Humor is a beautiful lock pick set, the perfect tool for any situation. Humor can open people up, it can get you out of trouble, it can even be a defense mechanism to protect you. However, these things usually stop short when death is involved. When dealing with the loss of someone, humor often becomes a tool without “a right time” to be used. To me though, humor is a way of making death, this infinite unavoidable circumstance… smaller.
once it’s in the room”- Thuli Zuma
My first best friend in this world is my mother, she’s my tag team partner, my first audience, my first roommate. She died on September 9, 2011. Since that day it has not stopped being September 9th, 2011. On the best days, I’m at her bedside still trying to make her laugh. On the worst days, it’s the voicemail saying that she is gone, or my first step into the loud silence of her hospital room. She once told me, “It was always you and me against the world” and when my teammate needed me I wasn’t there. The last words I heard her say to me was “Go” assuring me to take care of this task and come back, and for the first time in my life I was too late. My way of dealing with not being there when she died was not talking about it. The weight of it would pop up (sometimes at weird places)…
“Yeah, lemme get the strawberry ice cream with Reese’s pieces
*oh god she’s really gone*
ah–arheem ah, woooo- lemme get some sprinkles on that too… What?”
…but I’d push it down and keep it moving. I didn’t consciously deal with it until I was watching NBC’s show Go On about radio talk show host Ryan King (Matthew Perry).
After losing his wife, Ryan goes right back to work as if nothing has happened. Worried about him, his boss and best friend Stephen forces him to attend a support group. Under threat of losing his job, Ryan agrees, but doesn’t take it seriously. While Lauren, the group counselor is out Ryan invents a game for the group to determine once and for all who has the most tragic story. It’s a tournament dubbed “March Sadness” by Owen, a kid that has been coming to counseling for months and remained quiet. It’s the hilarity of this very scene which had me hooked on the show with their handling of loss and humor.
Lauren warns Ryan that if he doesn’t deal with what’s happened he’s going to explode. After learning the hard way that she is right, Ryan reveals to us that his wife died texting him while driving. “She needed to tell me to buy a bag a coffee so at least it was important… I don’t know how to do this.”
Watching the show, it’s weird how my actual loss connected me with this group of fictional characters: Ann who lost her wife, Owen whose brother was in a coma, Fausta whose children and husband were deported as well as others dealing with their different issues.
In one episode Ryan thinks he’s going crazy as he begins to see his dead wife Janie around the house. I’ve had a similar experience. I was sleeping, but could swear someone was sitting beside me petting my hair, it felt like my mother beside me, and we were back in our old house. I knew this couldn’t be real but that familiarity of home resonated so strongly that I needed it to be. I was in that state where you aren’t sleeping anymore but can’t immediately open your eyes. I finally forced myself to wake up as I quickly sat up calling out “Mom?”, this was the first time I had said her name aloud in an empty room in a year. When Ryan brings it up, fellow widower Ann, assures him it’s normal. I’m now feeling relief as well.
Go On was never preachy in the approach to navigating through loss, it was always sincere and honest, which is what draws me back to re-watching it every so often. I related most to Owen. He only opened up to Ryan about his brother being in a coma organically through their mutual love of video games. Owen hasn’t been able to bring himself to visit his brother, so Ryan volunteers to go into the room for him, to talk to Owen’s brother and sing to him as Owen said it was something they always did for one another…
It turns out to be a prank, Owen sent Ryan to a stranger’s room — the way him and his brother used to mess with each other. In doing that with Ryan, he gets the push he needed to finally go and see his actual brother. Ryan gets him back beautifully with a prank that makes Owen believe he broke the vase holding Janie’s ashes. It’s this playfulness within the group as everyone grows closer that kept drawing me in.
I felt like I found a shortcut to talking about everything I needed to unpack by watching these characters do it for me. This show was my group where I didn’t have to speak but still processed everything internally. And right when I thought this defense I had been developing through this loss was helping me out, the show goes and calls me out on relying on it too heavily.
Go On thought of everything damn it. I loved it so much and the fact that it was canceled after only a season wasn’t fair but was fitting as that’s just how life is, isn’t it? You take the great things for granted and get so hurt when they’re taken away. My mom use to tell me constantly, “I’m not always going to be around to do this for you” to which I’d reply “But you’re too stubborn to die,” every single time until the day she was on her deathbed telling me, “When I go don’t bring me back.” In that moment the only thing I could say was, “Given the weight of the current situation that’s the most gangsta shit you ever said to me,” which still holds true. The thing is, no parent should ever have to bury their own child, so a child burying their parent becomes this privilege, a privilege none want but still have to acknowledge.
I’m still workin’ on it but this show helps me realize that it’s alright if it’s September 9, 2011 today or even tomorrow as well, but when it stops being that day, I don’t have to feel guilty about it because moving on doesn’t mean forgetting. It just means you remember in your own way, even if it happens to be recalling all the funny moments. How we choose to go on isn’t important, just that when the time comes, we do.