This (Really) Is Us

October 11, 2017

Are you watching “This Is Us” on NBC? I’m drawn to it like a fly to honey. It’s my Tuesday night addiction and I can’t stop. It drew me in last season with it’s tender and loving depiction of a young family experiencing the joys of young marriage and pregnancy, only to break our hearts as they experienced devastating loss. The ups and downs of living and loving are so relatable and I often see myself in the story line. I watch each week as the Pearson family stumbles through adoption, parenting, marriage and of course, grief. The show’s depiction of life is so honest, heart-warming and relevant.

Each week, I learn more about grief, as they flash back and forth from the initial blows of grief from the past to the ways grief is still affecting each of them today. I almost wrote unresolved grief, but is grief something we ever resolve? The show highlights what I’ve suspected all along. Grief isn’t something you just “get over.” It isn’t something you resolve. Grief is something you carry with you….always. Our losses have changed us. It’s part of who we are now. Even if we grow happier and healthier than we are now, if we achieve optimal emotional wellness and have learned to move on with life…grief has changed us. It’s as if our hearts have been tattooed. The break may mend, but the ink is permanent. We can cover the imprint with the veil of a smile, a new relationship, contentment, but it’s still there.

For some reason, at least in our culture, we often view grief as a season…something temporary that we just have to work through or around and then just get over it. There’s an (usually) unspoken expectation that we are supposed to eventually forget about our loss by embracing the life ahead of us. I’m here to argue that we can embrace the life ahead of us and still be permanently altered by our loss. I’m here to dispute that putting it all behind us, stuffing it down deep in effort to “get over it” is like stuffing gun powder down the barrel of an old rifle. Something in life will inevitably pull the trigger and then BOOM! A grief explosion that often injures not only ourselves, but also those near to us.

We’re seeing it played out on the TV screen each week.

***SPOILER ALERT***

If you aren’t up-to-date on “This Is Us” stop reading now – but bookmark it and come back when you’re done!

It’s been at least a decade, maybe more since the Pearsons lost their Dad, Jack. And yet we see grief play out in their adult lives. Losing their Dad changed them. I realize these are fictional characters, but don’t you see the parallel to real life? Do you see yourself in their grief too?

First there’s adult Kate, struggling with her weight (Hello, Kate? Me too), holding back emotions in her relationship, protecting her heart and at times building walls to protect herself from painful memories and future hurt.

We learn more about Randall, desperately trying to honor his birth father’s life and Jack’s life by fostering an at-risk foster child. We see him working through his grief with his attempt at turning his pain into purpose. (Umm…I totally get that one too).

And then there’s Kevin. He’s the funny guy who uses humor to deflect from his emotions. He’s the “don’t want to talk about it ever,” guy. This week we saw a tragic foreshadowing of how he’s dealing with the pain he doesn’t want to talk about. It looks like Kevin is muting his pain with painkillers. It appears there will be a repeat of history, since Jack struggled with alcoholism. (Unhealthy habits to silence feelings? I understand that one, too).

On one hand this is all very discouraging. I look at my kids today and pray they’ll be ok. I watch the fictional Pearson kids and see their past carry forward into their now. I don’t want my kids to bring grief into their future, but they will. They are changed. Grief is their tattoo. To leave it behind would mean leaving the love and the memories behind too. And I know that’s just not possible. The best I can do is pray they will learn how to talk about their grief now. I pray they’ll be able to use their pain to be compassionate adults. I hope they’ll share their feelings and invite others in, rather than trying to shield themselves from the painful parts of their past.

That’s the most we can hope for, I think. I believe that’s what this verse is all about. God’s wisdom on what to do with the pain.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. – 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 (NIV)

 We’re all going to have trouble, pain and agonizing grief at some point, right? I mean this sure isn’t heaven, although I am writing from Iowa (“Field of Dreams” joke), so it’s going to feel terrible at times. But do we just get over it? Ignore it? Stuff it deep down the barrel of the rifle? Or do we take the comfort God has given us and use the pain we’ve experienced so we might show His compassion by comforting others who need it?

I keep thinking about Mary. What it must have been like watching her son tortured and mocked, agonizing in pain as he was nailed to the cross, the weight of his body pulling on his wounds. I think about what her life must have been like after that. She observed the empty tomb, was eyewitness to the resurrected Christ, but when he ascended into heaven, was she just fine and dandy the rest of her days? Did she ever long to speak in-person to her son? Was she sad sometimes because she couldn’t hold him in her embrace? She mostly disappears from Scripture after the resurrection, although some Christian denominations believe she lived out her days with the Apostles. Who knows, because the Bible is silent on this. We know one of the few things Jesus spoke on the cross was in effort to make sure his friends took care of his mother.

When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home. – John 19:26-27 (NIV)

Since Mary was human, my guess is she grieved beyond the resurrection. She believed in what she witnessed. She was visually assured her son rose to heaven – ALIVE, but he wasn’t physically there with her to touch or hold any longer. He wasn’t there to laugh with her, or to discuss the day’s events. Therefore, I have to believe she both celebrated the assurance of the risen Lord and also grieved…both! At the same time! It seems likely anyway, don’t you think? And it makes me feel like it’s normal to hold grief and joy at the same time. It’s possible to move forward with life while also permanently marked and changed by grief.

I’m so glad we have a resurrected Christ so that this life and all it’s grief-filled moments aren’t the end of the story. He took the nails and spilled his blood to guarantee it doesn’t end here. He overcame the grave for us, forgave our sins and limited our suffering to this life. It’s important, relevant and we needed it. We needed a Savior.

But while we’re here, on the this side of glory, I’m also happy we have a thoughtful and honest show addressing life, love and family with the thread of grief running through all of it. It’s important. It’s relevant. And we need it. We need to throw grief right out into the open so we can learn how to not be ashamed of it. We need to talk about it so we can all just discard the notion that it’s something we get over or get through. Grief, in all it’s complex and often relentless ups and downs is all of us. This (really) is us.

Extra grace,

Jodi

© Jodi Whitsitt 2017

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5 Comments

  • Reply Robin murphy October 11, 2017 at 6:25 pm

    I am obsessed with that show too. Last night sent me thru so many emotions. what if my kids have troubles thru ought their lives because they lost there dad . My 11 yr, who is the middle child worries a lot and maybe even has anxiety. I decided she needed to talk to a therapist. So we started about a month ago and it has been very helpful. She likes it a lot. I know she wants to talk to me about it but I end up crying so easily. This way she has someone she can spill all her thoughts to and she knows it’s confidential. She asked me last night if I was ready to talk to a Therapist. Well I’m not. Should …. but scared .

  • Reply Robin murphy October 11, 2017 at 6:27 pm

    Where in Iowa? I’m in good ol’ South Dakota

  • Reply Meg Mann October 11, 2017 at 11:11 pm

    Thank you for your words today. I didnt realize I needed them until I read them.

  • Reply Libby Peay October 12, 2017 at 10:28 pm

    I just wish you were my next door neighbor so I could talk to you every day. Some days I think I just might “make it”, but then I slide back worse than ever. I am praying every day that I can help someone else. I do believe that 2 Corinthians verse. I know HE has a plan for me. I need patience to wait till HE shows me. Thank you, Jodi

  • Reply Virginia Mehaffie October 14, 2017 at 10:14 am

    Thanks especially for your comments on This is Us. I too find it insightful and calming to watch the reality of what the characters are feeling. Your reassurance about having both grief and joy in one’s life at the same time is helpful, as I seem to have reached a modicum of these feelings. Many thanks, and I trust that your writings comfort you as well.

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