Every time I watch “This is Us,” I end up crying.
The season finale just broadcasted yesterday, and I finally got a chance to watch it today, and here I am, crying.
“This is Us” is a show that shows the beautiful complex nature of personal, romantic and familial relationships. The cast is diverse in terms of size, gender, race and age. There is an interracial couple and there is a couple living together before marriage and there are foster parents and there is a divorced couple and there is an adopted child, and there’s a widow — “This is Us” is a pretty accurate reflection of today’s family unit.
It depicts struggles with oneself and with one’s family. There is laughter and there is yelling and there is more laughter.
This truly is us. It’s a reflection of the modern day family but also the family dynamics. And because it is us, and because I see so much of myself and my family on the show, there are so many times when a scene will resonate with me on a visceral level and make me bawl.
Like sob. Uncontrollably.
It conjures up and brings to remembrance all of the hurts I’ve ever had and the ones that still need healing.
Here are some of the scenes that have made me weep (in no particular order of weepiness):
The Karate Class Scene…
…and when Jack secretly videotapes Kate singing…
…Basically any time Jack talks to any one of his children.
Why I cried: Jack Pearson is the exemplar of the father I wish I had. Don’t get me wrong — I have a father. He was very involved in my life. He did the best he could with what he had and what he knew. I would dare say that he was a good father. But he wasn’t a great father. His words to me over the years cut me deeply and caused a lot of pain. And so when I see Jack Pearson and how he speaks to his kids — always building them up and being there for them, never an errant word spoken — it reminds me of the kind of parenting I wish I had.
In these scenes, we see how much Jack loves his children — how proud he is of them, how he thinks the world of them. On the contrary, there is no doubt that my father loved and loves his children, and I have definitely given him cause to be proud, but there were other times when I wondered if he was embarrassed by us. He would tell us to lose weight, allegedly for our health, but I’m pretty sure more so for the fact that he couldn’t stand having fat children. He never told my sister and I that we were beautiful because I don’t think he actually believed that. For him beauty was inextricably bound to thinness, and so because my sister and I weren’t thin, we weren’t beautiful. That is why, when we got older and we asked him, “Dad, do you think we’re beautiful?” he paused and said, “…Yeah… but you should try to lose some weight.” That is why when I told him that I made the honour roll in first-year undergrad, his response was, “That’s good, but you should try to lose some weight.”
No one is perfect, everyone has their demons and the character that Milo Ventimiglia plays is just that — a character. But even with Jack’s demons, alcoholism being one of them, the redeeming factor is that he was willing to listen to his wife and willing to change. In comparison, bring any of my father’s flaws to his attention, and he deflects or points out one of yours. I remember we were travelling to Jamaica and at the airport, there were the many forms to fill out. I filled out as much as I could on my form and it required the signature of a parent or guardian or person of the age of majority (I was neither — I was twelve). I told my father that he needed to sign/fill out his portion. My father, who has always been unconfident in his literacy skills, told me to do it. I said I couldn’t. He told me that I was “Full of shit.” My father is a man mired in insecurity and unresolved past hurt and shame, and it is quite unfortunate.
Growing up, I think a lot of us looked for examples better than the ones we had, and so we idolized Pastor Eric Camden on 7th Heaven (or at least I did) or Dr. Cliff Huxtable, but I think Jack Pearson’s name also belongs in the cannon of inspiring TV patriarchs.
Kate at the Pool
Why I cried: I can relate to Kate and her struggle with her weight. I was a chubby child growing up and kids (and family members) said some pretty mean things to me. I remember one time my mother packed me two pizza pockets for lunch (because how is one pizza pocket ever enough to fully your belly???). And when I opened my lunch container revealing my two pizza pockets, I remember some boys around me snickering, “Two pizza pockets?! No wonder you’re so fat.” I remember one time in grade five walking up the stairs returning to my class after recess, wearing my snow pants, and a kid shoved me to the side and said, “Move it, fatso!!” I remember in grade six winning some kind of award or getting sort kind of recognition, and when I returned to my desk, I remembered Michelle Martin (yes, imma type her full name here) looking at me in disgust and saying, “You’re still fat.”
I had many friends, and I was, surprisingly, very popular in school. But it’s been twenty years and the wounds are still there.
And so when my nephew came home from his first week of kindergarten and told his mom that he had no friends, that the kids at school said that he’s “too big,” I told him that it was their loss and that school just started and that he would have to give it some time and that anyone would be lucky to be his friend and that if he sees anyone who looks friendly, he could walk up to them and ask “Can I play with you?” But right after I got off the phone I got down on my knees and cried and prayed that the good Lord in heaven would send my dear, fantastic nephew some good friends — people who would love him for who he is (because he’s amazing).
And so when Kate couldn’t find anyone to play with, I knew exactly why that was — it’s because she was “fat” and children can be some of the meanest, most cruel little beings on the face of planet earth. So I cried for her but I also cried for the seven-year-old me and the twelve-year-old me and the thirteen-year-old me and the fifteen-year-old me that had been so cut by the words of others.
Dr. K’s Presence Throughout Rebecca and Jack’s Parenting Lives (Even Posthumously)
Why I cried: From the time when Jack and Rebecca find out that they had lost one of their triplets to Jack’s funeral, Dr. K has been a calm and consistent presence — always available to dole out fatherly advice and share a comforting, compassionate word. Oh for a doctor like Dr. K.
When Rebecca Finds Out Jack Has Passed
Why I cried: As Miguel (Rebecca’s future second husband and Jack’s best friend and also best man at their wedding) would eventually tell Kevin, Jack and Rebecca were a unit. They were one. It was thus heartbreaking to see that union come to an end. I was like Rebecca is going to have to be soo strong — single mother, three adolescent kids, death of the best man we both have ever known… yeesh.
When Randall Talks to His Mom After the Birth of His First Child
Why I cried: Rebecca had just helped her daughter-in-law Beth deliver her first child and Rebecca’s first grandchild. Later, while reflecting on the moment, she tells Randall, “That was the happiest moment of my life.” Then, through tears, she adds, “Your dad isn’t here, and that’s just something I’m gonna have to deal with for the rest of my life. The happiest moments will also be a little sad.”
“The happiest moments will also be a little sad.” Isn’t that so true of grief? I’m lucky never to have lost a close loved one, but I hear that as time goes on, grief comes and goes in waves and that it never quite goes away. One day you’re fine until suddenly you aren’t. It’s the spaces between the ebbs and flows that grow longer and wider, and gradually the waves of grief hit less frequently.
But the real reason this scene really got me is that I thought about being single as an adult, and how, if I remain single, it truly is the case that some of the happiest moments of my life will be accompanied with a little sadness.
I remember sitting at my law school convocation. There were times in law school I wasn’t sure I’d ever graduate, but here I was receiving my Bachelor of Law and Bachelor of Common Law degrees. I was surrounded by my family who bussed up from Toronto to Montreal to celebrate with me. I completed the program in English and French — my second language. I was the first person in my family to graduate from university and now I was the first person in my family with a professional/graduate degree. My ancestors were slaves. My grandfather was illiterate. My father never finished high school. And yet here I was with two law degrees from the highest-ranked and one of the most prestigious law schools in Canada.
And yet, as my mind wandered during the boring-as-ever speeches, I couldn’t help but think, “Three and a half years of law school and I still didn’t meet anyone… *Heavy sigh*… Wow.” Of course, I had met a lot of people while at McGill and from my other many activities while living in Montreal. But I hadn’t met “the one.” And here I was graduating, no boyfriend to buy me roses or present me with an engagement ring like Elle Woods in Legally Blonde (ok — that last part was a stretch).
I wondered if I would have to celebrate all of my future achievements in life alone.
The longer I am single, the more I wonder how many other happy moments I will have to celebrate by myself. There, admittedly, comes a point in one’s life when you want to celebrate certain milestones with an intimate partner — especially since one’s friends and family may not always be around. My friends have lives that pull us in all different directions. My parents are older and are starting to grow weary of travel. My sister and brother have their own partner and child to look after. I thought about what it would be like to buy my first car, buy my first house, see my first cookbook in print — all happy moments that would be tinged with some degree of sadness because I hadn’t met any significant partner to share my joy (and pain) with.
It would seem that radical acceptance sometimes involves a certain degree of quiet resignation to the bittersweetness of it all.
Rebecca Comforting Kate After Her Miscarriage
Why I cried: I called my sister in tears after this episode. For all of its bumps (and there are many bumps), I envy the relationship that Kate has with her mom. To clarify, if I ever got pregnant, if I ever miscarried, my mother would show moral support. She would show up at the hospital, just as she did for my sister while she was in labour and throughout her C-section. It hurts, however, that, unlike Kate, I cannot and have never been able to turn to my mother as a reliable source of comfort. Certainly, my mother has had prior miscarriages, but I don’t think she wouldn’t let her guard down enough to be that vulnerable with me and sit with me in my pain.
What struck me here was that Rebecca was there unfalteringly for her daughter, and she didn’t have to be asked. She was there in Kate’s time of need, just to cry and hold her. And so I was balling on the phone with my sister because I was thinking, “If I ever miscarried, if I struggle with infertility, who will I go to? Whose shoulder do I cry on? If you [my sister] aren’t available, who can I safely turn to? Who will keep me company in my pain?”
When Randall Realizes That His Mother Knew His Birth Father ALL ALONG
Why I cried: I have no words. I was just wowed by the acting.
Any Scene with Toby
Why I cried: Where do I start? What a kind, loving, and protective man. “I am Team Kate for life” he says — to his future mother-in-law. “If my boo comes with baggage, I’m paying the handling fee.” *Swoon* Oh to marry a man like Toby.
Kevin’s “Coming to God” Moment
Why I cried: I’ve definitely had that moment where I felt that I messed up royally and that only God could help me now… that moment of utter desperation and desolation. This is Kevin at his lowest. Elizabeth Gilbert calls it the “dark midnight of the soul.” For her it was on her bathroom floor, praying, begging any diety that would hear her to relieve her of her misery. Sometimes the pain and disconsolation are so great that you don’t have all of the words and all you can say is, “Help me!” You release your helpless and pathetic plea into the universe with the sincere hope that Someone more powerful than you will intervene. I may not be an addict, but I am a human being and so I could relate to Kevin.
When the Family Was Invited to Kevin’s Therapy Session
Why I cried: On Christmas Day, 2017, my mother, sister, aunt and I had a very tense and tear-filled conversation that underscored my long-standing point that we would benefit from therapy as a family. Our relationships were being strained under the weight of unresolved hurt, anger, and resentment — past and present.
To come back to Ottawa and watch this episode hit me in the feels. It was a reminder that all families have unresolved issues and not just my own. And it was a glimpse into what a therapy session with my family could look like — although ours would have much more yelling and tears.
… Oh and then there’s this (sorry — I lied. That makes eleven…):
Why I’m crying: It’s so cute that she wants to be just like her mom. Also, it has always been my dearest hope to meet and marry someone better than my father. I’m glad I can live vicariously through Kate. And if my family can somehow, miraculous heal all of its differences, if I don’t have to consider eloping, if we can come together civilly like this with no drama and pretenses, if we can all collectively exhale and let go of our hard-won pain and resentment — heck, if I even have a wedding — I know that I’m just going to be an absolute mess, drowning in my gown and my pool of happy tears. Thank God for waterproof mascara.
There, all done. I’m gonna go find a corner and cry some more now.
Did you watch “This is Us?” What moments during the three seasons of “This is Us” made you cry?