There are few shows or movies that get grief right — and This Is Us is one that does.
Death is a big part of life, just like it is part of the NBC drama. I appreciate how the series doesn’t avoid the darkness that life sometimes can be.
One of the many things This Is Us has shown me is that there’s nothing wrong with how I’ve dealt with death.
Eighteen years ago, my brother, Ryan, died at the age of 16 in a car accident. It was the hardest moment of my life yet and will hopefully be the only tragedy I have to face in my lifetime. Believe it or not, even after almost two decades since his death, I’m still grieving.
I’m not one who believes in the so-called “stages of grief” because in my experience, everybody grieves differently. Some people might think that after you get through these “stages of grief,” you’re cured and you can go on living life like you were before your loved one’s death. To be blunt, that’s a bunch of bullshit.
Grief never goes away. I deal with it daily, and it is one of the hardest things to try to cope with. Those who’ve never had someone die or have never had to bury a sibling or a child (like my parents) have no idea what grief is like. Basically, it sucks. It’s a different kind of pain compared to a physical injury, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt.
I look forward to watching This Is Us because it makes me feel better about what I go through on a daily basis without my brother by my side. Actually, it makes me feel sane and not alone in what I’m experiencing. With that, here’s what the show has taught me and also what it gets right about grief.
1. Time doesn’t heal all wounds
Believe it or not, but the saying, “Time heals all wounds,” isn’t true. Like Dr. K. told Jack after informing him that one of his triplets died, “There is not a single day that goes by that I don’t think of the child I lost — and I’m an old man now.” Some people might not agree, but when someone near and dear to you dies, especially unexpectedly, that’s with you forever. I still ache every single day for my brother.
2. Good can come from darkness
In what is one of the most memorable This Is Us speeches, Dr. K once told Jack, who later passed the wisdom his children, “I like to think that because of the child that I lost, because of the path that he sent me on, that I have saved countless other babies. I like to think that maybe one day you’ll be an old man like me talking to a younger man’s ear off explaining to him how you took the sourest lemon that life has to offer and turned it into something resembling lemonade.”
As much as I wish I could go back to the day my brother died and stop it, some good has come from it. I’ve become a stronger person and see the world in a whole new light. I like the person I am today, and I’m not sure I would be that same person if my brother hadn’t died. That said, I would absolutely take that risk if I could have my brother back in my life.
3. Those who leave us are always a part of us
As Kevin explained his “Painting of Life” to Annie and Tess, “People will die in our lives, people that we love in the future, maybe tomorrow, maybe years from now. I mean, it’s kind of beautiful, right? If you think about it, 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.”
Ever since my brother’s death, I’ve encountered several individuals who actually think I should just move on with my life and forget about my brother. They don’t understand why I think about him every day or how he is still a major part of my life. I know, it’s mind-boggling, isn’t it? Just because someone dies doesn’t mean they stop being a part of your life.
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4. You see things differently
Death has changed my perspective on life — and in major ways. It also has affected how I view things, including instances of my life. When Beth gave her eulogy for William, she hit the nail on the head when she said, “We’ll remember things as before William and after William.” That’s exactly how it is for me. Whenever I think about my life, it’s before Ryan and after Ryan.
5. Anger is part of the process
In this scene featuring Kate, she let out all the anger, guilt and frustration she was still understandably carrying over the death of Jack. What many people don’t understand is that anger is totally normal. When you’re forced to say goodbye to a loved one, you are beyond angry. I’m still angry today because my brother shouldn’t have died as a teenager. His entire life was ahead of him. So, yeah, I get angry… a lot — and I never feel guilty about it.
6. Death shouldn’t stop you
There have been plenty of times when my brother’s death has stopped me from experiencing life. The grief that has come from losing him can be crippling. But I always have to tell myself that Ryan wouldn’t want me to put a hold on my happiness just because he is gone. When William told Randall on his deathbed, “Roll your windows down, Randall. Crank up the music. Grow out that fro. Let someone else make your bed,” it reminded me once again to keep on living.
7. It’s OK to feel guilty
Guilt is a major part of dealing with death. And it’s totally normal to feel guilty about feeling guilty. “It’s all I think about,” Jack once told Rebecca about their baby who died. “I feel guilty when I think about him and then, you know, I feel guilty when I stop thinking about him.” There isn’t a day I don’t think about Ryan, but there are parts of the day when he isn’t on my mind. That’s OK, because I know he wouldn’t expect me to surround every aspect of my life with him and his death.
8. Take time to enjoy life
After William died and Randall quit his job, he decided to “slow it down a little” by taking a step back from his career and focusing on the small things that are really the most important in life. After Ryan died, it changed my view on life — and just how short it really is. If I don’t take the time to enjoy it now, when will I?
9. Time shifts
Once you go through a tragedy like I did with my brother, time isn’t the same. Sylvester Stallone (who plays himself in the show) explained it best when he told Kevin, “In my experience, Kevin, there’s no such thing as a long time ago. There’s only memories that mean something and the memories that don’t.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.
10. You will hit a breaking point
At some point (and probably even more than once), I’ve broken down because my brother’s death is sometimes too much to handle — and yes, even 18 years later. “I don’t know if I can keep doing this without you anymore and I’m really not sure that I want to,” Dr. K. told his late wife at the cemetery. As he showed, death can be one of the most overwhelming parts of life.
11. Maintaining a sibling relationship is key
“He’s your brother, Kevin,” Jack once told Young Kevin about Randall, while also thinking about his brother, Nicky. “You should be able to depend on each other more than anyone else, more than anyone else in the world.” This quote really struck a chord with me, because I probably wouldn’t be where I am today without my sister by my side. We’ve grieved together. We lean on each other. We cry together. We laugh together. It’s one of if not the most special relationships I’ve ever had in life. When you lose a sibling, and if you have another sibling, you should be able to rely on them.
After my brother died, my parents always told us that maintaining a relationship with each other was the most important thing we could do, because once they are gone, we only have each other. I’m so glad they did, because I can’t imagine a life without my sister, my best friend.
12. Happy times are also filled with sadness
After the birth of Tess, Rebecca was extremely happy, but also really sad. She realized that without Jack by her side, even the happiest of moments wouldn’t be completely blissful. As she said, “That’s just something I’m going to have to deal with for the rest of my life. The happiest moments will also be a little sad.” That’s something I’ve come to terms with over the years. If I ever get married, my brother won’t be there. If I ever have a child, my brother won’t be there. When I graduated from high school, college and grad school, my brother wasn’t there. Happy times are somewhat sad because Ryan is no longer here.
Thank you, This Is Us, for not only helping me cope, but for also making me see that how I deal with my brother’s death is totally normal.