I’m not much of a crier. But for the last couple of months, I can count on crying, or at least getting misty-eyed, every Tuesday night thanks to NBC’s This Is Us. And during this week’s episode, and through all of the spoilers on social media, even after watching it On Demand, I sobbed like a baby for at least a good hour.
Much has been said about the show’s ability to jerk tears out of the driest of eyes, and people wonder why others bother watching the show even though they realize the tears and sadness are inevitable. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I watch This Is Us not only because Sterling K. Brown and Ron Cephas Jones deserve all of the awards but because it’s helped me process grief.
On Dec. 7, 2016, just as I was leaving a holiday party at the White House, I received a message on Facebook from my brother. It simply said, “Vincent has passed.”
Vincent was my uncle. But he was more than an uncle. He was the man I looked up to as a kid. He was the man who told me gruesome stories about the trauma victims he helped save while working at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey. He was the person who took me in when my mother kicked me out of the house when I was younger. He was the man who encouraged me to write and do well in school. And there wasn’t a time when he didn’t brag to his friends about my accomplishments. In every sense of the word, he was a father to me when, in the words of Shaquille O’Neal, “my biological didn’t bother.”
Just as in This Is Us, with William’s death, I knew my uncle’s death was inevitable. Over the last couple of years, my uncle’s health had been in decline, and he spent the last couple of months of his life in and out of the hospital. But unlike Randall and William, who got to spend the last moments together, I didn’t have that opportunity.
After finding out about my uncle’s death, I drove the almost 90 minutes home from Washington, D.C., in tears. There were times when I had to pull over because I couldn’t see through them.
And then there was the regret.
The regret of not seeing my uncle and being able to tell him how much he meant to me. At times when people had given up on me, he didn’t.
As I watch This Is Us, I’ve learned that grief comes in two stages. There’s the grief you have when you realize that you’re inevitably going to lose a loved one, and then the grief after they’re gone.
It’s clear that members of the Pearson family, even years after the death of Jack, are still processing that grief. And with William’s death, Randall and his family will be unpacking grief for a while.
As I sat and watched William’s death unfold, I couldn’t help thinking about my uncle’s death and how it’s impacted me over the last two months. It’s made me realize that I’m not as strong as I thought I was. And although it’ll be a while before I can get a sense of normalcy and get back into the “groove” of things, for now, this is me: a big ball of tears, every Tuesday night.