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'This Is Us' Gives a Rare, Multigenerational Perspective on Alzheimer's Disease

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Editor's Note

This story discusses the last season of “This Is Us” and its finale. There will be spoilers beyond this point. Please proceed with caution (because we don’t want to be the ones who spoil you!)

This Is Us” has never been one to shy away from tough conversations. From Randall’s anxiety, Kevin’s addiction, Jack’s post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), Kate’s body image and fertility struggles, Toby’s depression, to everyone’s grief — this show has tackled a lot (and then some). And after six years, millions of fans sat down Tuesday night for the last time to watch the Pearsons close out their story. 

The final season has largely focused on Rebecca’s (Mandy Moore) Alzheimer’s and how both her and the family have been navigating it. There have been so many storylines that have hit me, but this one was different. My grandmother moved in with my family when I was 8 or 9. Her husband (my grandfather) had passed away and her Alzheimer’s was starting to get worse. At least in the beginning, she still knew who we were. As time passed, we eventually had to put her in a home — and every week without fail we’d visit and have lunch with her. It continued every week until she passed. I watched the progression of Alzheimer’s all the way through. It is a brutal, brutal disease for everyone involved.

Most of the time when you follow a story, you experience it with the main character. Watching this plot unfold, I was experiencing it through the generation of grandchildren — Randall, Kate, and Kevin’s kids. My mother and her sisters are Randall, Kate, and Kevin. Miguel/Jack is who my grandfather was when he was alive. And then there’s Rebecca. Seeing what it was like for her gave me insight into what it may have been like for my grandmother. How frustrating it must have been at times, how scary. 

And it gave me a lot of empathy for my parents. Raising three kids while taking care of your mother who doesn’t remember you — while working full-time? I can’t imagine. I wish I had had that same empathy as a kid. I could see how hard it was for my mother, but I could never really understand. And I still can’t, but I can see it much more clearly now. To see Randall, Kate, and Kevin struggle with their mother’s disease — struggle to make decisions on her care, struggle to accept what was happening, struggle to truly see her — I can only begin to imagine what my mother and her sisters went through.

“This Is Us” gives us the beauty of perspectives from three generations. And for diseases as complex as Alzheimer’s, to have that many points of view — to be able to see it from that many sides — is something special. And of course, Dan Fogelman being who he is, did it great justice.

I don’t think I’ve seen another TV show that tackles Alzheimer’s. In terms of popular entertainment, “The Notebook” is the first thing that comes to mind, but I can’t think of much else. And more than that, from my experience at least, “This Is Us” got it right. Even down to the toy pet Kate got for Rebecca, talking about how it can improve the mood of those with dementia. I remember the lifelike pet dog my grandmother had and how much she loved it.    

This show has been a true gift to its viewers. We share a special bond. Once you’ve shed that many tears together and have had your mind blown by Dan Fogelman’s writing that many times — you’re connected. You just are. And what a beautiful second family this is. 

I have yet to finish grieving the loss of this truly wonderful show, but in the words of our beloved William (Ron Cephas Jones):

“The way I see it, if something makes you sad when it ends, it must have been pretty wonderful when it was happening. Truth be told, I always felt it a bit lazy to just think of the world as sad, because so much of it is. Because everything ends. Everything dies. But if you step back, if you step back and look at the whole picture — if you’re brave enough to allow yourself the gift of a really wide perspective — if you do that, you’ll see that the end is not sad. It’s just the start of the next incredibly beautiful thing.”

Lead photo via Justin Hartley’s Twitter

Originally published: May 25, 2022
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