So can we talk about last night’s episode of This Is Us? I have long since become a huge fan of the show and I am not ashamed to admit that I cry at every single episode. Every. Single. One. Each episode touches me in a way that makes me think they can’t possibly make me cry any harder than I did on the previous one. Yet, they prove me wrong each time. They did not fail to up the ante yet again with last night’s episode titled, Memphis.
In this episode, we found our beloved Randall taking a cross-country trip (even though he’d told his wife it wasn’t a cross-country trip) to take his ailing biological father William to his old stomping ground of Memphis. It was significant for both of them because William was dying of Stage 4 stomach cancer and this is on the heels of Randall’s nervous breakdown from the previous week. If you follow the show, you know that Randall was adopted by Jack and Rebecca because William and Randall’s mother were drug addicts, so William left baby Randall at a fire station. They reunited in the first episode when adult Randall showed up unannounced on William’s door step. Since then, we’ve watched their relationship evolve from strangers to a more intimate father/son relationship.
Last night’s episode was so moving for many different reasons but for me, it was a beautiful vision of what I wish I could have had to experience with my father. Death is an interesting part of life. We all know it’s going to happen, yet we are ill prepared when it does occur. I loved that Randall was able to spend his father’s dying days with him, learning about him, growing with him, and even usher him into his dying breath. It was so beautiful. And it brought me to tears. I was a blubbering mess in my bed. I cried sad tears for Randall because he was losing another dad, and right when the getting was getting good. I cried for William because he got to end his life on a happy note. At the end, he told Randall that he didn’t have a happy life, yet the two things that were good to him were the person at the beginning and the person at the end.
And through all of my tears, I couldn’t miss that there was a part of me crying for myself. Entertainment can provide us with such a gift, and that is the ability to shine a light on some of the realest, most intimate parts of life. I can think of no more intimate part of life than death and dealing with the death of a loved one–particularly a parent. The writer of This Is Us gave us all (well let me speak for myself) me such a gift because it provided a glimpse into a real moment of a relationship. We got to see a father and a son have honest, yet difficult dialogue about life and death. It can be so difficult to have those conversations, but I truly believe that they are so worthwhile.
While watching, I recalled the moment my father died and I wished I could have had those moments with my dad. For a long time, I felt that I was robbed of that moment. My dad was feeling under the weather one day, went to the doctor and next thing I know I was getting a call that he was on a ventilator after going through sepsis. He remained on that ventilator for three weeks. He was sedated for the duration of those three weeks as well. We never got a chance to talk. I didn’t get to ask him questions or tell him how I felt. The closest we came to that was during week 3 when he awoke for a moment. He was still on the ventilator, so he couldn’t speak, but he mouthed the words to me, “I’m dead.” I didn’t take him seriously because he would speak like that when he was sick. I brushed it off, but he shook his head No and mouthed the words again. He even went limp to show me what it would look like. I laughed because I didn’t want it to be true. While I always say I didn’t realize he was warning me, if I’m honest, I’ll admit that I knew he was telling the truth. But I wasn’t ready then to admit that so I dismissed him and hoped he was wrong. He died two days later. He didn’t get to die surrounded by mom and me. No, instead he died alone in a room with doctors. He didn’t get the peaceful transition that William received. He crashed several times, was revived each time, until that final one where he just would not return. That haunted me for years. I wanted closure. I wanted to have been able to hold his hand, kiss his cheek, and tell him it’s ok. Since I never got the chance, I have envisioned how our final conversation would have gone if we’d been given the chance. I feel like it would have gone something like this . . .
Dad: Well Boops, it’s been real. But I gotta go.
Me: Wait, don’t go yet! There’s still so much more I want to talk to you about.
Dad: Now what did I tell you? Be strong. I’ll always be with you. You’re going to be fine. Take care of my granddaughter. Watch your back and be strong for your mama. I’m counting on you.
Me: Wait, you’re dying and THIS is what you have to say to me? Not I love you. Not I’m proud, but be strong?
Dad: I just can’t do right by you. Can I, Je’Niece? I’m dying and I still just can’t do right by you. I told you before, I’m a hard man and I don’t make no bones about that. Now I said I gotta go.
Me: Well dang, fine! But don’t be a stranger. And since you won’t say it, I will. I love you, Man.
Dad: I love you more.
But I never got that moment. So I’ll have to live vicariously through Randall and William. It was a beautiful moment so I can live with that. Thank you to the writers of This Is Us. I cried some of the ugliest tears I’ve ever cried, but you gave me such a gift with each tear.