I don't remember a lot about my childhood. Parts of it were just too painful so I blocked it all out. But I remember parts of the day my dad died like it was yesterday, and last night's post-Super Bowl episode of "This Is Us" hit way too close to home. I was pretty tired last night, and I knew the episode was going to be a lot so I avoided social media and waited to watch it this morning. I can't even begin to explain the tears that were shed as I watched the episode on my cellphone. The second half of the show managed to not record so I had to improvise.
After two intense, flashback-filled seasons, faithful "This Is Us" viewers like myself were finally going to find out what happened to the patriarch of the family - Jack. The cliffhanger from the last episode had us all thinking he died in a fire. In fact, he hadn't. It was a heart attack.
September 17th, 1985 was a Tuesday. I was nine. My auntie Mable came and picked us up from cheerleading practice but she didn't say why. We thought we were lucky that we got to leave early, so we joked around and laughed as she sped around corners back to our apartment. When we got there, my mom was already locking the metal door and heading down the stairs with tears in her eyes. We asked what was wrong and all she said was that our dad was "sick." I screamed as I began to cry, instinctively knowing that whatever it was, it was bad.
We piled into the car to make our way from Los Angeles to the valley during rush hour. I remember the little game I silently played in my head. If the car sat still on the freeway for longer than ten seconds, the news was bad. But if it was less than ten seconds, my dad would be okay. I cried a little harder every time we sat still for too long. When we left L.A., it was still light outside. By the time we got to the hospital, it was dark.
I remember the other football coaches from Agoura High School waiting for us in the lobby. They ushered my mom off while we sat waiting. I remember someone coming to get us and putting us in what looked like a classroom with white dry erase boards on the walls as we waited for my mom to come back. My auntie Alice paced back and forth for what seemed like forever. The next thing I remember is standing outside. The sky was so clear that night. It seemed like there were a thousand stars in the sky. As my mom knelt in between my sisters and I and told us that dad had died, I imagined that he was now one of them. It was a massive heart attack. He was 43.
We made our way back to our dad's house (mom and dad were separated at the time of his death) and we all sat stunned as more and more people came to the house. It seemed like the phone rang nonstop as the tears ran dry from too much crying. I was mad at myself for not spending more time talking to my dad on the phone that morning. Or remembering what we'd talked about. Had I told him I loved him? There was so much more to say. But so much that still needed to sink in and process. Losing someone you love like that so suddenly is just completely incomprehensible. The pain makes you numb. It's actually kind of hard to explain just how bad it hurt. How decades later, it still hurts.
Late that night I feel asleep on the couch. I remember waking up and looking at my mom who was sitting at the kitchen table. Looking exhausted with her chin resting in her hand, she managed to give me the most reassuring smile in the midst of all that pain. I smiled back, and went back to sleep.
On the show, Jack's sudden death was only a small part of the episode. We see how each of the characters deals with his death, how comprehension and acceptance can take forever, how the pain never really goes away, and how our loved ones manage to send us signs from the other side. As usual, "This Is Us" nailed it.