses.
I’m going to go ahead and wrap this up here, but I wanted to encourage you one more time to not try to go it alone. We are meant to grieve with others. Reach out to the SAMHSA’s National Helpline, 1-800-662-HELP (4357) to connect with resources in your area.
Thank you so much for listening and have a great day.
Your use of this website indicates your understanding of the following:
The information and resources contained on this website are for informational purposes only and are not intended to assess, diagnose, or treat any medical and/or mental health disease or condition. The use of this website does not imply nor establish any type of therapist-client relationship. Furthermore, the information obtained from this site should not be considered a substitute for a thorough medical and/or mental health evaluation by an appropriately credentialed and licensed professional.
This website includes links to other websites for informational and reference purposes only. This website does not endorse, warrant or guarantee the products, services or information described or offered at these other websites. Examine the content carefully.
Copyright Disclaimer: Under Section 107 of the copyright act 1976, allowance is made for fair use for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, scholarship, and research. Fair use is a use permitted by copyright statutes that might otherwise be infringing. Non-profit, educational, or personal use tips the balance in favor of fair use.