What "This Is Us" Gets Right about Grief

Originally published Saturday, 11 March 2017.


I have been fascinated with This is Us. I stopped watching at one point because of some content, but I kept getting pulled into the primary storyline — Jack’s death and its impact on his family.

If you’re not a This is Us viewer, the show follows three 40-year-old siblings, interplaying scenes from their current lives with their growing up years. Their father, Jack, is a phenomenal dad and husband. The show’s only revealed that Jack died when the kids were teens and though Jack’s death impacts nearly every substory, we’ve not yet been told the full story.

I’ve watched This is Us like I’m watching a documentary. How will they handle Rebecca’s grief? How does the family absorb such shock? How do his children get from there to here?

It’s not just Jack’s death. This is Us has spent whole episodes on the dying and death of William, another on Dr. Katowski’s grief after his wife died. The show unfolded the grief of losing one of the triplets and the death of William’s mother.

Unlike any other show in recent memory, This is Us is laced with grief – and surprise, surprise — has gotten so much right. So far, here’s what This is Us gets right about grief.

Let people grieve at their pace

Tuesday’s show opened as Beth assured Randall he didn’t have to do anything with William’s things just yet. This is such grace. Everyone processes grief differently. Some need to move forward quickly; others need to process more slowly. Some need to be with people; others need more alone time. Instead of imposing arbitrary timelines and expectations, we need to give grace to let people grieve at their own pace.

Share your stories

So many tears Tuesday but especially when the postman asks about William. Sure, it felt a bit personal and awkward but did you see how healing it was when he shared memories of William that Randall never knew? That is pure gift —  unearthed treasures of how your loved one impacted others.

Say their name

The postman also got this right – he said William’s name. We tend to think saying the name of a child who died in a car accident or the wife who died of cancer will make it hurt worse. But it’s actually a healing balm to hear the name of someone we love. Even when it brings tears, they are good tears that bring with them a flood of warm memories.

Celebrate the things they loved

Randall’s daughters chose to celebrate their grandfather’s life with the things he loved — his favorite breakfast, a walk down the street wearing hats like his. What a way to cherish the life that was. Maybe it’s buying the coffee he always bought or a yearly trip to her favorite restaurant. When we remember “Daddy would have loved this” and “this was one of Dad’s favorite places,” it stirs up rich memories we want to hang onto.

Little things are missed most

When Beth “toasts” William, she notes the little things – hearing his humming every morning as he brushed his teeth. “I can look all over this house and see the memories we shared.”

In grief, you realize the little things are big things. It’s not the nice vacations or fancy dinners out that are missed. It’s hearing him walk through the kitchen door each night, seeing his grin across the table, cleaning the shaving cream left in the sink each morning. Grief is a thousand daily losses.

Death forever divides time

“We’ll remember things as before William and after William,” Beth says. Loss is a hinge on which one door closes and another opens. It forever alters the trajectory of life.  It separates not just people, but a way of life. Life is divided and defined as before he died, and after he died.

Stuffing grief won’t prevent it

We’ve seen hints that Kate is stuck in her grief. Randall wisely tells her to let her feelings out. The depth of sadness, despair, anger and fear in grief is physically painful and emotionally wrecking. And while I’m no grief counselor, I’ve seen that if we don’t  allow ourselves to fully feel grief, we will not process it. Stuffing and ignoring don’t eliminate grief; they postpone it.

The impact is forever

There’s not a season of grief that’s over and done. It may look different, less intense, but the impact of loss will be felt forever. Jack’s death hangs over the entire storyline in This is Us because grief changes who you are. Grief is the last part of a love relationship.


Of course, what This is Us never addresses is Christian grief. Grief for the believer is always hemmed with anticipation and hope. Though we grieve deeply, we do not grieve as those without hope.

For the believer, death may have altered the trajectory of this life, but it points us to the direction we’re ultimately headed.

While grief may feel like a forever impact, it’s a momentary loss on eternity’s line.

And the loss that cuts so deeply here is incomparable to the fullness that waits for us in heaven.

This post first appeared at LisaAppelo.com. You can read our story here and have new encouragement delivered straight to your inbox by subscribing here. I’d love to send a free 100 Days with Christ Bible study and journal.