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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Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Inspector Lewis

After being gone for a while, the PBS mystery series Inspector Morse 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 to do 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 unresolved anger at the driver who killed her.

The Morse-Lewis character pairing was complementary. Simplistically speaking, Morse worked from his mind while Lewis worked from his heart. Morse was known as the brilliant, although eccentric, solver of crimes that perplexed everyone else, yet half the time it was something Lewis noticed that was the key for solving the mystery, something he felt wasn’t right.

When the killer of his wife is found, Lewis loses control and unleashes on the man. This explosion of anger allows him to let his wife move into the past, which allows him to reclaim his heart and his compassion for others.

Most of the people Lewis works with on the police force are good people with very human flaws who rely on each other in order to cope with the stress. Their flaws are what allow me to care about them because I can see them as individuals. I needed this honesty when I was grieving and deciding how much of my struggle to share with friends, how vulnerable I would let myself be.

Most of us know the general landscape of grief because Kubler-Ross laid it out in five stages, although the journey is more of a labyrinth than a straight path. While most survivors are eventually happy again, we also know people who have gotten stuck in grief, unwilling or unable to move on. They live in a museum of memories preserved in a time warp and bubble-wrap. Others become bitter, and some lose their will to live.

It’s hard to accept the death of a loved one, especially when it’s someone we expected to grow old with. But once we do, and once we accept that good people die, that young people die from horrible diseases that ravage their bodies and minds, that people die from accidents and from the senseless acts of violence done by others, then we realize that our focus should not be on reaching some safe place in the future where we can’t be hurt again, but on making today as full and as rich as we can by sharing our lives with each other, our struggles as well as our celebrations.

Lewis, unlike Morse, thrives on relationships, but he struggles with the job because the counterbalance of a happy home life is gone. A hard shell begins to form around him, and my early fear was that he would end up bitter and alone like Morse. In later episodes, we see glimmers of happiness return as he shares moments with a new woman and a relationship develops.

He reminds me of Nicole, who was with me when my wife died and coordinated her organ donations. Her job always started with someone dying, knowing that she would have to deal with the emotional tsunami of the donor family’s anger, shock, denial, and despair. I didn’t know how long she would be able to do this kind of work before her compassion burned out. Thankfully, she had a family to keep her balanced and the joy of the transplant recipients.

Sometimes the tragedies we experience break something in us. Dylan Thomas wrote that after the first death, there were no others. Among the meanings I have drawn from this over the years is that when that first death strikes us close, something in us dies. For some it is trust in the underlying goodness of life. This may have been the case with Morse.

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 let them help.

(This is part of an essay that was first published in Back Road Café, London, U.K.)

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