Over the past couple of months, I’ve gotten hooked on a television show called This is Us. Described as “…a smart, modern drama that will challenge your everyday presumptions about the people you think you know”, I find the series intriguing for my own reasons. Besides the fact that it is just well done, the one thing that is unique in this show is that it shares the profound emotion of grief in a very in-your-face sort of way. Getting the viewers attached to the characters, then breaking the viewers hearts slowly and methodically as the season progresses — unveiling how long-lasting their pain from the long-past death is in spite of efforts to “get over it”, “bury it”, or just “move on”. Although I am sure that everyone’s take away of the show will be different, and that most will view this as nothing more than fiction (far from how one’s grief journey is in reality), it’s a starting point for a very important message. Moreover, it’s brilliantly done.
TheMAN and I began watching the show together but, as YaYa and I became hooked, we proceeded through the season without him. He began watching with his son at his house, while YaYa and I watched at ours. I was a bit relieved that it ended up this way for it allowed the show to pick away the scabs of my own experience — opening the way to heal some more of the stuff I had yet to work through.
The three main characters, referred to as the “Big Three” in the show appear to each have their own distinct version of stuck-ness (and sweet remembrance) from the death of their father, not to mention their unique upbringing. Similarly, I continue to observe the unique manifestation of pain in each of my sons as we hit the 10 year anniversary of Tom’s death.
BoBo seems to be dealing with an extra large helping of dad stuff this year. This seems to be the result of being sent away to live with his aunt and uncle just as we hit the 1st year mark. BoBo’s grief work had just begun 6 months earlier and his self-destructive behavior screamed the fact that he clearly had much to process. His uncle, however, was not fond of working through the grief through group or individual therapy; his belief was that you choose to either be in pain or just get over it. He arrived back home 8 years later appearing to have moved past it all. Certainly, he had done much in the way of growing up and reaching acceptance. But recently, it is apparent that BoBo’s not quite “over it”.
YaYa on the other hand, had the benefit of a couple of years of therapy in the way of support group, a camp for kids whose parents had cancer, and individual counseling. Now 18 years old and a senior in high school, YaYa seems to be experiencing the 10 year mark in a very different way. As I observe him in the past many months, I remember being told that children need to re-process, or re-experience, the grief as they move to the different psychosocial levels of development. My little boy who once was afraid to fall asleep at night for fear that he wouldn’t wake up, has certainly gone through many manifestations of his grieving over the years. I am happy that this year he seems to have escaped getting sick with pneumonia as he did at the arrival of the 5th, 6th, and 8th year. No longer does he talk openly about his pain as he used to. Instead he asks for photos of his father or wants to know which songs his dad liked most so that he can add them to his eclectic music collection.
As for me, I move on in my own way. I stepped foot on the treadmill a few times this year. The fear of falling has left me cautious but I am now able to let go of the sides and settle into a more natural stride, albeit not completely at ease. As the new year hit this year, I found myself crash and burn after finding the letter to Tom’s oncologist and trying to let go on a new level. Similar to many years ago, I fell into a wake-me-when-it’s-over state for many weeks after I tore it up. And as the boys started going through the approach of year ten, I began wondering if I should have mailed the letter instead of destroying it. Indeed, their are many ways to let go. I wondered if I choose the wrong way to let go of that letter. Err, maybe it’s because I have only partially let go of it; I ripped it up but didn’t fully get rid of it. Who knows?
My sister-in-law, Kathy (who unwittingly was by my side as Tom took his final breaths) came to visit this year too. We spent a good amount of time together, and talked about life unfolding. I shared regrets, disappointments, and fears. I cried and she listened. Then the roles reversed for a bit. Then we went to see The Shack and cried even more.
By the time “D day” arrived, it seems like the bulk of the stuff to process had come and gone. BoBo who was able to take a trip to where his dad’s ashes were scattered, went to work, while YaYa and I shared a quite dinner at a local restaurant before he attacked his homework. In spite of the low-key way the day was honored, we are all amazed that a decade has passed — and even more amazed at how intensely the pain hit this year.
This is us. We live, we love, and sometimes we cry. We have no idea how the upcoming seasons will unfold, or who will show up, but we know that we are blessed simply to be uniquely us.