Given the feelings and sentiments we share here on HOPEspot, I am guessing many of you are “This Is Us” watchers. It’s been a week since William’s death. Are you OK?
C’mere. We need to talk about this. Even if you don’t watch “This Is Us”, we need to talk about this. Please don’t quit reading if you’re not a watcher, I’ve still got something to say.
C’mere. S’OK. Have a cookie. S’OK.
To be clear for all readers, “This Is Us” is the hit NBC show that started Fall 2016. From the first episode, we met William, the biological father of one of the show’s leads, Randall. William abandoned Randall on the steps of a firehouse as an infant because Randall’s mother was a junkie and William was struggling with his own issues. In the pilot episode, Randall finds William and learns that William is struggling with Stage IV cancer. Randall brings William into his home, introduces him to his wife and daughters and watches a beautiful and redemptive love take place. William is appropriately remorseful for his past and refreshingly inspiring in his enthusiasm for the seeming last days of his life.
In last week’s episode-- SPOILER ALERT-- Randall takes William on a road trip back to his hometown of Memphis. Conscientious Randall brings maps that William throws out the window. William tells Randall to roll the windows down and turn up the music. Randall brings William to his childhood home where he pulls out a treasure of toys he buried as a boy. They visit the “gravesite” of Randall’s adoptive father. They laugh. They drink from the water fountain that was designated for ‘whites’. William finally returns to his cousin, who he left in a bind years ago when he was called to take care of his beloved mother, and asks for forgiveness. Forgiveness is mercifully received and the two reunite to make beautiful music together.
There’s glorious joy shown on this father/ son trip until the next morning when William wakes up in total organ failure and needs to be brought to the hospital. Randall learns that William is imminently dying and their interaction from that point goes beyond Hollywood special and reaches into spiritually perfect. It is this point that so many of my friends broke down when watching. My dear friend, Ivette, is still in a puddle, and she is a warrior who knows life is hard.
What happens in that eleventh hour is everything, and I will tell you why. William, who met Randall as a child abandoning junkie, has been redeemed as a loving father and grandfather. William had an opportunity to give thanks to the Man who raised Randall. William gave Randall his final book of poetry. William was forgiven by his cousin. William told Randall his life was hard, but he was glad for who was there when he was born and who is with him as he dies. Things that needed to be said, were said. Forgiven, forgiven. Gifted, gifted. William was assured his legacy would be one of love and he would not be alone in death.
C’mere. S’ok. It’s sad. And it’s hard to watch. I’m really going to miss William, too.
But now I want to say what experiences compels me to say and I don’t want to be preachy about it.
William did it right. William’s best chapter was his final one. It is for possibilities such as William’s that I push hard to promote hospice.
William didn’t die in hospice, but William had a hospice death. William had opportunity to complete his final work and did so, seemingly, with an appropriate amount of comfort. I HATED to see William die, but we, as viewers, knew when we met him, that he was terminally ill. We cried because WE GOT TO LOVE HIM and that was spectacular. It was going to hurt to lose him in any case. It hurt worse because we got to see the goodness in him. It should hurt less because we got to see the goodness in him.
William is fictional, but his loss was all too real for viewers. It was painful because none of us are immune to loss and reliving one in such a personal way brings all of those feelings right to the surface.
For a long time, I had some well rehearsed “talk offs” about working as a hospice nurse. “Oh, it’s a privilege to be there for families at such a difficult time.” Or, “I know I can’t change the outcome, but I know I can change the experience.” I believed, and still believe those things.
But what my humanity has come to show me unconditionally, is there is no treatment for the sadness. Even a beautiful death like William’s, is sad. I find myself with increasing years of experience more, not less, sad.
We had our annual memorial service for Weinstein Hospice this past Sunday. I love and dread this event. I believe the way we honor those who have died in our program over the past year is beautiful. And I know that time for remembrance is powerful for me.
This year two things stood out strongly for me. First, our chaplain read Psalm 23. “Yea, though I walk through the shadow of the valley of death…” Her words were unforgettable. Grief is the valley of death but the psalm reads that we walk THROUGH, we do not, though at times we might feel like it, curl up and lay down in it. Bravo, Donna Faye.
Then, she used her beautiful voice, to sing “For Good” from the Broadway musical, “Wicked”. If you aren’t familiar with the tune, its message is, “I don’t know if I’ve been changed for the better...because I knew you, I have been changed for Good.” These words sang into my heart and expressed exactly how I felt about every person we memorialized that day. Each one forever changes us.
Back to William. And the sadness. One of the goals of William and Randall’s road trip was to get to “The Peabody” in Memphis to see the ducks. If any readers aren’t familiar with “The Peabody” it is a luxury hotel in Memphis that features a daily duck march to the lobby fountain and has since 1940. William wanted Randall to see the ducks and that was the plan for the day that William got sick and died.
But in true, “This Is Us”, there’s redemption and magic in this life style, we, the viewer, see Randall driving back home, tearfully, and stopped on the highway by crossing ducks. The ducks remind him of William’s advice to “roll down the windows” and smile crosses his bereaved face. The ducks march across the highway in heavy demonstration of the power of love and the victory that is redemption.
For the bereaved who watch “This is Us”. Or who were at Weinstein’s service. Or who just read this and know loss: C’mere. S’ok. I hope the one you loved left you with the peace the William left Randall. More than that, I hope you find the ducks. And roll down your windows. “This Is Us” is a hit because it really is ALL of us. I’m sorry you are sad. Keep walking through that valley.
And never ever stop HOPING.