Grief - Lessons from the TV show "This Is Us"

Read, rather than listen to, the abridged transcript of the podcast:

This is a special edition podcast dedicated to those of us that watched the NBC tv show “This Is Us”. This podcast will cover the episode that premiered the night of the Super Bowl and the Tuesday night afterwards. We are now anticipating the next episode after the winter olympics end. If you haven’t seen the show, I hope I don’t spoil anything for you in this podcast. Maybe come back and listen to this when you do get caught up on the episodes. But, mainly this podcast will be about how to handle grief and can apply to nearly all of us at some point in our life. 

I wasn’t planning to have a joke in this podcast BUttttt I have to share a tweet I read. A man wrote “Either my wife is in the other room watching This is Us OR she just got a phone call that our entire family is dead.” I hope that we can laugh about such a serious topic BECAUSE it is just a tv show. But, I understand if this is a trigger to some past pain in your life. Which is what has led me to do this podcast. 

There is so much I could, and want, to talk about but I have felt led to address the topic of grief. From a mental health perspective. The Pearson’s story is especially tragic. Complicated grief. The loss of their father/husband and the loss of their home and nearly everything they owned. Almost too much to mentally bear. 

The emotions Rebecca went through as she took a bite of that candy bar and then realized that news about her husband was true. Whew - a roller coaster of denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. 

We can all probably agree that we grieved the loss of Jack but you may have been triggered because of past loss in your own life. Or you could be fearful going forward with the thoughts of “how am I going to handle future loss”. 

If you haven't lost someone dear to you, this probably isn’t news, but chances are high that you will eventually cross that bridge. And I do want you to cross that bridge - just like Rebecca finally did. I love how she drove across that bridge with her children when, earlier, she struggled to even ride in the car as a passenger with her eyes closed. I bet she is even shocked at the progress she made. 

I think it is a good idea to prepare a bit for future loss. Maybe I can reduce some of your fear. I’ve had numerous losses in my life, both loved ones and “things” and I have survived. By the grace of God and by learning to do the 4 things I want to talk to you about. 

I am going to try to inject some humor, just as the writers of This is Us do. I also think Jack would want that. 

I have 4 points I want to address:

1. There are good and bad ways to cope with the pain.

Good ways - Cry. Hug. Rest. Take one step at a time. Do what you need to do. Rebecca grabbed her kids and walked out of the visitation after the funeral. Was I the only one thinking “Um…not even a goodbye to everyone that is there for you?” BUT she did what she needed to do. She needed to go to the tree with her kids. And didn’t they look sharp in their clothes? Technical question, but where did Rebecca drum up a perfect little black dress and winter coat? 

Seriously, if you are the observer to someone grieving, please do not judge how they respond to their grief. Try to support them. I know you many of you will whip up a casserole and  - man - isn’t that the best way to support someone? 

True story - I love McDonald’s little hamburgers. I lost someone in my life when I was younger. All I really wanted was one of those hamburgers. An older single man that lived in the neighborhood (that I didn’t even really know) came to my house and brought a bag with 10 of them in it. He said he didn’t know what to do but he felt like McDonald’s might be the answer. Amen!

Bad ways to cope with the pain - alcohol and xanax are not your friend. It’s easy. It works. I get it. Just be careful. Very careful. It’s a slippery slope and whether you know it or not, xanax IS addictive. It literally physically depresses your body - your muscles and everything else. 

If you don’t believe me, do an internet search on withdrawing from Benzodiazepines. I know Kevin’s rehab place looked swanky but he is The Manny. He can afford a place like that but I bet he would have rather turned back time and never needed to detox. 

What Kevin really needed was connection. We all do. So don’t isolate yourself from others when what you need is to be with others. It’s normal to need more alone time to recover, just don’t end up in a pit because of it. For those supporting those that have experienced a loss, check on them. For as long as they need it. That leads me to number 2. 

2. Look for unexpected blessings.

Did you just melt into a puddle of tears when Dr. K came up to Rebecca after the funeral?? You know, the actor Gerald McRaney that was the doctor that delivered the triplets? Unexpected blessings. Whew - did Rebecca need to see and hear from him at that moment! He gave a hug, some sage advice and then offered his services - he said he was pretty good at sitting these days. Are you good at just sitting? Go sit with someone. Find someone that is good with sitting with you. 

If you are uncomfortable with funerals or wonder what to say to someone that is grieving - my advice is to endure the uncomfortable feelings and awkwardness. I’m pretty sure that there is nothing you can say to make them feel worse and that just your presence says so much and can help with comfort and healing. Your presence is not going to make them feel any worse. 

Maybe you need more than just a person sitting there. There may be a time that you need a really perky pert friend. Keep an eye out for those people that you need. Be hopeful that an unexpected blessing is going to come your way. 

As a warning - if you are grieving, please let others know what you need. You cant expect people to read your mind. Please don’t be offended if others are up to their necks in their own lives. We are all doing the best we can and oftentimes that is stressed to the max. Unfortunately, this is not a perfect world and we all fail BUT I know there are blessings to be seen and experienced. Remember the pert plan and focus on “better” things when you can.

3. When something tragic happens, please don’t blame yourself or blame others. 

Kate blamed herself for crying out for her dog that was left in the house. Kevin blamed Randall for not preventing their dad from going back into the house. Rebecca could have blamed herself for not getting that fire alarm battery. She could have blamed the hospital for not doing more for Jack. I personally blame the writers for making me cry, my heart race, and my hands sweat. 

Not blaming someone for your loss may be easier said than done based on circumstances but I know that the need for forgiveness is absolutely vital to your future functioning and health. 

My faith helped me handle some absolutely tragic news in my life. What helped you in times of loss? Think about those things and be ready to share that in the future with someone that may be floundering with loss. 

Loss can affect us in different ways. When I was presented with news of a sudden loss, I did experience shock, “lightbulb” moments that will probably always be a part of my memory, but I also probably blurred out some parts of those times. Our brains sometimes protect us from that pain. 

If we can maintain hope that we could eventually be stronger because of our loss, it may put some perspective into the moment. Give reason for the pain. I’m not trying to get into a theological discussion so I encourage you to seek someone to sort out the emotions and thoughts you are having based on your individual situation. You will benefit from getting those emotions out rather than stuffing them down.

4. My final tip is  - Go to the Bruce Springsteen concert.     

Have fun. Seek joy. Seize that unexpected blessing! I was so proud of Rebecca and the kids for going to that concert after the funeral! If they decided not to go, that would have been absolutely fine BUT it was going to be good for their spirits. Jack would have wanted it! I’m not sure how this is going to play out on the show, but I am stayed tuned. 

We often hear the advice of “don’t make any big decisions for one year” directed at a grieving family member. This is not bad advice but sheez - some people allow that advice to really fence them in and stay stuck. I suggest consulting with family members that love you AND with people that have no financial or emotional stake in your affairs. 

You need wisdom and discernment moving forward. But you also need fun. You need laughter. You need some breathing room. 

If you are going through grief from just watching “This is Us”, talk to your fellow tv viewers. I’m sure there are numerous blogs where you can give and get support. I tell ya - I know I am a bit different after enduring the watching of this show! Like unplugging my crockpot last night. 

If you are going through real life grief, I hope that this has been helpful. If you have been through grief in your life and feel you can help hold hands with someone walking in it right now, please do that. If you fear losing a loved one in the future, please don’t be fearful. That just sucks the life out of you today. Enjoy today and every day. If and when grief hits you, you’re gonna get through it. You’re not alone.