Honoring grief: Big Hero 6

I didn't expect to be so moved by this film's treatment of grief, loss and care-giving.

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Disney_BigHero6_Poster_BaymaxA few weeks ago I saw the Disney Film Big Hero 6. If you’re unfamiliar with the premise, the quick synopsis is:

Robotics prodigy Hiro lives in the city of San Fransokyo. Besides his older brother, Tadashi, Hiro’s closest companion is Baymax, a robot whose sole purpose is to take care of people. When a devastating turn of events throws Hiro into the middle of a dangerous plot, he transforms Baymax and his other friends, Go Go Tamago, Wasabi, Honey Lemon and Fred into a band of high-tech heroes.

It’s based on a Marvel property and it’s animated. This could lead you to believe it’s a movie for kids, and that’s true to an extent, but I am proud reader of YA books and feel that sometimes “children’s” material tells truths better than “grown-up” material anyway, so I was IN. (And my friend and I were not remotely the only grown-ups in the theater without any kids in tow, so I’m not alone.) :)

This movie was lovely and well-done, and I laughed a lot, but I was surprised by how moved I was by two specific pieces of the plot.

(Spoiler warning: from here on out there may be mild spoilers, but nothing you couldn’t have figured out from the trailer.)

1. “Hello! I am your personal health care companion!”

Baymax is a robot, yes, but unlike any other. His sole purpose is to take care of people. The way this manifests is heartbreakingly sweet. Baymax pays attention to what is hurting, and he does not distinguish in importance between physical pain, like stubbing your toe, and the pain of the heart, like the deep grief and confusion the teenage Hiro feels after his college-age older brother dies.

Baymax, in a very matter-of-fact way, makes evident that there is no shame in grief. I love this message.

Honestly, I love so many tangential points about Baymax that I could go on about. I love that he is male AND a gentle, focused caregiver. I love that he is a caregiver AND he is a badass. I love that he is specially made to be huggable, because sometimes a hug can heal different parts of us than band-aids can. He’s just great. I wish there were more heroes with these traits.

2. The reality of losing a sibling

One can gather from the film’s trailers that the main character loses his brother Tadashi in the early parts of the plot. When these trailers first came out, varied writers and bloggers and YouTube commenters were murmuring a similar theory: “He’s not really dead.” Because this is comics! Nobody ever stays dead in comics! And this is the movies! Movies have happy endings and twisty plots!

But what I appreciated, again much more than I expected, is that Hiro’s brother Tadashi stays dead. There is no “fixing it.” There is no making it better. The only way through it is through it. Hiro’s life will never again contain a living, breathing, big brother. He can remember him and keep his memory alive, but reality is what it is.

I also recognized that the film was careful to show a loving, healthy support for system for Hiro. His aunt and guardian does her best to show him love, and Tadashi’s friends rally around Hiro and help him to find life again. All of them are grieving, and they all help each other. It’s lovely and it’s honest. Thanks for telling this story in this way, Big Hero 6.


This will make sense once you watch the movie. So you should probably go watch the movie.


  1. It’s nice to hear from you. Your honesty and sincerity touches my heart so much. The raw emotion that I feel from each word you’ve typed,is sometimes too much to bear. I’ve recently been struggling with major depression,after being told that “I’m not really dying” and some other very mean things by someone on an online group I belonged to. I wish people could understand that words can HURT, or words can HEAL. A friend of mine helped me make a GoFundMe page(www.gofundme.com/helppatiann) , because I really need a new mattress. And a lady got really mad at me,because I went away to Maryland for a weekend. What she didn’t realize is,the weekend was a gift from my son in law. But, she was really MAD. Called me a liar, said I wasn’t dying, and to get a job! The things she said really hurt me to my core, and threw me into a downward spiral of depression. I had 2 episodes where I wanted to kill myself. I’ve sought help, and am coming out of it, and I am better now. ( aside from starting a new chemo this month, that is kicking my butt!) so…my point is… People need to be kind and gentle to one another. You never know when someone will experience grief,you never know what someone is going through. Living sincerely,also means loving sincerely. Go easy on each other. You girls totally understand this! Much love from me, to y’all! PS: I really love the robot saying “on a scale of 1-10…what is your pain level”…… Now, every time is go to the ER, or to my oncologists, I will be able to laugh when they ask that same question! Every little bit of humor I can find in this crappy stage 4 cancer battle always helps me get through another day! Love and Laughter are great meds!

    • Patiann, nice to hear from you too! :) Live sincerely = love sincerely, for sure!

      What I think is true is this: “Terminal” illness is not something that everyone can easily wrap their heads around. It hurts to hear when people react from a place of ignorance (willful OR naive, it can be either). I can sadly attest to Vanessa (or us, about her) experiencing similar sorts of comments as she was in hospice care for well over a year… “Well, she looks good/fine/ok! I thought you said she was dying?” and “Maybe you shouldn’t be in hospice, you seem happy!” and even “Oh, so you get social security/disability but you feel ok enough to be out eating at McDonalds? Hmmm….” Some people have innocent best-intentions behind their comments, and as you know, some people get to a place of bitterness or anger.

      Here’s the thing. You are not responsible for how other people see or feel about: your illness, or your death when it comes, or their own death when it comes (which might be their actual worry, after all). Whenever people hear/read the word “terminal” or “dying”, it can stir up all kinds of other emotions and memories that have nothing to do with the current terminal person. Fear, confusion, worry, guilt, denial, stress… and the way Grandpa handled his terminal illness, the way they reacted with Aunt Matilda’s hospice time, or their nursing home choice for their mom. Death, and dying, are really really really hard for people to think about and face. Some have a single specific way they think it looks and acts and responds, and can’t see any other option for anyone else. Some don’t want to admit it’ll ever happen to them. Some want to judge and control because death makes them feel so small and powerless. Some get angry. Some get sad. Some get clingy. Some get absent. Some are reflective, at peace, or striving for clarity of their own. In all cases – That’s on THEM. You only own your life and what you do with it and how you are dealing with and reacting to the cards you have been given.

      Some of our sharing of V’s story here came from a place of wishing to make people understand her reality – because we would see people not understand, and feel frustrated, and then realize that they don’t even have a chance to understand, if we don’t share. But still, some people will just never get it. That’s ok. All you can do is know your truth and strive to feel ok with your choices. That will look different for everyone. But when you muster up the strength to seize your power back, it feels lovely indeed – to be able to say with love to someone tossing a judgement your way, “I’m so sorry/sad/whatever that you feel that way; I wish you well on your journey!”… and then maybe not even looking back. And, of course, it feels lovely as well to then find people of a more supportive variety to surround yourself with (virtually and in person). ;)

      Keep that love and laughter flowing – it’s what makes the world go round and what makes life worth living, indeed! You will always have the power to show and be love, f$!@^#*g cancer be damned. :)

      • Laura Alonso says:

        You are so wise, Jessica. I’m just sorry so much of that wisdom had to come at such a price. I hadn’t heard of the movie Christina reflected on but I’m putting it on my list. I love that he looks so squishy and huggable and his purpose is to be a caregiver yet he is “still a badass.” My kinda hero! Thanks to you both for always giving me something to think about. Love, love, love in both of your directions! (and to you, too, Patiann). And a big FU to Cancer. xo

  2. Koryn says:

    Thinking of you all this Christmas season and your empty seat around the room this year. I will hold you in my prayers and know that you are not alone – this gift of Jesus gives us the assurance of being together again one day with Vanessa. That is what we celebrate this Christmas! God bless you all <3

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