When we came home without Dorothy, our first place of retreat was the couch. We sat down on and immediately turned on the tv. Neither of us said a word as we fixed our eyes forward and waited for that familiar red screen with the white lettering. Mike then turned to me and said the six words that would become our refrain over the coming weeks: “What do you want to watch?”
In those early weeks of raw, fresh grief we spent a lot of time side by side on that couch staring straight ahead. The television became our retreat from a world we did not want to face. All I wanted was to live another life, so why not watch someone else live theirs?
When I think back to that time, I can’t tell you much about how I managed to live day to day. What I can tell you is what show I was watching. In fact, if you were to draw me a timeline of those early weeks, I could pinpoint what shows and movies we were hiding inside of.
The first few days were about shows that required no thought, they just served as a place to rest my eyes. We watched programs that I had seen so many times that I could quote entire episodes. Shows like 30 Rock or The Office. These were also ideal because I knew them so well, I could close my eyes and not even have to “watch.” I could just let the familiar sounds fill my ears and drown out my devastation.
A few days in, we switched over to Nurse Jackie. This has always struck me as a bizarre choice because its setting is a hospital. After having spent two weeks in a hospital and enduring incredible trauma, both physical and emotional, you would think that this would be a show to avoid. Instead, Mike and I binged. I still don’t know the appeal. Maybe we wanted to stir up some emotions or maybe we wanted to see that we were not alone in our suffering. Whatever it was, it captivated us for several seasons.
After a week or two, our television viewing became separate. At this point in my grief, I had retreated into my bed and my iPad came with me for entertainment. Just one glance at my watch history from this time and you would surmise that I was in a very dark place. I spent hours in bed watching grisly documentaries about murders and criminals. The more depraved and disturbing, the more I was drawn to it. I think I wanted to see proof that my life could be worse. Yes, I had lost my daughter to stillbirth but at least I wasn’t being kidnapped, raped, and murdered in my own home while my family watched. Instead of nightmares about silent ultrasounds and watching my daughter’s body leave me forever, I could have nightmares about sadistic serial killers. I told you it was dark stuff. Those early weeks of grief are a dark, dark place to be.
As time passed, I slowly made my way back out to the couch and into an upright position. Sitting next to Mike, we continued to watch documentaries but they were much less depraved than what I had been watching on my own. We watched depressing documentaries about problems we couldn’t solve and heartfelt documentaries about people gone too soon. We watched lots of sports documentaries, especially from the ESPN 30 for 30 series. It was comforting to watch real-life experiences that belonged to someone else. It was like standing on the edge of reality but not having to cross the threshold. There was a screen to protect us.
I know you may be wondering if we did anything besides watch television in our time at home. We did do other things, but not much. There were loved one who would stop by to visit and friends who would coax us out into the world, but at the end of the day, we scurried back to our safe zone. In my grief, the world was easier to process when it was contained in a 26-inch rectangle.
One day, I settled into my corner of the couch and turned on the tv only to turn it right back off. It had been about 4 weeks since we lost Dorothy and it was time to start imagining a life without her. I could no longer live in the stories of others, I needed to tune into my own reality.
It’s been almost 2 years since we said goodbye to our firstborn daughter. We still use television as an outlet for our grief, but we have found other outlets to plug into as well. Mike has photography and I have my writing. We have our loved ones and our jobs. We have our daughters; both of them. Our family might not be the kind of family you would see on primetime tv and that’s okay. I think we’re still worth tuning into.
Besides, you can’t believe everything you see on television.