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Perspectives on Grieving

This Is Us: You're not~ the man of the family now...

As someone who works in the field, I’ve been watching This is Us with the same enthusiasm as so many others, but also with some judgment and professional opinions about the way grief has been handled on the show.  For the most part, I think this show has done an amazing job portraying how grief affects each of us differently, and how it changes over time. Every episode inspires a watercooler discussion with colleagues in the field about grief and loss, mourning and dying. But last night’s episode was particularly moving, not just because it was so well done, but because so many children don’t get to hear the messages that Kate, Randall and Kevin heard from their mom immediately after the death of their father. 

Rebecca is human and certainly hasn’t done it all right (For example, I wasn’t a fan of how she told Miguel he could not be part of informing the kids that their dad died if he can’t be strong and not cry. I wish that she realized that crying is an amazing coping tool that doesn’t make you weak, but… like I said, she’s human. I will forgive her for that.) But last night, she did two very powerful things that I wish all grieving children got to hear from their surviving parent very soon after a death. 

First: It’s not your fault.  Obviously, Kate will blame herself for her dad’s death; after all, he did go back into the fire after she begged him to save the dog.  If you’ve been a fan of the show, you know she continues to blame herself even as an adult.  No one can take away the feelings of responsibility that one may feel after someone’s death, but it’s so important that children and teens hear that they did not cause someone to die.  Kate’s mom told her that it was his choice to go back in to the fire- he was a grown man and he made his own choices. Even if Kate does continue to blame herself, she will know that her mom does not.

Second: No one should have to step in to be “the man of the house.”  Children often hear this message almost immediately after a father dies. At the funeral, wake or shiva, phrases like “Take care of your mom now. She needs you,” or “Don’t make your mom worry- she’s got enough on her plate,” are often overheard in every conversation.  But Rebecca lets them know that, although things may change, their job is to continue being 17 year old kids. Obviously, it is yet to be seen whether or not she will be able to do that. In the aftermath of a death like that, even the most well-meaning surviving parent may make the children take on additional responsibilities, but her initial instinct was the right one—let them remain kids.

This is Us is a show about grief, and what unaddressed and unsupported grief can do to a person. We know that the Pearson’s have much to address as adults regarding their father’s death, and we see the risks and results of unaddressed grief play out on our TV screens every week.  Here at Imagine we hope this show sparks conversation in every household about loss (whether it be a death or some other kind of loss) and how to cope with all of the feelings that come with it.

By Mandi Zucker, MSW, Imagine Program Director


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