I’ve written a few blog posts on Dead Dad Day, and they serve as textual time capsules that remind me where I was, literally and metaphorically, on those anniversaries.
On the first anniversary, I was writing my comps for my doctoral program.
When we were honoring my dad’s memory at our family dinner on the third anniversary, we heard the news that Whitney Houston died. (People were shocked, but losing a 59-year old parent suddenly tends to make you impervious to premature deaths of troubled celebrities.)
But when I think back to this year’s 9th anniversary, I will remember Jack’s death.
Yes, my father’s name was Tom, but Jack Pearson is the patriarch in the popular show This Is Us.
If you’re not familiar with it, This Is Us tells the story of a fictional family across decades with the use of flashbacks (and, recently, one flash-forward). We’ve known from early in the first season that Jack died sometime between the kids’ teenage years and their adulthood. (Warning: The rest of this post contains references to the last two episodes.)
This show has been on the air for a year and a half, yet the writers chose THIS WEEK to tell us exactly how Jack died and what his kids and widow do on his anniversary. Then, two days after this special post-Super Bowl show, we got an episode on his funeral.
Many people refer to the show as a tear-jerker, but I haven’t needed the tissues until these episodes. It was a bit too real, especially so close to Dead Dad Day. I’m cool with art imitating life, but not necessarily my life, and certainly not this week.
This Is Us felt like This Is Me.
Jack dies of a cardiac arrest. My father did, too. (Jack’s was due to a fire; my dad’s was due to type 1 diabetes.)
His widow Rebecca sees him dead on the bed in the ER. Been there, done that!
In the funeral episode, Rebecca is stoic, the pillar of strength she feels she needs to be for her 17-year old triplets (er, kind of…it’s complicated). Before the funeral, I had a chat with my father’s open casket that helped me deliver his eulogy without losing my composure.
These episodes were especially emotional because I had the enormous good fortune of having a Jack Pearson dad. He painted my face as Raggedy Ann for my second Halloween. He came to my loooong gymnastics meets and dance recitals and softball games. He took me on my college visits. He was a hands-on father who remembered the things that mattered to me.
From flashbacks in the funeral episode, I was also reminded of some of the harder parenting moments from my teen years. Jack didn’t love Alanis Morisette like his daughter Kate did. My senior year of high school, I wrote the lyrics to one of Morisette’s songs on my paper-bag book cover. Imagine my embarrassment when I took the book out in class and saw that my father had written a response: “These lyrics aren’t appropriate for high school. Perhaps next year.” GULP.
Toward the end of the funeral episode, after spreading some of Jack’s ashes at a sentimental location, Rebecca tells the ethereal Jack, “I promise you, we’re gonna be okay.”
We know from watching the 2017 version of the family, almost 20 years after Jack’s death, that this proves true. They’re all a little broken in some places, but the brokenness is what makes them interesting.
And they’re okay. When you have a Jack Pearson, or a Tom Pesola, for a dad, you know you’re gonna be okay.