Grief

Why ‘This Is Us’ Splits Our Heart Wide Open Week After Week

Written by Shelby Spear

First, let me start by saying, “My name is Shelby, and I’m a ThisIsUsaholic.” As if the crying fest wasn’t over the top last night, as if tossing and turning all night with thoughts about Jack, Rebecca and the Big 3 ruminating through my mind isn’t enough proof that I have an addiction to something ‘make believe’ isn’t enough, I wrote this post with tears streaming down my face a solid 12 hours after the tears first began to fall. Get a grip, Spear.

How many of you are under the same spell? I know the answer because I see the tweets. Crying emojis are a dime a dozen on Tuesday nights. But the thing is, we don’t need to get a grip. We’re in the grip—the grip of living through these characters as if we are inside a parallel universe with them. They are us and we are them, going through every experience simultaneously.

And it’s not just the roles, experiences, situations, ages & stages, struggles that we relate to. It’s the existential stuff. These characters live in our head, think our thoughts, feel our anguish, joy, fear, doubts, guilt, and love. Oh, the love. Every emotion acted out with eerie perfection.

What last night’s episode drove home is the harsh reality of taking life for granted, especially those we love the most. Look at the devastation left in the wake of doing so. Our ground hog days lull us into thinking life will keep marching forward. We presume our spouse, children, loved ones will be with us today, tomorrow, the next day, the day after that—all the way through our dreams and expectations for what’s to come.

The punch to the gut last night was a reminder that life makes no such guarantee. Zero. None %. The universe can snatch our comfort and security away in an instant, both in a physical sense through death, and in an emotional sense via the leech-like effects of what ifs: I could, should, would have _______if I’d known ______ would happen.

My heart aches in every way for the soul wrenching emotions attached to the last moments Rebecca and the Big 3 experienced before tragedy snarled in their face.

Jack left Rebecca with a love tank filled to the brim. He finished making her the custom entertainment center, in large part because of his commitment and promise to pick up a hammer instead of a beer. He gave a giant boost to her self-esteem in asking her to be his partner in the new construction business. And the ultimate display was in making love to her. She fell asleep the arms of her soulmate, knowing without a doubt, “I am my beloved’s, and my beloved is mine.” (Song of Songs 6:3)

As for the Big 3, Jack left Kate knowing (and the relief from communicating her knowing) that, in her Daddy’s eyes, she was beautiful and unconditionally loved. He left Randall to feel good about making his Dad proud because he respected his girlfriend during their first kiss. And Jack left Kevin a note on his door saying, “I love you,”, although a note presumably burned in the house fire. (Shout out to @ThisIsUs writers, “For the mental health of your fans, can that note somehow show up?”)

The flip side of the feel goods, are the feel bads. All three kids left with the guilt of letting their Dad down by abandoning the family tradition of watching the Super Bowl together. And Kevin burdened with the guilt of not apologizing to his Dad directly on his phone call home. I can’t even.

But, then the writers gift us with the hope of the resurrection, the beauty from ashes. Even though the launching point going forward for Rebecca and the kids was a runway of loss, we can see how the kids turned the aspect of death into some form of new life as adults by going back to their father’s roots—another example of the genius of the writers:

Randall chose to be like his Dad by remembering a father who also pressed the reset button at a similar age to start a new career in construction.

Kevin chose to be like his Dad by making a list of the people he hurt with his addiction, and then crossing off the names as he made amends one-by-one. He also chose a hammer instead of a substance.

Kate chose to be like her Dad by rescuing a dog, which we can make a strong case will be the reason Jack dies—trying to rescue Kate’s dog from the fire.

Although Rebecca loses her best friend, and the Big 3 lose their hero, Jack’s spirit lives on. A spirit of sacrifice, service, integrity, mercy, grace, and unconditional love.

This Is Us captures the core of what makes the world go ‘round: Love and relationship.

May we all lean into our loved ones today and every day with full abandon.

 

About the author

Shelby Spear

Shelby is a Christian mom to three beautiful knuckleheads who have left her with an empty nest in which to ponder what the mom thing has (done to her) meant over the past twenty-four years. She is working on her first book and you can read her open heart of revelations, screw-ups, gaffs, and joys at https://shelbyspear.com/