Do you recognize this image? That’s the Chuck Lorre vanity card that appeared after the series finale of The Big Bang Theory. I have an unusual connection to that show, and that card seemed to speak to me.
Within days of Greg’s collapse in Madrid, desperate for resources to help manage my way through the tragedy and unable to sleep, I reached out to a friend by email—you can tell by the jumbled syntax that I was exhausted:
I am ok but not sleeping hardly at all which is horrible, both because I am completely exhausted, but also because my mind goes to every worst-case scenario alone in my room at night.
I knew she would understand. She had lost her husband unexpectedly when she was a young mother. She had spent the past decade or more helping others deal with grief and loss. She offered me a plethora of suggestions for possible sleep aids—everything from a hot bath to a range of drugs—but the one that seemed easy to try was to stream some silly sitcom on my iPad, something that would require very little thinking, something that would hopefully settle my mind to help me relax enough to be able to fall asleep.
And that’s how I began watching The Big Bang Theory. That very night, Day 5 after Greg’s collapse, I streamed the first episode to watch while trying to fall asleep. I first met Leonard and Sheldon, and I watched Leonard meet Penny and fall for her immediately. The show was quirky, with unusual characters, and it was easy to watch and let my mind rest.
During the two months I was in Spain, I watched at least one episode every night.
Sometimes during the day, when I needed to stop perseverating on the criticality of Greg’s condition or the helplessness I felt at not being able to control anything about the situation, I’d lean back against the hotel bed pillows and flip open the iPad to watch one or two more episodes.
On the surreal flight home, as Greg dozed in the gurney next to me on the tiny air ambulance and in between helping the nurse and doctor clean and turn him, I watched a couple of episodes, trying desperately to calm the panic I felt about the kids seeing him for the first time.
Over the coming months as he battled to recover, I finished up the seasons that had already aired, trying to fill the void every night in my very quiet house.
After he died, fully attached to the characters at this point, I began watching the current seasons, which I watched religiously until the final episode on May 16, 2019.
It’s not unusual to form an emotional bond with characters in a movie or series or the actors playing them—we feel as if we somehow know them personally after watching them over time. I had just finished The Sopranos when James Gandolfini, the actor playing Tony Soprano, died suddenly, and I was shocked at how sad I felt about someone I didn’t even know.
Last week’s final episode of The Big Bang Theory, watching Sheldon articulate his feelings for his friendships while his acceptance speech for winning the Nobel Prize, was surreal. These characters had helped me through the toughest two and a half years of my life, and now it was, as the vanity card so clearly stated, The End.
Ever since Greg’s collapse, I have searched for meaning in symbols, inspiration from things I see or experience in the world around me. So it was with this simple vanity card. The End—of the show yes, but of what else? Not the end of grief, for I truly believe we learn to move forward with grief, not past grief. That we learn to carry our grief beside us instead of letting our grief engulf us. That grief softens as our memories become brighter.
Still, I do feel like I’ve come to some sort of an ending. Long past the end of that chaotic battle in Spain watching a huge team of medical professionals trying to save him so I could bring him home. Certainly past the end of the grueling six months of caregiving. The acute, painful grief immediately after his death ended some time ago. And now, just having passed the two-year anniversary of his death, I feel another ending, no longer feeling the need to recount or recall events every month that led to my loss.
But if it’s the end of something, I am convinced that means it’s the beginning of something else, even if I don’t really know what that is. Before this journey, I would have tried to control the “what now”. After my experience, I’m content to sit back, stay tuned, and let this new season in my life unfold.
Although it sounds strange, I’m compelled to say thank you—to a sitcom. For making me smile when I was so sad. For helping me sleep when my mind just wouldn’t stop racing. For the 279 episodes that allowed me to escape from reality, if only for 20 minutes at a time. To Sheldon, Leonard, Raj, Howard, Amy, Penny, and Bernadette, thank you for making me laugh when I so desperately wanted to cry. Thank you for being there when I needed you. Thank you.