Every Wednesday

Every Wednesday I will post something about grief. Sometimes it will be a reflection on an aspect of grief’s landscape. Now and then I will share from my own journey of grief, because in the sharing of our stories we find strength and build a community of people that support one another.

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Friday, June 27, 2014

Inspector Morse and the Labyrinth of the First Death

Those of us who are members of grief’s subculture don’t always want superficial diversions to fill the empty hours and spaces, even though many of our days are ponderously heavy and shaded charcoal gray. Sometimes we want to dive into our chaos in intelligent and challenging ways in an effort to understand it. The Inspector Morse mystery series helped me do this.

Each week I’d tune in and wait, with warm beer in hand, until Morse made it to a pub and had his pint, usually bought begrudgingly by his junior partner Lewis, and we’d drink together. If the beer was real English ale, Morse might even smile. Then we’d enjoy the moment and let our frustrations fade away.

The show gave me something to look forward to, and each episode took me to a foreign land where people spoke a slightly different language and my thoughts could meander through unfamiliar streets. Even the melancholy theme music drew me in.
Because of his police work, Morse dealt with the tragic side of human life, yet he believed in a few friends, good ale, classical music, and crosswords. They were enough to keep him going. He was a resilient pessimist, grumpy at times and often surly, yet I drew strength from his ability to withstand the bleakness of tracking down people who deliberately harmed others. I also liked his philosophical musings.

Yet Morse wasn’t always able to let go.

Sometimes he could not forget the violence he had seen and drank too much, downing pint after pint of ale and listening to his music for hours, trying to understand why life held so much pain, and trying to find a reason to go back to work. Even when he was mired in the muck, it was nice to have his company.

Most of the people he worked with on the force were good people with very human flaws who relied on each other in order to cope with the stress. Their flaws were what allowed me to care about them because I could see them as individuals, and they created openings for others to step in and help. I needed this honesty when I was deciding how many of my struggles to share with friends.

Then I heard that John Thaw died. He was the actor who portrayed Morse. I did not watch the last episode when it first aired because in it Morse dies, and it was too soon after Ev’s death. I needed him alive. Perhaps Thaw did, too.

When it was rebroadcast a year later, I finally watched, and when Morse breathed his last, I felt like a close friend had passed away.

After being gone for a while, the mystery series came back, but with Lewis taking over the lead role. During the time the show was off the air, Lewis’s wife has died in a car accident. Not only does Lewis have to learn a new job without his mentor’s advice and his wife’s support, he also has to carry on in the midst of his grief, and deal with his anger at the driver who killed her.

My wife Evelyn died in her forties of a heart condition we didn’t know she had. There was no one I could directly blame for her death, so my anger was directed at the forces of the universe that allowed the innocent and vulnerable to die, which meant that I was spitting in the wind. Her death still seems wrong, but when I look around, I realize that many good people die every day, and Ev’s death was just one more.

We don’t see much of Lewis’s wife. For the most part she is mentioned only here and there. At the start of the new series, Lewis is struggling because the counter balance of a happy home life is gone. A hard shell begins to form around him and my fear is that he will end up alone and bitter like Morse.

When the killer of his wife is found, Lewis gets to rant at the fellow. This release of anger allows him to let his wife move into the past, which allows him to reclaim his heart and his compassion for others. We begin to see glimmers of happiness return as he shares moments with a new woman and a relationship develops.

I watched the series before Evelyn died because it was well written, and the storyline was like a crossword puzzle to figure out. After Ev’s death, I watched it to see how Morse held on when life was fraying at the edges and on the verge of coming apart. Morse was also dealing with his loneliness. He had romances and almost married twice, including a woman who died in one of the episodes, but in the end he came home alone.

I felt that we were sharing a similar journey.

Shows that deal honestly with reality offer me new ways of looking at my problems and finding a way through. They also remind me that there are people who are dealing with situations far more tragic than my own. Watching the episodes gave me the confidence that if I held on, something I did not yet see would come along and turn my perspective around. The expressions of sorrow by others also expanded my vocabulary for talking about the nuances of grief. Of course, if we talked openly about grief in society, we would be familiar with the landscape and know how to work with it, but we don’t. So shows like this become our local pub where we go for beer and meaningful conversations.

It’s ironic that a show about murder brought me life, and it did so not because it was clever, which it was, or because it said that if we ignore grief it will heal on its own, which it didn’t. It said that we recover when share our grief with others and accept their help.


This essay was published by The Back Road Café, a British journal. You can read the full text at: http://www.thebackroadcafe.com/cafe-journal/2014/4/6/inspector-morse-and-the-labyrinth-of-the-first-death.html

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