Good grief

Williamson and Couture work through loss in new animated series

“Heart Like a Pow Wow” is one of the animated shorts making up How to Lose Everything, a new anthology from CBC Gem. (Supplied photo)

The universal and arduous experience of grieving can feel unbearably lonely. Yet, this feeling of disconnect motivated Christa Couture to reach out.

How to Lose Everything is a newly debuted five-episode animated series, streaming for free on CBC Gem, based on writer, musician and filmmaker Couture’s memoir of the same name. The project explores grief and loss through the collaboration of Indigenous writers and animators. Each episode is available in English, French and the Indigenous language of its author.

“My memoir is about a number of losses that I’ve experienced,” Couture says.

“Sometimes, when I talk about the book, I use this thing I call my ‘grief bio,’ my bullet-point grief bio (of) cancer, amputation, death, death, divorce, more cancer. I wrote the book to tell those stories, partly to answer the questions that people have about those losses and to create something for others to connect with those who are going through their own loss.”

While writing the final passage of the book, published in September 2020, Couture’s animated vision, beyond the scope of her individual grief, was born.

“I could imagine it as a short, animated film. When I made that one short, there were these conversations about if this could be something bigger, and that’s when the idea grew into, instead of just one story that’s mine, let’s invite these other writers to respond and write about their story,” she says.

Manitoba’s own Tara Williamson, a poet and musician, is among the notable artists who worked on the series. Their own story about the loss of their son is mentioned in the original memoir.

“Christa approached me about three years ago about doing a short, animated film based on something grief-y,” Williamson says.

“What I was thinking about a lot at the time was that love that precedes grief, and the reason we grieve is because we love something so dearly. I looked to writing that I did when I was pregnant, and I found a few different pieces. I remember really vividly where my head was at when I had written it.”

Williamson’s short, “Heart Like a Pow Wow,” features direction from artist and community activist Chief Lady Bird and music composed and performed by Williamson. They describe melodic inspiration for the score drawn from old Anishinaabe songs and rhythmic inspiration from the traditional pow wow drumbeat.

“It is interesting, because the poetry was written however many years ago. There was an element of almost having a third party come and be like ‘here’s a poem, put music to it,’ because it was so many years ago,” Williamson says.

And while Couture notes a therapeutic element in creating the memoir and animated series, she ultimately hopes to reach others struggling with the throes of bereavement.

“When you’re in it, grief can be really isolating and really lonely. The biggest goal of sharing these kinds of stories is that I hope that people see these films and see their own stories in them a little bit and connect to their own loss,” Couture says.

Stream How to Lose Everything for free at

Published in Volume 77, Number 21 of The Uniter (March 9, 2023)

Related Reads