A few weeks ago, a new show debuted on Facebook. I had no idea Facebook made tv shows, but apparently they do. In any case, this new show is called “Sorry For Your Loss” and is about a young widow.
It is brilliant.
That is not an understatement. I’ve watched the first eight episodes and I am convinced that the writers for this show are all young widows. It’s that spot-on.
The show is about a woman, Leigh (played by Elizabeth Olsen), who is probably in her early 30s. As the show begins, the viewer finds out that her husband died three months prior. In the first episode, she sits in a grief group, trying to tell her story, a look of shock on her face. She does not weep uncontrollably, but rather is composed much of the time. In fact, she looks frightfully composed. It is some of the best acting I’ve seen in a long time because when I look at her reaction to early grief, I see mine.
So much of her character reminds me of myself in the early months after Shawn died. I think when television portrays grief, it often shows someone coming completely unglued at the seams. But that’s not what life was like for me in the early months. Instead, like the fictional character Leigh, I was numb to many emotions, and then I’d have breakdowns that would sometimes come out of nowhere.
I also had a lot of anger, much of it misplaced. I was angry at random people I met in the grocery store and I snapped at people who didn’t deserve it. I constantly told people at inopportune moments about my dead husband. (Sometimes I still do all of these things.)
In the show, Leigh is a bit more introverted, but she still manages to have many bumbling widow moments. As any young widow will tell you, there is nothing more awkward than a woman who’s been forced to endure a life event that she is wholly not prepared for. I think you can look through my blog posts for the millions of times I’ve told perfect strangers about losing my husband. I just can’t help it.
But the scene that got me the most was the one from episode 8, when Leigh attends the wedding of her best friend just five months after her husband’s death. She arrives at the wedding and ends up running into the florist from her own wedding. The florist doesn’t know about the death of Leigh’s husband, and eventually Leigh has to tell her. It’s an awful scene, and the look on the face of the florist is one that I’ve seen a thousand times. It’s a look of horror.
Of course it is. It should be. Dying before you reach middle age is a horrifying thing.
But it’s hard to process reactions like this when you’re just trying to get through your day. Or, in Leigh’s case, when you’re trying to get through a major event like a wedding. Leigh retreats to the bathroom, where she locks herself in the stall and takes deep breaths sitting on the toilet. I had to pause the show at that moment because I was crying so hard that I couldn’t see anything.
I’ve been in that bathroom stall. I’ve taken those deep breaths to try and compose myself before I head back to the party or the classroom or the event.
Yes, I could leave, and yes, I could also break down. But sometimes, dammit, you just have to keep going. You have to be alone and compose yourself and then go back to what you were doing without mentioning it to anyone. You have to continue on with life even though you might break down at any moment.
That’s a very unsettling feeling. I’ve been able to control my emotions for much of my life, and when I couldn’t (like at the birth of my children or at less dramatic moments when I just really had my feelings hurt) it didn’t usually come out of nowhere. But the kind of grief I experience now does. In the beginning, scenes like Leigh’s bathroom scene occurred constantly for me.
They are less frequent now, but they still happen. Yes, I cry at the cemetery or when it’s late at night and I’ve just told the kids a great memory about their dad. But sometimes I’m just doing something normal, like shopping at the grocery store, and grief hits me in an uncontrollable way.
I think this is why I like the show. It’s raw and real and every episode I think, “oh yes, I remember when I acted like that.”
What the show captures is this: being a young widow is a wholly disorienting experience.