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.

If you would like to be notified whenever I post something new, please enter your email here.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Labyrinth of the First Death

Inspector Morse

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

Each week I’d tune in and wait, 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 would let our frustrations fade away.

I watched the series before Evelyn died because it was well written, and the storyline was a challenging puzzle to figure out. After Ev’s death, my first close death, I watched to see how Morse held on when life was on the verge of coming apart. He was also dealing with his loneliness. Morse had romances and almost married twice, but in the end he came home alone. I felt we were sharing a similar journey.

The show gave me something to look forward to each week, 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, each day Morse dealt with the tragic side of human life, yet he believed in a few friends, good ale, classical music and crosswords, and 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 dealing with people who deliberately harmed others. I also liked his philosophical musings.

Sometimes Morse was unable to let go. Sometimes he could not forget the violence done to innocent people 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, trying to find a reason for why it made a difference that he go back to work in the morning. Even when he was mired in the muck, I enjoyed his company.

Then I heard that John Thaw passed away. He was the actor who portrayed Morse. I did not watch the last episode when it first aired because in it Morse dies, and that 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.

I wonder, though, if Morse could have had a happy home life. There were women who cared about him and were willing to put up with his peculiarities and moodiness. Perhaps the unrelenting horrors he saw in his work, and his subsequent doubts about the progress of humanity, toasted his trust too crisp to ever say “Yes” to another person, although at the end he seemed ready again to try.

Television shows, books, and movies that deal honestly with reality offer different ways of looking at grief 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 Morse assured me that if I held on, something I did not see would come along.

If we talked openly about grief in our society, we would be familiar with grief’s landscape and know how to work with it, but we don’t. So shows like this become our local pub where we go for good beer and meaningful conversations.

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


  1. I recorded as many episodes of Inspector Morse as I could find when my dear Jim died two years ago. We had already watched a lot of them together. Morse has a vulnerability that is very appealing to me, and crosswords, classical music and beer were important aspects of my life with Jim. The beautiful theme music was composed by a fellow Australian, Barrington Pheloung, and there are elements of Morse Code in it. (I came here from the WYG Alumni group.)

    1. Annie, I wondered about the Morse code! Yes, his vulnerability. Confronting the darkness of the world, trying to do what was right, and somehow make it through another day. Often enough I find myself humming the theme music, and missing Morse again.