NBC’s hit show This Is Us has received its fair share of praise, and a predictable amount of backlash. You know, Newton’s Third Law and all that.
I’m not here to convince people that they should like it – I frankly don’t care. People like trash and hate on quality far too frequently these days. Whether you think This Is US is ‘too safe‘ on sensitive and troubling issues, oppressive and chauvinistic, or that the show is a real winner, you can’t deny its success.
The show has struck a chord with me that few have, and admittedly – it’s personal.
I can’t claim to be part of a triplett trio like Kevin, Kate and Randall. My house never caught on fire from a faulty crock pot. I didn’t have an adopted sibling. I’m not a famous actor like Kevin, or a parent like Randall, and I haven’t suffered a miscarriage like Kate. The one real connection I have with these three is the loss of a parent.
My mom passed away at age 38 from ovarian cancer – I was four years old. Yesterday would have been her 65th birthday.
In the show, the family’s father (Jack Pearson) passes away from smoke inhalation suffered from a house fire on Super Bowl Sunday. On September 11, 1991, my mom passed away before that date meant what it means today.
The crux of the show is the family members’ relationship with Jack and how they’ve dealt with his recently revealed death as their lives have progressed. I don’t have the vast collection of memories with my mom that the show’s characters do with Jack. After all, I was four and they were high school seniors. My life hasn’t exactly played out much like any of the Big Three’s has, yet I find similarities with how the death of a loved one has affected our lives.
I have had my smaller scale troubles with alcohol (Kevin), weight (Kate), and career searching (Randall). I’ve struggled with how to deal with an extremely private loss on a day where 99.9% of the country is focused on a bigger event/issue. I’ve talked to gravestones (Kevin), lashed out at unsuspecting friends and loved ones (Kate), and relied on others to fill the void in my life (Randall).
The show admittedly tackles complicated issues about race, image, privilege, patriarchy, adoption and foster care in a fairly safe manner. After all, it is network television, and ratings are likely best preserved by not alienating a large portion of the country on a divisive issue, but the issue I think it does tackle well is the death of a loved one and the subsequent grief.
Each of the children, and the mother, Rebecca, grieve in their own way. Kate likes to wallow, Kevin went on benders, Randall tried to flip the mood to celebratory, while Rebecca was reflective. All have experience varying levels of success and seen their grief management evolve over time. Not a single one is right or wrong.
The death of a loved one is hard, and while time erases varying degrees of the pain, already limited memories and experiences go with it bringing on a new level of grief. You see, the death of a loved one is something that you truly never get over – nor should you. There’s no magic formula to erase the pain. The grieving process is unique to each individual.
Each February 11th and September 11th is different for me. As time works away at the physical loss, guilt is derived from the memory loss.
Death is one of the hardest issues to talk and open up about. It’s often easier to discuss issues that provoke anger and hatred rather than those that promote empathy and sadness. Admitting to the emotions associated with death lead to a public perception of weakness or a lack of approachability.
This Is Us isn’t some prophetic know-it-all guide to getting over a lost family member. Rather, the show encapsulates the journey of the grieving process. There are bad days and there are good. In my opinion, the more obvious storylines of the show exhibit that life goes on. It shows that it’s possible to embrace experiences and plan your own journey without completely abandoning the memory of an influential figure in your life. Sure, that sounds over simplified, but I can promise that reassurance is necessary at times.
Is it the best show in network TV history? Unlikely. Is it a detriment to the social fabric of our country? No. As always, the truth often lies somewhere in the middle. However, for this viewer, the show has tugged at my necessary heartstrings. It’s given me more value than just simply entertainment. In today’s shiny object society, I think that’s something to be applauded.