Something I learned quickly after I started to date Heather was that I’d have to share her with her first love – television. Don’t get me wrong, I watch my share of TV too, but Heather takes TV viewership to a whole other level. For one thing, she has actual rules for watching TV. She also often complains that the two (repeat…two!) DVRs in our home aren’t enough for her to keep up with all of the shows she watches. Considering all of this, I suppose it isn’t a surprise that our TV viewing was changed by Maddie’s passing. After all, Maddie’s passing has changed every other facet of our lives.
One of Heather’s favorite shows is “Grey’s Anatomy.” She has been a fan since the show debuted in 2006, and watches its new episodes as well as (endless) re-runs on Lifetime. I was never the biggest fan of the show to start with (though I did like the episode where Katherine Heigl stripped to her underwear), but after Maddie passed it became unwatchable. I couldn’t bear to be transported to a hospital very much like the one Maddie passed away in, full of the same sights and sounds. Recently Heather watched an episode where a patient was dying, and the doctors, after attempting to revive him, eventually stopped and declared him dead. My eyes immediately welled with tears – I was right back in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit, watching doctors try in vain to save my daughter’s life. Heather, however, was unaffected. To her “Grey’s Anatomy” is just a silly soap opera that she enjoys watching. (McDreamy probably helps too.)
That’s not to say that Heather’s TV viewing hasn’t been affected by losing Maddie; it has. Whereas Heather used to join me in watching the horror films I enjoy, now she can’t. She finds them too disturbing, too capable of drawing her back into her own horror story. These movies don’t have that effect on me – I find them silly and removed from reality – but then again Heather doesn’t get why I am so disturbed by “Grey’s Anatomy”.
We are making it work though. As I’ve written before, to move through grief a couple must accept the changes in each other and the fact that they can’t understand each other as perfectly as they once did. So now Heather watches “Grey’s Anatomy” when I’m not around, and I do the same with my horror films. And when our favorite comedies come on, we snuggle together on the couch, happy to be able to laugh and forget for at least half an hour.
catherine lucas says:
I know about avoiding hospital series… If you had too much of it in real life, you are not ready to watch it happen again on tele…
I am glad that through it all, you two as a couple make it… Sharing this unspeakable grief.
Mary Ann says:
I totally understand about not being able to watch medical shows anymore. I used to be addicted to those types of shows, especially the “true life’ ones with real people. After spending six months in and out of hospitals with my father before he passed away I can’t watch them anymore. They bring back every raw emotion I felt back then. I thought I was the only one who felt that way – thanks for making me feel a little more sane.
We had not had a loss like yours, but my husband cannot bear to watch Grey’s Anatomy when children are in peril. He’ll watch every blow ’em up action drama, and is reading The Girl that Everybody Reads books, but cannot watch Grey’s Anatomy (or Private Practice) if there is a child involved.
I am so glad that you are writing here regularly again. I love that Heather’s site is now a one-stop-shop for both of your writing. Thank you so much to both of you for being such an inspiration to so many.
I can’t watch Grey’s Anatomy for that reason myself.
I was paralyzed at the age of 10 , overnight , by an air born virus that affects 1 – 100,000. All because I had a cold the previous week and my immune system was slightly weaker. In those 2 years, I spent 8 months in P.I.C.U and saw my share of extremely ill children and babies. I was on my death bed for 2 months, and remember the beeping sounds and smells of all the machines and medicines to this day. Code Blue was a daily if not several times daily occurrence. I witnessed many babies die and many grieving parents suffer. I cry as I type this and remember again. You can never forget. Watching shows that depict that horror and over whelming sadness make me cry uncontrollably, and some days I’m not strong enough mentally to think ‘this is just a show, these are only actors, they make money off this and go home, while you sit and cry and believe this is real’. Because I know this is real in someone’s life, somewhere…..because I saw myself, many times.
P.s. Watched the Rabbit Hole yesterday I read your review a few weeks ago and was interested. It was sad. I thought of you the whole time. Art imitating life..Onscreen, offscreen….death of a child should NEVER happen. Too much sadness to bear. You and Heather are always in my thoughts, my prayers, my heart. Love your posts Mike. I look at pics of you and your amazing girls and think you are an extraordinary father, husband and man. I’m sorry life has been so harsh to you, but I applaud your strength!!!
Please tell me that wonderful wife of yours watched ‘Off the Map’ last night… premiere of new show, same producers as Grey;s
I’m with you on the being transported back thing. Everything ties to my personal stuff, no matter what the frame of reference. Have you tried The Cape? It’s hard to tell after just the pilot…it will be interesting to see where it goes and what the show turns into. Not to mention, how long will it last.
I’m glad you feel like writing again.
For the same reason, I can’t read books that are too true to life. I wish I wasn’t so wimpy. But I guess we all have to protect ourselves the best way we know how. I do think, however, we’d all have to be a lot stronger living in a third world country, where you come face to face with death (and even more disturbing things) a lot more often and have to figure out how to deal with it because you have no choice.
Emily E says:
I just wanted to say that I’ve really been enjoying your entries, Mike. I’m glad that you are regularly posting. I don’t know what it is but your entries are very relate-able(?).
I agree with both of you. Right after Jake died there was a story line on Six Feet Under where the woman gave birth at 26 weeks (just as I had). Her son lived, ours did not.
Sometimes are own lives are sad and scary enough without watching it on TV. I am a big fan of comedies these days. Take care of yourselves.
I love Grey’s Anatomy too but after I landed in the hospital with a preterm labor scare I can’t watch/rewatch the episodes dealing with babies. As it is, the episode with the quintuplets was airing while I was in the hospital. After that I decided no TV was the way to go while I was there.
Comedy is about the only thing I enjoy watching. Why waste time watching sad or scary stuff? Life is full of sad and scary.
Amanda M. says:
I’m glad Heather can still enjoy Grey’s Anatomy. It’s my favorite show! I’m surprised, I thought she would’ve given it up. And to be triggered by ridiculous horror films instead? Grief is a strange thing.
Excellently written. I too am grieving a lost newborn, didn’t get the full seventeen months of learning how deeply you can love a person, then let them go. I can’t imagine your hardship, but I deeply admire the way you and your wife have forged on. And allowed others to share in your journeys. So beautiful.
It does not seem to matter the type of show, but if a child dies or a parent is grieving I am done for. We lost our son before our other children were born and they are usually not around when this happens to me. Recently we went to Tangled (which I absolutely loved). There is a scene where the King looks at his wife on their missing daughters birthday, and maybe I am too sensitive, but the pain they showed in his eyes as a single tear rolled down his cheek brought up every ounce of pain I carry. I absolutely lost it. I could not stop the flow. I was not sobbing, I just had tears pouring from my eyes. I tried to cover as to not alarm my kids, but I never know when it will happen.
I can only imagine certain scenes and images would bring the memories of the hospital back to you. I don’t watch any medical dramas because I’m a nurse I know what’s so fake and outlandish it’s ridiculous. Stick to the comedies. Rules of Engagement and Two and a Half Men are two that come to mind.
your words are beautiful Mike, WRITE A BOOK! Im serious! I’d buy it, you have a way with words. Take care of each other!
Since having Jack, I cannot watch people being beat up on tv, let alone anyone dying. I have to plug my ears and hum if there is a fight scene on a show until my husband nudges me to let me know it is over. I can’t help but think that that guy getting punched is someone’s son and I don’t want any mom to hurt…
you guys are amazing. each others ying and yang.
i know what you mean about hospital shows. i can’t watch them either. reminds me of being with my mom when she passed. if someone is dieing in a show or movie…i’m a waterfall.
For me it’s cancer storylines. The diagnosis, the death, etc. Brings me back to my grandma over again and I just bawl. I thought I was over it, the ability to handle it, but here I am, almost 8 years later and nope. I still cry.
It’s not as bad though. It does get better. But you will find something random may make you just well up with tears. The other day for me, it was a song. Reminded me of my gram. We were so close.
You’ll be okay, because you have us to talk you through it.
That actually makes sense to me. My husband is disturbed by shows that could really happen. The movie Devil’s Advocate was very upsetting to him because as a man he feels his job is to protect his family and show’s where wive’s or children are endangered bother him…because that could happen in real life. Whereas while he doesn’t enjoy slasher/horror movies they don’t bother him on an emotional level because the odds of a man wearing a skin mask chasing you through the forest isn’t reality. Wives being raped and children stolen…thats something that strikes a nerve because he has a wife and children. Me…I’m more freaked out by creepy horror shows because my imagination can run wild…and while I don’t really love psychological thrillers because they make me impatient, they don’t shake me to my core.
I can’t stand hospital shows. Especially House. The very night I watched House for the first time, my dad was rushed to the ER. It eventually turned out that he had the same cancer as the patient in the episode. Seriously freaked me out, and now the show just triggers the same panic and grief.
I have been lurking on Heather’s blog for a while, and so many things resonate for me and my husband. Yet, it was this post that made me write. My son died quickly and unexpectedly two years ago at the age of 3 and a half. He got the flu, which quickly turned to pneumonia, and he died within 24 hours of reaching the hospital. He was a fragile child, and when you speak of your life with Maddie some things are similar, although for different underlying medical reasons. We lived in fear of the common cold.
I used to be a HUGE Gray’s fan, even after months of being in the hospital with my son. I remember talking to friends and co-workers about how shows like this actually hire doctors and nurses to consult/write for them. You know, feed them story lines. Sometime in the middle of the night as my son rapidly declined and became septic (to everyone’s surprise) I remember looking up at the nurses’ station. People were surfing the net, having casual conversations about their own children, their latest date, where to go on vacation etc. I just couldn’t believe that my son was dying a few feet away and life was going on as normal for these people. Worse, I thought I have seen this whole thing on TV…many times! Through years of watching ER I did see parents walking out of the hospital without their child. How did I consider this entertainment?
So, I can’t watch any medical shows. My husband and I mostly stick to comedies now. When we do go for something else it is typically after doing some research about what might happen. I do enjoy seeing things about grieving parents, like the Rabbit Hole, when prepared.
Thanks to you for writing about how couples can grieve differently and still be a strong couple.
Maybe you being affected by a show like, “Grey’s Anatomy” and Heather being affected by horror movies, has something to do with the stereotypical science of the opposite sex. And, I HATE admiting this, because I hate stereotypes (male or female; we should be able to enjoy anything without it being a his or her thing). What I’m trying to say is that (since I’m obviously babbling away): Woman feel comforted by dramas (in this case Grey’s Anatomy) and men like their horror/action films. It’s your comfort zone. A place where there’s no harm done. You having to watch an emotional scene like that, is hard because it’s probably not something you do often. Same with Heather. Now I could be completely wrong, but that’s my theory. Again: Here I go stereotyping when I hate doing so.