Still Standing

Why Do We Care About Jack Pearson?

If you’re like much of America, then you know who Jack Pearson is. I’ve been watching This is Us since the pilot’s release. And like all of its fans, I have been wondering how Jack Pearson, beloved father of triplets, died.

On Super Bowl Sunday, we got our answer.

Leading up to that episode, I couldn’t help but notice the plethora of posts on Facebook about the upcoming show. Sentiments such as “I’stocked up on tissue” and “I don’t know if I can watch this” abounded. I rolled my eyes at the semi-hysteria over a TV show character. After all, Jack Pearson isn’t real. He has never been real. He’s a fictional character in an NBC drama. When you’ve lost a child, or any close loved one, it becomes difficult to identify with those who become upset over the death of a TV show character.

Or so I thought to myself while reading all of these comments and inwardly rolling my eyes.

For some reason, though, I was reluctant to watch the episode, even though I’d seen all of them up until that point. So, the other night, I logged onto NBC, and I watched it. And now I understand.

Related: This is Somewhat Us

Jack’s death wasn’t just Jack’s death. His untimely passing represented every unfair, unnatural, and wrong death that we’ve ever suffered. He was a loving father, struck down in the prime of his life. It didn’t make sense. It was unexpected. He was there one moment, and the next, he was gone forever, leaving his loved ones bereft.

I cried bitterly watching the episode. Not because I loved Jack Pearson, not because the writers and directors did a beautiful job with a hard story. I cried because I know what it is like. I know what it is like to see someone you love more than anything die. My son died when he was 5 months old. It was senseless. It was out of the natural order of things. It wasn’t right. He didn’t deserve to die. He should have had his whole life ahead of him.

Society demands that we go on, that we have a stiff upper lip, and that our grief has a limit. We’re allowed a prescribed amount of time in which we can publicly express our grief, and then our grief becomes invisible. Our friends and family think, “Well, she’s/he’s ok.” After all, we’re back to work. We’re raising our children. We may even be having more children. “She’s/he’s better,” our friends and family tell themselves.

We’re not better. We simply do what must be done. We get up every day and put one foot in front of the other. Most of us live in a fog of sorrow, anger, regret, guilt, fear, and the feeling that we will never, ever find happiness again. We hide our sorrow most of the time, because what good does it do anyone else to go around weeping?

So thank you, Jack Pearson. Thank you for representing the senseless loss in our lives. Thank you for allowing us to weep openly, to let those hot, acid tears spill out, to let our throats fill with the hollow ache that accompanies us every day of our lives. As I watched, I felt my heart open up and all of the sadness, for once, could flow out of me.

Rest in peace, Jack Pearson.


Photograph courtesy of Getty Images/NBC