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The movie “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close”, about loss, coping and illumination

“What if?” “If only…” and “Why Me?” are words that ring true when faced with unimaginable loss.

A traumatic death shatters the world. It is often a loss that does not make sense. Life is not always fair and that sometimes bad things happen to good people. The sudden death leaves us feeling shaken, unsure and vulnerable. Losing someone you love is not an easy journey. Each one will surely face its own grief journey in their own unique way.

My husband and I watched “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” yesterday because we know it deals about death. Anyone that is faced with devastating loss can relate to lost souls who are in a process of traumatic recovery. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close tells the unflinching story of a boy trying to make sense of the world after his father perishes in 9/11.

After a year of his father’s death from 9/11, eleven year old Oskar ventures to his father’s closet and finds a key in a small brown envelope labeled “Black” within the blue vase. The boy, who shakes a tambourine to calm himself embarks on a “reconnaissance expedition” in which he contacts every single person named Black in New York’s five boroughs. It is not mere trivia Oskar yearns to conquer but inside, it is the quest to find the meaning of life (and death) itself. He goes on a relentless quest to open a lock that he believes will reveal a message from his father that will help him make sense of a senseless world.

While this story is about the unimaginable loss as 9/11, it made me think about my own loss in life…the death of my mother, my two brothers, my precious 6 year old son, then my father. All five family members.

How does one make sense about the death of a loved one? In the process of seeking the answers, the search for meaning of the loss can challenge a survivor’s religious and spiritual beliefs. Survivors are forced to look at and re-evaluate life priorities. I feel the pain of Oskar’s frustration in trying to reconnect with his dead father.

Trying to make sense of or understand sudden losses can be difficult. Survivors are left asking “Why?” “Why did this happen?” Yet events such as the September 11, 2001 tragedy were beyond anyone’s control; they are a sudden, unexplainable loss.

It is human nature to want to answer the question “Why?” yet it may be difficult if not impossible to find an answer. Instead the question “Why?” is more of a plea for meaning and understanding. The thoughts of Rabbi Earl Grollman provide a useful perspective for coping with this difficult question:

Now death has shaken your faith, “Why?” “Why must life be one of sorrow?” “Why?” There are no pat answers. No one completely understands the mystery of death. Even if the question were answered, Would your pain be eased, your loneliness less terrible?

“Why” may be more than a question. It may be an agonizing cry for a heart-breaking loss, an expression of distress, disappointment, bewilderment, alienation, and betrayal. There is no answer that bridges the chasm of irreparable separation. There is no satisfactory response for an unresolvable dilemma. Not all questions have complete answers. Unanswered “Why’s” are part of life. The search may continue but the real question might be “How [do I] pick up the pieces and go on living as meaningful as possible?”

One day, we find out there is no use making sense of death but there is hope in making sense of our life. It is best ask to “What can I do about it now?” “How can I help?” or “How do I pick up the pieces and go on living as meaningful as possible?”

All of these thoughts came back to me as I watched this film. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, the movie is a wonderful and moving story about coping the death of a loved one.

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