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I remember the first time that I really felt grief, the kind that completely overwhelms the body and sends sobs as loud and powerful as tidal waves up and out from the gut. It was 1980-something, and I had stumbled upon an animated version of Hans Christian Anderson’s ‘The Little Mermaid’.

What I watched from start to finish was the 1975 anime film by Tomoharu Katsumata. It told the story of a beautiful princess who gave up everything — her family, her home, her body — for a chance to be in love with a handsome prince whom she had only seen from afar.

The ending is beyond tragic, nothing at all like the Disney version that undermines the original story’s true message. As she realizes that her prince loves someone else and she can never return to her former life, the little mermaid chooses to sacrifice herself so that the prince can live, happily ever after, with another woman.

As this unfolded in front of my seven or eight-year-old eyes, I was struck by a sense of howling injustice and despair I had not previously known. This was a story without a happy ending, where life’s lessons did not yield a perfect result. I spent hours that day crying my little face off. I could not reconcile the cruelty of the mermaid’s fate with the depth of her love, or the outside world my parents had presented to me.

Today I’m dealing with a different grief: the loss of a parent after a battle with illness. My son is witnessing my grief, but he is too young to understand or to begin to plumb the depths of what loss is. Instead he is a little bringer of joy. It is hard to truly feel despair around small children. They are nature’s antidote.

If you feel like tasting the grief and loss that so shook my seven-year-old self, here is the original movie that had such an impact on me. It stayed in my mind for so long.

I thought I’d never see it again but thanks to YouTube it will live on, haunting the psyches of future generations. It is truly beautiful, even as it is full of heartbreak. That’s the thing about loss.

The Little Mermaid, Part One

Part Two

And the sad and devastating, Part Three

Carla Mundwiler is assistant editor at Bunch. Follow her on Twitter.

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