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How the 'Good Wife' Perfectly Captured the Grieving Process After an Unexpected Death

By Dustin Rowles | TV | March 31, 2014 | Comments ()

By Dustin Rowles | TV | March 31, 2014 |


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The Good Wife has known about the departure of Josh Charles since the end of last season, so they had plenty of time to prepare for his departure. A lesser show, I think, might have pushed Will and Alicia back together before his unexpected death. A lesser show — say, Downton Abbey — would’ve revealed a note after he died that might have detailed his actual feelings for Alicia. A lesser show might have extracted as much sentimentality out of that death as possible.

The Good Wife decided to take a truer, more real approach to unexpected death. This is how it happens in reality, when we unexpectedly lose someone close to us. We make it about ourselves, we try to find clues, we try to find someone to blame, and in the end — in the absence of answers — we create our own idealistic narrative.

When my father overdosed and died on my third day of law school, I had not spoken to him in nine months. All I had was a letter he had sent me a few months before his death about a dream he’d had involving a crush in high school, how the dream had made him feel happy and alive and hopeful. I never responded to the letter, but when he died, I carried it with me for years, trying to ascertain clues within it that might have provided some evidence to his frame of mind when he overdosed. Was it intentional? Accidental? Was he trying to kill himself? Or did he just not give a damn anymore?

I never found out that answer, and no one except the man he was with — who fled after he called 911 never to be seen again — could’ve provided me with any. Someone, who was probably trying to protect my feelings, told me that my father was grinning when he passed away, and while I doubt that’s even possible given the circumstances, it’s the image of his death that has stuck with me. It’s the inflexible narrative in my mind that I’ve created, and though in months to come I got a slightly better picture of the scene, it never displaced the thought of my father grinning into the afterlife.

Alicia’s final conclusion on the reason why Will had called and left a message — to bury the feud, to confess his love to her, to be with her forever — is probably the idealistic narrative that Alicia will continue to hold on to because that’s what humans do. We romanticize the dead: There’s millions of people in this world whose strained relationships with loved ones are suddenly healed by death. All of the problems simply vanish, and all that’s left are the fond memories and the idea that it was a perfect relationship.

Of course, when we lose someone, we also want to cast blame. We want revenge. I had the notion for months after my father’s death that I would track down whoever it was that supplied him with the drugs and have him prosecuted as an accessory to murder. I was in law school, after all, and it seemed like the only way I’d ever find closure. Likewise, Kalinda punished Jeffery Grant by not allowing him to die, by forcing him to live with the burden of Will’s death. Is that just? Is that a suitable revenge?

I don’t know, but in instances like Will’s death, we so seldom get real closure. There are no buried letters. There are no witnesses to deathbed confessions. It’s one of our own inherent superpowers. We grasp at straws until our own internal emotional mechanisms create that closure for ourselves. It’s how we cope, and it’s how we eventually allow ourselves to move on again.


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