If you ever find yourself thinking “Gee, I wonder how Kate’s doing. I can’t imagine what that must feel like,” it would be quite helpful to watch two episodes from season five of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, “The Body” and “Forever.” (Yeah yeah yeah I’m a total Buffy geek fanatic, I’ve never been ashamed to admit that.)
I’ll give you a quick recap just in case you, unlike me, do not own every single season of BTVS on DVD. Earlier in the season it is discovered that Buffy’s mom, Joyce, has a tumor in her brain. She undergoes surgery to remove said tumor and seems to recover pretty well, until one day Buffy comes home to find her dead on the couch. Buffy and friends are naturally distraught, depressed, overwhelmed, and sad about this. One friend and ex-demon, Anya, doesn’t understand the grieving process because she is newly human, so she asks wildly inappropriate questions about what is supposed to happen. Willow (Buffy’s best friend) and Xander (Buffy’s other best friend and Anya’s boyfriend) get very frustrated with Anya and she replies with potentially the most accurate statement about death I have ever heard.
“I don’t understand how this all happens. How we go through this. I mean, I knew her, and then she’s.. There’s just a body, and I don’t understand why she just can’t get back in it and not be dead anymore. It’s stupid. It’s mortal and stupid. And Xander’s crying and not talking.. and I was having fruit punch, and I thought, well, Joyce will never have any more fruit punch, ever, and she’ll never have eggs, or yawn or brush her hair, not ever, and no one will explain to me why.”
No one will explain to me why either.
Later in this episode Buffy and pals are at the hospital waiting for the doctor to examine the body, and Anya makes yet another dead-on (pardon the expression) statement: “I wish Joyce didn’t die. Because she was nice, and now we all hurt.” As I have explained before, most people said the same basic thing to me when my dad died: “I’m so sorry Kate, please let me know if there is anything I can do.” It seems like that’s just what people think they should say, what they think is appropriate, but maybe they wish they could say something more honest. I would have loved to hear someone say “Kate, I wish your dad didn’t die. This really sucks.” I still would.
Right after this scene Buffy is sitting with Willow’s girlfriend Tara. Tara tells Buffy that her mother passed away when she was 17 in an effort to comfort her and provide advice. To that Buffy asks, “Was it sudden?” Tara replies, “No. [Long pause.] Yes. It’s always sudden.” I didn’t remember the other two scenes from this episode until I watched it a few daysago, but this particular scene has been echoing in my mind non-stop since my dad died. I knew it was coming. At some point I understood what the doctors were saying, probably before my mom understood or wanted to understand. Seeing him in so much pain at my graduation is what really did it; I remember telling one of my best friends that very night that I didn’t think he was going to make it. I started to prepare myself and tried to accept it but losing a parent, losing anyone, is not something you can ever actually prepare for because it is the end of life as you know it. Indeed, it is always sudden.
The following episode is all about life going on, planning the funeral and beyond. There are fewer monologues in this one that I identify with but the overall theme is mighty familiar. A friend of mine whose dad passed away a year before mine told me the funeral would be the easy part. What comes after—everyday life without your dad, when everyone else’s worlds go back to normal and yours is irreversably changed for the worse—that’s what’s going to hurt like hell. She was right.
These Buffy episodes affect me twofold: (1) My mom had a brain tumor too. This could have happened to her. When I heard her diagnosis I kept picturing the scene where Buffy finds her mom on the couch. What happened to Buffy was my biggest fear…Until I heard my dad’s diagnosis. (2) I lost a parent too. To cancer. Unexpectedly, yet expectedly. I don’t have to go save the world from vampires now but I do have to get out of bed every day and go through life without my dad, and I am seriously struggling.
There is also an episode of Grey’s Anatomy that’s had a significant effect on me. You are probably thinking of the episode in which George’s dad dies; that one certainly hit close to home, especially when George says to Christina (who lost her father when she was 9) “I don’t know how to exist in a world where my dad doesn’t,” and she replies, “Yeah, that never really changes,” but another episode really got to me. Synopsis: Christina is not usually willing to babysit little kids in the hospital while their parents are in surgery, but she does it this one time for a little girl whose dad is getting heart surgery. Her dad does not make it. After hearing this news Christina runs to new boyfriend Owen and when she finds him she collapses in his arms, inconsolably sobbing and screaming “I miss my dad.” I equally fear and hope that 2, 10, 35 years from now, I will feel the exact same way. (Grey’s Anatomy, season 5, episode 21, “How Insensitive”)