Originally posted October 15, 2013. Updated July 6, 2021.
The show, Glee, indirectly broke the Fourth Wall when they portrayed family and friends grieving the death of Finn, the character played by Cory Monteith, who died from a drug overdose. The cast is grieving for both Cory and Finn. And cast members Lea Michele and Cory Monteith were devoted to each other.
Grief Manifests Differently for Different People
Thank you, Glee, for bravely letting down that separation between audience and cast and exploring the differing ways grief manifests in different people. The writers developed themes of how grief is expressed differently, by pacing the emotional expression of grief to its individual characters. The show operated skillfully on many emotional levels.
When we think about grief, it’s difficult to get a feeling about just how painful and difficult the actual experience of grief is. And how many feelings are actually encompassed in the complex process of grieving. I think the expressive arts, with sensory experiences of sight, sound, feeling and motion, are a cathartic way to access embodied emotional experiences and move towards healing.
And how a person never really gets completely “over” the emotions of losing a loved one, but recovers emotional equilibrium slowly. The emotional experience changes: lessens in frequency and gets easier as time goes by, it never really leaves us. Kurt says, “I’ll miss him for the rest of my life.”
As is natural to the grieving process, we feel like our loved person is still with us. Kurt says, as he wraps Finn’s jacket around him, “His arms so so long.” Parental grief is acknowledged as a most profound grief. Finn’s mom, Carol, expresses, “I still feel like a parent and he is gone, there is no one to parent anymore.”
The characters prone to using withdrawal, anger and sarcasm use these emotions as their first go-to emotion. Sue Sylvester is letting her self-hate be misdirected as she usually does, back-biting and criticizing big time. Santana marches into Sue’s office, finally tells her off and pushes her. Noah steals Finn’s memorial tree. And we see ourselves in these characters, reflecting back to us the parts who sometimes engage in gossip, let off steam and sneak around.
Emma, the counselor, finds her office empty as the school faces their grief and Finn’s death. Smart writers. The empty office is symbolic that grief isn’t a pathological condition, it’s normal. The characters all grieve and work through it, towards their uneasy uneasy recovery; through this self-growth work, a more richly complex person emerges. The only character who comes in to see Emma is Tina, who has been crying and sad. But she comes in to say she doesn’t want to wear black anymore and wants to get away from the sadness and the memories of depression it brings up. And those feelings are normal as well. We can’t relentlessly grieve: it’s resilient and normal during the grieving process to cycle around and forget the pain and to laugh, to get some relief.
And how and when do people like Will Schuster, the responsible adult in a professional helping role, grieve? He is constantly tending to his students, putting aside his feelings, in order to work, as it is the nature of his work. It’s not pathological, it is his way. He finally grieves privately, holding Finn’s missing jacket, for just one night, letting his lost student comfort him, missing his youthful potential as a future teacher, missing him as one who was loved.
And a most beautiful expression of devoted and enduring love and loss is a “Make You Feel My Love” sung by Rachel, by Bob Dylan.
And I also loved Noah’s tribute to the bond of friendship, by Bruce Springsteen, “No Surrender.”