Superheroes: Examples To Follow Along Our Grief Journey

Author: Andy McNiel

Stories of the “hero” with superhuman abilities succeeding against overwhelming odds is an age-old story that takes on many different faces, storylines, and myths across different cultures, traditions, and societies across the world. Joseph Campbell wrote about this phenomenon in his classic book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces. In modern times, Superhero comics, gothic novels, and films are popular among people of all ages, selling millions of copies and recouping billions of dollars in ticket sales in the theaters. Why are we so attracted to these fictional characters and how can we relate these stories to our own challenges in life?


Mentors and Children in Superhero costumes at the Alamo

Mentors and Children in Superhero costumes


Why are we attracted to superheroes?

Joseph Campbell theorized that we feel a connection to these characters because, in many ways, they are representations of ourselves. The hero, though possessing special abilities, is also forged by tragedy. Take our modern heroes as an example. Most, if not all of them, are bereaved or are struggling with other challenges in life that many of us also struggle with in our daily lives. Many are grieving the death of parents (many in their childhood), a loss of their abilities, significant relationships, depression, or other common experiences. These all too “human” characteristics draw us to them.

Yet, our connection to these characters also goes beyond the challenges and struggles they may face. We are also drawn to them because of their resolve and ability to, not only endure these difficulties, but their ability to live through them, overcome them, and grow into better people as a result of them. This depiction of post-traumatic growth can inspire us to do the same.


Child using walker in Superhero costume

Little girl in Superhero costume

Mentor and Children in Superhero costumes


How can using a superhero theme help a grieving child?

Heroes and popular children’s movie characters are often used as themes in TAPS Youth Program events and programming. Children and teenagers can relate to the struggles faced by some of their favorite characters and how these fictional people face the many challenges that life can bring. Using “hero” themes can provide a context to discussions about coping with grief, enduring life’s challenges, learning to forgive, and finding meaning in life even in the midst of painful experiences.

At our recent Southern Regional Survivor Seminar and Good Grief Camp in San Antonio, the group leaders for our youngest group of campers, ages 5 - 6, incorporated this theme into their programming. When asked what inspired them to do this, Abigail Dastur, their Group Leader shared:

“A superhero is someone we can call upon in times of need. They have faced adversity and life circumstances with strength, power, and determination to overcome every obstacle put in their path. Everyone has their own superhero in their life, and these kids lost theirs at a very young age.

But this weekend during Good Grief Camp, they were given the opportunity to step into that role, embody those strengths, and persevere against challenges many grown adults have never had to face. Not only did Group 1 rise to this challenge, but little did they know when they donned their capes, they would not only become superheroes to each other, but to their Military Mentors on whom they have left an everlasting positive mark.”

~ Abigail Dastur, TAPS Good Grief Camp Group Leader

little boy in Superhero costume holds super TAPS sign

The next time you or your children sit down to a superhero movie or a popular children’s movie, pay attention to the struggles facing the main characters. Engage your children in conversations about these characters after enjoying the movie together. In this, you may help them to identify their connection with these fictional characters and gain some insight into positive attributes and coping ideas for their own struggles in life.

TAPS Youth Programs provide safe spaces for military children to be supported in their grief while also experiencing fun, adventure, mentorship and camaraderie. Supportive programming is also available for the parents of grieving children through webinars and online chats, including the Parenting Grieving Children online chat. Additional information and resources for families of grieving children can be found within the webinar archives of our TAPS Institute for Hope and Healing®. 

Andy McNiel, MA, is the Senior Advisor, TAPS Youth Programs.

Photos: TAPS Archives