If you're watching, you know: This Is Us is a tearjerker in the best and worst way possible. I'm not quite sure what it is about the show that makes people cry, but I'm convinced it's the music. Toward the end of each episode, as the characters are facing yet another emotional ordeal, the staple music begins to play. The show's creators know how to pull at the heartstrings, keep us hooked, and maintain the element of surprise. I love all the characters on the show, even Miguel, but I frequently find myself relating to one in particular — Rebecca.
I am a widow and like Rebecca, I lost my husband tragically and suddenly. Even though our stories have vast differences, the parallels are uncanny. Jack died from smoke inhalation, my husband died from a stray bullet; Rebecca had teenage triplets, I had a 3-day-old infant; Rebecca waited 10 years to remarry, I remarried after four. Her character development as a widow is so spot-on that I feel like the show is plucking storylines from my personal journal. I've noticed a few things about her ability to multitask her grief and her parenting, and I give her character a standing ovation.
- She honors Jack's legacy, even after getting remarried.
In the current timeline, it's been 20 years since Jack's death, and she speaks of him often, even in front of her second husband, Miguel. A lot of time has passed, but Rebecca still loves Jack as much as the day he died. Her children seem to have a problem with Miguel (maybe they expect her to be sad for the rest of her life), but she is somehow able to successfully juggle Miguel's feelings, her children's feelings, and her own. I've found that when you're a widow, especially with children, remarriage is a touchy subject. People tend to assume that you have moved on and forgotten about your late husband. This couldn't be further from the truth. I just remarried in September, and I know for a fact that my marriage didn't sit well with some people. Unlike with Rebecca, my new husband, Don, wasn't best friends with my late husband, but he did know him. And just like Miguel, Don feels extremely awkward in certain situations; almost unwelcome. In the beginning of our relationship, this was an ongoing problem. But, the more people got to know him, the more he was accepted across all social situations.
- Her children don't, and never will, empathize with her loss.
When Jack dies so suddenly, it's a major event in the Pearson children's lives. It's so upsetting that even 20 years later, they still struggle with it as adults. I never lost a parent when I was young, so I would never claim to know how it feels. Unlike them, my son is somewhat guarded from the pain because he was an infant when Justin died. But in conjunction with them, he will never understand my loss, and that's a hard pill to swallow. I've seen the Pearson kids overlook their mother's grief many times on the show, and when my son gets older, I'm sure he will do the same. It's not their fault, and they are completely entitled to be the victims in the situation — they were the kids. But they had their mom to help them, comfort them, and assist them through it all. Rebecca had no one, and the one person she needed was gone.
- Rebecca always puts her children's needs first.
After Jack's death, it's hard for Rebecca to move forward with life. She cries a lot and even tells Dr. K. (her and Jack's obstetrician) "I just can't do it without him." In this moment, she is ready to surrender to her grief and completely give up. After Justin died, I did this a lot. It was hard for me to look past my own pain to see anything else — even my infant child. And, just like Rebecca, I sucked it up and did what needed to be done. Rebecca holds back tears in front of her children and sacrifices her own pain for theirs. I had to do this as well. Though instead of attending my son's high school graduation, I had to nurse him. Instead of holding him while he cried for his father, I had to change his diapers. I had to sacrifice myself for him — in spite of my pain.
- Rebecca fears tragedy.
When you have something so horrific happen to you in life, it's hard to completely come back from it. In season 3, Kate is undergoing IVF, and Rebecca finds out. Instead of supporting Kate (like most mothers would do), Rebecca pushes back, telling her it's a bad idea. It's hard for most people to understand her opposition on the subject, but I knew exactly where it was coming from. When my son Jax was a baby (around 3 or 4 months old), I literally screamed at my mother for having him 12 feet from the kitchen where she was cooking with raw chicken. I was convinced that he would get salmonella and die. In hindsight, I realize this sounds ridiculous, but in the moment, I thought I was in the right. It's the same idea as Rebecca, just different circumstances — we fear any tragedy because of the loss we've suffered.
Rebecca eventually tells Kate about how, after Jack died, the thought of any real harm befalling her children was paralyzing to her. That sentiment is so true, I feel like I wrote it. As parents we all fear for our children. We worry, we overthink, and we try to protect them from anything that might cause them harm. As a grieving widowed mother, I had lost my logic, and my level of worry was heightened to the point of paralysis — it always will be. Just like Rebecca, I would do anything to avoid that level of pain, even if it's not always what is right. I'm so thankful that This Is Us has Rebecca's back. The storylines have been a fantastic display of a widowed mother's grief, and I look forward to many more.