How The Lion King(2019) Helped Me When I Was Grieving

If you’ve been following me on social media you probably know my family recently experienced two deaths, that of my grandmother, the matriarch of our family, and her sister. Because of how close the deaths were, July ended up being a month where I attended a funeral or remembrance ceremony three consecutive weekends.

The third weekend, the weekend of July 20th, was also the release of the live action version of the Disney classic The Lion King. To be honest I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel about the remake. I’ve never had a connection to a live action animal movie before and I was doubtful that was going to change. But Disney means a lot to me and my family so two of my cousins and I decided to buy tickets.

But this is not a movie review.

I could sit here and gush over the nostalgic songs, the beautiful visuals or the casting that just felt so right (Timon and Pumbaa…so damn good). But this movie meant a lot more to me.

Context: My grandma’s “Celebration of life” ceremony was Saturday July 21st. The morning after seeing this movie I was going to have to dress in black for the third weekend in a row and sit among flowers and photos of the woman who had partially raised me. People were going to be crying. I was going to be crying.

But for two hours…for two whole hours…for the only two hours since the first week of July, all I had to do was watch a screen. The insistent voice in my head chanting “My grandma’s dead” was drowned out by the soundtrack I knew by heart. Disney means something deeper.

I teared up in the first three minutes of the film. And I’m willing to bet most Disney fans did. The Lion King happens to have one of the most impactful film openings ever, and the collective gasps as the African sun rose on screen told me I wasn’t alone in my awe.

It’s probably been a solid 5-10 years since I’ve watched The Lion King in all its entirety. I’ve listened to the soundtrack, of course, but I mean actually sitting down to watch it. Somehow this experience was vastly different than when I was a child, but in a good way.

“It’s the circle of life.”

The theme of the movie has always been the same. But as someone freshly grieving this message hit me particularly hard. But what hit me harder was the message of hope beyond the grave.

I think it’s easy to feel some level of guilt when someone passes away. If only you had made one more visit, or phone call or somehow known the exact day and time of their death so you could hold their hand, so they would know they weren’t alone. There are a lot of if only’s.

When we’re handling grief, it can feel like closure to cut ourselves off emotionally. We might not run away in a physical sense, but it sounds so nice to step away emotionally.

Hakuna Matata.

I heard a podcast recently that said feeling grief in its entirety is important because when you close yourself off to one set of emotions it numbs you from other ones as well. It might seem like a solution to put as much distance between you and your grief as possible, but that also inhibits you from being able to love fully and to fully experience joy.


Unsurprisingly, one of the most impactful moments of The Lion King is (still) when Rafiki takes Simba to the water’s edge.

‘I’m not the one who is confused, you’re the one who doesn’t even know who you are.’

Death feels like separation. In a way, the worst part of having someone you love die is the feeling that you will never know them again. But take another look, Rafiki challenges. Because they live in and through you in ways more powerful than you can imagine.

And although the only film shortcoming I could think of was not having the Broadway song “He lives in you” in the main storyline (it pops up in the credits), the message was loud and clear throughout the narrative.

I needed the reminder.

And perhaps that is the true power of this story. Perhaps we could all use the reminder, in an age where numbing ourselves seems second nature, that our true power lies in our connectivity. Thank you to the cast, crew and director for the reminder of hope.

I was a little unsure when I heard one of my favorite stories was being remade but it came in the perfect way, at the perfect time. Sometimes change is good. And as Rafiki reminds us, “Any story worth telling, is worth telling twice.”