‘Sorry For Your Loss’: A Young Widow’s Take
This week, Facebook Watch premiered Sorry For Your Loss — a web series about a young woman adjusting to the loss of her husband.
I started seeing Sorry For Your Loss trailers pretty soon after they came out, as they naturally spread like wildfire among widows and widdudes. In a small group we had a watch party for the confusingly-timed premiere. It was chaos. However, it was pretty clear from the jump that this show was very likely to be relatively free of the common tropes involving widowhood.
In some respects, it can be tiring to see any framing for the loss of a partner (especially young) as somehow inspirational or with a happy ending tacked on. Maybe people who don’t live with this circumstance find those stories appealing, and widow/ers are a small audience. But I feel confident in saying … we don’t. Ever.
You probably can’t stream Sorry For Your Loss to your TV, smart or not
Before getting into the show, this has to be said. If Facebook is trying to compete with Hulu and Netflix, they have some ground to cover. Many people asked how to play the content, and all were answered with a sort of vague link about Googlecast (which seems to have been disabled on Chromebooks). If you attempted to watch Sorry For Your Loss on Roku like I did, you were out of luck. Roku doesn’t appear to support Facebook Watch at all, and the specific question was answered with a link that obfuscated this fact.
If you want to watch Sorry For Your Loss and only have a Roku, a smart TV, or even a Chromebook, you almost certainly have to watch it on a computer. So that made it kind of a hassle for several of our partygoers. Moreover, syncing up the content with people coming in and out was confusing for them. That said, most of us caught most of the first four episodes. Some of us couldn’t watch more than one or two. And interestingly, everybody seemed to find different parts differently poignant.
Kind of a trigger alert, kind of not (spoilers here!)
Pretty much everyone who watched watched the available first four episodes the night Sorry For Your Loss premiered. They’re just under half an hour each; they felt longer, but not in a bad way. Almost immediately, there was a consensus that the show and its format eerily captured the bizarre horror of the death of your life partner at a young age.
Sorry For Your Loss doesn’t tell a linear story, which perfectly dovetails with the abject confusion and joylessness every waking moment of your life becomes in the aftermath of this type of thing. Even the gray cast and gloom of each post-loss shot matches your perception of a newly hostile world when your person dies young.
It would be hard to capture every detail in the first four episodes that was “I feel personally attacked” accurate. The abrupt opening (which led many of my co-viewers to say with certainty “wait, I missed the beginning”) immediately introduced what is an ever-present undertone for most young widows off-screen. I don’t know what the fuck is going on. What happened and what am I doing here?
The protagonist Leigh’s uniform of formless leisurewear and a face marked but not etched with strain is instantly familiar, it’s the getting dressed is a daily drain look. What look like innocuous interactions with the other characters has a grating undertone recognized by widow/ers instantly. “You need to show up for yourself,” Leigh’s sister Jules coaches in a scene which revolves around Jules’ annoyance at sharing clothing. Leigh’s clothing is stored in her apartment, which she has yet to enter since prior to the funeral. It might look like Jules is gently nudging her sister to “move on.”
But to this segment of viewers, it looks very much like Leigh is being forced to undertake a daunting task before she’s ready — solely to accommodate her sister’s irritation. And when Leigh approached the door for the first time, my heart was in my throat. Later, Jules breaks down when confronted with her brother-in-law’s recently used razor, ostensibly not realizing that stab to the heart happens several times an hour for her sister, all day every day.
Sorry For Your Loss can seem almost confusing on a first watch, something I’m convinced is intentional. Like Leigh, the audience is tossed into a storyline that’s unexpected and jumbled up. Things seem to happen abruptly and like Leigh, the viewer is struggling to keep up — because that’s exactly what it’s like for God knows how long after you’re handed this new and horrifying identity. In a much later scene, Leigh meets a longtime friend for coffee or something. The friend drops a ton of potentially upsetting news, and casually mentions these things were withheld from her for fear of upsetting her — before leaving her alone. After the interaction, Leigh sits at the table staring blankly for a while — and I think we all have done and do that. Processing simple conversations, finding yourself sitting in the same spot for an hour — that’s a weird and real thing that happens. You live in fear of being asked to account for your time, and interactions become a string of agitated people you used to know demanding things, only demanding things and chagrined they must do so.
Flashbacks are seamlessly overlaid on the plot, in a brighter tone, depicting Leigh as almost an entirely different person. The way they floated in — in the car, in the store, illustrating a random and joyful dance in the living room — was so accurate it was almost painful. In so many moments where we’re staring off into space, that’s playing behind our eyes. And as Sorry For Your Loss deftly illustrates, it’s like half the plot. Of your life. Probably forever.
As of now, we don’t know how Matt died, but it’s far from the most compelling thing about the show.
Not even loveless, likeless
Another striking and omnipresent facet of Leigh’s existence is that her person, her primary source of direct human kindness, is suddenly absent. Still present around her are her family and others, all of whom appear to have had their patience stretched thin at only the three-month mark. She talks about a loss of demonstrative sympathy (flowers and calls), but you can tell her mother, sister, and brother-in-law are just barely tolerating her in day-to-day interactions.
I’ve spoken before about how hostile the world becomes to new widows and widowers, and the show subtly voices the secondary characters’ frustration with how little Leigh has to give them in the wake of her very recent bereavement. In fact, the one part of the show I found unrealistic pertained to Jules’ pleading with an angry Yelp reviewer to be kind on the basis of Leigh’s new widowhood. In my (albeit one person) experience, strangers and non-strangers alike seem to feel so challenged by the enormity of bereavement that it creates a sort of power imbalance-inspired hostility on steroids. My guess is in real life, if someone was asked not to angrily review a widow on Yelp, they’d get angrier because they felt manipulated and overpowered by the specter of it all.
It’s been just under nine months for me, and I’m hard pressed to think of any examples of that sort of leniency involving anyone in the community — but day after day I see (or experience) instances of people being bizarrely harsh to widow/ers. It’s like a challenge, like they seem to feel bullied by the proximity of someone else’s loss. There are people in my life who have regressed to speak to me only in short, abrupt demands and in irritated tones. That’s definitely the norm for young widows, and it’s totally out of left field. It’s hard to say if non-widowed viewers would pick up on these possible subtleties, but it looked that way from a vantage point like Leigh’s.
Mostly unspoken is the contrast, although it’s in the background of the flashbacks. In addition to the world being populated overnight with angry people that look like one’s family and friends, that change happens against the backdrop of all love and light disappearing without warning. You know those days where everything goes completely wrong and it just gets worse and worse? As you see in Leigh’s interactions, that’s every day. And there’s no end to the day, where the basic respite of your partner’s affections appears. It’s just one long day where people pressure you to do things until you can escape to the couch that is now your bed.
The only person with whom your relationship is not transactional and with whom you can truly relax is missing — all that’s left are obligations. In one scene, Leigh and Matt (in a flashback) stall before entering a family gathering, and it’s so painfully a reminder that that’s reality forever. The person who softened the minutiae of life’s string of minor hassles is no longer there and all that remains are hassles.
Or more aptly, not. One hallmark of the many films and shows about losing a partner is some sort of hopeful or inspirational arc — typically a new love interest. For viewers who haven’t lost a spouse, that may be uplifting. But those of us who have don’t necessarily feel visible, as if our story is only worth hearing when redeemed with a resolution in the form of a replacement partner (and only this form). We’re only at episode four of Sorry For Your Loss, and Leigh’s typically prescribed happy ending may be in the cards.
But hopefully not — not because widows and widowers are misanthropes, but because it’s all we see in the media. And the other people in this world are largely informed by this sort of content, often attempting to validate these losses with the promise of “new love.” For many of us, our late partners are all love that exists, and the suggestion made by Matt’s brother is one we hear often: ” … you can get a new husband.” It’s a pervasive idea that’s no less unsettling every time you hear it. Imagine someone suggesting you trade your partner permanently for a stranger … because that’s what we hear, and presumably what Leigh hears. Nothing in the first four episodes suggests that anyone but Matt is on her radar. Which is comforting, because it’s frustrating to see this life circumstance regularly presented as a journey or an inspiration, or that a late partner is somehow in the past.
Thus far, it’s not. For Leigh (and most young widows) ever day just sucks and sucks and sucks and sucks and sucks. Going to work sucks, seeing anyone you know sucks, and the smallest few things from which you derive pleasure (like a donut) are constantly being disrupted by the people in your orbit for seemingly no reason. And it sucks. Leigh knows good things exist, and she’s experienced them — but it’s not a part of her reality now.
And the stark, engrossing depiction consistently present in Sorry For Your Loss expertly conveys that reality. It’s not just a show for widows and widowers of a certain age (about 50 years too soon), but a bonus is that it feels that way. If the balance of its episodes are as realistic and accurate, it could serve as a good primer for the family and friends of those bereaved at the beginning of their adult lives.