I recently read a short article about the TV show This is Us. I haven’t watched a full episode yet but I am definitely going to watch all of it. In case you haven’t heard, the buzz about this show has a lot to do with the stillbirth of a triplet in one of the early episodes (it might be the pilot). And, apparently, the plot doesn’t get “easier” (I’ve been trying to avoid too many spoilers). Without appreciating or even considering the truth of the show at all, the article I’m talking about basically begs the question: Why does anyone willingly watch this show that is so devastating and heartbreaking? And I’ve got big problems with that.
This is Us doesn’t sound like something you think I should watch, right? Seems like it would be super triggering? Maybe. But I’m saving it because I know that it will be hard and a difficult-to-explain part of me wants to have it stored, like canned goods, for future use. Like in the middle of winter when you want a fresh juicy peach, you’ll reach for the canned kind because it’s the best you can do. Sometimes I want to re-access my grief from the early days; to feel that deep devastating connection to my loss. I can get the canned version by watching something I can relate to; that reminds me that what I’ve been through is real. Last year I watched episodes of shows that I had never seen before and knew nothing about, just to watch the one where the baby dies (ex: Outlander). This is not masochism, this is a battle against loneliness. This isn’t choosing to be sad, it’s an effort to connect and be part of the community of other people in grief. (Our community doesn’t get a whole lot of airplay.)
I’m glad to hear that This is Us difficult to watch. Because it’s difficult to live. Some of the headlines for episode reviews are, “‘This is Us’ Stars Warn That Tonight’s Episode Will ‘Sit With You For Days‘” and “‘This is Us’ Funeral Will Wreck You“. Bravo! Well done! Bad things happen. People get sick and they suffer. Beloved partners pass away unexpectedly in the night. Babies die. Everyone will lose someone they love someday. Not thinking or talking about it doesn’t make it any less true and the act of considering these dark possibilities and acknowledging their existence is not self-destructive. In fact, I think that recognizing the fragility of life has the potential to make us kinder, more forgiving, and more fulfilled humans (working on it). I totally understand the use of entertainment as an escape from reality, and I make good use of that escape (a lot). But life can be devastating and the fact that death and grief are so rarely talked about makes the experience of losing someone incredibly isolating. People don’t know what to say or do for people in grief (myself included) because talking about grief is not part of our socialization (in North America anyway). It’s all hidden away and suffered through privately. This is why I think that it’s important that a show like This is Us is bringing loss into the popular culture. I hope that programs like this will help us grow a greater capacity for empathy and inspire us to think about living our best lives.
Some people might read my blog and think “oh wow, this is very sad. I wonder if she’s alright” or “I admire this project but I can’t read this stuff, it’s too sad” or “She should really try to be more positive”. I was actually feeling guilty last week that my blog is a downer and was trying to think of something uplifting or inspiring to write about. But omg, I’m here and I’m writing and that needs to be enough for me (working on it). It’s not my job to reassure anyone that I’m okay because, real talk: None of this is okay. My son should be here but he’s not and that will never change. I will never stop missing him and I plan on blathering on and on for as long as it feels right, for better or worse, without worrying if I sound “too negative” or “too sad” or “too” anything, really. For sure I’m most inspired to write when I’m feeling sad or fired up, but it doesn’t mean that I’m not trying to feel joy and be happy. I try everyday! For Odin. And I’m grateful for a show like This is Us shining a light in the darkness of how difficult that is.