In a previous season of This is Us, a powerful show about the long-term, winding, intertwined storylines of an American family, Rebecca Pearson, the perennial widowed matriarch is helping deliver her first grandchild on the floor of her son’s home. She is found crying after the bless-ed event, and when asked if they were happy tears, she says, “That was one of the happiest moments of my life. But also 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.”
One of the Hope for Widows bloggers recently wrote about this show and how she identified with Rebecca because she was a widow and how that challenge was such a profound part of her storyline. How no matter how much time passes, our dead husbands are as much a part of our lives as they were when they were with us in the flesh. Just differently. How their stories and our stories are threaded into the life we try to build thereafter.
Like my fellow contributing writer, I found myself identifying with Rebecca’s character for several reasons:
- The show premiered on television at the same time my husband was in his final days, so I have gone along with her journey on television as I have my own…at the exact same time. I will not even mention the Steelers thing, other than I am a life-long Pittsburgh Steelers fan and Rebecca in her Terry Bradshaw shirt brings back lots of childhood memories.
- Rebecca’s children were about to graduate from high school and go to college when their dad died. My children were in college, so I was straddling that additionally challenging period of motherhood when your children grow up and leave you…at relatively the same time that my husband left me.
- Rebecca leaned on her husband’s best friend to get through the first couple of years. I, too, leaned on my husband’s best friend to help me for the first couple of years. Unlike Miguel in the show, he is happily married, and his wife – also my dear friend – would say when I asked her if I could borrow him for something, “Sure, I’ll share!”
- Rebecca’s children hit some difficulties as they navigated their young adult lives – young adult lives without a still much needed father. In the show, one child went far, far away to pursue his dreams. One stayed close to home and actually lived with her mother. One just went to college a bit closer to look after his mom and pursue his own future. My girls had similar challenges and responses to their newly fatherless lives. Not just the pragmatic ones but all the emotions that go along with the entire experience of losing him. While one stayed close to home, and even moved back in with me for a year, one left for an African island nation with Peace Corps, something she never would have done if her dad had been alive.
- Rebecca started to try to date after two years in an awkwardly amusing fashion. I did, too. She even met a nice man on her first date in twenty-something years. I did, too.
But it’s the above statement in the first paragraph that has resonated with me more than anything else as I have traveled along my widowed road right along with the fictional Rebecca on This is Us: “The happiest moments will also be a little sad.” My husband, while still with us, was not only grieving the impending loss of his life, but he was also grieving the loss of all the future happiest moments that he would not be around to see, like weddings, graduations, births of grandchildren. And he grieved that our girls would not have him there for them in the way that he should have been there for them.
On May 14th, my oldest daughter finally graduated from college with her BSN from the very university she had started in the Fall of 2012 – and then after two years left – several years ago. After a few detours of working full time, being there for her dad, starting and restarting, she found herself a newly minted RN as the COVID patients streamed into her hospital unit. She has been a practicing RN for two years now, but her eventual four-year college degree has been a nonlinear road toward the BSN…because life it not always fair or a straight line…no matter how much we plan or how hard we work. It was a happiest moment.
On May 15th, she had her wedding after a three and half year engagement. COVID was part of the reason for the delay, and I think it was just a great sigh of relief that she finally chose to have it. She asked me to walk her down the aisle in the place of her dad, and she asked my husband’s father – her grandpa – to dance with her the Father-Daughter Dance. I was surprised how emotional I became when she grabbed me by the arm and we walked down to the song she chose for the bridal procession, a song called Kiss the Rain. We walked slowly and the tears seeped out as the lump in my throat became larger. I hugged her under the big bow of roses overhead and sat down in the chair that her dad would have sat as she vowed her love and commitment to my son-in-law. It was a happiest moment.
She chose “Sweet Caroline” by Neil Diamond to dance with Grandpa because my husband (and his family) are all Red Sox fans, and this song represented many happy and fun memories from her childhood – like a trip to Fenway where she and her sister were caught on the Jumbo Tron singing along to that song during the 7th Inning Stretch. They danced fast and slow, Grandpa shook his hips like a pro, and everyone yelled, “So good! So good! So good!” at just the right moment during the song. It was a happiest moment.
The wedding was the best wedding I have ever been to, and I do not just say that because it was my daughter’s wedding. Ordinarily a chaotic mess of a girl, she planned everything down to the blowing bubble champagne bottles, and we had so much fun dancing, celebrating, singing, picture taking, and being with extended family who live far away. It was a happiest moment.
And it was also a little sad.