How This Is Us helped my family cope with the death of my dad


Losing a parent is something that impacts your life forever. This Is Us explores grief and loss and its impact on families in a highly relatable way.

The running joke about This Is Us on the internet is that it should be sponsored by Kleenex. Most people agree that the NBC show packs an emotional punch and the weaving of storylines between past and present are relatable for many families. The show successfully finds a way to focus on the complexities of family relationships, including the joys and heartaches that life often brings.

For families like mine, This Is Us can hit almost too close to home at times. Much of the series centers around one life event, the death of Jack Pearson. This traumatic event can either bring the Pearson family together or tear them apart. The show explores how a death in the family reverberates both forward and backward in time.

My father, Kerry Steele, passed away when I was 20 years old. I have three younger siblings, and my youngest brother was 11 when he died. My other brother was 17 and my sister was 14.

While the Big Three on the show were all 17 when their father passed, our ages were a little more spread out. When you lose a parent at a young age, there are always so many unanswered questions as well as many events where that loss is noticeable.

Amanda with her siblings and mother at her father’s funeral. Photo provided by Amanda Steele

Time does heal in many ways, as the show often shows us. Rebecca remarries and the family finds the strength to move on with their lives. Yet, at the same time, healing never completes itself. Big events can make one’s loss come back again full force. This Is Us captures this feeling well when it shows Kate and Toby’s wedding at the end of season 3 and how hard it is to be reminded that one of the main people who should be there for these events is missing.

The show also relates to my family’s story in another major way. This Is Us deals with addiction, both Jack’s and later on Kevin’s. While my father was in no way as exemplary of a man as Jack, he was an addict. This Is Us, at the end of the day, is still a television show. Jack’s addiction doesn’t have as many negative impacts as my father’s addiction did on my family, but it is something that the show and its characters explore.

My childhood was more traumatic in some ways than the childhood of The Big Three. My dad’s addiction led to abusive behaviors at times, and my feelings for my dad are not simple. Sometimes watching the show is difficult because of where the parallels end. I wish that my dad was an amazing father who I always trusted. I wish that he was more like Jack.

Amanda and her father, Kerry, hanging up Christmas lights. Photo provided by Amanda Steele

My family has never been great at talking about emotions, but I have found that watching the show together has been a way for us to open up about the trauma we faced. Certain episodes are extremely difficult to watch and result in tears that are more than just sympathy; they are tears of deep understanding and real, raw pain. Some of the scenes mirror my family’s experiences in ways that are painful as well as cathartic.

For example, there is the one scene in “Super Bowl Sunday,” where Rebecca has to tell her three children that their father has passed away.

My mother says that this moment was so relatable to her as a widowed mother. There have been many moments like this where the show has opened up a dialogue between myself, my siblings, and my mom.

Amanda laying a rose on her father’s coffin at his funeral. Photo provided by Amanda Steele

Some episodes of this show are extremely hard to watch for my family and I. But they remind me how important these stories are.

The show has been a powerful tool for me and others in my family to sort through our feelings and traumas, and it has allowed us to broach topics that were difficult to bring up. This Is Us is a brilliant show in this way as there are many families in similar situations to mine.

Sharing stories and creating a dialogue around these topics can promote healing in real people’s lives. While we probably should have gone to a real therapist long ago, This Is Us has allowed us to work on growing and healing together as a family.