Remarkably, grief and loss claimed the television spotlight as NCIS episode 17 of season 19 (“Starting Over”) models healthy grieving over time. The show has portrayed loss realistically before in the immediate wake of traumatic events. Also, the lead character of Jethro Gibbs was driven by grief to a great extent. However, this episode involved multiple recurring characters — Agent Knight, Jimmy Palmer (medical examiner), and former FBI agent Tobias Fornell. They were attending a grief group for their past losses. The episode’s plot focused on a father mourning his soldier-daughter and the daughter’s unit commander. Overall, the story normalized the ongoing impact of loss over time, which is highly unusual in our culture. It also showed men being open about their grief, which has occurred before, especially since Jimmy’s wife died. I loved the final scene, between Fornell and the soldier’s father. [Image credit: Glenn Carstens-Peters via Unsplash]
Grief in the News
How long grief should last was in the news recently when the New York Times published a piece about the addition of “prolonged grief disorder” to psychiatry’s diagnostic manual. Proponents say it will help the small minority of people who are pining and unable to return to normal activities after a year to access the care they need. But many advocates argue against any time limits. My experience of grappling with childhood loss as an adult — decades after the death occurred — makes me cautious of calling grief a disorder. Healthy grieving happens over time.
In the wake of trauma, it’s common for people to feel shame about their responses, or they might dissociate from emotions too painful to confront. So I question whether such a label is helpful. I also share advocates’ other concerns that this diagnosis will create an overemphasis on pharmaceutical approaches. For me, connecting to a community of grievers fostered healing beyond what I ever imagined, and that occurred many years after my loss. I regularly encounter bereaved people in similar situations.
Glimmer of Optimism?
However, I’d like to hope that TV scripts mirror the culture accurately and that normalizing healthy grieving over time here to stay. Last year for a while we streamed some of the original Hawaii Five-O series from the 1970s. The opening music sure evoked memories! (My dad loved that show.) An episode from Season 5 (1972) provided an unexpected window into the grief culture then, around when my mom died. “The Listener” episode featured a doctor who lied to patients about their terminal diagnoses or the severity of their illness. But these actions were peripheral to the crime, and Steve McGarrett didn’t even remark on it as problematic or cruel! Apparently such avoidance was that typical then as to be portrayed on television. Witnessing it, I practically pulled my hair out in disbelief! NCIS came as a welcome contrast in the present day. I’ll take it!
We all need to keep sharing our stories of loss, whether it’s the death of a loved one or something else, like a job, a home, or a relationship. Check out the podcasts listed below that affirm the importance of grieving together, all the time, for however long we want. What podcasts do you recommend? Tell me here. [Image credit: Tom Wheatley via Unsplash]
Tell Grief Stories! Podcast Suggestions
Tendrils of Grief with Susan Ways — personal stories, steps to have hope and build meaning (my episode here)
Grief Is My Side Hustle with Meghan Riordan Jarvis — “Aside from crying, what does it mean to grieve?” (my episode here)
Good Grief with Cheryl Jones — Exploring loss and transformation (my episode here)
Grief Out Loud by the Dougy Center — Personal stories, tips for supporting kids and parents, interviews with professionals.
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