I want to talk to you about grief. Specifically the grief of losing someone you love. Someone who is the floor of your house, the paint on the walls, the everyday furniture and mismatched pots and pans of your life. Someone who you love so deeply that their very presence is often annoying. You know the way they breathe, the way they put on their shoes, if they can’t stand loud music at a restaurant or the exact temperature they like their tea.
Watching And Just Like That… reminded me of that type of loss. The one that is so unexpected you can’t possibly conceive that it has even happened when it has. Shock. Disbelief. Anger. Rage. Shock again. Cold bathroom tile floor sobbingly awful.
In this new series of Sex and the City, we watch Carrie Bradshaw navigate the loss of her husband Big. I cannot stop thinking about the way the writer Michael Patrick King captures so sharply the devastation but also the irritation of grief. This series specifically puts on full display Carrie’s annoyance at the tasks that befall someone who loses the love of their life and the vexing reactions of those around her. Carrie reminds us not just of the devastation of grief itself but also the utterly skin-crawling behaviour that can occur from well-meaning people around you.
For example, let’s talk about the Bitzy Von Mufflings of the world who insist that they KNOW because they HAVE LOST SOMEONE, too. This behaviour assumes that by throwing their emotions onto you, you will somehow feel comforted. Instead, it seems to undermine the very specific and personal pain of losing your unique person.
I think, as much as it’s nice to know what other people have gone through, something we as humans also want to feel is that our deeply personal experience, relationship or love was also completely incomparable and special. That what we had no one else had and actually I believe this to be true. Because we co-create our relationships, our patterns, our jokes and our ways of showing love and just as every fingerprint is different I think each of our griefs are, too. Cue the muscles in Carrie’s jaw twitching in bewilderment while we can see her mentally trying to excavate herself from Bitzy’s clutches.
There are also the people who lack any skerrick of compassion (hello, Susan Sharon) and who disregard the fragile sanity you are holding onto like a small glass bird inside your palm and instead make it about them and bombard you with many, many words.
The part I think that is most sharply drawn in the second episode is Carrie’s reaction to Charlotte’s tears. Sometimes, when you are the person holding the tragedy, people also want you to hold their tears and fears as well. Which, when you are staggering around under the weight of your own grief and barely coping, can be exasperating and turn you into someone who will ask (like Carrie does) for your friend to just pull themselves together for goodness sake or you simply become so overwhelmingly tired and empty that crying or showing any emotion becomes impossible.
The weight of all of it can leave you empty and angry in equal measure. The exhaustion Carrie feels is so instantly recognisable. Her tight-lipped control of the funeral and her immediate need to put Charlotte in a taxi and get as far away from her as possible reflects exactly what I mean. Grief can make you depressed, furious and sad but it can also make you completely irritated by everyone and everything.
One character stands out for me as an example of how to effectively support people who are grieving. Miranda — the one who holds back her own tears to sleep next to her friend and hold her through the middle of the night. Who talks straight and matter of factly. Who doesn’t dance around the truth or say things like ‘this too shall pass’. Who isn’t afraid of Carrie’s pain. Who literally climbs into the depths with you (or in this case Carrie’s bed) and hugs you, rubs your back and makes you coffee in the morning so you can be whatever it is you need to be in that moment. You need a joke? You need sarcasm? You need a stiff drink? There she is.
Gloria, Mr Big’s long-time secretary, is also worth a mention. She says straight up, “I’m sorry for your loss” and then asks if she can give Carrie a hug. That last question is small but vital. Some people in grief will be all prickles and want no one in their space but others will be craving closeness and that’s where a big hug can really be a balm.
In the reading of Big’s will, Carrie encounters another specific pain of grief. That realisation that there are things you didn’t know about your person and that because they are gone you may never know. In finding that Big’s ex-wife Natasha is to be given a million dollars from his will, Carrie is thrust into personal turmoil. She is left frantically digging deep into Big’s physical and metaphorical pockets to try and make sense of what only he could really answer.
So often what brings the person you have lost sharply into focus is the smell left on the clothes they wore, the bunched-up receipts, scribbled notes, voice messages left flippantly on your phone, a desk in disarray, unpaid bills, the mess of your ordinary lives. So painfully ordinary.
I want to say right here that while And Just Like That… is by no means a perfect show, the original wasn’t either and I think it seems to be finding its stride in talking about the things we wish we didn’t need to: our own death, the death of the people we love and the fragility of our very existence. All this but done with a killer wardrobe.
Claire Tonti is a producer and host of several award-winning podcasts; Tonts, Just Make The Thing and the award-winning podcast, Suggestible — which gives you the best stuff to watch, read and listen to. You can find her at @clairetonti.