I have been able to connect with ‘This Is Us’ on a level I could never have imagined. The way the show deals with devastating loss, the subsequent grief, and ultimately accepting death has helped me in expressing the feelings I have about my own father’s sudden death.
Have you ever watched a show and gotten a very weird sense of deja vu? That’s me with This Is Us. At first glance, I thought it was just going to be a Parenthood 2.0. I didn’t think the show would get me. As we all know from watching This Is Us, the show is about the Pearson family. The show weaves through the past and present, focusing on Jack and Rebecca in the past and their children in the present. There’s one major character missing in the present day: Jack. The beloved father of Kate, Kevin, and Randall died when they were teenagers, and they’re all still dealing with his death years later.
Like the Big Three, there is one very important person missing in my life: my father. My father died of a heart attack in 2012 when I was 20 years old. I am the oldest of three children. My sister was 17, and my brother was just 14. Our lives were split into two distinct halves on the day he died — the before and the after. One day my father was alive, and the next he wasn’t.
Death changes you on impact. After my father’s death, I shut down emotionally. I felt like someone had ripped off my skin and just walked away without an explanation. At the time, I hated feeling so much all at once — grief, anger, sadness, guilt. I didn’t want to face those feelings, so I repressed them. When Kate breaks down at weight loss camp, she recalls snippets of her father’s funeral, memories she chose to hide from herself for years. Like Kate, I only remember snapshots of my father’s funeral: the program with his picture on the front, his coffin, the way my heels sunk into the ground at the cemetery. The rest is a blur.
Everyone deals with grief in his or her own way. I can’t speak for my sister or my brother, although I will say that our bond over the years has gotten stronger, mirroring the bond between Kate, Kevin, and Randall.
In the years after my father’s death, I have felt Kate’s same reluctance to talk about my father’s death. I haven’t found my own personal version of Toby yet, but I’m hoping he’s out there somewhere. Kate’s growing relationship with Toby has shown me that I don’t have to be afraid of opening up to someone else, that being vulnerable about something that singlehandedly changed the course of my life isn’t a bad thing.
When it comes to dealing with a loss, guilt is always the most haunting feeling. My mother was weighed down by guilt over my father’s death. She felt guilty over not being able to prevent the pain each of her children felt and would continue to feel in varying degrees. Could one decision have altered his fate? That’s what my mother still thinks about today. My mother reminds me a lot of Rebecca, and not just because her name is also Rebecca. When Rebecca tells Randall that she wishes he had had more time with his biological father, William, that’s almost a direct play-by-play of what my mother has said to my siblings and I from time to time. Even though she had no control over what happened to my father, she feels we were cheated. My father won’t be physically present for weddings, graduations, grandchildren. I will likely live longer than I ever knew my dad. Life can be such a bitch, am I right?
However, Randall’s words do ring true in my mind about the time I got to spend with my dad: “I got enough. I got enough. It was time to know that I loved him. I loved him. And I know that he loved me.” I know my dad loved me unconditionally, and he knew I loved him. Accepting death isn’t easy, but it’s necessary in order to move forward.
Grief is karma’s constantly nagging mistress. Grief evolves, but it never goes away. Kate, Kevin, and Randall are all handling their grief over their father’s sudden death differently, and their ongoing stories have helped me not slam the door on my grief. One of the key aspects of This Is Us is flashing back to the years when Jack was alive. Kate, Kevin, and Randall relive these memories of their father to help them move forward. Since watching the first season, I find myself looking back at my own life to those small, special moments. Such as the time my dad had to perform with me during a dance recital. Even though he had shot a 78 on the golf course that morning, he truly made me feel that performing that simple dance was better than winning the Masters. Before This Is Us, remembering that moment would probably have been too hard for me to relive, but the show has shown me that memories of my father are crucial to the grieving process and keeping his spirit alive.
Death is a part of life. It’s inevitable. But as Kevin says, life is a painting. “The fact that just because someone dies, just because you can’t see them or talk to them anymore, it doesn’t mean they’re not still in the painting,” he says. “I think maybe that’s the point of the whole thing.”
Death is just a brushstroke on our personal canvas. None of us escape it. Grieving is necessary and important, as much as it hurts. But the broader brushstrokes, the ones that will create the the complete canvas of my life, are colored with the unconditional love within my family and the power of memory.