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Coping with Grief and Loss in the Movie “Wild”

 It’s been awhile since this movie came out but I wanted to draw your attention back to it as Reese Witherspoons’ activism and recent work has been truly inspiring for all women. I admire her work and the efforts she puts in raising awareness around women’s issues, including the Time’s Up movement and how women are portrayed in the film industry.

I still plan on getting to Big Little Lies but for now, let’s look at “Wild, ” another inspirational story of overcoming pain and struggle. It got me thinking about motherhood, raising children and the important things in life – beauty, creativity, nature and the incredible resilience of the human being. I wanted to share my thoughts with you and pay tribute to all mothers out there, dead or alive.

If you have not seen it yet, “Wild” depicts the real life story of a young woman, who decides to literally “walk her way back to the woman her mother raised her to be” after her mother unexpectedly dies of cancer at 45. We see how the pain of the loss overwhelms her and pushes her to act in an effort to cope, unfortunately, a self-destructive one. Promiscuity, drugs and adultery become trusted companions, who make her feel ecstatic for a short period of time, forgetting the deeply saddening loss of her mother – a woman of happiness, hope and joy for life even in the face of poverty and abuse.

When the sexual escapades leave her divorced, pregnant and disgusted by the woman, she had turned into, the grieving daughter embarks on a hiking journey through the Pacific Crest Trail, alone with her thoughts, memories and grief. We are invited to experience the pain of mourning the most important person in ones life, our mother, and eventually find ourselves inspired, with a new appreciation for beauty and good enough mothering.

The British pediatrician and psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott coined the term “good enough mother” in 1953 to describe the process of mothering that provides good enough care to an infant’s needs, recognizing that no mother can know 100% what her child needs and naturally, will fail to satisfy and frustrate him/her as a result. In the process of this, however, the mother creates the conditions for the child’s ability to overcome obstacles independently and to apply oneself in the world. Good enough mothering is, according to Winnicott, is essential to normal infant development and allows for the child to utilize his/her own resources to create and achieve in the world.

In the movie, we see a not-at-all perfect mother, who married an “abusive alcoholic,” who did not graduate highschool and who overindulged her already grown up son. But we also see a strong woman with passion for life, a great love for her children and an ambition to continue learning and complete her education at 45. We see a good enough mother, who somehow managed to leave the “abusive alcoholic” and make a living for herself and her two children, and to teach them to appreciate the beauty in the world and put forward their “best self ” even in times of anguish. One could easily speculate that it was this fundamental good enough mother, living inside her daughter, who was able to pull her out of death and misery and push her back into life.

We come to understand that addiction, promiscuity and self-destruction are often symptoms of something else, an attempt to cope with the unbearable pain of loss, abuse and trauma. We cannot always face our problems alone and most certainly, we do not always have the luxury to escape in nature with our thoughts and the words of wisdom of others like the character in “Wild” did.

Therapy is not very well represented in this movie. In fact, it’s mocked a little – what does $10 therapy give you versus a $50 therapy? Still, I know that therapy can  help and it does. Just like a mother, we, therapists, are not always perfect but I would like to think that we are good enough.

Coping with Grief and Loss in the Movie “Wild”

Mihaela Bernard, MA, LCPC

Mihaela Bernard, MA, LCPC is a licensed clinical professional counselor and founder of Inside Family Counseling, LLC in Chicago. She is a Professional Member of the American Counseling Association and a member of Chicago Psychoanalytic Circle of the Freudian School of Quebec, Canada. She is the author of Mental Health Digest electronic magazine, your free, easy-to-read electronic resource on common mental health issues affecting you and your family, plus some suggestions on how to address them. She specializes in psychoanalytic psychotherapy for troubled children and adolescents, who face behavioral and emotional challenges at home and at school. Her mission is to empower, support and guide children, adolescents and their parents to a happy and healthy family. Mihaela also writes a Parenting Blog, where parents find helpful resources and practical tips on how to support their child and adolescent's behavioral and emotional development. You may find out more about her at

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APA Reference
, . (2019). Coping with Grief and Loss in the Movie “Wild”. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 29, 2020, from


Last updated: 31 Jan 2019
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