Reflections about ‘This Is Us’ on Super Bowl Sunday

I imagine the number of people watching This Is Us after tonight’s Super Bowl LII will be record breaking.

I will be among them.


In fact, I specifically hooked up by cable box today for just that reason. Not because I want to see Jack Pearson die, though. Because personally, I’d love it if we were treated to a Bobby Ewing moment and another shower scene like the one in Dallas, where we learn the entire previous season was but a bad dream.

No, I want to see tonight’s epic show because I love, love, love This Is Us. It’s the only show I’ve watched faithfully (binging a few episodes here and there as I have time) since I saw the first episode in 2016.

And because the crock-pot fire that left us all dangling at the edge of a mountaintop is one of the best cliffhangers in TV history. (Second only to the Dallas shower scene.) And I’m a sucker for cliffhangers.

I also love good writing, and This Is Us offers some of the best and most realistic writing on TV. Coming from a family where addiction has reigned supreme for decades, where alcoholism was my father’s best friend, and where losing someone you love is more the norm than not, I can relate to Jack. To Rebecca. To each of their children.

The writing is poignant and powerful, and seamless. Living in West Virginia, where we lead the nation in fatal overdoses, whether from narcotic painkillers (opioids) or Heroin(e) or fentanyl, I’m no stranger to the emotional fallout from such loss. Neither are any of my friends and neighbors.

The writers have captured all the raw emotions: in Kevin’s battle with addiction and recovery, and with Kate’s, too. As well as in Randall’s fight with perfectionism and anxiety—problems which distort the lives of so many ACOA (Adult Children of Alcoholics).

Equally important, though, is how the show’s writers have traced the non-linear path of the adult Pearson children’s addictions. They have shown us that losing a parent is a difficult trauma to recover from. We carry those scars the rest of our lives. The wounds may eventually fade, but they forever mark us as different. Our lives are permanently delineated: before and after.

Loss changes us. Losing someone like a father, a sister, or a daughter does this irreversibly. For the last year, I’ve followed the travails of the Pearson family as I’ve lived through some of my own. Watching Jack and Rebecca’s touching love story, as triplets Kate, Kevin and Randall work through their heartache, has helped me to cope with my own losses.

Death cannot be undone. We cannot go back in time and begin exercising, or eating nutritious food, or being more moderate in all things, so our kidneys don’t give out from diabetes, or our hearts from cardiovascular disease. We can only start with today and change our habits now, in this moment.

Neither can we undo the damage we caused someone we love once they’re gone forever. Kevin confronted that during his recovery, and suffered immensely for it. For opting not to talk to his father on the phone the night of the fire. To make amends, to apologize for sharp words and cold actions.

Most of us would do things different, if we had the chance. Wouldn’t we? We wouldn’t be so quick to anger, so easy to offend, so determined to nurse a grudge. Not if we knew the true and irrevocable cost. Our vision would be less farsighted. We would see that most perceived wrongs are not personal affronts. It isn’t, in other words, all about us.

This Is Us has also given us a storyline where multiple births, adoption, and a biracial family is the norm—not the exception. In all these things and more, it teaches us important life lessons about love and tolerance and forgiveness—whether the person in need of forgiving shares our bed, our genes, or our history. Even if the person is the same one staring back at us from our bathroom mirror.

It offers us a look at what tragedy, triumph, and heartache look like, all torn from the pages of real life. People like you and me, who experience all these things.

Like me. After no word from her in more than a year, my missing daughter emailed me one month ago. I still don’t know where she is, but it was a relief just to learn she is alive. But that is all I know, for her email told me nothing other than that.

As my own story plays out, I find solace in knowing that I’m not alone. Other people have survived worse, and they’re still standing. Just like the Pearsons will, after Jack dies.

Loss can change us—but it doesn’t have to define us.

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Dear Readers,

My seventh book, Shatter the Silence, a love story and the long-awaited sequel to my memoir was released May 2016. That’s on the heels of Tales of the Vintage Berry Wine Gang, a collection of my newspaper columns from 1988-91, which came out in April 2016.

For an in-depth look at the damaging effects of the silence that surrounds abuse, please watch my live TEDx talk, given April 13, 2013, at Connecticut College.

Have a great day and remember, it’s whatever you want to make it!


3 Tips to Avoid Becoming a Crime Victim

Yesterday was a first: someone tried to steal my car. Thankfully, they only stole my car keys. I was at the pool and alone in the locker room, blow drying my hair, when a woman walked out of a bathroom stall and began drying her hands.

A few minutes earlier, I had overheard her talking with someone about the pool’s two-week free membership, so I told her I was new, too. I introduced myself, and she did the same. Megan told me she had just moved here, and we chatted briefly. Then she left, but not until she flashed a big smile and I saw her black teeth.

I don’t like to profile people. But in my line of work, you learn to recognize drug addicts. And having bad, or several missing teeth, is one sign of serious drug use. I didn’t hold it against her, though, until later.

Leaving the pool not two minutes behind Megan, I watched as a man who parked next to my car carefully opened his door, trying not to scratch my car. I smiled as our paths crossed, and got into my car.

But I was surprised to find it unlocked. I distinctly remembered locking it, so when a “key not detected” message appeared on the dashboard, I had a bad feeling. I turned my gym bag inside out, but my keys were gone. That was odd, because when I first went into the locker room, I lifted up the keys to look for a ponytail holder.

With no way to start my car, I returned to the locker room and checked the locker. It was empty. I asked the front desk receptionist, “Carla,” if anyone found my keys. Then I asked about Megan, and if she had completed the paperwork needed for her two-week free trial. She hadn’t. That was a red flag, since Megan told me she was looking forward to using the pool.

Carla said Megan and a female friend had come in and asked to use the restroom. The friend used the loo in the lobby; Megan came into the locker room to use one of those toilets. Carla also remembered that Megan’s friend left the building first, before Megan did.

I asked Carla if she had a bad vibe about the two women. She said she had but, like me, she didn’t want to be guilty of profiling. (Megan was white; her friend was black. Both women wore hoodies and jeans.) By then, I knew I needed to call the police. I did that but before the officer arrived, the driver who parked next to me left the gym. I asked if he had seen anyone near my car when he arrived. He said he had, actually. A woman was standing next to it but when a small, white (or grey) car pulled up one lane away, she got in, and the car drove away.

Here’s what I think happened: Megan planned to steal my car (or anything of value inside), when that fellow parked next to my car. So instead, she jumped into the getaway vehicle and she and her partner in crime split.

This is what I learned yesterday: another swimmer told me a recent news report said two women were approaching area gyms, asking to use the bathroom. Once inside, they steal car keys from lockers.

The officer said criminals like this target businesses without security cameras (like the pool), brazenly break into cars in broad daylight, then make their escape on a nearby interstate. She also said that if you try to hide your purse or other valuables on the car seat under a bulky item like a sweatshirt, thieves will still break in. So place everything in the trunk, completely out of sight.

The locksmith said he gets calls to gyms in the Sacramento area at least once a week, for just this type of theft. They even carry a small set of bolt cutters. Sometimes they take the cars, he said; sometimes they just break in and steal what’s inside.

I learned a lot yesterday:

1. Crimes involving vehicles aren’t confined to Oakland or San Francisco. They can and do happen anywhere.

2. Don’t bury your valuables under other items—that only attracts criminals looking for items to steal.

3. Always lock your gym or pool locker.

Because, as I learned the hard way, car keys are very valuable. Mine cost $250 to replace, plus after I completed an incident report at the pool, filed a police report, got a tow, and had the key replaced, 6 hours had passed.

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Editor’s Note: My website is being revamped, and more changes are in the works. So I hope you’ll pardon the mess and be patient, as I iron out all the kinks.

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My seventh book, Shatter the Silence, a love story and the long-awaited sequel to my memoir was released May 7. That’s on the heels of Tales of the Vintage Berry Wine Gang, a collection of my newspaper columns from 1988-91, which came out in April.

For an in-depth look at the damaging effects of the silence that surrounds abuse, please watch my live TEDx talk, given April 13, 2013, at Connecticut College.

Have a great day and remember, it’s whatever you want to make it!