***SPOILER ALERT*** This post discusses a plot line of the television show THIS IS US up through last night’s episode, Memphis.
This is humiliating!
I’ve had television shows and movies make me cry before. Many times. That experience is not even remotely new. But I’ve never had this happen before.
Multiple times now, I have recalled last night’s episode of THIS IS US entitled Memphis and teared up at the mere memory of it. I can’t stop. It’s ridiculous.
I have long stated that I believe the best episode of television I’ve ever seen was the season 5 finale of Lost. Today, I’m not so sure. In fact, I’m almost positive it has been relegated to second place. And why? Because I have never had a television show speak so directly to me and my life experience as last night’s THIS IS US did.
To give a little background in case you blew past the Spoiler Alert because you never plan on watching this show or you are already a fan, the audience is introduced in the first episode of the series to a character who is fighting Stage 4 stomach cancer. He’s introduced into the story when his biological son, who he left on the doorstep of a fire station, tracks him down and berates him for abandoning him. From that first moment you meet him, the character of William Hill becomes a part of you. At least he did for me. (And judging from the on-line reaction to last night’s episode, a good portion of those who watch this show agree with me.) His reaction to being chastised by his son is not defensive. Nor is it dismissive. It is world-weary acceptance that everything his son is saying about him is true. He’s a man with many regrets, but he owns them, and you love him all the more for it, as does his son, who by the end of their first meeting invites him into his home to live with him through his final days.
Well, those final days came to an end last night and it was…exactly what it should have been. If this post were strictly a review of This Is Us, that would be a phrase I would apply to much of this show. It gives a portrayal of life that is exactly what it should be. Good people who aren’t perfect but who are trying. Not for perfection. Just trying. And I love that the show’s creators have taken on so many issues that aren’t necessarily “sexy” per se, but are very real.
And when it comes to this particular story line, it couldn’t be more real. And I think that is why I’m blinking back tears even as I write this sentence. See, there are different types of death. The one you hope for for yourself and for everyone close to you is that of a full life that ends at a time and place that is…acceptable. Yes, death will always be hard, but there are times when it is, for lack of a better word, expected. My grandmother’s passing was one of those experiences and her funeral was a celebration of a good long life well-lived.
But then there are the deaths that feel so incredibly unfair. In my family, we’ve been sucker punched by these kind, not once, but twice. My father-in-law died of a massive heart attack at age 49. And eight years later, my mother lost her battle with cancer at age 59.
And it sucked! Both times! Hard Core!
It wasn’t supposed to be like this. My kids, who come from a rich ranching heritage were supposed to be able to experience working on the ranch with the grandfather. They were supposed to look out and see the unmistakable glint of pride in the eye of a gruff old cowboy every time they experienced one of life’s successes. They were supposed to learn pearls of wisdom from a man who at times appeared rough around the edges, but underneath had truly invaluable pearls of wisdom to impart.
They were supposed to feel the love of a woman who would move heaven and earth to spend time with them. They were supposed to spend weekends away from their parents with a grandma who would play cards with them all night and feed them like royalty all day. They were supposed to learn from the example of a truly driven woman that no challenge is too great.
Instead…they got none of that. Not that I am trying to disparage their two remaining grandparents in any way. They get many wonderful gifts from them. But my heart aches every time I think about what they have missed from the two grandparents who are gone.
And as I watched this heartbreaking episode of television, I was reminded of those things once again. Along with that, I was reminded of something else. All the things I have missed as well.
I am convinced when someone loses a parent too soon, whether that be as a child, as a young adult, or whenever, it breaks a person at least a little bit. I think it broke me.
Yes, I know I am 43 years old, but I don’t care. There are just times when I need my mom. And I just don’t seem quite able to emotionally handle it when she’s not there. Everything made sense and I questioned very little when she was alive. Quite a few things have stopped making sense and I question all kinds of things now that she’s gone. Maybe that makes me a better person, maybe not. I suppose that’s for God to decide. But what I do know is that her absence in my life hurts. It’s been almost 8 years and it still hurts to the point of tears I can’t control.
Which I suppose explains my ridiculous reaction to last night’s episode of a television show. Seeing a man lose his biological father so soon after finding him was unbelievably unfair. And yet, it felt real. Because we all have those experiences that remind us life isn’t fair.
But the other thing that last night’s episode, and basically the show in general, has done for me lately is remind me of a basic truth. It has reminded me of the triviality of so many things we can mistake for important. Donald Trump is not important. Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Mitt Romney, are not important. Republican, Democrat, conservative, liberal, moderate…not important. And stewing about those things incessantly seems today for some reason to be time wasted.
On the other hand, choir concerts are important. Piano recitals are important. Family vacations are beyond important. Monday night dinners with my children are priceless. Each and every kiss willingly placed upon my bald head by a precious three-year-old is a gift from God.
And each and every memory of my mother is a treasure more valuable than gold.
“You need a television show to remind you of that?” I can hear some people ask. Yeah, apparently sometimes I do.
And with that, I’ll bring this meandering post to a close. I don’t know what my point was exactly. Maybe I didn’t particularly have one. But I wanna say this. The Memphis episode of THIS IS US deserves an Emmy. Ron Cephas Jones deserves an Emmy and Sterling K. Brown deserves an Emmy. I don’t want to hear about GAME OF THRONES or STRANGER THINGS or any other show that is supposedly changing television. Maybe they are, but THIS IS US is on another level. It isn’t necessarily changing anything, but it is allowing people to be touched by the emotions that matter most. And if art can do that, then I believe it has transcended the very concept of art itself.