Grieving in Downton: What we can Learn

Sometimes there are television shows that teach us something meaningful about life & offer nuggets of truth that we can tuck away. Downton Abbey is one of those for me. [Spoiler Alert for anyone who has not watched the Season 4 Premier as there will be scenes I talk about specifically.]

One of the primary characters named Mary (pictured left above) is six months widowed. On the day she gave birth to her first born son, her husband Matthew died in a car accident. About a year ago, Branson (pictured right above) lost his wife Sybil, Mary’s sister,  during the birth of their daughter. Grief & loss is a common theme in this first 2 hour episode of Downton & the paradox of joy in the midst of suffering

emerges beautifully. Lets take a moment to talk about the stages of grief…

The Kubler-Ross 5 stages of Grief:

1-Denial & Isolation





As someone who has felt loss, seen others experience loss, & studied about loss … I can confidently say that these 5 stages are applicable to almost any human grieving. However, some of us get “stuck” in different stages for very long periods of time. Everyone’s process of grieving looks different based on the type of loss, personality of the individual, family background, current life circumstances, and state of overall health. This is clear as we see the way the characters of Downton cope with the loss of their family members in drastically different ways.

Paralysis is a word that could describe Mary & Mrs. Crawley, Matthews mother, six months after his death. Mary, widowed as a first time mother cannot connect with her son the way she desires to do so. She doubts if she has the ability to be a good mother without her helpmeet. She has lost her emotion & is more melancholy than normal. She isolates & denies her pain to herself. Mrs. Crawley feels her identity is lost. She says that losing her son has taken away her role as a mother & her normal sacrificial nature has been swapped for self-focus & sadness. However, the tie that binds them both is that they have both subtly allowed “death” to overtake them in the midst of the “land of the living”. Mary’s grandmother Violet won me over in this episode where she pushes her granddaughter   firmly out of her paralysis with bold words. She says: “You have a straightforward choice: You must choose either death or life.” At that point, with a few other pushing’s from Branson & her interest to help manage the estate to carry on the legacy of her beloved late husband, she reemerges! It’s as if a light switch is flipped & her persona & emotions shift. After finally allowing herself to cry, she accepts her loss. Then she confidently joins the head of the table in a meeting she was not expected to attend to offer her opinions once again on the direction of the estate she has been given. It is quite a triumph of hope!

Simultaneously, Mrs. Hughes (the head housekeeper) has a dual mission to help a man who is sick & in need of care/work while also reminding Mrs. Crawley of her duties & passion to help those in need in the community. She plops the man in front of Mrs.Crawley in the midst of her grieving to give her something else to focus on other than the pain filling her heart. Once again a transformation occurs, the paralysis is removed and the action of restoring a man to life moves her to the next stage of grief!

How do you grieve? Do you get angry? Isolate? Deny how you feel?

Sometimes we grieve before the loss. Sometimes we hold it all in until we explode like a volcano. Sometimes we cry daily at the thought of a loss. Sometimes we can’t cry.

Wherever you may find yourself, be confident that each stage of grief is normal. You do not have to rush through to “be” where another family member is grieving. You simply can grieve. Then you may have a loving friend come along who gently, yet firmly nudges you out of the “stuck” stage so you can begin living life again. Sun always comes after the rain.

There is great HOPE even in grief.